by Bret Voelkel
It is quite common for customers to approach us requesting “the best suspension system money can buy!” We are always flattered to field these requests. They give us the chance to demonstrate why RideTech truly is the best suspension money can buy. Even if money is no object, we would never counsel anyone to drop $3,600 on a set of triple adjustable coilovers to be used in conjunction with 15” rally wheels, stock seats and drum brakes. We would counsel anyone in this position with a running, driving car to save their money and invest in the following items — in the following order. Through years of street and race experience, we have put together a hit list to help you build the best possible hot rod.
Top Ten Hot Rod Improvements:
Tires – Replacing 4” wide bias ply tires with modern radial tires [even if they are an equivalent size] is likely the single biggest improvement you can make to your hot rod. Bias ply tires [and early radial tires] came from an era of 45 mph speed limits. That’s not how you want to drive your hot rod. Even if your car has modern radial tires … make sure they were anufactured during the last five years. Old tires ride like hell and handle even worse. Likewise, don’t handicap your hot rod with cheap tires.
It is common misconception that short sidewall tires [40 series or lower] will automatically yield rough ride quality. This is not necessarily true. If your car’s shock valving is optimized for those shorter sidewall tires, ride quality can be at least as good as with taller, 60 or 70 series tires. RideTech has invested a significant amount of R&D time optimizing ride quality for modern, short sidewall tires. You can literally feel the difference when driving down the road with our shocks.
Seats – What is one component in your car that you are always in contact with while driving? Yes! It’s your SEATS. Without exception, OEM muscle car seats are uncomfortable and unsupportive. Their slick vinyl surface allows you to slide around dangerously during cornering. Do not skimp on seats. Great seats are expensive for good reason. Even if you need to fabricate custom mounts for high-end seats, it is worth the effort. Take the time to get measurements from a newer car with respect to seat height and angle. Your butt and back will thank you. Likewise, your car will perform better, because you are more in control. There are several good brands of seats on the market. Recaro is at the top of the heap. Sparco and Cerullo are also good. Some of the new OEM seats can be made to work in larger cars like Chevelles, but most are too bulky to fit and look right in small cars such as Camaros and Mustangs.
Steering Wheel – There is one other component that you are contact with while driving your car. A slightly smaller, leather wrapped steering wheel will not only allow more leg when getting in and out, it allows more belly room for us “challenged” types. A smaller diameter wheel also effectively speeds up the steering action and just feels better in your hands. Momo and LeCarra are our personal favorites around RideTech. Avoid billet steering wheels as they will absolutely burn your hands at ambient temps over 80 degrees. Their machined edges feel like a dull weapon at any temperature.
Steering Box – Your OEM steering box was probably sloppy when it was first installed decades ago. These days, steering feel and performance are high priorities. You do not have to go crazy on the ratio … a 14:1 box is great for a cruiser … 12.7:1 is better for a sportier feel. We use Turn One steering boxes for our competitive cars and Borgeson steering boxes for cruisers.
We are not fans of rack and pinion conversions. They may result in a serious performance degradation if your factory crossmember does not allow for proper location. Turn radius, bracket flex, rack strength, and poor steering geometry can all be an issue with these conversions. If it came with a steering box when new, install a better, blueprinted box, rather than a rack conversion.
Front End Alignment – It surprises us that — after installing thousands of dollars of improved suspension components, up to and including a completely new subframe — one would insist on applying 40-50 year old alignment specs! DO NOT allow your alignment technician to plug in alignment specs for a 1969 Camaro after you have installed modern suspension. Here are general alignment specs to start with:
CAMBER: .5 -1 degree of negative camber [more if you are regularly doing autocross or track days]
CASTER 4-7 degrees of positive caster
TOE: 1/8” total toe in [1/16” on each side]
Brakes – If you go faster, you must also have the ability to stop faster. Drum brakes should be outlawed on the front of any car. If you have rear drum brakes, they are sufficient for driving the car until enough money has been saved up for a rear disc brake conversion kit. Disc brakes need not be expensive. There are several OEM style disc brake conversions on the market. Pay particular attention to caliper piston-area in relation to master cylinder bore-size as well as pedal ratio. All three variables are critical for optimum stopping power with appropriate pedal effort. Better yet, call Wilwood or Baer and spend a little more money on a complete, pre-engineered system. Good brakes will make you WANT to drive your car rather than fear it!
Shocks – Notice we have counseled you to spend more than $3,000 on other parts before recommending suspension components. We want you to fully appreciate our suspension as part of a balanced combination of parts and systems. Quite simply, shocks are the brains of your suspension. A good set of adjustable rebound monotube shocks will provide radical improvements in both ride quality and handling performance. While you may be allergic to spending $700-plus on a set of shocks, the improvement in both ride quality and performance will instantly cure your allergy. If you don’t believe it, find us at an event and as to go for a ride in one of our cars or trucks.
Something else to remember: when determining the proper length for a set of custom shocks, do NOT just measure the old ones. It is quite possible that some previous hot rodder installed improperly spec’d shocks. The fail-proof way to determine shock length is to remove your car’s shocks and springs, cycle the suspension through its travel fully compressed and fully extended, then measure the distance between the shock mounts a compressed, ride height, and extended positions. Of course, if you are seeking shocks for a specific make and model of vehicle, you can simply order application-specific parts. Either way, we are here to help you choose the correct shocks or coilovers that will make your hot rod happy.
Suspension System – While the shocks are truly the biggest influence on ride quality, you and your car will realize huge performance gains by applying modern suspension design to your old car. We have taken the guesswork out of selecting bolt-on suspension. All of our suspension parts are designed to work together. Suspension geometry might seem like a black art to many enthusiasts. Indeed it can get complicated. It is therefore crucial to buy an INTEGRATED system from ONE manufacturer. Though parts from multiple sources may bolt together, they may not play nice with each other. We offer a wide variety of suspension systems to suit any type of driving — including racing.
Old school thinking told us to stiffen our cars up in an effort to decrease body roll and equalize grip on all 4 tires. RideTech’s approach is to modify suspension and steering geometry so that tire contact patches remain in contact with the ground as the chassis experiences various loads. This modern method improves available grip as well as ride quality. therefore offering the best of both worlds!
Sound/Heat Insulation – A noisy car will make the best riding car seem like torture. Wind noise and rattles assault the senses and give the impression that your car is being upset by the jarring of potholes and bumps. If you want to test this theory, place a basket of empty glass jars or aluminum can in your back seat and go for a ride. You will swear somebody ruined your car’s ride quality! Heat is another enemy of a happy hot rod. We are amazed that a hot rodders will spend $2,000 on a killer air conditioning system, then refuse to invest another $400 in Dynamat or similar. Avoid the el cheapo $40 roll of bubble pack insulation available at street rod swap meets. Dynamat, Boomat, and LizardSkin are all favorites around RideTech.
Power Windows – Is it even possible to purchase a new car with non-power windows these days? How many of you have leaned way over to crank the passenger window on a hot day or when it starts raining? That’s a great way to find yourself in the oncoming lane of traffic. That dangerous practice is why power windows were invented and are standard in nearly every new car. Conversion kits are plentiful and reasonably priced. My favorite is the Spal system that slips over your existing crank widow regulators. They’re about $100/pair. Add the OEM power window switches from your era car and a mini speaker grille to cover the crank hole and it all looks like it came from the factory!
Spal USA (Power Window Kits)
Baer Brakes – See our Steering and Brake Section HERE