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1957 Chevy Bel Air Suspension - Anti-Orca Devices

With The Help Of Some Hotchkis Sway Bars, This Five-Seven Receives A Lesson In Roll Control.

Jim Campisano Aug 1, 2009
Sucp_0908_02_z 1957_chevy_bel_air_suspension Before 2/27

BeforeThis is how cars used to handle. It's a wonder we survived. The addition of a front and rear sway bar improved the handling immeasurably.

You have not lived if you haven't tried to run a stock '57 Chevy with manual steering, a bench seat, and no seatbelts through a slalom course. Imagine being dragged through the ocean by a whale, holding on by just a dorsal fin, and you have a pretty good idea. You're porpoising up and down, getting tossed side to side, and hanging on for dear life. It's not pretty (and we had the benefit of radial tires!).

More than once we thought we were losing control and we were not going more than 30 mph. The combination of body roll and no belts saw us steering with only half a cheek on the seat most of the time. I was ready to reach for my Dramamine, except I didn't have any.

Sucp_0908_01_z 1957_chevy_bel_air_suspension After 3/27


This car's behavior was fairly typical for the era, which is frightening. Ron Godel owns this beautiful Two-Ten. It's got a 283 four-barrel Power Pack, three-on-the-tree and is just as the factory built it, save for the 8-inch-wide Corvette Rally wheels and Dunlop G/T Qualifier P235/60R15 tires. He loves the car dearly and takes it to cruise nights in north Jersey, but he definitely wasn't satisfied with its road-holding ability (or its definie lack thereof).

Fortunately, there are a million ways to improve the capabilities of your Tri-Five, from low-buck upgrades to a completely new chassis with late-model Corvette suspension parts. We went the simple route here and addressed the most obvious shortcoming--its lack of anti-roll (or sway) bars. We got front and rear bars from Hotchkis Sport Suspensions and in an afternoon made a serious upgrade to the '57's handling (and safety).

How much of an improvement? Our best time through the 420-foot slalom before the addition of the bars was 10.10 seconds. With the bars, we knocked the time down to 8.88. The mph rose from 28.35 to 32.24.

Pictured is the complete rear sway bar kit from Hotchkis (PN 22105R). It includes a 1-inch, lightweight (yet durable) tubular bar capable of two separate adjustments: 310 lb/in (soft setting) or 385 lb/in (stiff setting). Also pictured is the rear section of our test specimen. The '57 Chevy did not come with a rear sway bar, so some drilling is required for this otherwise bolt-in installation.

Here Crazy Horse Technician Brian Applegate begins by sliding the U-bolts into place. The U-bolts should be approximately 27-inches from one another. Considering the rear is offset, be sure that the U-bolts measure an equal distance from the brake backing plates for assurance. The brake lines may have to be unclipped and moved away. Once all is square, Brian installs the sway bar bushings, axle brackets and sway bar proceeding to tighten the U-bolts evenly, while also being level with the ground.

Next, we lubed the dogbone end-link bushings and assembled the remainder of the sway bar. The 1/2-inch bolts, washers and nuts were utilized to link the dogbone to the sway bar and the frame brackets. Two holes need to be drilled into the frame to fasten the links. Brian rotated the sway bar up into place, making sure the bar was centered in the car and the end-link was slightly tilted toward the rear of the car (to facilitate easy adjustments when needed). Both holes were then marked via a tire crayon.

After drilling the two 7/16-inch holes in the frame, Brian installed this shorty style U-bolt in through the frame. When installing the frame bracket, it is easier to remove it from the end-link first.

Once the frame brackets were tightened the final steps were taken to complete the installation. Note--we did run into a slight issue with the less than desirable seam on the frame rail of the five-seven. It was severely uneven where the frame bracket needed to be installed, so Brian welded the bracket in place to achieve the proper angle, however in most instances this should not be necessary. With our rear sway bar installation complete let's head to the front!

The front way bar kit from Hotchkis (PN 22105F) features a 1 3/8-inch lightweight tubular steel bar, which is said to be 60 percent stiffer than the ulta-rare (virtually non-exisitent) stock unit, which was installed on no more than a handful of cars. Everything needed for a headache-free installation is included. Like 99.999 percent of all '57s, our tester was not equipped with a sway bar.

Here you can see that the '57 has two framerails pictured, one inner (angled) and one outer (traditional straight). The instructions state to mark a continuation line along where the inner frame rail intersects the outer. Once the line is marked the bushing bracket can be properly aligned (as shown) and the proper holes marked for drilling via a 7/16-inch drill bit.

In order to install the reinforced bushing brackets properly, the bumper support bracket fasteners needs to be removed, giving enough room to slip it in. The bumper support brackets are then refastened.

It is now time to install the sway bar, bushings, and bushing brackets. Once in place the brackets can be tightened for good. Each bushing received a liberal amount of silicone grease before installation. Brian proceeded to install the sway bar end-links and bracket to gain the proper geometry for installation.

Hotchkis conveniently added these grease fittings at all of the necessary grease points, facilitating ease of lubrication when needed. Pictured is the front sway bar kit installed with the vehicle on the ground. Everything fit perfectly with no interference. It was now time to hit the slalom course over at historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for some after numbers.

More before and after--can you guess which is which? Look at how far the car was drifting in the photo at left. It was much more responsive and predictable (not surprising) with the addition of the bars. I could actually stay in the seat and drive the thing! To be able to knock 1.22 seconds off your time in a 420-foot slalom and pick up almost 5 mph with just sway bars shows they are a worthwhile investment. Equally important, the Tri-Five is safer and more fun to drive on the street.

Once again, Brian marked the lower control arms to be drilled with his trusty ole 7/16-inch unibit (which was starting to wear out). Beyond the final drilling, the fasteners were installed and the sway bar end-links were tightened to the point of where the bushings just began to show signs of bulge.


Crazy Horse Racing
South Amboy, NJ 08879
Hotchkis Sport Suspension
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670



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