I enjoy upgrades to anything. Some of the most rewarding experiences were the little details that just pulled the whole package together, the icing on the cake. Previously, we discussed a testing process to determine whether we would change the Spec E30 rules, and now I have the opportunity to install the new kit to see how easy it is — or isn’t.
The Ground Control kit has everything you need to install the new coilover setup. For the most part, all you need are some basic tools, but you also will need some specialty tools, like a cut-off wheel and a ball-joint separator. Fortunately, the ball-joint separator can be borrowed or rented from auto parts stores.
To begin the coilover installation, get the car up on four jack stands and remove all four wheels. Compress the front brake caliper a little to allow the caliper and pads to come off the rotor. Unbolt the caliper carrier and zip tie the brake caliper up so it doesn’t hang by the brake hose. Then remove the brake rotor and set it aside. Then remove the bolt from the ABS sensor and set it aside.
Front Strut Removal
Remove the nut that holds the front sway bar bracket to the lower control arm. Then remove the 19mm nut for the lower ball joint on the lower control arm. Next remove the 17mm nut for the steering tie rod. Now is when you can use the ball-joint separator. The only problem with this method is that the tool can damage the boots on both parts.
Once the tie rod is loose, just let it hang out of the way. Now is a good time to inspect the ball joint for wear and excessive play, the tie rod and the flex joint at the steering rack and boot. If any are worn, replace them while you’ve got it apart. The next steps can vary depending on which camber plates you have in the car.
If you are lucky, you will have access to the top nut on the strut shaft, usually a 19-mm socket. If this is the case, you can reassemble everything without changing your alignment. You can remove the nut and the whole strut assembly will drop out the bottom. Be assured that the H&R springs are not under any compression between the spring seats so there will be no surprises when the nut comes off. Just remember to capture any spacers or washers specific to your camber plates. If you have an upper strut brace, it needs to come out as well.
Front Strut Disassembly
Now that the strut is out of the car, you can remove and set aside the upper spring seat and H&R spring. You won’t need those anymore. I was lucky in that I had a couple of spanner wrenches from another coilover kit that fit the strut tube jam nut pretty well, and I was able to remove it without too much fuss. I used a jack handle to add some leverage to the spanner to break the nut loose. Depending on how long the nut has been in place, it sometimes refuses to come out. Giant adjustable pliers have worked for me in the past, as well as a last-ditch effort, using a torch to heat the top, outer threaded portion of the strut tube, being careful to not put heat on the shaft or seal of the insert itself. You definitely don’t want to get anything glowing hot or you will ruin the strut insert. Apply just enough around the perimeter of the tube so the threads will release the nut. Also, a flat punch and a hammer can work the nut loose with some percussive shock therapy. There are a few options to get that jam nut loose, so don’t give up.
Now it’s time for power tools. I recommend cutting off the stock lower spring perch because it makes it easier to adjust the new Ground Control lower spring perch. I like to use a 6-inch cutoff wheel, but you could use a smaller one if that’s what you have.
If you look at where the lower spring perch is welded onto the strut tube, you will notice that there is a nice thick weld all the way around the tube. Just above that welded area is where you want to cut the lower spring perch off the strut. The metal is rather thin, so go easy with the cutoff wheel. I find that scoring the perch all the way around the strut, then making a lighter second pass removing a little more material allows me to strike it firmly with a hammer and the remaining material will tear off cleanly. This prevents me from cutting into the tube with the cutoff wheel. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will come back later and fine-tune the trimming of the metal so that the new spring seat sits flush.
Front Strut Assembly
Once you are happy with the fitment of the new perch mount, you can now paint all the exposed metal to keep it from corroding. When the paint is dry, install the O-ring to about a quarter-inch from the bottom perch mount. Next, slide the threaded collar with the inside relief cut facing the bottom to slide over the O-ring. This material has been removed, so the collar will fit snug on the O-ring. The adjustable lower spring perch comes installed on the threaded collar, so the front spring can go on with the spring seat already in place.
In the kit, zip-tied to the upper spring seat is a washer, which is important because it allows the camber plates to stay fixed while the upper spring seat and rod can turn effortlessly. If you put the car together and there is binding in the steering, or you hear the spring popping while turning the steering wheel, you likely forgot this washer. Compare it with what came off the car. If it’s a different size or shape, then reuse what you already have. From there you can go stab the strut tube back up into the camber plate and set the lower part of the strut back onto the lower ball joint. It will sit there happily while you reassemble the rest of the parts as you removed them earlier.
You might need to put a jack under the control arm to lift it into place to finish reinstalling the hardware on the camber plate. Reinstall everything you just removed except for the front sway bar and, congratulations, you finished one corner!
I used as a baseline setting four threads showing from the bottom on the lower spring perch, which gets you pretty close to the ride height it was before the spring change. Each turn on the front collar is equal to about one-eighth-inch in ride height. The rear collar is a little less. In my case, I need a complete alignment because I had to completely disassemble the camber plates. With cars that the camber plates are retained in place, the alignment doesn’t change enough to require an alignment, but with the added adjustability of the camber plates, you likely will want to realign the car, but you won’t have to because your previous settings will be retained. Now go do the other side!
The rear installation is much easier. All you need to remove is the lower shock bolt and one sway-bar mount. That’s it! The control arm will droop down enough so that the spring will come out easily. In the kit, there is a threaded collar with the adjustable lower spring perch already on it, which sits on the lower control arm. The other part is a cone used to locate the spring when the suspension is unloaded. That mounts on the upper spring perch.
Then there is the spring. Again, there is an O-ring that goes over the lower control arm that secures the threaded collar onto the control arm. Like the front, it also has a relief cut on the inside of one end that will slip over the O-ring. The cone also has an O-ring already installed on the inside and it locks the cone in place on the upper spring perch. I twist and tap it up into place lightly until it seats. Then install the spring and here, too, I use four threads showing from the bottom of the lower spring perch as my baseline setup. Then you can jack up the control arm and reinstall the lower shock bolt, but leave the sway bar loose until you complete the task on the other side. Be sure to reinstall the sway bar end link after you are finished. It takes about two to three hours to do this installation yourself. A shop could probably do it in an hour and a half.
Depending on which rear sway bar you have, with the car up on jack stands the rear spring can fit snugly in the perches or it can fit very loosely in a way that you can fenagle it out of its mount. Shortening up the rear sway bar end links will reduce the total unloaded droop of the lower control arm. But even without making that change, the springs will not “fall out” while driving the car.
All that is left to do now is go drive and enjoy your new Spec E30!