A drag racer need only do two things well: accelerate in a straight line and (hopefully) decelerate in a straight line. In contrast, a true street-driven car spends relatively little time in the max straight-line acceleration mode, but lots of time dodging, weaving, turning, cornering, and braking-activities collectively defined as "handling." Fortunately, a car that corners well can, with a few tweaks, also be made to launch reasonably well at the drags (driven a new Z28, Trans Am, Mustang, or Vette lately?). Yet, even Harry Houdini couldn't make a car optimized for drag racing turn corners.
To get our readers handled, Car Craft contacted four recognized drag racing suspension experts for their recommendations on popular chassis. Their integrated packages are listed on the following pages. Keep in mind that most of the companies outlined here have components for many other applications in addition to those called out here. There are also lots of other sources for street handling suspension, and we've listed some in the sidebar "Other Companies, Other Cars."
'64 1/2-'66 Ford Mustang - Drag Racing Suspension
Global West Drag Racing Suspension
Global West's drag racing suspension packages utilize "negative roll," which refers to the tilt of the tire relative to the pavement induced by suspension movement and body roll under cornering conditions. Most production vehicles have a positive camber curve during cornering, which both reduces cornering ability and increases outside tire wear. Far superior for performance-handling applications is a negative camber curve, as it causes the tire to remain flatter on the pavement thereby improving cornering while promoting even tire wear-without the need to move up to King Kong springs. On the early Mustang, Global obtains negative roll via custom upper control arms featuring Del-A-Lum (delrin/aluminum) bushings that provide reduced compliance with minimal wear, squeaks, or harshness increase. Arm installation requires relocation of the shaft mounting holes per the supplied template.
Aircraft-quality spherical bearings are supplied in GW's lower control arms. The upper and lower arms sandwich trick lightweight Pro-Vintage brake assemblies with giant Wilwood Superlight four-piston calipers, up to 13-inch rotors, and big-bearing '69-'73 Mustang disc brake spindles. (Rear disc brake kits are also available.) Rounding out the front end are 540-pound coil springs, heavy-duty tie-rod sleeves, polyurethane strut rod bushings, a 1-inch antisway bar, and Koni adjustable shocks.
GW prefers Cure Ride shocks out back because Konis are too stiff to properly plant the rearend during corner exit. The shocks work with relatively soft rear leaf springs (a 150-pound rate is the most common) that come with Del-A-Lum bushings in the spring-eyes and hangers. A rear antisway bar is generally not required, but the Mustang's unibody chassis may be stiffened with a Monte Carlo bar (shock-tower support) and weld-in subframe connectors. The total cost of all the mods listed in the table is about $4,600.
GW recommends 16x8 wheels with 4 1/2-inch backspacing; run P245/50ZR16 tires out back and P225/50ZR16 tires in front. On the street, dial-in 3/4-degree negative camber and 3/32-inch toe-in. Stagger the caster to compensate for road crown: Use 21/2 degrees positive caster on the passenger side, and 2 degrees positive on the driver side.
'64-'72 GM A Body
Built in the era of skinny tires, terminal understeer, and no-feel power steering, it might appear that GM's first-generation A-body intermediate chassis (Chevelle and clones) is a lost cause compared to today's slick high-tech handling offerings, but in reality, GM's chassis responds spectacularly once updated with modern components such as those available from H-O Enterprises. According to H-O, a high amount of roll resistance (stiffness) is a must for achieving responsive and accurate cornering; there are several ways to achieve a high roll rate. One approach involves installing large-diameter antisway bars on the car while leaving the springs stock. This enables the car to corner quickly while riding almost like a stocker, but problems occur at the high-speed part of the envelope "where the nice in-town ride balloons to floatyness, and the lack of nose-down rake leads to aerodynamic lift at over-100-mph speeds."
Another approach is to put a lot of spring into the car. This works really well in a road-race car-there is good roll stiffness, high-speed stability, and aerodynamic stability (assuming a nose-down rake with the spring change). But the downside is an extremely uncomfortable ride.
H-O puts just enough spring in the car to make it stable at high speeds while giving it the necessary rake, but not so much that the ride becomes a torture test; instead, beefy antisway bars comprise the remainder of the roll stiffness equation. A comment often heard from both the general public and professional racers alike is, "I can't believe how good it rides for the way it handles."
H-O's complete package comes in at just $700, not including the optional Koni shocks that go for $189 a pair. As for the tires and wheels, 16x8- or 9-inch rims with 47/8-inch backspacing mounted with P255/50ZR16 tires work well on most early A-bodies.
Start with 1/2-degree negative caber, 2 degrees positive caster, and 1/16-inch toe-in.
Front disc brakes were optional on the early A-bodies, but these days the original parts are hard to come by. Instead, H-O offers parts to swap on later (and still available) factory disc brake components.
Other Companies, Other Cars
1611 Railroad St.
Corona, CA 91720
Ford Fox-body components
2700 California St.
Torrance, CA 90503
Edelbrock Performer IAS shocks for several applications, including late-model GM F-bodies
17817 Gillette Ave.
Irvine, CA 92714
Springs and suspension parts
1131 Via Callejon
San Clemente, CA 92673
Polyurethane suspension bushings and body mounts for many applications
5055 S. 36th St.
Omaha, NE 68107
Components for A-, F- and G-body GM products as well as Fox-body Fords
8700 Brookpark Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44129
Many Eibach-built spring applications and suspension kits
1260 Calle Suerte
Camarillo, CA 93012-9053
Complete suspension systems for late-model
Performance Suspension Components
3001 N. 35th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85017
Suspension rebuild kits for most musclecars; Hellwig and KYB parts available
P.O. Box 396
Montville, NJ 07045
Polygraphite suspension rebuild kits, Ground Zero coil springs, and G-Max sway bars for many applications; Catapult rear suspension arms for GM coil-spring cars; and KYB shocks for many applications
3560 Cadillac Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Polyurethane suspension bushings and body mounts for many applications
Assuming the basic vehicle suspension is sound, Guldstrand's Camaro suspension upgrade begins with additions that enhance steering responsiveness and handling characteristics. Heavy-duty tie rod sleeves eliminate flex caused by heavy loads generated by high-performance tires, and include wrench flats for quick and easy toe alignment. Polyurethane front and rear control arm bushings increase road feel; eliminating deflection caused by stock rubber bushings results in a more predictable handling car.
Under heavy use, the factory Panhard bar tends to twist and deflect causing poor rear axle control. Guldstrand's heavy-duty tubular Panhard bar with polyurethane bushings eliminates twist and deflection. Collectively, these rear mods reduce wheelhop and control arm twist associated with the stock units.
Front and rear coil springs reduce body roll and brake dive while providing the traditional responsiveness needed to operate at high speeds. Three progressively higher spring rates (GT, slalom, and race) are available with exact selection depending on driver preference and the vehicle's intended use.
Guldstrand considers antisway bars to be the major final tuning device and sizes them as required to eliminate any residual under- or oversteer. The bars are retained by polyurethane sway bar bushings that increase the bars' responsiveness and effective rate. Also available are spherical rod-end sway bar links; designed to withstand the rigors of race car operation, they eliminate all antisway bar end link deflection at the price of some increase in overall ride harshness. Round out the suspension with Bilstein gas-pressurized shocks.
The standard Gen-3 F-car brakes don't cut it, so Guldstrand offers mounting brackets for the 1LE "big-brake" caliper that work with the standard knuckle when the knuckle is redrilled according to the supplied instructions. P245/45ZR17 tires on 17x8 1/2-inch wheels with 5-inch backspacing fit with no problem. Primarily street-driven cars should start with 0- to 1/4-degrees negative camber, 3- to 4 1/4-degrees positive caster, and 0- to 1/16-inch toe-in. The suspension components listed in the table will set you back about $1,600.
'78-'88 GM A/G-Body
Hotchkis' tubular A-arms for late GM A- and G-bodies provide a cure for those cars' "puny brake blues." They allow upgrading the stock 10-inch front disc brake rotors and small calipers to the popular '70-'81Camaro/Firebird (also '75-'79 Nova and clones, '73-'77 A-body, and '77-and-up big car) steering knuckle, which supports larger 11-inch rotors and corresponding calipers. Larger 12-inch rotors are found on some '77-and-up full-size police cars, heavy-duty trailering packages, big Caddys, and wagons. Both the 11- and 12-inch knuckle/rotor packages use the same ball joints as the '78-'88 A/G-body, so they'll physically bolt on to the stock arms. But because the new knuckles are taller, you need Hotchkis arms to avoid suspension geometry and alignment problems.
Poly bushings are used in Hotchkis' front upper arms, as well as the rear upper and lower trailing arms that work together with tubular trailing arm mount braces to positively locate and control the rear axle. To permit fine-tuning the rearend's pinion angle, the upper rear arms are adjustable. The resulting wheelhop reduction improves launches, while cornering and overall stability are dramatically improved through increased roll stiffness.
Also helping improve roll stiffness are 1 1/4-inch front and 1-inch rear antisway bars retained by greaseable poly bushings and endlink grommets. Rounding out the package are 600-pound front and 110- to 140-pound progressive-rate rear coil springs. The springs come precut to drop most V-8 cars about 1 1/4 inches. Hotchkis also sells a rear airbag kit to permit carrying heavy trunk loads at the vehicle's reduced ride-height; drag race oriented car crafters can preload the suspension as needed by using separate fill lines for the right- and left-side bags.
Hotchkis sells and recommends Bilstein shocks. Tire and wheel sizes vary per year and model but, generally speaking, 16x8-inch wheels mounting P245/50ZR16 tires in front and P255/50ZR16 out back are safe on most of the A/G-bodies. Hotchkis recommends starting with stock alignment specs and dialing in more caster and negative camber for serious autocross activities. You can buy all the parts listed in the table for under $1,500.
Global West Suspension
655 S. Lincoln Ave.
12035 Burke Street
Santa Fe Springs