I was talking to a pair of legs in a motel parking lot. Midwest winter pale, they were, grease-dirty, jutting from beneath a well-worked-over orange and white '67 Mustang. But this was Colorado or maybe Kansas, sometime, somewhere on the third Hot Rod Power Tour. Those tree trunks belonged to Bret Voelkel, a man who was destined to accelerate straight and true, just not at that particular moment. One thing's for certain: Bret's piece was the only car in the PT armada that rode on air instead of steel.
As a matter of fact, the blown small-block Pro Street Mustang hurt itself just about every day on that tour. This day in particular, the carpeting had caught fire and burned up a little on that road to hell. Shotgun rider Rob Kinnan had the presence of mind to extinguish it with a beer. Nobody got hurt. That was the beginning of a new daily plague. Regardless, most every night Bret was huddled beneath the Mustang, communing with it, talking to it in no uncertain terms, hoping to make it better so that it would wake up and run straight and true again the day following. It ended with finality when the motor up and bent a rod.
In the decade since, Bret's life, as well as his cars, has changed completely. His Air Ride Technologies (ART) is the industry standard: an ongoing R&D program; real-world participation; gauntlets thrown down; full-on, unique products; and a jammed-to-the-gunwales event of his own. He's also completed several cool and different hot rods (a slick '58 Buick among them) and has urged on a company that has become the undisputed leader of its niche. This is me talking now: At first it was all about stance and being able to flop your ride flat on the tarmac when you shut it down. A deck of cards wouldn't have fit beneath the rocker panels. Aesthetics are what they are, art forms true, but usually static, and after a while becomes tiring in its torpor.
Bret had a plan, intuitive or not: He shifted his mental gearbox and stepped up and away from the lowrider gig to develop complete suspension systems founded on the efficacy of the almighty air bladder. He wanted people to aspire to his on-the-ground ethic but he also wanted them to have a suspension option that would outride and outmaneuver the best conventional systems in the universe, yet be absolutely acceptable mile after mile over the road.
I experienced this first hand when I drove many miles on another Power Tour in a Chevy 1/2-ton owned by Donald Hardy. I had doubted. I had scoffed. I had wondered if Bret had lost his mind completely one snowy Indiana night. But Bret's a Midwestern boy who doesn't know the meaning of quit or can't be done. He just went ahead and did it. Donald drove it hard, abused it, and his nose-heavy, 20-inch wheel half-tonner rode and handled better than most purpose-built cars I'd ever been in. That was five years ago, folks. Slap my heretical lips, please. I became an ART bible-carrying convert right there. As for the Stuka alter ego Velocity Camaro, you see here it's a testbed for products under extreme scrutiny, most of which will eventually wind up in the hands of hot rodders like you and me.