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#1064836 - 01/20/20 03:13 PM Best value suspension upgrades  
Joined: Jan 2000
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Rocco_Q Offline
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Rocco_Q  Offline
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Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 197
Rhode Island
Hi folks,

I’m seeking opinions on suspension upgrades for my 86 T-Top SS. Its an 80K mile car with all original suspension with the exception of replacement KYB shocks. My main goals are to:

- Improve handling, ride, and feel to approach modern standards
- Lower the car 1-2” (My car always looks slightly higher in the front)

I have no desire or plans to take the car to the strip or track. It will simply be a cruiser with occasional usage on nice days. I’ve looked at a some of the suspension packages out there and am afraid their entry level packages make a lot of sense on a base G-body, but not much of a difference on an F41 car other than the lowering springs . Thoughts?

A few things I’m considering installing:

- I have a set of Global West UCA’s I bought used 20 years ago that I’ve never put on. I’m pretty sure I need b-body spindles for them to work.
- A set of 17” N90s
- Aftermarket back seat brace
- New Shocks

Should I simply look for a set of good lowering springs, and replace the 34 year old suspension bushings, or is there something else I should consider.

Thanks!

Last edited by Rocco_Q; 01/20/20 03:15 PM. Reason: Typo
#1065037 - 02/06/20 05:36 AM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: May 2002
Posts: 4,105
MAP Offline
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MAP  Offline
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Posts: 4,105
Yuma, AZ
Hi Rocco,

I almost feel embarrassed for being the first to reply! I would offer a few pieces of advice at the outset:

1. I would cut the front springs to lower the car. The front end has a motion ratio of about 1:2, so if you desire to lower the car's front end by x, then cut the spring by about 0.5x. If in doubt, cut less rather than more, because if you cut too much, there's no going back (unless you use a shim in the LCA spring pocket.) The springs will get a little stiffer as you cut them down (roughly 7%/in), which is probably a good thing. Lowering the front of the car does a bunch of really good things for suspension geometry, so that's a smart move. I'd also aim for about -0.7 deg of static front camber. Increasing caster is good too, but you'll probably run out of room for shims on the rear bolt of the UCAs to get there. But I'd start with the camber.

2. If all the bushings are stock after 34 years, then hands-down they're as good as junk, so replace all of them (including the body bushings if feasible) with new rubber. If you want to keep a smooth ride, then use OEM bushings, or a reasonable facsimile from Moog or similar. If you don't mind a somewhat stiffer ride, then use polyurethane pieces for the front control arms (8 pieces total) made by a number of aftermarket companies. I wouldn't use polyurethane bushings anywhere else in the car if you want to preserve a reasonably smooth ride.

3. Tires make a gigantic difference in how the car handles. But good handling tends to degrade ride smoothness, so some further direction from you in this regard would be helpful. Please note that if you use modern wide, low-profile, speed-rated tires, you'll get far better handling, but compared to how the car rode with its original tires, you might be shocked by how jittery and "wiggly" the ride will get. The basic problem is that stiff tires unmask the car's woeful lack of chassis rigidity, so the tradeoff may be severe. It's this aspect of the car that will be your biggest obstacle for getting a "new car" ride and handling, and no investment of bolt-on parts will be able to overcome that. We have to remember that by modern standards, these cars were designed to offer a smooth ride at low cost. The SS option was but a baby step in the direction of the kind of performance we take for granted today.

4. I very much doubt you'd be able to detect any difference in the car's dynamics by installing the rear seat brace, but it wouldn't hurt (aside from the added weight.)

Hopefully this is good for starters? There's a lot more that could be added to the discussion - brakes, for instance.

Best,
MAP

Last edited by MAP; 02/06/20 06:02 AM.
#1065041 - 02/06/20 12:33 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 822
MC96 Offline
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Joined: Mar 2012
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St. Johns MI
I would say the one single suspension part is probably adjustable front uppers as they will usually have tall ball joints and you can dial caster and camber into them, but good pads and braided hoses will improve braking as much as a lot of aftermarket kits.

In the same spirit of wear items that possibly need swapped anyways, control arm bushings, taller ball joints, good tires. Many have cut springs as noted above.


86 SS
400SBC, 4l80e, MSD Atomic injection/trans controller, Tilt glass clip, all tubular arms, corvette brakes, 9" rear
In progress
#1065043 - 02/06/20 03:44 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Dec 1999
Posts: 12,268
PB86SS/87LS Online beer
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PB86SS/87LS  Online Beer
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New Berlin, WI
Sounds like how I had my SS setup for years, per your plans with 17" wheels, back seat brace, better shocks, lowered a little bit via springs and b-body spindles/Global West UCA's. Car drove and handled very well this way, bumpsteer wasn't that terrible to me as some report with the b-body spindles. Sounds like a good game plan for your goals. Braking power, especially with a b-body booster and master cylinder, was greatly improved and impressive.

My input: get nice shocks, like Bilsteins, cutting springs is one method but there are plenty of spring options for lowering as well. I ran Eibach's for years, they sell a set for front and rear that lowers about 1" all around. Plenty of other options as well that lower up to 2", cutting the stock ones would be the cheapest of course if you don't mind potentially removing/installing a couple times to dial it in. Doing a front end rebuild, I used Moog parts on both of my cars when replacing the tie rods/center link and some bushings & ball joints. Steering shaft upgrade to a Jeep or modified Astro unit will help the feel and tighten things up if anything over the rag joint original. That would be the start/basics. To go further getting delrin or Del A Lum bushings, for the rear arms upgrading to ones with spherical joints on the frame side in the LCA, sway bar changes may or may not be worth the money/effort but something to look into as well. Even swapping the stock solid F41 front bar for a hollow 36mm f-body bar is a direct swap, would require the 36mm frame brackets/larger bushings but saves weight and I believe would be slightly stiffer even being hollow.

As for the back seat brace, I added it to my SS but don't think it really does anything. I figure can't hurt and MAP mentions weight, which is true, but IIRC it's fairly light. There are other factory braces that can be added, Cutlasses had a core support X brace, Grand Prix's have the "GP" brace that connects the front frame rails, the underhood frame to core support braces are found on Pontiac's as well in different styles. Very light and probably don't do much but are easy/cheap things to do.

Last edited by PB86SS/87LS; 02/06/20 04:29 PM.

-86'SS 383 CCC QJet- BRF 2004r-8.5" 3.42 -313/344@RW - 13.35 @103
-87'LS 350 MAF/SD TPI- CRF 2004r-7.5" 3.42 -248/340@RW - 14.55 @ 96
-81'Grand LeMans Safari Wagon 3.8 2bbl/200C/2.73
-07'TBSS Stockish daily driver
[Linked Image]
#1065045 - 02/06/20 03:47 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
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MC96 Offline
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St. Johns MI
^ Knew I was forgetting some basic stuff.

Highly recommend the yellow stick bilsteins.


86 SS
400SBC, 4l80e, MSD Atomic injection/trans controller, Tilt glass clip, all tubular arms, corvette brakes, 9" rear
In progress
#1065046 - 02/06/20 04:00 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 6,181
SSLance Offline
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SSLance  Offline
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Peoria, AZ
Personally, I would steer away from just ordering a suspension kit from any of the great companies and expecting it to cure all the ills, or give best bang for the buck. They are for the most part designed to fit a wide variety of wants\needs and you can dial the ride quality and stance in much cheaper and easier by picking a few choice parts and pieces vs the whole ball of wax.

Ride quality is subjective, everyone feels or wants something different. MAP is right, in a general sense everything you do to improve the handling will take something away from the soft cushy ride...so you have to pick your poison and proceed carefully to make sure you don't overshoot your target.

Strictly to improve handling, these are my must dos...

(1) correct front suspension geometry with nice aftermarket upper and lower control arms with delrin bushings everywhere
(2) since you have the front apart already, chose either a drop\lowering spring and high quality shock or coilover shock combo to adjust ride height
(3) replace rag joint with Jeep or Astro van steering shaft
(4) replace rear control arms with delrin lined double adjustable upper and lower arms
(5) replace rear springs with either a drop\lowering spring and high quality shock or coilover shock combo to adjust ride height
(6) add a chassis mounted pro-touring style rear sway bar
(7) replace 15" tall sidewall tires with 17" low profile UHP tires, something like a 255/40/17 in size

Those 7 items will greatly improve the car's ability to corner at speed without adversely affecting the ride.

For better braking, simply swapping in oversize metric front calipers and your choice of brake pads front and rear will give you the best bang for the buck.


Lance
1985 Monte Carlo SS Street Car
#1065048 - 02/06/20 06:41 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,740
Travis Jones Offline
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Travis Jones  Offline
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Ferndale, MI
I agree with what most everyone here is saying, but the handling aspects of these vehicles weren't terrible from the factory, my biggest complaint is the steering feel when compared to modern cars so most of what I would focus on is the steering.

I'll make a list similar to Lance

1. New bushings all around, I'd stick with rubber from a reputable manufacturer.
2. UMI Shock and Sping kit for G-bodies
3. Jeep / Astro steering shaft
4. Borgeson 800130 Steering Box
5. UMI front brace
6. Oversized Metric Calipers and DOT legal braided steel lines
7. 17in N90 wheels with sporty 245/45/17 tires. (this will clear all of the suspension component/frame/fender lips)
8. a 32MM 3rd Gen Camaro front Sway Bar (if you can find one, only a minor upgrade from F41)
9. All new front end hard parts (tie rods, center link, Idler Arm, etc)
10. A more aggressive than stock alignment -1 to -1.5 degree camber, 7-9 degrees of caster and 1/8th in toe out.

This is just my .02 and as always your mileage may vary.


86 SS 6.0L LQ4, TBSS GEN IV intake, 92mm TB, 30lb injectors, Summit Stage 3 NA Cam, Stainless long tube headers, Stainless 3in exhaust, Microsquirt ECU, FABbot AR5 5-speed, Torsen LSD, QA1 Lvl 3 Suspension Kit, UMI Front & Rear Braces. Check out my build blog on Summit Racing's OnAll Cylinders https://www.onallcylinders.com/author/travis-jones/
#1065053 - 02/06/20 08:40 PM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 6,181
SSLance Offline
10+ Year
SSLance  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 6,181
Peoria, AZ
I have no problem with that either Travis only I'd only replace the box if it had slop in it already. My box has 87,000 miles on it now and is still very tight and responsive. The UMI front brace is a great add on also.


Lance
1985 Monte Carlo SS Street Car
#1065054 - 02/07/20 12:46 AM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Travis Jones]  
Joined: Dec 1999
Posts: 12,268
PB86SS/87LS Online beer
Administrator
20+ Year
PB86SS/87LS  Online Beer
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Joined: Dec 1999
Posts: 12,268
New Berlin, WI
Originally Posted by Travis Jones

8. a 32MM 3rd Gen Camaro front Sway Bar (if you can find one, only a minor upgrade from F41)


Not to nitpick but the F41 bar is 32mm, I believe. Unless you meant the f-body 34mm or 36mm.

The front brace is also a good mention from above. Made a noticeable difference in my cars, if I recall. Mine are from SC&C who I think is the original creator of that brace. Sometimes SC&C gets lost in the shuffle of companies. Seems everyone on Facebook defaults to UMI when people as ask about brands, they have done well getting their name out there I must say. Can’t go wrong with them but look around as there are many different choices/price points.

Staying away from the kits as Lance mentions is a good idea, also I’d stay away from poly bushings for a car that is street driven. Although poly core support/frame bushings are a super cheap/simple way to help tighten up the front end even if only a little.

Last edited by PB86SS/87LS; 02/07/20 12:47 AM.

-86'SS 383 CCC QJet- BRF 2004r-8.5" 3.42 -313/344@RW - 13.35 @103
-87'LS 350 MAF/SD TPI- CRF 2004r-7.5" 3.42 -248/340@RW - 14.55 @ 96
-81'Grand LeMans Safari Wagon 3.8 2bbl/200C/2.73
-07'TBSS Stockish daily driver
[Linked Image]
#1065060 - 02/07/20 06:04 AM Re: Best value suspension upgrades [Re: Rocco_Q]  
Joined: Jan 2000
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mmc427ss Online content
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mmc427ss  Online Content
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Posts: 4,772
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Big yes to the front frame horn brace. Mine is a 20 year old Kirbin which only runs side to side, the original diagonals are reused. The welded up triangles frame braces didn't appear until years later, Marcus was the first. The Kirbin is heavy wall 1" square tube, heavy, but strong. My only problem with any of the braces is they should be aluminum. That could be another weekend project.

LOTS of options and ways for us to spend your money. First look at the pocketbook and decide what area to spend it. Usually you concentrate on one end of the car or the other.
Upgrades usually end up with throwing more parts at it because you are there. Just be aware of that.
Fortunately these days the venders that sell handling upgrades for our cars are many, better than it's ever been. Springs, shocks, control arms, brakes, you name it, a lot to look at and be overwhelmed,

I have that Global UCA with the B swap. My recommendation is not to pursue it. It's only drawback is the bumpsteer which can be a big problem. Tall ball joint option is a more viable option these days. Also the B spindle is a little harder to find today but there is a good alternative aftermarket spindle worth looking at.
Spindle and control arms options are many, but they move you right into brake upgrades. Like I said it landslides.
Bob


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