When the muscle car revival hit full swing in the early 1990s, one of the biggest knocks on the old cars was their lack of handling and braking prowess compared to modern vehicles. Throwing out the obvious advances in tire technology, research and development into suspension and steering designs, geometry, and practical theory have led to advances that mean today's average economy car is capable of outhandling the best performing cars of the '60s or '70s.
But who wants to drive a modern, soulless, styleless econobox?
Thanks to the passion and skills of companies like Fatman Fabrications, Heidts, Art Morrison Enterprises, Hotchkis, Church Boys, Speedtech, Global West, Total Cost Involved and others, making your classic Chevy handle like a modern Corvette or Camaro SS is easier than ever.
And that's the point of the Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented in 2010 for the third time by Nitto Tire. The goal from this event's creation was to show enthusiasts everywhere the multitude of options they have to make their Bow Ties stick in corners like chewing gum, and handle even the most vigorous driving style like James Bond handles martinis.
We designed our test regimen to be varied and no one aspect takes precedent over the other. Having the fastest time at the autocross is of no more import in the Challenge than a good grade on the street-driving portion.
The concept was not to prove that one company's suspension is better than the other's. Given the wide variety of vehicles and builds-everything from a '55 Chevy with a full chassis to basic bolt-on parts on an early Nova to an IRS-equipped '70 Camaro-this would be a lesson in futility. That's why we don't crown an overall winner. All of the various suspension systems you'll see over the coming months (as we publish the individual features, specs and results for our Challenge cars) have their advantages and disadvantages, from price to the level of installation difficulty. We present these tests so you can choose your purchases wisely based on cost, instrumented testing, and how you plan to drive the vehicle when it's all done.
To test the limits of all these cars, we again enlisted the help of 10-time championship-winning SCCA Solo driver Mary Pozzi, Camaro Performers Editor Nick Licata for the slalom, and Source Interlink Tech Center guru Jason Scudellari for the skidpad.
Since we had our first challenge in 2008, Mary has been our corner-carving expert, designing and setting up our autocross course, along with providing us with some colorful in-car video moments. She's also provided invaluable feedback to the manufacturers on how to set up their cars and improve them. Nick can hustle an automobile through a slalom like few we've ever seen and Jason can definitely hang one right on the edge during skidpad evaluations. On the street, Editor Jim Campisano climbed behind the wheel to see what each car could do in the real world, on actual streets, under varying conditions. He's particularly sensitive to street manners and doesn't suffer thinly-disguised racecars well.
Except for the street tests, our venue was the main runways of the now retired El Toro Marine Air Base, know known as the AMCI Test Center. Watching the various cars test on the massive concrete strips Corsairs, Panthers, Crusaders, Intruders, and other great Navy aircraft once populated like a flock of aluminum birds was fairly surreal.
The instrumented tests revolved around a 420-foot long slalom, 200-foot diameter skidpad, and the autocross course. All cars except for our baseline Camaro and the Church Boys Nova were wearing Nitto NT05 rubber. The NT05 offers a great compromise between ultra sticky track tires and grip-challenged, more street-oriented tires. With a treadwear rating of 200, the NT05 performs close to a track tire, but wears better and is superior in the rain. If Nitto didn't have the needed size to fit one of our participants' wheels, they were allowed to run a comparable tire from another manufacturer. It made the comparison to our baseline '10 Camaro SS fairer, since the car ships from Chevy on 240 treadwear Pirelli PZero summer rubber.
In the end, the times were impressive (minus one due to mechanical trouble), and when compared to what our '10 Camaro SS was running, watching 40-plus year old cars out-handle the latest pony car from Chevy was entertaining to say the least. Each car had its own advantages and attributes, and because no one was being named the winner, the staff of Super Chevy was spared the mind-boggling task of trying to pick our favorite from all these great cars.