Suspension Buyer’s Guide
Various approaches to improve your ride’s ride
Andy Bolig - September 21, 2011 12:00 PM
Travellers have understood the benefits of building in some sort of cushioning system long before the automobile entered the scene. The phrase “rides like a buckboard” heralds back to those earlier modes of transportation where they still recognized ride quality, even if there was only one or two horsepower.
Today’s autos have gotten much more sophisticated, and the paths once travelled have given way to paved roadways (or raceways). Yet, having the proper suspension is just as important as in those early days of transportation. Now, instead of trying to totally separate the rider from the ridden, commuters, competitors and all-around enthusiasts are searching for that perfect combination between smoothing out the bumps, sticking to the surface and getting feedback about what is going on under the vehicle. That’s a lot to ask when you consider how much faster we travel today.
There are many manufacturers of products aimed at helping us get that “just right” ride, but the trick is to be honest with yourself when making the decision as to which one suits you best. Everyone is searching for that elusive ride quality, but much like the number of setting options on a full-tilt four-bar rear suspension, there are various ways to get there and only one might be the “best” for your application. We’ve taken a look at some ways enthusiasts might seek to improve their rides, but deciding which one is best can only be done by those informed few who will be using it. Take a look at some of the options out there and consider which of these might be best for you and your ride as you find yourself looking at ways to separate your car’s ride quality from those buckboard references.
Many times, enthusiasts want to lower the ride height of their autos. Sometimes, it’s done merely for aesthetics, but more often than not, a complementary improvement in handling also accompanies the change. Competition-minded enthusiasts might make this change solely for the performance gains. The key is to make the change without changing the geometry of the suspension. One way to do that is with dropped spindles like these for the C5 and C6 Corvettes from LG Motorsports. Drop spindles are a must-have for those wanting the most from their suspensions.
These drop spindles not only lower the car one inch over stock with no changes to control arm geometry, but they also allow for a lowered car to retain full use of the shock without having to worry about bump travel. The spindles also give you more strength for more even pad wear and brake stability.
An added benefit of LG’s spindles is that the upper ball joints are now a replaceable mono ball with a stainless steel pin insert for added precision. Geometry changes to the unit include added static camber, bump steer correction and also caster adjustments. Many dropped spindle units come as a kit. These kits come as a set of four and include upper bearing, pin and hardware. They accept a stock brake package or aftermarket caliper brackets and OEM wheel bearings.
Crossing Over to IFS
Possibly the missing link between today’s suspensions and the buckboard would be the widely used solid front axle or buggy-sprung suspensions. They were an improvement in their day, but as technology moved on, they still relied on one spring and a solid piece of iron to control the front of the car. The simplicity of the design keeps it valid for many enthusiasts, but if you’re wanting more, swapping out that solid axle for an IFS could be as easy as swapping that outdated buggy-spring front suspension with a new crossmember. Just remember that as you increase the handling capabilities of your suspension, the frame needs to be able to handle it as well.
The unit shown here is a bolt-in IFS for 1935-40 Fords from Speedway Motors. This application allows the average enthusiast to install a proven Mustang II-style independent front suspension using only basic hand tools. The innovative crossmember design employs interlocking boxing plates to support the frame rails from the inside, distributing the load and providing the ultimate in strength and rigidity. Mounting bolts pass through both the frame and boxing plates, tying all the components together into a reinforced assembly that will not twist or flex.
No welding or specialized fabrication skills are required. Once installed, the adjustable upper spring seats allow precise tuning of the vehicle’s ride height. Bolt-in engine mounts (available for small-block and LS Chevy or small-block Ford V-8s) make engine upgrades easy, too.
Keeping sway at bay
If you like the way your car rides but it lists (leans) like a cruise ship, simply adding or increasing the rigidity of your sway bars can bring great results. Again, this is no “one size fits all” scenario as each vehicle will have specific requirements. If you own a ’78-’87 G-body GM vehicle (Monte Carlo, Regal, Olds Cutlass, etc.), you can increase the roll resistance and improve handling with this sway bar kit from BMR Suspension. The 11/8-inch solid front sway bar and one-inch rear bar is cold formed to resist torsional fatigue and retain “memory” far longer than conventional hot-formed bars. The BMR Sway Bar Kit (SB031) is designed to decrease overall body roll and dramatically increase the cornering capabilities of your G-body without affecting ride quality. Front sway bar (SB020) and rear sway bar (SB021) are also sold separately and are available in red and black hammertone powdercoat finishes. Installation time for both sway bars is only two hours.
A Package of Benefits
Manufacturers began installing independent front suspensions in the late ’30s, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been improvements. Even though your suspension might be separated, today’s technology can bring so much more to the table.
Take, for instance, Jim Meyer Racing’s bolt-in IFS that fits ’64½-’73 Mustangs, as well as other ’60-’77 Ford and Mercury models. The handling, stopping and steering improvement for Mustangs and the other models is no comparison over the old steering box, tower suspension and all that linkage. With reprogrammed suspension geometry and reduced anti-dive and adjustable stance, the new rear-steer A-arm IFS offers power rack-and-pinion steering, 11-inch vented disc brakes (with loads of disc brake options), aluminum adjustable coilover shocks, one-inch antisway bar, tubular A-arms (not Mustang II) and removable steering arms all as standard equipment.
It features a tighter-than-stock turning radius. Caster and camber weight is loaded onto the frame and not the inner fender panel, so there’s no need for tower supports. Also, the rear-steer crossmember sits above the front-sump oil pan and will clear Patriot headers, while the upper A-arms include left- and right-hand threaded adjusters for easy alignment.
This IFS installation can be done at home in a weekend with basic hand tools, only a drill motor and jackstands. There is no cutting and only eight holes to drill with provided templates. Steering hook-up kits or new steering columns will be necessary to connect to the new R&P steering.
Jim Meyer Racing Products, Inc.
A Complete Foundation
One of the things that can be said about restoring a vintage ride is that, like the ’53-’62 Corvettes, you can completely restore the chassis and still have a suspension that was based off of 1939 technology. While that design has proven itself over the past 70-odd years, some might want to keep the looks of their vintage ride but ditch its ride quality. For that, there are several companies that offer complete chassis packages where, in many cases, enthusiasts can place their body right down on the newly completed frame/chassis.
SRIII Motorsports is one such company. The SRIII frame features a round-tube design, engineered for superior strength and rigidity. When coupled with the 1984-up Corvette forged aluminum suspension, un-sprung weight is reduced, producing a softer, more controlled ride. The frames are assembled and welded on precision fixtures, which utilize the stock body and core support mounts for ease of installation. The SRIII frame is new, unlike the original, 40-plus-year-old frame that may be invisibly weakened by moisture and dirt, creating rust that attacks the frame rails from the inside out. SRIII has fabricated frames for everything from El Caminos, Corvettes, Studebakers and tri-five Chevys. All that is needed is the body of the vehicle and the original frame.
SRIII Motorsports, Inc.
Sometimes the ride quality of your car is quite acceptable, but you would prefer to have a little better grip on the steering characteristics. Rack-and-pinion steering began showing up on cars decades ago, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have it if your car pre-dates this technology. There are many kits available for a vast number of cars that can benefit from this upgrade. The best part is that many offer power steering as a bonus if your car wasn’t so equipped. This power rack-and-pinion kit from YearOne is designed to match the front suspension of your B- or E-body Mopar, so there is very little bump steer. There are versions for both big-block and small-block vehicles. It is a bolt-on kit, so no fabrication or welding to the suspension is required. The kit includes a custom made rack-and-pinion assembly, the bolt-on mounting bracket, a complete pump kit with mounting brackets, the steering shaft kit and all the hardware for mounting and column modification.
Back to New for You
Of course, if you’re going for a factory appearance, there’s nothing like restoring your suspension back to how the manufacturers designed it. Most everything from single components to complete chassis restorations is available. Many times, enthusiasts prefer to do most of the work themselves but would rather leave the more technical areas like rearends – or in the case of 1963-’82 Corvettes, rebuilding the trailing arms – to the pros. Many places provide these services and are highly regarded in their field. The name Bair’s is widely known among Corvette enthusiasts as they’ve been offering their services since 1970.
No matter the marque or make of auto that you’re working on, checking with fellow enthusiasts on forums or at car shows will help you decide where to best spend your money when getting specific work done on restoring your ride.
Some autos, like GM’s Nova or Camaro, have completely removable subframes for a front suspension. Nova owners wanting to upgrade their cars can now simply bolt-on a better performing front subframe designed completely as a unit. Heidts Muscle, a division of Heidts Automotive, now offers a true bolt-on full front subframe and Pro-G™ IFS module for 1962-1967 Novas. The Heidts Nova Pro-G™ IFS features their Pro-G™ suspension with advanced geometry for unbelievable cornering, ride and handling. It’s a heavy-duty design suitable enough for cruising the streets, Pro Touring or dominating at autocrosses or track. Installing the Heidts Nova Pro-G is as simple as unbolting and removing the front sheetmetal, engine, transmission and subframe, then bolting in the new complete Heidts IFS subframe assembly.
Heidts Automotive, (847) 487-3701, www.heidts.com
Chances are good that your auto was shipped from the factory with rubber bushings at its suspension joints. MANY miles have been put on suspensions equipped with rubber bushings. But, their increased compliance can also work against you if you desire a tighter feel to your car’s suspension. Also, over time, the rubber bushings tend to degrade, altering your car’s alignment and handling.
Polyurethane, sometimes simply called “urethane,” bushings were created as a solution for those situations. Prothane Inc. has been manufacturing various polyurethane bushings for enthusiasts since 1991 and guarantees its product to be free of defects in materials and workmanship (not due to abuse, neglect or misapplication) for the total time the vehicle remains with the original purchaser of the product(s). Everything from suspension parts, sway bars, body mounts and even engines and transmissions can benefit from the increased stability of Prothane urethane products.
Prothane Inc., (888) PROTHANE, www.prothane.com
Tying it all together
The suspension is the foundation for how your car rides and handles. The stronger it is, the better your car will ride and perform. For Mopar enthusiasts who hit the drag strip or like to launch their LX or LC-platformed car hard once in a while on the street, these subframe connectors are a must-have upgrade. Petty’s Garage has two subframe connector options for you to choose from – weld in or bolt in. Do you already have a front strut tower brace and rear shock tower brace? Then this is the next step toward increasing the structural integrity of your Challenger chassis. Made from 1” x .120 wall square tubing, the bolt-in components will be a removable structural addition to your car once they are installed, and while the 15/8” x .083 weld in components are the ultimate in strength, they will become a permanent structural addition.
Stock, but STILL better!
You don’t have to always turn to the aftermarket to get a better performing chassis. Those Mopar E-bodies like the Challenger and B-bodies like the Charger had notoriously tough suspensions, often surviving stunt driving sequences that would destroy other cars. Unfortunately, the front suspensions are still prone to wear out with age.
Rebuild kits, just like these rebuild sets from Classic Industries, can restore the handling of your car and reduce front tire wear. These will renew your worn-out front suspension with all new components. Each set includes upper and lower ball joints, inner and outer tie rod ends with tie rod adjusting sleeves, upper and lower control arm bushings and strut rod bushings for a complete replacement.