When it comes to aftermarket suspension systems, the guys at Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) are the wily veterans of the industry. Company namesake Art has been in the business since retiring from drag racing in the early '70s. Recently the company released its all-new '68-72 A-body chassis. But the guys at AME are never content to just let a design soldier on without constantly looking at ways of improving it as new technology provides.
For 2011, AME's popular GT-Sport front and rear suspension systems for first-gen Camaros saw a couple of improvements for better performance. The first was adding new sway bars front and rear. Previously both were non-adjustable, but now the front system features a tubular adjustable unit, while the rear is a solid adjustable bar.
The front GT-Sport suspension was designed using the superior geometry of the C6 Corvette, but optimized for a first-generation Camaro. The key improvements are in the roll center migration (how the car moves while turning then rebounding from the turn), and optimized camber gain to get the most from modern performance tires.
The rear GT-Sport suspension is a clean-slate design. For installation, the stock stamp-steel subframes are removed and the AME rear unit installed in their place. The three-link system was designed so the rear seat and related structure could be left in place, and a stock gas tank could be retained. When used with a 275-width tire, the AME rear suspension does not require minitubs, so you can keep a stealthy stock look while having modern handling prowess.
The big improvement for 2011 comes from the use of "Johnny Joints," a design pioneered by Currie Enterprises' own John Currie. Similar to a spherical bushing, this design uses a delrin cushion inside the joint to soften the ride while maintaining the superior function of a spherical joint. In the end, a great suspension was made even better.
The car benefitting from these improvements belongs to Matt Jones, one of the engineers at AME. Matt bought the car in 2001 during his first year of college. Its previous owner had started restoring the car 20 years earlier but never finished it. It has all N.O.S. replacement panels, and is one of those cars that's "never really finished" in the eyes of its owner. The LS1 currently between the fenders probably won't be there long, as Mike has eyes on an LS2 for some extra grunt.
Driving Impression--On the Autocross
It's rare when you find that close-to-perfect car, and for me this was the Art Morrison Enterprises '69 Camaro. Sporting the AME GT-Sport front clip based largely from Corvette C6 underpinnings, the Camaro turned cornering into an artform and got me really, really excited to be a part of it all. Overall, this car felt light and nimble. It was extremely balanced--and very predictable, too. No surprises from this one.
My love affair with this Camaro started before the engine did. Settling myself behind the wheel, I fit ... period. The Camaro felt like it was built especially for me, as my seating and arm/hand position were absolutely spot on. Firing the engine, I felt the warmth of the LS powerplant and the potential it held. Leaving the line, the Camaro accepted power extremely well, and I immediately felt comfortable approaching and meeting traction limits.
Lightning-quick changes of direction? No problem. Need to brake later than you'd like to? Again, no problem. Totally getting things all out of sorts with the next step being one of "seeing God?" Yep, no problem, as this car will save your butt and do it with neither fuss nor fanfare. I found this last part out hauling the mail before the end turnaround, and was happy to be about a half-mile or so from any onlookers, because things got somewhat ... shall we say, interesting, with the potential of some "all hell breaking loose" moments. Enjoying a mad spurt of acceleration a little longer than I should have, I braked very, very late, and then turned in 'cause, uh, that's where the course went. The Camaro's front tires planted themselves against the tarmac and the rear started coming around. Transitioning back to throttle and opening up the steering wheel got the Camaro immediately settled. I've never, ever had a car reacquire a track so smoothly. Bonus points for Gryffindor!
Hustling hard, the Camaro felt neutral throughout the slalom tour, and I absolutely loved the quality of steering as it provided me excellent feedback with good leverage. This perfect, precise steering made it easy for the Camaro to follow my hands, and with exceptional compliance, allowed the suspension to do its part in getting us in and out of the requisite course elements. Coming back through the offsets and into the Chicago Box found the car very easy to position, courtesy of my friend, rotation. If I had one teensy complaint, it would be about the brakes. I found them a tad bit hard to modulate. But they were workable, and I was able to slow the Camaro to achieve those perfect entry speeds. Through the hard right, short slalom, and lane changes to the end found trail-braking to be this car's ally, as I could move it about at will. Talk about a willing dance partner, I've got no idea what-rate springs this car had, nor the shock settings, but my recommendation is to change absolutely nothing. Just gotta say that Art Morrison Enterprises created an excellent bolt-in suspension package for not a lot of dollars. If you're serious about handling, take a good, long look at this one. --Mary Pozzi
Driving Impression--On the Street
First impressions mean so much, and the seats in the AME Camaro were righteous. They were not aftermarket, but out of a 2002 Mercury Cougar. The leather chairs probably didn't cost the owner much, but boy were they comfy and offer excellent support. The rest of this car followed that same path. It was friendly, comfortable, and inviting.
The dash was stuffed full of Auto Meter gauges, and the pedal placement was spot-on. While the steering might be too light for some, I found it just about perfect for a street car. Light, yes, but not numb. Around town, it was great--linear with excellent turn-in and lots of feedback.
As with any combination of street-oriented suspension parts, one thing you probably don't want is a lot of banging, squeaks, and rattles. Fear not, as you won't find any here. Our only complaint was a little bit of brake noise, but this was offset by the good pedal pressure and feel--a tradeoff we're willing to accept.
Ultimately, this was the kind of car you could drive every day. It was compliant under adverse conditions yet was definitely a willing dance partner when the music was turned up. Nearly 9 seconds faster through the autocross than a stock 2011 Camaro SS, you wonder what the compromise is going to be. And after driving it for a bit, you realize: There isn't one. It rides better than stock, sticks like Velcro, and makes you want to drive and drive and drive. And isn't that what the whole idea is? --Jim Campisano
Testing facility provided by AMCI at eltorofield.com
Art Morrison Enterprises '69 Camaro Specs
Engine Type LS1
Block GM iron
Fuel Delivery GM fuel injection
Transmission Tremec T56 six-speed
Clutch Centerforce 11-inch dual-friction
Rearend AME 9-inch, 4.30 gears, limited-slip differential
Chassis AME GT-Sport front clip, subframe connectors, and AME GT-Sport rear subframe
Front Suspension AME C6 suspension kit with forged-aluminum control arms
Springs 550 lbs/in
Spindles '05-current Corvette
Shocks Strange single-adjustable
Sway Bar AME 1-inch solid
Brakes Wilwood 6-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors
Rear Suspension AME three-link with a Watt's link and Johnny Joints
Springs 200 lbs/in
Shocks Strange single-adjustable
Sway Bar 3/4-inch solid
Brakes Wilwood 4-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors
Cost of Suspension Total $14,840*
* Total includes suspension listed above along with brakes, axles, third-member, headers, and LS engine adapter kit.
Wheels & Tires
Wheels Intro Emotion, front -18x10 (7.25 b.s.), rear -18x11 (7 b.s.)
Tires Nitto Invo, front -275/35R18, rear - 295/35R18
Total 3,240 lbs
LF: 837 lbs, RF: 881 lbs
LR: 802 lbs, RR: 720 lbs
F: 53 R: 47
1969 Chevy Camaro
Slalom 45.50 mph (average of the best five runs)
Autocross 44.62 sec. (best lap)
2011 Chevy Camaro SS
Slalom 47.70 mph (average of the best five runs)
Autocross 53.28 sec. (best lap)