Hot rodding is 75 percent aesthetics. Don't believe anyone who claims otherwise. Yeah, you should have the balls to back up the bark, but at the end of the day a slick-looking car will always draw more adoration than one that just doesn't look quite right. Yeah, we know what opinions are like, and everyone certainly has one, but the truth is no matter what your personal style and taste in cars, there are universal rules that apply to all rod buildups in regards to wheels and stance.
Our friend Barry White of Barry's Speed Shop perhaps said it best: "Stance is everything. You can take a piece of piece of crap car, make it sit right with correctly proportioned wheels and tires and it'll attract more attention than a high-dollar car that looks wrong." That said, there's no set formula due to all the various build styles (example: gasser versus Pro Touring), but it really all comes down to proportion and positioning. The wheels and tires need to be in correct proportion to one another, and in correct proportion to the size of the car and the wheel arch. For positioning, they need to sit within the wheelwell aggressively and appear that the car was built around them; not like they were an afterthought.
There are many ways in which the look can just fall off and lose the impact we want, so we decided to call out a few of the worst offenses that we run across on a regular basis. While aesthetics are important, at our core, we're really all about performance, so we'd be remiss if we didn't delve a bit into why these same stance issues can also negatively affect performance. And just so you don't think it's only our opinion, we spoke with Barry White, Steve Strope of Pure Vision Design, and Cris Gonzalez of JCG Customs to get their perspective on some of the dos and don'ts of stance. "We always jokingly say we're gonna write a book on what not to do with a car," Barry told us. That's a book we'd probably buy, but until then, here's some food for thought on your builds.
A special thanks to Mike Fitzsimmons for letting us wreak havoc with Photoshop on his gorgeous '67 Firebird convertible, which is also featured sans digital manipulation elsewhere in this issue!
Ride Height Too High
This one is forgivable on a totally stock restoration, or if you're going for a period-correct "Day 2" look, but either way it still gives the car a truck-like look unbefitting a muscle car. Sadly, paired with skinny stock wheels and tires, the look takes on a very "elephant on stilts" look. At best, a tall ride height looks ready to go off-roading, and at worst it looks like it's been lifted.
Original springs may be the cause if the car is really low mileage, but more often than not the root is aftermarket "stock replacement" springs that are actually too long (coil spring) or over-arched (leaf spring).
Impact On Performance
Ride height directly affects the car's center of gravity and roll center, and when we're talking about vintage cars, lower than stock is always beneficial for handling. Just bringing the stance down a couple inches on an otherwise stock car can give it a much more planted feel.
How To Fix
The best option is new springs front and rear that are designed for lowering, paired with the appropriate shocks. If you want true stock height, go with a reputable brand that specializes in such restorations. Alternatively, coil springs can be cut with a cutoff wheel or grinder (never a torch), and leaf springs can be dropped with a spacer between them and the axle (maximum recommended is 1 inch).
Nose Too High
The car has a nose-up, tail-down attitude that looks like it's hauling a load of cement in the trunk. This just looks wrong on any car, especially one built for performance. In our opinion, this look is only OK if you're building a '30-50s traditional tail dragger custom or a gasser, and even then it's a really specific build attitude where you better nail the authenticity of the rest of the package.
While springs never lose their rate, over decades they do commonly sag and lose load height; leaf springs typically do so more quickly. This also occasionally occurs after dropping weight from the engine or front of the car as the spring has less to support. On the same note, using springs intended for a heavier package also cause this, i.e. big-block springs on a small-block car.
Impact On Performance
Ideally, we want the front and rear to be fairly close to the same height to have a roughly equivalent center of gravity and roll center. Having the front distinctively higher shifts weight to the rear of the car and tends to increase understeer and cause the car to push more in corners.
How To Fix
Either trim the front springs, or replace them with appropriate lowering springs that will place the nose level with, or ideally, slightly lower than the rear.