A Guide to Suspension Handling Upgrades
It is a great time to be in the market to update your suspension. In the last decade or so, the aftermarket has made huge strides in innovative new products and systems to help make your street rod, muscle car or classic truck handle better than ever.
Most of the manufactures we contacted offer complete suspension upgrade kits, but we wanted to focus on some of the individual components available that can be incorporated into an original suspension and complemented with other upgrades as your budget allows. The good news is that there are plenty of options available, including sway bars, shocks, drop spindles and coil-over kits to fit within most hot rodding budgets.
Better yet is the reach of applications available today. It used to be that if you didn’t have a Camaro, Mustang, or Chevelle, you used to have to settle for OEM replacement parts. Today, there are suspension upgrades available across the board for classic cruisers, Mopars, ’80s rides, and plenty of truck applications. Just take a look at some of the latest suspension components to help your vintage vehicle handle better with a safe and comfortable ride.
The first generation of Mustangs is known for its sporty looks, but its handling prowess leaves something to be desired these days. With a little help from Aldan American and their Road Comp Series Suspension Kits, you can easily bring your Mustang’s stance and handling up to modern standards.
Aldan’s kit is a designed as a bolt-on system based around their adjustable front coil-over shocks, which provide the ability to alter the ride height. The coil-overs can be mounted within the factory shock towers as well as with stock or aftermarket control arms. The rear kit is supplied with adjustable shocks engineered to work with leaf-sprung rearends and Aldan offers small- and big-block kits for ’65-’73 Mustangs.
The ’73-’77 Malibu, Monte Carlo and other nameplates of the GM family have been largely ignored by performance enthusiasts, but they are finally coming into their own. Fatman Fabrications understands the capabilities of these cars and now offers a set of heavy duty rear control arms.
Fat Man starts with 1-1/8-inch DOM steel and tig welds the assembly for seriously improved strength. The assembly is complemented with graphite-impregnated Delrin bushings along with high strength rod ends with Teflon-lined inner bearing races. The upper arms feature high strength rod ends and can be adjusted to help fine-tune the rear axle pinion angle.
One of the most effective – and easiest – upgrades you can make to improve the handling of your muscle car or classic truck is with a new set of sway bars – or by adding sway bars if your vehicle did not come with them. Most installations require only a few hand tools and can be installed in your driveway.
RideTech has reinvented the sway bar with innovations such as investment-cast bar ends, Delrin bushing liners, and barrel-shaped end-link bushings. Their line of MuscleBars are designed as a direct fit and are CNC-bent from durable steel tubing. These bars far surpass the strength of any OEM sway bar and are tested for bar rate accuracy. Some applications, including GM A-body and C5/C6 Corvette, feature adjustable rear sway bars with clamp-on end links.
3rd GEN Support
The gen-three Camaro (1982-92) is finally coming into its own and we’re seeing more on the AutoCross as well as restored and restomod examples at our events. Detroit Speed has embraced this series of GM F-bodies with a number of components engineered to improve their handling performance.
One easy-to-install example is this Strut Tower Brace Kit, a 100-percent direct bolt-on kit designed to improve cornering and reduce body roll. Connecting the front strut towers improves the overall vehicle stiffness to improve the handling. The heavy-duty strut tower brace and doubler plates are powder-coated satin black and are supplied with mounting hardware. DSE offers both a two-point and three-point version.
Chances are that updating your hot rod’s spindles isn’t the first thing on your suspension to-do list, but to SpeedTech, it should be the first item! SpeedTech completely redesigned their spindles to optimize suspension geometry and performance handling for each application.
The spindles are manufactured from forged 7075 T73 aluminum for strength and light weight. The upper ball joint mount is raised 2-inches to optimize the camber curve while the relocated steering arm mount position improves the Ackerman geometry and brings bump steer numbers down to nearly zero. The hub positioning is also raised an inch for a lower stance and center of gravity. The spindles are finished with a GM C7 hub and are available for a number of classic cars.
Not only have suspension components changed over the years, but the ideal geometry to match our bigger, stickier tires has also progressed! SPC Performance offers a line of stout tubular control arms designed to deliver more adjustability while providing increased clearance.
The upper arms, available for GM A-, G-, and F-bodies (1st and 2nd gen) feature ½-inch taller ball studs to improve the camber curve. Plus, you can easily dial in more caster and camber to suit your driving needs. The ball joints accept grease for easy maintenance and ¼-inch extended studs are available to help tune your system. SPC recommends finishing your upgrade with their 1-inch lowering springs and lower bars.
With a few decades of use now, it’s safe to say that the rubber bushings on your car or truck’s suspension are pretty much shot. Worn control arm bushings, steering rack mounts, or even the engine mounts will negatively affect the handling of your vehicle. Energy Suspension offers a vast variety of new bushings and mounts to replace those failing, original parts.
Energy uses their well-proven Hyper-Flex Performance Polyurethane material which is much stronger than the original rubber materials. This material is much stronger than rubber and is designed to resist deflection and alignment variations to increase the stability of your vehicle. The Hyper-Flex bushings and mounts are available in complete kits, universal pieces and individual applications.
Eaton Detroit Springs
With the number of engine combinations, vehicle weights and wheel setups available these days, getting the right spring for your street rod or cruiser can be tricky. A common update to the rear suspension includes swapping to a 48-inch leaf spring, but you need to make sure that the springs are designed for your vehicle or you may end up with a firm, uncomfortable ride.
Eaton Detroit Spring can ensure you get the right springs for your rod as they’ve been manufacturing leaf and coil springs right in the Motor City since 1937! With that experience, they’ll make sure you get the best spring combination to produce a smooth, safe ride.
Hotchkis Sport Suspension
With all the things we use our phones to control, it may not be a shock to learn that Hotchkis Sport Suspension now offers coil-overs that can be adjusted through a Bluetooth network! This advanced coil-over system allows you to alter the damping forces from acceleration, braking, and cornering parameters through an easy-to-use app.
The network provides nearly infinite damping activation and includes the electronic-controlled coil-overs, master in-car control unit, cockpit controller switch, and a military-spec wiring harness. The coil-overs allow for the ride height to be lowered about 2–4-inches from stock and are also available in a manually adjustable system. Currently available for GM A-bodies and second-gen Camaros, with more applications to follow.
Chevelles were never known for their cornering capabilities and were fitted with spindly sway bars back in the day. However, with a few well-chosen upgrades, you can have your Chevelle cornering and handling like a champ.
One of the first upgrades that Speedway Motors recommends is a set of sway bars, specifically their splined sway bar for the ’64-’72 models. The kit comes with steel arms to secure the splined bar, allowing for adjustments to match your handling goals. This setup also provides alignment and clearance to match any ride height. The kit comes with polyurethane bushings and is priced right to fit most any budget.
The shock absorbers on your hot rod are there to do exactly that: absorb the shocks and bumps that the suspension experiences. Without them, your car would be like a kid’s bouncy balloon ride on wheels, which is why it’s important to use a quality set designed for your vehicle.
Belltech understands how to not only give cars and trucks a better stance, but also how to make them ride comfortably and safely. Their line of Street Performance Shocks was designed as a bolt-in upgrade from weak OEM units with a focus on low speed compression and rebound characteristics. Their oversized construction provides added damping control and features a beefy piston and rod assembly, Teflon-coated bushings and seals are packed into a 55mm shock body to last for years to come.
Known for their advanced shock control technology, Viking Performance has stepped up again with their new Comfort-Ride Shocks. This series of patented absorbers feature a soft progressive rebound curve with digressive compression to eliminate harshness on uneven road surfaces to deliver a comfy ride.
These shocks feature two adjustments to help you dial in your ride to achieve the ride characteristics you desire. Developed as a direct bolt-in, the shocks are available in a number of lengths and mounting configurations, including a coil-over design.
CPP is known for delivering complete suspension systems that give you everything you need to bolt-on in one shot. One of their latest additions is their Total Control Handling package for classic cars and trucks, which are based around double-adjustable front coil-overs and dual-adjustable shocks. Front and rear adjustable sway bars are also included to finish your suspension upgrade.
The front coil-overs allow over 2-inches of ride height adjustment and feature separate rebound and compression adjustments. The sway bars are also adjustable and are machined from lightweight 1.25-inch DOM tubing for increased strength and roll resistance. A Heim-joint end-link setup is supplied to provide multiple mounting positions for a precise setup for each application.
Chris Alston’s Chassisworks
Owners of early Mustangs, Mavericks, Comets and Rancheros will be interested to learn more about the Total Control Products Coilover Conversion System from Chris Alston Chassisworks. This system is designed as an exact-fit installation and offers bind-free operation, predictable tuning changes, and great strength to make your Ford or Mercury classic really handle.
Improvements to the suspension geometry include a lower center of gravity, higher roll center, quicker negative-camber gain, reduced rebound travel, and increased compression travel to name a few. The entire system is engineered as one precise package, including their exclusive TrueCenter pivot sockets and tubular suspension components to deliver precise control over the spindle’s travel arch.
If you have a car that serves double duty on the street and on the track, QA1 has the answer to your shock requirements with their new MOD Series. These shocks can be completely re-valved in minutes and without removing them from the car!
The shocks feature a dry modular valve pack that can easily be swapped without disassembling the shock. Once the desired valving is in place, the unique double-adjustable design allows for fully independent control over the compression and rebound. The nitrogen-charged canister is available in a piggyback or remote configuration for ease of installation in tight areas. The Mod Series shocks are available for a variety of specific applications as well as custom mounts.