When the Camaro was killed off back in 2002, many late-model GM enthusiasts felt betrayed and heartbroken, and we were left wondering and hoping if that would make a return. Once it was confirmed seven years later that it would reemerge from the ashes, we were ecstatic and anticipated its launch like kids waiting for Santa to arrive.
Needless to say, the new Camaro is a hit and the aftermarket has been catering to these cars like they’re going out of style. The Zeta chassis Camaro has only been on the market for three years, and it’s already at the point to where you can build an entire fifth-gen from scratch using aftermarket parts. Even Chevrolet Performance lists a body in white and a new COPO as part numbers in their catalog for racing enthusiasts. It’s insanity.
It’s not to say that the Camaro SS can’t handle out of the box, because it most definitely can. It’s one of the best handling sport coupes in America, and has been around California’s Laguna Seca road course quicker than a Lotus Elise. But like with everything else there’s always room for improvement.
We took it upon ourselves to outfit an example of Chevy’s latest ponycar with a set of Hellwig Products sway bars. They’re desinged to improve both traction and handling by directly replacing the factory units. No cutting, welding, or drilling required.
To get a better understanding on the in’s and out’s of Hellwig’s sway bars, we contacted David Wheeler of Hellwig, and he provided us with plenty of insight along the way.
The Test Car
The Camaro that we’re working with is a 2012 RS/SS coupe version that belongs to none other than famous MMA fighter Mike “Joker” Guymon. It’s equipped with the LS3 and 6-speed manual transmission, and has already seen many modifications including a Roots-style supercharger, long-tube headers, a free-flowing exhaust system, and aftermarket wheels.
As a result of all of the engine modifications, it’s putting out something in the 600 HP ballpark, but strangely, the suspension has been left largely untouched up to this point. It’s Guymon’s daily driver that has been all over Southern California and even to the 2012 SEMA show in Vegas. It’s a bonafide street machine, not a trailer queen, which makes it the perfect test car to build upon and test out Hellwig’s sway bar kit.
Helping us with the install was Signature Performance, where they specialize in aftermarket rollers for all types of vehicles. Since Guymon’s Camaro was a couple of hours away from our Power Automedia offices, we chose Signature in Huntington Beach, California as the meeting point for the installation.
Even though today’s cars handle much better than they did forty years ago, there’s always room for improvement. -David Wheeler
The first thing we did was take Guymon’s Camaro around the block to begin a before and after test to get an idea of the differences. Like we mentioned earlier, the current crop of high-performance Camaros from Chevrolet definitely aren’t lacking in the handling department, but nothing in this world is perfect. As good as the handling is on this Camaro, it can always be improved upon.
Besides, with the increase in power that this car now has it only makes sense to have a suspension package that can keep up. We appreciated the stock handling and ride quality but we were anxious to see the difference between the OEM bars and the Hellwigs. Upgrading your sway bars is an easy and affordable modification that benefits any car.
David Wheeler agrees, stating, “We have a ton of late-model guys calling us up, wanting to order the upgraded sway bar kit for their cars. Even though today’s cars handle much better than they did forty years ago, there’s always room for improvement.”
Installing The Front Bar
Once back at the shop, we loaded the Camaro up on the lift and set to work. We chose to start with the front sway bar. Looking through the instructions, Hellwig suggests that unbolting the motor mounts and slightly lifting the engine may be necessary when removing the old bar since there’s minimal room. But Signature’s technician, Josh, was feeling optimistic and decided he wanted to try it without doing so.
Before the bar could come out we would have to remove the OEM sway bar bushings and end links since they are what solely holds the bar in place. It was a relatively simple affair that consisted of removing the wheels and the aforementioned hardware. Removing the front wheels allows easier access to the end links and gave us much more room to work with. The bushings will be put on the shelf as they won’t be going back on the car, but the end links we will be reusing for the Hellwig kit.
Once the wheels, bushings, and end links were removed, Josh did his best to remove the bar without unbolting the engine mounts. Initially, it was a no-go. But then he had the idea of disconnecting the driver’s side tie-rod end, and turning the steering wheel all the way to the left, allowing much more room and access. Bingo! The sway bar came right out and was removed without so much as a scratch to the bar, the car, or Josh.
After the front factory bar and bushings were set aside, we prepared the installation of our thicker Hellwig bar. But before we could swap it in, it was necessary to prep the new bushings for installation. The Hellwig sway bar kit comes with all of the hardware, including the bushing lube. We applied the lube to the new sway bar bushings, making sure we coated them entirely. This prevents any unwanted squeaking from the sway bars as we take corners or hit bumps in the road.
Preventive maintenance completed, it was time to get our new front sway bar attached to the Camaro. The installation process essentially reverses the removal process of the OEM bar. We maneuvered the new bar carefully through the driver’s side wheel well and positioned it accordingly to the mounting holes. We grabbed our freshly lubed bushings and put them into place.
With the polyurethane bushings fitted around the bar and lined up to their mounting holes, we installed the suppled hardware bolts, snugging them down but not tightening as this could present a problem later when it came time to reinstall the OEM end links. It’s always best to allow yourself some “wiggle room” when installing sway bars so you have the ability to adjust the bars accordingly for proper fitment.
Installing The Rear Bar
The rear sway bar wasn’t so simple. You think it would be, but since Guymon’s car had aftermarket end links already installed, the Hellwig sway bar didn’t want to line up properly. These bars were designed with the factory-style end links in mind, so you need to remember that if you want to order this kit for your own Camaro.
We had to order up new ones from General Motors, so when we returned a few days later, we installed the rear Hellwig bar. It went in even easier than the front bar, and we had the car up on the lift and down again within an hour.
Again, we removed the rear tires to allow more room and access, plus it made shooting our photos a bit easier. Removing the old bar was much like the front piece – simply unbolt the bushing mounts and the end links. None of the hardware that held the OEM in place will be getting reused for the Hellwig piece, and we tossed them to the side.
However, it should be said that if you plan on installing these bars into your car that you need to either reuse your factory end links in the rear, or at least a factory-style end link. Like we said before, this bars didn’t want to cooperate with the aftermarket links the car was equipped with.
The Hellwig rear sway bar is adjustable, by offering the car owner three different positions for the end links. The reason for the mulitple adjustability is for firmer handling for the street, autocross, or on a race circuit.
The three adjustments gives you the option to fine-tune your cars suspension, and alter the balance of handling and grip from the front to the rear. This helps you dial in your needed amount of oversteer and understeer, depending on what sort of competition you’ve entered your vehicle in. Adding stiffness to the rear sway bar by moving the end links closer to the pivot point will help the front end gain more cornering traction, while attaching the end links in the outer position will subtract some of that front-end bias. For most situations, adjusting the sway bars for “neutral” balance where neither understeer or oversteer dominates will give the most ultimate cornering ability, but keeping a touch of understeer is usually desirable because it’s more forgiving for less-than-expert drivers.
Now that the Camaro was back on all four wheels, it was time to take it around the block to see how much an improvement the sway bars had made. The steering feel was improved – a change that we realized almost immediately when we made a left at the first stop sign.
Since the bars are adjustable, it allows the customer to fine tune their suspension for their desired needs. -David Wheeler
The car felt far more planted and stiffer in the bends. Not stiffer as in a harsher ride, but rather, more sure-footed and steady. The slight body lean we experienced earlier was eliminated, and it helped improve our confidence in turning Guymon’s 5G Camaro into a true corner carver.
Whether or not Guymon will take this car to any autocross events, we don’t know, but at least he has the option of doing so and being competitive. David wanted to mention that, “Since the bars are adjustable, it allows the customer to fine tune their suspension for their desired needs. Plus their hollow, and the walls are an 1/8-inch thick, so you get all of the strength without sacrificing weight.”
For not a whole lot of time and a relatively small amount of money, we improved the way the Camaro handled and drove. Although the current 5th-generation Camaro is an incredible handler from the factory, there’s always room for improvement. Hellwig’s sway bars prove this, and they make it easy for any enthusiast to enhance their vehicles handling characteristics.