Air Ride Technologies Suspension - Good Gyrations
Air Ride Technologies Shows You How To Build An A-Body Corner Burner With Off-The-Shelf Parts.
From the April, 2008 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Courtesy Of Air Ride Technologies, Robert McGaffin, Scott Killeen
Whether it's flowing through your cylinder heads, inflating your tires, or filling up your lungs, air is generally considered a good thing. Despite the fact that air is free, Nike filled the soles of its shoes with the stuff starting in the '80s, and millions of people have willingly paid big bucks for it since. Now that's what you call true love. Interestingly, its mystical ability to enchant all of humankind notwithstanding, stick a bag full of air in a car's suspension, and it's about as well-received as an HMO. However, if Air Ride Technologies has a say in the matter, all that's about to change. The company's '70 Chevelle RS Goodguys Giveaway project car is making believers out of skeptics one lap at a time.
Air Ride's front air spring...
Air Ride's front air spring kit for '68-72 A-bodies includes tubular upper and lower control arms, called StrongArms, built from 1.25-inch 1018 steel with .219-inch wall thickness.
Air suspension systems in performance applications are stigmatized through no fault of their own. The history of air suspension in the hot rod market dates back to the rise of sport trucks and mini-trucks. Designed to lower a vehicle as much as possible-often right onto the ground-cornering performance wasn't even a consideration. "People look at these trucks and say, 'these things handle like crap, so why the heck would I want to put an air suspension on my car?'" says Bret Voelkel of Air Ride. "But just like you wouldn't take a coil spring out of a dump truck and put it in your car, you wouldn't take the same air suspension system out of a sport truck and put it in your hot rod, either. Our primary goals are cornering ability and ride quality, which is very different than what people normally associate with air suspension on show cars. The fact that it's adjustable is just an added bonus."
Measuring 1 7/16 inch up front...
Measuring 1 7/16 inch up front and 1 inch in the rear, Air Ride's MuscleBar sway bars are designed specifically for lowered vehicles. They include urethane bushings and endlinks.
One of the chief benefits of air suspension is the springing material itself. With mechanical springs-whether coils, leaves, or torsion bars-the springing is based on the elasticity of the metal. With an air spring, on the other hand, the springing material is the air itself. Since it's a compressible gas, the amount of air in a spring determines its spring rate. "By nature, air is a very progressive spring," explains Bret. "The further you squash it, the stiffer it gets. Moreover, the frequency at which an air spring gyrates, or bounces back, is far less than that of a mechanical spring, which results in improved ride quality." Perhaps the biggest perk of an air suspension is the ability to change the spring rate by lowering or raising air pressure at the touch of a button. "With an air suspension, it's very simple to tune your chassis to prevailing track conditions. A car with coilovers can be tuned to handle just as well, but it requires much more skill and patience from the driver. An air suspension is much easier to adjust, which makes it more attractive," says Bret.
To get the most out of its air springs, Air Ride designs entire suspension systems around them. The company offers a full line of control arms, sway bars, shocks, and Panhard rods. "An important part of any suspension is to make sure that all the components are compatible with each other," says Bret. "The geometry of the control arms and sway bars must be correct, as well as the shock valving. That's the difference between a car that's meant to sit on a parking lot and a car that's built to go around a race track."
Obviously, Bret's not one to pull punches when he speaks, but he's also willing to walk the walk. He pioneered the inception of autocrosses at Goodguys events all over the country, and uses them as opportunities to pound on his in-house project cars and test new products. His latest mule is this '70 Chevelle, which is equipped with Air Ride's latest suspension hardware that includes front and rear tubular control arms, air springs, adjustable shocks, and sway bars. The plan is to drive it to various Goodguys events, race it, then drive it back home. Best of all, it will be given away to one lucky winner at the Goodguys PPG Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, in July. Here are some highlights of the suspension installation procedure along with some detailed parts descriptions.
Firm believers in engineering...
Firm believers in engineering complete suspension systems, Air Ride offers custom spindles to complement its kits. Their taller design allows for greater negative camber gain as the suspension is compressed, which yields a larger contact patch for improved cornering grip.
The standard shocks included...
The standard shocks included with Air Ride's rear suspension kits work very well, but these 16-way adjustable units used on the Chevelle provide the ultimate in tuning flexibility. They're available separately for $629 under part number SHO1715DA.
Conveniently bundled together...
Conveniently bundled together under a single part number (PN ARR20801-LUCA), the rear suspension package for '68-72 A-bodies includes tubular upper and lower control arms, air springs, double-adjustable shocks, and all necessary fasteners and mounting brackets.
While it is in no way necessary...
While it is in no way necessary to remove the body from the frame to install the air suspension system, since plans called for big-block power, Precision Coachworks decided to box the framerails on the Goodguys Chevelle with 1/8-inch-thick steel plates for additional strength.
The tubular front and rear...
The tubular front and rear control arms come with a black powdercoated finish from Air Ride. To add a custom touch to the Chevelle, they were painted Viper Silver.
After disassembling the chassis,...
After disassembling the chassis, the newly boxed frame was sandblasted before receiving a nice textured powdercoat. The texture helps hide OEM blemishes such as weld splatter, and is much easier to keep clean than a gloss finish.
The entire suspension system...
The entire suspension system installation is a bolt-in affair that can be completed with simple hand tools and a die grinder.
From the front, it's easy...
From the front, it's easy to visualize how the unequal-length control arms in conjunction with the taller GMax spindles will help tilt the top of the tire inward as the suspension compresses.
While waiting for the Chassisworks...
While waiting for the Chassisworks 9-inch rearend to be delivered, the rear control arms and air springs were test-fit into place.
This prototype AirPod housing...
This prototype AirPod housing was installed on the Chevelle, and will contain an integrated compressor, solenoids, hoses, and wires.
Air Ride knows a thing or...
Air Ride knows a thing or two about setting up a chassis for cornering, and to promote a favorable polar moment of inertia, the AirPod and batteries were centered and mounted as far forward in the trunk as possible.
In order to clear the air...
In order to clear the air spring/shock assembly, the outer spring cup must be trimmed with a cut-off wheel or a die grinder. Mocking the control arms, spindle, and spring into place helps determine exactly where the spring cup must be cut.
To cut down on weight, the...
To cut down on weight, the air tank is constructed from aluminum and the entire AirPod assembly weighs only 24 pounds. The hand-built prototype tank destined for the Chevelle was painted to spruce it up some.
The final stage in the installation...
The final stage in the installation process was bolting in the Chassisworks rearend, then welding up a set of dual 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers.
Air Ride's Giveaway Chevelle...
Air Ride's Giveaway Chevelle is equipped with the company's latest leveling system, the LevelPro. While the standard RidePro system uses only air pressure sensors to adjust ride height, the LevelPro implements a combination of air pressure sensors and ride height sensors.
The Chevelle can be raised...
The Chevelle can be raised from minimum to maximum ride height in three seconds. Air Ride's suspension systems offer 4 to 5 inches of adjustment in the front, and 5 to 6 inches of adjustment in the rear.
Air Suspension for Beginners
Despite its proven on-track performance, packaging all the components of an air suspension system neatly into a vehicle has always been a challenge. Fortunately, all that has changed with Air Ride's new AirPod system. By integrating the air tank, compressors, solenoids, air lines, and electrical wires into a single assembly that's all concealed by a slick molded cover, Air Ride has improved aesthetics, while dramatically simplifying the installation process. The company says the AirPod reduces average installation times from 10-15 hours to just one hour. That's because there are only three wiring and four plumbing connections to make (instead of 17), and the entire AirPod assembly mounts with just four bolts. Additionally, the AirPod is available with both RidePro and LevelPro electronic control systems, and weighs a scant 24 pounds. Available with 3- or 5-gallon tanks and single or dual compressors, prices for the AirPod range from $1,900 to $2,600.
Whole Shebang, or La Carte?
For the sake of simplicity, Air Ride has bundled every component necessary to replicate the entire Street Challenge suspension system used on its '70 Chevelle under part number STR2001, which lists for $6,149 through Summit Racing. The kit includes front and rear upper and lower control arms, air springs, shocks, sway bars, a remote key fob, taller spindles, and a LevelPro compressor system. For those who only need bits and pieces of the kit, here's a list of every part number included in the system along with pricing:
|Component: ||Part No.: ||Price: |
|Front controls arms, springs, shocks, spindles ||SKW1044DA-LUCA ||$2,068 |
|Rear control arms, springs, shocks ||ARR20801-LUCA ||$799 |
|Rear double-adjustable shocks ||SHO1715DA ||$629 |
|Front sway bar ||SWA6200 ||$225 |
|Rear sway bar ||SWA6300 ||$189 |
|LevelPro compressor system ||ARC4100L ||$2,195 |
|Key fob remote ||REM7500 ||$150 |