Last year, Super Chevy embarked on an arduous task: to bring together some of the aftermarket's leading suspension companies and pummel their cars though a battery of tests. Turns out it was so much fun that we were asked to do it again. Since driving cool cars beats working in a stuffy office, we agreed. Thus was born the second annual Super Chevy magazine Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented by Nitto Tire.
Like last year, the important part to remember about these tests is that it isn't science. That is to say, comparing highly modified cars to one another is far from precise. Car weight, alignment settings, tire contact patches, and a host of other variables all conspire to make a comparison between "car A" and "car B" more of an estimation than a scientific conclusion. The one "scientific" way to pull something like this off would be to gather up all the various parts and then try them on the same car. Even that experiment would be tough since uncontrollable factors like the weather could skew the results. It would take months, cost a fortune, and we still wouldn't be assured of fair results.
With this in mind we came up with another idea. Each company would bring a ride to the party equipped with its suspension parts and be run though our standard battery of tests. Rules were simple. The vehicle had to be a Chevy built 1981 or earlier. In addition, the car had to have parts installed from the company's catalog-no one-off or custom suspension parts. Also, the cars had to be licensed for use on the street. Another caveat was that companies that competed last year couldn't run the same car again. We wanted fresh meat. We would supply drivers for the four segments: slalom, skidpad, autocross, and streetability.
Once the companies showed up to our facility in El Toro, California, they were only allowed to make adjustments to air pressure and shock settings; no swapping out of parts would be allowed. In case of a breakage, they would be allowed to make repairs so long as the replaced part was the same or equivalent to the failed part. This increased the challenge of the event since a combination of parts that might be great for the skidpad testing may not be the best for the slalom or autocross (or street driving).
Since comparing the cars to each other posed problems, we decided to compare them to a modern muscle car. After all, most guys looking to upgrade their suspensions want to know that spending their hard earned cash will help their classic Chevys ride, handle, and perform better than they did when new. Last year we brought out a C5 Vette as a benchmark car, but this year we decided to make it even tougher by borrowing a '10 Camaro SS from Mark Lazio over at Anvil Auto. Although Matt's Camaro is bone stock, all of its leading edge 21st century components like IRS and ABS would certainly provide a tough target for the suspension companies to shoot for.
Who's Who Every suspension company we could think of was invited to the party, but more was involved than just showing up. For last year's participants the rule that they had to bring a different car proved problematic since in some cases they didn't have another Chevy to bring. When all was said and done, 10 of the industry's best suspension companies, four of them from last year's challenge, came out to sunny California for our event. Some brought their own company-owned Bow Ties while others showed up with rides borrowed from their customers.
In terms of variety, we couldn't have asked for more. Of course, four of the 10 cars were Camaros (hey, at least one was a second gen), but we also had two wagons, a Nova, two Chevelle coupes, and the Roadster Shop's big-money Vette, which had just been crowned Street Machine Of The Year by Goodguys. Big-blocks, small-blocks, LS engines, automatics, manuals, low buck, high buck, you name it and chances are it was represented in some fashion.
Sticky Feet In 2008, the big sticking point was tires and this year was no exception. In '08 we specified 100-treadwear Nitto NT-01 R-compound tires. Given our other choices, this seemed like the right decision since we wanted the suspensions to work to their full potential and not be hindered by "hard" street tires. Since then, Nitto has introduced its new NT-05 line of tires. These rollers bridge the gap between super sticky pseudo track tires and grip-challenged harder tires. With a treadwear rating of 200 they promised to perform closer to a track tire and last more like their higher treadwear cousins. If Nitto didn't have the needed size to fit a manufacturer's wheels they were allowed to run a comparable tire from another manufacturer. It made the comparison to our baseline '10 Camaro more fair since the car ships from GM on 240 treadwear rollers.
Tale Of The Test The point of this exercise is suspensions, so we once again decided to run four segments to our challenge. The slalom and the skid pad are part of our standard battery of tests. The slalom configuration we use is 420 feet long with cones spaced every 70 feet. Cars enter one end at speed, trip a sensor, negotiate the turns as quickly as possible, and exit the other end tripping another sensor. The time through the course is calculated and this yields an average speed in mph. If any cones are hit then the run doesn't count.
The 200-foot skid pad is a large circle with a 100-foot radius. The car is piloted around this circle as quickly as possible without the tires loosing adhesion to the tarmac. The best time recorded from running clockwise is averaged with the best time ran in the counter-clockwise direction. That average time is plugged into a formula to give the average "g" number for that car. The key is that it's an average-g rating and not a max-g rating, so it's much harder to come close to the magic number of 1g. The only adjustments we allowed to be made during the day were tire pressure changes and shock adjustments. No swapping of sway bars or other tinkering could occur. This kept our tests even more firmly anchored in the real world. After all, how many average guys swap out springs and sway bars based on the road they will be driving on? "Run what you brung" was the mantra of the day.
The afternoon was set aside for the autocross runs. Each vendor was given a couple of practice laps to get their cars dialed in. Some chose to do it themselves, but most decided to take advantage of our returning guest driver Mary Pozzi. Mary is an 11-time national autocross champion and was able to give the owners valuable tips on what adjustments would help get their cars through the cones quicker. After each entry got their three runs, Mary got five laps in each automobile. By having the same driver pilot each car we were able to take one more variable out of the equation. Mary pounded each car though the autocross as hard as she could and took notes on each car's idiosyncrasies.
Throughout the day Super Chevy Editor Jim Campisano took each vehicle on a real-world driving trip on the public roads around our test venue. Idling in traffic, negotiating potholes and railroad tracks, were all part of the deal. In this way the cars that came with suspensions set to "kill" could be differentiated from rides geared a bit more towards comfort and civility.
The Moment Of Truth Game day started at 6:30 a.m. After all, we had 10 cars that each needed to be put through four separate tests. After swilling down coffee from a box and noshing on some still-warm donuts, we gave all the cars safety inspections and slapped a number on their windshield. The morning would be occupied by the slalom, streetability, and skidpad tests while the autocross would suck up most of the afternoon. Even with the hectic schedule everyone still found time to have fun. And while all those in attendance were technically competitors, they were first and foremost car guys with a common love of muscle cars.
In Conclusion At a gathering like this the inevitable question is, "Who won?," but that's not what this was about. What's important is that 10 suspension companies had enough confidence in their wares to come to the event and let us beat the ever-loving crap out of their cars. Many came thousands of miles to participate; one company came from Canada. They wanted to show you, the readers, that the parts they sell aren't just pretty baubles designed to look good at the local cruise night, but performance parts capable of making old and outdated muscle cars handle more like the newer muscle cars of today.
That brings us to the matter of times. Remember that the time recorded for a particular test only tells part of the story. We doubt most of you will ever put your car though a slalom or drive at the edge of traction around a 200-foot circle. Like us, what you really want is for your Chevy to be safer and handle better than it did stock. When shopping for a suspension system, you need to consider things like cost, complexity of installation, street manners, and even aesthetics. Are you more concerned that your car can carve through an autocross course a couple of seconds faster than the next guy, or is having great ride quality on top of your list? Set a goal for your car, fix a budget and then go for it knowing that you're installing parts that the companies are confident in.
On the following pages are the results from the first two cars in our competition, the CPP Nova and the Ridetech Camaro, and see the times they ran in the event. In the next four issues, we'll bring you features and test results from the other eight cars.
We can't wait for next year!
Baseline '10 Camaro SS Track Impression By Mary Pozzi I took my first autocross run in the '10 Camaro SS with the traction control (TCS) intentionally left on, and predictably it engaged either the ABS or cut power at every opportunity. In its defense, the TCS had good reason as there was some serious sideways fun going on! For subsequent runs, I got the damn TCS off and then got down to finding some handling and braking limits for this car. As written about ad nauseum and unless you are from another planet, I will remind the readers that '10 Camaro SS power is huge. It's a flatten you in the seat type of power, and it happens quickly; this car just plain hauls butt in a straight line.
Turning right and left at autocross speeds pose problems, however, as in this environment, the heavy car isn't happy when pushed beyond its comfort zone. When stressed, the '10 Camaro understeers, a lot and quite happily, too. And slowing down doesn't offer any resolve as the front end just continues its wider arc path, but now at a lesser speed. I tried trailbraking at corner entry to induce oversteer, but it wasn't going to happen. I quickly found out you can't hurry the car along as I only went slower.
The more I pressed the Camaro, the more reluctant its response to steering input and not wanting to go where pointed. The car does its best just being lightly pressured in the transitions and slaloms with mad spurts of acceleration in between. Compared to the other tested cars, I was quite surprised that it turned a respectable time and would love to track or autocross one, but with a better, stiffer suspension, low tread wear tires, and no TCS or ABS, or any other "S" fluff stuff that gets in the way of serious driving.
There's A New Tire In Town When it comes to performance, tires are critical. Last year, we specified that the cars had to run the Nitto NT01 rubber. This tire, while fine for the street, had a 100-treadwear which would tend to wear quicker than what most people are used to. The upside was that it was a real-deal performance tire.
Since then, Nitto has introduced their new NT05 tire. This is 200-treadwear tire is aggressive enough for the track, yet sturdy enough for heavy street use. Based on the NT01 race tire technology the NT05 features a large continuous center rib and big outer shoulder blocks to ensure optimum tire contact with the road. They offer crisp turn-in, great steering feedback, and improved braking. Best of all you won't have to mortgage your house to afford a set.
NT05 Features: -Large continuous center rib and big outer shoulder blocks provide optimum tread contact with the road -Outer shoulder was engineered with a large contact patch to optimize dry performance and cornering -Reinforced tread blocks provide rigidity and stability
These tread features help provide crisp turn-in, excellent steering feedback, and stability under braking; all of which contribute to boosting driver confidence.
The NT05 will be available in the most popular sizes for high-performance vehicles. Several sizes will be available first quarter 2009 with additional sizes released throughout the year.