From your tires to the steering wheel, there is room to optimize every aspect of your car’s handling, so let’s start at the bottom.
As the foundation for performance, you need a set of summer rubber that isn’t left outside in the cold. Going wider isn’t an exact science, so you need to research each brand. As an example, 275/40/17 was the stock size for my Camaro when the new tires were supplied by Goodyear. However, the Lexani 285/40 performs better in the rain, and it costs less. Going too wide on your stock wheels will invert the sidewalls and it leads to blowouts that will ruin your day.
Here is a great opportunity to lower the un-sprung weight of your ride. Lighter wheels allow the suspension to react faster, but you need to do your research. Make sure the manufacturer is TUV approved in order to be safe, then it’s time to select a width. Most performance cars have staggered widths depending on which axles are powered, but you need to determine how you want your car to respond. Wider fronts are ideal for FWD, but they cause muscle cars to plow ahead instead of obeying your commands.
Don’t neglect your stopping power. Brake fluid absorbs water, so you need to bleed all corners at least once a year. Clearing the sludge out of the ABS module will save you from an expensive fix down the road. If you are tired of warping rotors, our friends a FrozenRotors offer steel that is chilled near Absolute Zero for a few days. The upshot is that they last for years!
Colloquially known as sway bars, these tubular steel springs connect your left and right wheels. Essentially giant tuning forks, they force the car to react to cornering forces. It is your job to match the sizes front to back without sacrificing too much ride quality. You will be surprized at the instant results, so you should have done this one when you bought the car. Everything else is found in our Tuning Month archives.
Shocks, Springs, & Coil-overs
From the factory, most cars and trucks arrive with twin-tube shocks. They are optimized for comfort, and they need to be deleted. A quality mono-tube design has stronger internals, and it won’t fade from heat when you get frisky. The next step would be adjustable shocks that allow fine tuning of compression and rebound. Being able to adjust ride-height is not just for looks, and it is done with coil-over conversions. Placing each tire on a scale, raising the spring’s height will lower the car and vice versa. The science behind the corner-weight process will blow your mind, so we’ll cover it another day.
Control Arm Geometry
Your moving parts need to be as light and as strong as possible. Accomplishing this while holding alignment can’t be done with factory equipment. This is where a set of tubular arms will make a world of difference. Toss your rubber bushings in the trash and replace them with polyurethane, or spherical rod-ends for the ultimate upgrade. Even if aftermarket arms aren’t offered for your ride, the bushings are wear items.
Because many late-model control arms are mounted in adjustable slots, you need hardware that won’t let them slip. Nord-Lock washers have opposing teeth that mesh when compressed. For a few dollars your alignment will hold true and save your tires from an early grave.
In the old days, your chassis was lubricated at every oil change. Because they want our return business, grease fittings have been eliminated by the big automakers. Even the best suspension upgrades are victims of their environment, so make sure every moving part is greaseable. With the car on stands, check for play in every component. A rubber hammer will alert you to any lose parts, which can be affixed with safety wire for peace of mind.
Once you’ve done everything above, its time to put more power to the ground. A limited-slip differential uses springs and clutches to apply power passively, and they are the most affordable. A locking type (like the Torsen T2R) constantly adjusts to slipping by sending torque where it can do the most work. While you are in there, replace your ring and pinion with a higher gear ratio. From the factory, my car had a 3.23 gearset. Moving up to a 3.73 added 100 horsepower to my butt-dyno at the expense of turning higher RPM on the highway. My next move will be 4.10 gears because you only live once!