Installing Steeda’s Lightweight S550 Drag K-Member in a Cobra Jet!

Installing Steeda’s Lightweight S550 Drag K-Member in a Cobra Jet!

A stock K-member weighs approximately 64 pounds in a stock 2016 Mustang. In drag racing terms, when you’re trying to go as fast as possible, that may as well be an extra ton hanging out in your engine bay.

Eric Bardekoff’s 2016 Cobra Jet clone competes in NMRA’s Renegade class – an eighth-mile heads-up small tire class, which allows both Ford small-block and big-block engines with a single power adder (size restricted). Prior to entering the class this season, Bardekoff ran in NMRA’s Modified Street class. With this class deleted from the lineup for 2020, Bardekoff had to make a switch that meant more power and less weight.

Bardekoff’s Cobra Jet in action at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout in March of this year.

His Whipple-supercharged 315ci Coyote is making enough power to put him in the 4.70-second range in the eighth-mile (that’s somewhere in the low 7-second range in the quarter!). But every pound counts!

As luck would have it, as Bardekoff was at the 2019 Yellowbullet Nationals, a bumper-scraping wheelie brought the CJ down hard, destroying the factory K-member. Bardekoff and tuner Nicky Notch had decided to pull weight and add power to the supercharged Coyote, resulting in a nearly uncontrollable 2.7-second wheelstand. Bardekoff did his best to keep the CJ on the straight and narrow, but the aftermath was rough. Along with the bent K-member, damage was done to the oil pan, front struts, and several other suspension components.

That’s where Steeda comes in! Bardekoff knew that he needed to lighten up the front end anyway, so rather than replacing the K-member with a stock one, he knew the Steeda S550 Mustang Drag Front K-Member was the perfect fit.

K-Member Deets

So what made Bardekoff so sure? For one, the K-member is advertised as weighing 34 pounds, and being 27 pounds lighter than stock. That is a HUGE weight savings! We did weigh our stock K-member and Steeda’s tubular version in succession, and we’ll have the accurate results somewhere down below. It’s built from mandrel-bent DOM steel for strength and of course, weight reduction. The K-member features boxed and gusseted tension link and lateral link mounts for extra strength (which is of huge importance in high-horsepower applications like this one).

While we could have saved a couple pounds by removing some factory attachment points, we know customer safety is top priority here at Steeda. – Scott Boda, Steeda

The K-member mounts in the factory location, utilizing factory mounting points for added strength and rigidity, which also simplifies the bolt-in installation. It retains all of the OEM suspension and steering components, including control arms and spindles, factory front sway bar mounts, and utilizes factory 5.0-liter and 5.2-liter engine mounts. However, Steeda does recommend upgrading to its own mounts.

The Steeda S550/GT350 Mustang Drag Front K-Member

Because it’s designed for S550 Mustang and GT350 drag racing applications, the K-member provides additional adjustment for roll center correction on Mustangs that have been lowered, as well as additional clearance for headers and oil pans. With this K-member installed, there is more clearance and greater access when working on the engine between passes. It also includes the welded tie down loops to allow for easy strapping down in your race car hauler. If you happen to be running a Hellion turbo kit, Steeda’s K-member has provisions and tabs for that also.

It’s worth noting that lightening the front of a drag car with the installation of this K-member is good for several things, including the ability to pull ballast (removable weight) from the back of the car. This allows for a lighter and proper front-to-back weight bias. But more on that later!

If you’re familiar with Steeda’s Silver Bullet S550 Mustang, you might already know that this K-member was developed and is used on that 9-second drag car.

We chatted with Scott Boda, who wears many hats at Steeda — director of manufacturing and plant manager of Steeda Manufacturing and Engineering, as well as driver for Steeda’s drag racing program since 2003 (aka “the guy who doesn’t know how to turn” according to his colleagues). We asked him whether this particular K-member can be used by Mustangs that see street time.

“This is one of the primary reasons we designed our Steeda K-member using all the factory attachment points and kept the sway bar mounts,” he explained. “We know hardcore enthusiasts like to take their race cars on the street, and there are more and more street cars making over 1,000 horsepower now than ever before. So while we could have saved a couple pounds by removing some factory attachment points, we know customer safety is top priority here at Steeda. It’s also why we make our products in the USA and back them with a lifetime warranty.”

We also asked him what goals the Steeda team set out to accomplish when designing this particular K-member.

“Let’s face it, we all want less weight, but what is going to truly separate you from the other guys?” he responded. “Our K-member offers adjustable front roll center and wheelbase, mounts for Hellion twin-turbo kits and factory MagneRide sensors, is compatible with manual steering racks, and offers the ability to use OEM motor mounts, with built-in tow hooks that accept all the factory suspension components. Simply put, you are not going to find a better designed and engineered S550 K-member on the market, period.”

The Installation

Steeda recommends professional assistance in installing this K-member. Though it’s a relatively simple installation, a K-member does a very important job, and safety is of utmost importance, especially in a high-powered drag car.

Luckily, Bardekoff owns a race car fabrication shop, EB Custom Works, in Ronkonkoma, New York, so we had a built-in professional.

Prior to beginning the installation, the damaged stock K-member was removed from the Cobra Jet. This process was easy – seeing as Bardekoff’s S550 is equipped with an engine plate and mid-plate, removing the suspension was simple. The engine didn’t have to be hoisted up or removed. Bardekoff unbolted the front struts (which were in need of a rebuild) and removed the OEM control arms. He then removed the steering shaft, unbolted the K-member, and removed it from the car.

The damaged stock K-member after being removed from the Mustang.

This specific application does not require a radiator mount or engine mounts because the radiator is built into the chassis, and a front and rear engine plate is used.

We put the stock K-member on our Proform scales to see just how much it weighed directly out of the car. The piece tipped the scales at 56 pounds. You’ll note that this reading is quite a bit lighter than the stock K-member’s weight from the factory. This is because Bardekoff had cut up the stock K-member to fit his needs. When asked how much weight he removed, he told us it was in the ballpark of seven to eight pounds, putting it in the ballpark of the factory weight of 64 pounds. Bardekoff then placed the Steeda version on the scales, and got a reading of 35 pounds. Considering our scales do not show decimal points, and rather show rounded numbers, this number is right around Steeda’s advertised 34-pound claims, and will end up saving us about 21 pounds on this particular application (which is still a huge amount of weight reduction) compared to the unmodified stock-to-unmodified Steeda weight drop of 30 pounds.

Steeda S550 Drag K-Member (left) and Stock S550 K-Member (right)

“Comparing the two K-members, the Steeda K-member will now save us 21 pounds off the nose of the car, while increasing clearances for our headers, engine blanket, oil pan, and more,” Bardekoff explained.

Bardekoff weighed each K-member on his Proform scales. On the left, the stock K-member weighs in at 56 pounds, while the Steeda K-member weighs 35 pounds.

With the Cobra Jet free of its mangled OE K-member, Bardekoff turned his attention to the Steeda version. After installing the new oil pan, Bardekoff went ahead and inspected the vehicle one more time for any further damage.

Once he deemed it safe, he began installing the new Steeda K-member by bolting on his manual steering rack and torquing it to Steeda’s specifications (in this case, 150 ft-lb). The K-member was lifted into place in the engine bay, and was bolted into the factory location utilizing the factory hardware. In all, 12 bolts were torqued to Steeda’s specifications, which are provided on the K-member’s included installation instructions.

Bardekoff lifted the new Steeda K-member into place by himself, but told us it would’ve been easier with an extra set of hands.

Finally, he installed his freshly rebuilt front struts, and bolted his stock OEM control arms into place, along with connecting the steering shaft, and tie rods. While the stock K-member limits the steering column and header clearance, this replacement allows for a lot of clearance when fitting an aftermarket rack and pinion with a custom steering shaft.

Twelve bolts hold the K-member in place.

The car then was put on an alignment rack and received a race alignment to make sure everything was 100% square again.

“This Steeda K-member gives me the ability to have more room when working on my car,” Bardekoff explained. “This stronger and lighter K-member will keep this 7-second Mustang on-track lap after lap.”

Launch LessonAlignment and Weight Bias

So what’s all the fuss about with making sure the car was 100% “square?” It goes without saying that when a car launches off the line – specifically a high-powered car – you want the car to do its job. In other words, go fast, and perhaps more importantly, go straight. Fighting a car to stay in the groove all the way down the track is sketchy and a ton of work, so the more room for error that can be removed, the better.

Bardekoff finished the installation by connecting his freshly rebuilt front struts, OEM control arms, steering shaft, and tie rods.

Earlier, we mentioned weight bias. Weight and placement of weight is hugely important in the successful launch of a race car. If you’ve ever been around or driven a drag car, you’ll know that shifting just the smallest amount of weight around the car or removing it completely can entirely change the way the car moves off the line and down the track. For instance, remember when we told you about how this Cobra Jet was damaged in the first place? All of the weight was removed, and the car reacted violently. A huge part of drag car setup is figuring out where to place added weight to achieve proper weight bias.

According to Bardekoff, a good start for weight bias in a naturally aspirated car is 50/50. This means that when weighing your car, the weight should be divided evenly between the front and rear axles.

Moving up to forced induction applications, Bardekoff says a good rule of thumb is to start at 52-percent weight on the nose. “Then you can work your way all the way up to 57-58-percent on the nose depending on the power, tire, and how hard you hit it,” he explained.

For reference, the stock weight bias of a 2016 Mustang GT is about 53/47 front to rear.

We also asked Boda about the importance of weight bias during the Steeda K-member design process. “Weight bias is important in all forms of racing and at Steeda, we have always had the saying, ‘weight is the enemy of performance.’  So our goal was to reduce the weight by half for the front K-member, which we got pretty close to.  Depending on the customer’s style of racing, they will want to move weight around, but that’s easiest accomplished by running coilover or adjustable spring perches.

Watching Bardekoff’s car work over the past few years has made it obvious just how important this aspect of drag car setup is. Though it was clear that the car was making plenty of power to get it down the track quickly, it took time to iron out the weight bias, and it is still a trial and error process when adjusting power. Once it was figured out though, the Cobra Jet was putting down consistent 4.70-second eighth-mile passes.

The finished product. Bardekoff custom-made the carbon-fiber belly pan to fit with the K-member.

With all said and done, how does Bardekoff feel about his new Steeda K-member? “It’s an affordable way to make your car faster with a simple bolt-on part, drops a lot of weight off the front bias, and increases room to work on the car. It’s a no brainer.” We would say he gives the Steeda Mustang Drag K-Member his stamp of approval.

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About the author

Stephanie Davies-Bardekoff

Stephanie Davies-Bardekoff got her start in automotive media while attending Rutgers. She worked for Roush Performance for a while, before eventually landing here at Power Automedia. Her Coyote-swapped 1992 Fox-body drag car is her prized possession.
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