At the 2010 Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented by Nitto Tire, the gang from Santa Fe Springs, California, brought out a first-gen Camaro that really delivered a sucker punch to the rest of our entries. While others sported all kinds of unusual tricks (like a Jag-style IRS with inboard disc brakes), Hotchkis wowed the competition with simple bolt-on parts. With its TVS suspension, it ran the quickest autocross time by 0.02 second). For this year's event, Hotchkis brought out a second-gen to wow us, but with something new from its catalog, a three-link Panhard bar rear suspension.
It seems like for leaf-spring cars, this is the hot setup in the market right now. Multiple companies are developing bolt-in kits, and they offer superb handling without the necessary modifications for install like a four-link system.
The subject car belongs to Deanna Marengo. Originally she had started out with a Chevelle on her quest for muscle car coolness, but after a chance encounter with our test driver Mary Pozzi slinging her own Camaro around at a Goodguys event autocross, she knew a more nimble F-body was the way to go. After finding a worthy candidate, the car soon to be known as "Sucker Punch" was soon going through a full rebuild, using the same parts as Pozzi's Camaro and even a few of her take-offs as that car underwent a rebuild of its own. Then the Hotchkis boys stepped in, and the rest was history.
Driving impression - On The Autocross Course
This red wine-colored second-gen Camaro wasn't flashy, didn't have gorilla-sized meats on all four corners, nor did it sport an LS anything under the hood, but it was pure brilliance when it counted. Working quietly in their Bat Cave, Hotchkis R&D has brought us something new for Camaro/Firebird owners ... nope, not more leaf springs but a fully adjustable, easy-to-tune, heavy-duty, three-link rear suspension. What's cool about Hotchkis Sport Suspension is it offers handling systems for almost every type of driving imaginable, and this three-link is slated for the serious street, autocross, or track enthusiast. Their entry for the suspension-fest this year was an immaculate '71 with the second Hotchkis three-link rear in existence (mine got the first prototype) installed. By the time you read this, the final product will have been released to the masses.
The car's owner, Deanna Marengo, bought the Camaro about a year ago and basically raised the radiator cap and essentially replaced the entire car. She swapped the existing drivetrain, suspension, brakes, wheels, and tires hoping to create a corner carver that could give miles of smiles. That it did, and I was eagerly anticipating testing this bad boy thoroughly through the cones. The NT555s are excellent high-performance street tires and they did great here, but a car with this much potential could have easily taken advantage of NT05s or the 100-treadwear NT01s.
I was able to deftly flick this car into the initial slalom tour, get it positioned, and then lightly brake to enter the fast lane changes before slowing rapidly for the end turnaround. It was at this point a second limiting factor slapped me upside the head. While light braking got the car slowed, firm application of the stoppers found lock-up really quick and way too soon for my liking. It was a fine line between a light settle and slow to "Aw ... crap!" Apologizing to the Nittos in advance, we headed for home and easily threaded through another set of offsets leading into the Chicago Box, a short chute followed by a four-cone slalom, and then a mad dash through the stop clocks. And yes, I was a smiling, happy camper.
There's so much to like about this car. It had plenty of power from its 383. The seating and placement of driver was perfect. And it even had my favorite, a 15-inch-diameter steering wheel. But the main thing that stood out was the quality of the ride. The Hotchkis Camaro had no problems taking and putting power to the ground, and was very compliant, yet not wallowy. We've all driven cars that fit the latter, and when I try to autocross a sway machine, it takes weeks to get through a corner. Wallow does have some merits, like if you're a waterbed.
So, do you ditch the leafs and plunk down some coin for three links, brackets, and a Panhard bar? My vast experience with Hotchkis bits has been very positive, and this was the first time I'd driven this particular Camaro with the present set-up. With leafs, you can seriously work the car hard. They'll handle corners well, but sometimes produce the dreaded "Hop, Skip, and Jump" axle dance during hard braking, or leap sideways if one tire rides up on, oh, say, a track berm at speed. With the Hotchkis rear three-link, I was able to dance the car through the slaloms and offsets, plant the rear under acceleration, and move the car about at will. Even more pleasing was the car gave me a very wide threshold approaching loss of traction to actually losing it and handled my pressure well. No axle hop, no unexpected leaps, and I especially liked that I could slide and laterally move the car at will yet recapture it easily. Whether it's making an illicit banzai run up a favorite mountain road, or sedately cruising on the Power Tour, this Camaro's handling fits the bill. --
Driving impression - On The Street
After being thoroughly impressed with the Hotchkis Camaro last year, I couldn't wait to try out its 2011 entry. It brought a whole 'nother animal this year, a second-gen with the company's new three-link/Panhard bar/coilover setup. To cut to the chase, it delivered the goods without disappointment.
Let's start with the steering: Excellent. It was linear, direct, offered terrific feedback and was without any play. Best of all, the car had a nice, tight turning radius, a must for the oft-driven street car.
The 383 under the hood was always willing and the Richmond five-speed gearbox a pleasant surprise. It shifted precisely and the shifter action was sweet. The Corbeau driver's seat fit me perfectly and did a fabulous job in athletic maneuvers of keeping me in place. Great bang for the buck, here, as they deliver maximum driver performance and comfort at a price that's far below that of many aftermarket chairs.
Then there's the suspension itself. There was a little bit of extra noise that was transmitted to the cockpit, but not enough to deter me from whipping out the credit card. Its three-link installation does require that you delete the rear seats. This could be a deal-breaker if you have kids, but if this is going to be a weekend toy, then it's nothing to worry about.
Testing facility provided by AMCI at www.eltorofield.com
Hotchkis '71 CamaroDrivetrain
Engine Type: GMPP ZZ383 small-block
Block: GM iron with 3.80 stroke crank
Fuel Delivery: Demon 750-cfm carb, Edelbrock dual plane intake, and Holley mechanical fuel pump
Transmission: Richmond five-speed
Rearend: Factory 10-bolt, 3.08 gears, limited-slip differential
Front Suspension: Hotchkis upper and lower tubular A-arms
Steering: GM variable ratio
Springs: Hotchkis 2-inch lowering, 600 lbs/in
Spindles: Factory disc spindle
Shocks: Hotchkis-tuned Bilstein
Sway Bar: Hotchkis 1-1/8-inch hollow
Brakes: Baer Track 4, four-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors
Rear Suspension: Hotchkis three-link
Springs: 225 lbs/in
Shocks: Hotchkis-tuned Bilstein
Sway Bar: Hotchkis 3/4-inch solid
Brakes: Baer Street System four-piston calipers and 12-inch rotors
Other: Hotchkis subframe connectors, Hotchkis handle bars, and Global West interlocking body bushings
Cost of Suspension Total: $7,987.90
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Vintage Wheel Works V40, front-17x8 (4.5bs), rear-17x9.5 (5.5bs)
Tires: Nitto NT555, Front-255/40R17, Rear- 275/40R17
|LF: 967 lbs||LR: 732 lbs|
|RF: 900 lbs||RR: 789 lbs|
|F: 55.1||R: 44.9|
1971 Chevy Camaro
Slalom 45.50 mph (average of the best five runs)
Autocross 45.82 sec. (best lap)
2011 Chevy Camaro SS
Slalom 47.70 mph
Autocross 44.98 sec.