Appearances can be deceiving. At a car show or just bopping down the boulevard, an airbag car is generally considered, at best, a cruiser, or worse, a poser. The line on airbag cars has always been a cushy ride with the emphasis strictly on image. But after we had a chance to abuse one of Air Ride Technologies' air-suspended machines through a few corners for an afternoon, we changed our tune.
The real fun began when Air Ride's owner, Bret Voelkel, was foolish enough to trust us with his Marina Blue '66 Chevelle for a few days. The car is actually a nice blend of aggressive handling and a gnarly stance, and it only took a few minutes behind the wheel to receive our first thumbs-up. Later, we were almost mugged at the local auto parts store when we spent half an hour running down the option list on the Chevelle in the parking lot for the small crowd it attracted.
But trips to the parts store rarely include aggressive handling maneuvers other than dodging errant shopping carts, so we decided on a quick road trip into the mountains. The Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California is a favorite for ninja bikers and devotees of the art of apex-shaving, so that was where we pointed the Chevelle.
When we started our climb up to the top of the mountain, the morning mist had burned off, the temperature was in the low 70s, and the conditions were springtime perfect. Our launch time occurred just after lunch, which meant we had only a couple of slow-moving mommy minivans to circumvent on our ascent. At first, we decided not to push the Chevelle too hard but quickly countermanded that decision when the Air Ride A-body took the first indicated 35-mph corner at closer to 50 with not even a hint of body roll or tire squeal. During our prelaunch inspection, we had noted the 275/45R17 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A's on the rear and were a little surprised at the smaller 225/40R17s on the front until we realized that with the 'bags' capacity to decapitate worms, the smaller front tires are necessary to maintain fender clearance.
After our run up the hill, we turned around to make gravity work for us on the more thrilling downhill run. As soon as we performed the 180, the rearview mirror was full of some monkey in a Toyota sizing us up for a double-yellow banzai pass. But before import boy could work up the steam to impress his female passenger, we out-braked the goofball going into the first corner, leaving his front-wheel driver desperately understeering, while the Chevelle merely picked up the apex and laid down a nice part-throttle exit as our underachiever lost more ground through each successive corner.