Some people--probably a majority--who own the last series Camaro think the way it handles and rides is just fine if they think about it at all. Why not? Camaro suspension, like all OEM production car suspensions, was designed for the best combination of ride and handling possible as seen by the -average- buyer. The 18-year-old office clerk and the 55-year-old office manager, the 25-year-old shop mechanic, and the 38-year-old truck driver all get the same car and all had to be satisfied enough with it to buy one and perhaps more.
That, however, does not mean these Camaros were great handling cars with luxurious ride. Quite the contrary. If you were looking primarily for a truly comfortable ride, you probably admired the looks of the Camaro and then moved on to something a bit smoother. At the same time, a good many who are used to serious driving cars will find them to be lacking in handling. A fair-sized market in performance suspension parts has been developed for these cars and in many cases they work well. However if you combine the inherent ride/handling deficits with a dropped stance, neither ride nor handling comes out a winner.
So what can you do? Do you simply accept that if you own one of these otherwise fine cars that you can have either high-end ride or performance handling, but never both? Do you just leave the car at stock height despite your preference to slam it? Is there a better way?
In a word--YES. The factory suspension was based on conventional steel coil springs and non-adjustable shocks. Because steel springs cannot be adjusted for road conditions, load capacity, rates, or ride quality without removing one set and installing another, there's a built-in problem. Even from the factory the SS cars have stiffer suspension packages tuned for more performance--proof if you will that not even GM can change the laws of physics.
In an ideal world you could have a system incorporating variable spring and shock characteristics. That is air suspension. Air springs would be adjustable from the driver's compartment through a fairly wide range. You could raise and lower the car. You could add extra carrying capacity to tune in just enough spring to carry the load you have--not too much and not to little. You could add in stiffness to the suspension for those times when handling is the primary concern. You could also incorporate adjustable rate shocks in the system and dial in a ride/handling formula that YOU want--not what everyone else has to live with.
As they've done with quite a few others, the Air Ride Technologies crew looked at the '93-02 Camaro and decided they could engineer just such a system. Air Ride Technologies has a long history of developing conventional air spring suspensions (CoolRide) as well as ShockWave and now AirStrut systems. The R&D shop gnomes have a real enthusiasm for bringing the best out in a variety of OEM suspensions. But the key to this success is the ShockWave developed at ART. These units contain an integral air spring and 12-level adjustable race shock wrapped in billet aluminum. It's compact enough to replace the original parts without tearing up the car or requiring extensive mounting hardware.
The result is balanced and adjustable. Like all air systems with well-designed air spring/shock combinations, you can adjust purely for ride comfort by dropping air pressure a bit and adjusting the shock rate down a little. If you want to go strictly for handling, you can add air and shock rate until you achieve your preference. (Surprisingly, the Air Ride Technologies kit still rides well even when adjusted for max performance.) And of course, you can adjust anywhere between the two extremes to achieve the best balance of ride and handling according to your tastes.
So how difficult or involved is it to install? Well, it's not a boon to a tech writer's career. If it took a lot of complication and arduous effort, grease baths and busted knuckles, more could be written--maybe even pack it into a couple of articles. As it is, there are some important details to be aware of, but if you have a Saturday, basic hand tools, a decent jack and jack stands, a drill, and the ability to follow plain English instruction, you're well on you way to celebrating the completion with a tall cold one.
When removing the old parts, you'll want to be careful. The rear springs will come out without incident if you get the car up in the air, support the axle with a hydraulic jack, disconnect the sway bar and shocks, and slowly let the axle drop. The springs will decompress and you can reach in and pop them out.
The front is another issue. The Camaro coilover units will come out in a similar manner, supporting the car on stands, lowering the A-arm on the jack, and disconnecting the coilover before letting the jack slowly drop down to remove the assembly. The concern comes when you disassemble the coilover. This has to be done because parts of the coilover mount are reused to mount the ShockWave assembly.
STOP! Don't even think about trying to take the coilover apart unless you have the proper equipment to compress it. You're unlikely to have such an item on the bench unless you do suspension work for a living--they're not cheap. Jury-rigging something could get you seriously hurt. The trick is to make arrangements to go to your local shop and have them take them apart for you. It doesn't take but a couple of minutes to do, it generally costs just a few bucks, it could save you a lot of grunting and groaning, and maybe it'll keep you from getting seriously hurt.
On the other side, there are some important issues about suspension. These are tried and true parts with a lot of miles behind them. The technology is used on semis and buses and other expensive and liability-laden rolling stock. The system is extraordinarily reliable and designed so even in the event of total loss of the air the car will not drop to the ground or cause loss of control. In a worst-case scenario, you might have a bumpy ride limping back home to make a repair. It all relies on the equipment being installed properly and safely.
A good installation will not only have the basic components in the right places and tightened down, but the air lines, supply system, storage tank and controls installed so they are secure and out of harm's way. For example, you want the lines tied down tight so they can't flop around or vibrate and kept out of the path of moving parts. It's just common sense, but you have to use it.
Although the control side has a number of options, probably the best way to get the most out of an air suspension system like this is to opt for four-wheel control. In this version, each air CooRide and ShockWave unit is independently controlled. The advantages include the capacity to accommodate uneven loads (Big Bertha in the shotgun seat) or special road conditions by adding or subtracting air pressure as needed. You'll also find that by isolating the corners the handling is improved because there is no transfer of pressure from the loaded to the unloaded side in cornering. You control it with air switches.
Another trick innovation that Air Ride Technologies offers is its RidePro solenoid-operated control system. This uses small electric switches triggering individual solenoids for adjusting air pressure. The solenoid units are rated 'Bubble Tight' which is an industry term to describe a very tight and leak-proof unit. The electrical connectors are Weather-Pak OEM-style components that insure dry, clean, and corrosion-free electrical connections. Because these solenoids are not adapted industrial parts but specifically engineered automotive use items, they avoid the pitfalls of the non-automotive pieces not designed for or adequate for most automotive use. The RidePro units are laser-etched with port markings so the job of keeping the plumbing straight is a no-brainer.
You can choose analog gauges in black- or whiteface as well as a digital unit. With the analogs, you will still run air lines to the gauges, but these are 1/8 lines and take up lots less space. If you go digital, the gauge and control unit is purely electrical and no air lines are required at the controls. Instead a bank of pressure senders is mounted near the RidePro solenoid array. Set it up carefully and this system takes on the look and operation characteristics of high-end OEM stuff.
Well, all that's well and good, but it's about time to show you how this installation is done. Rodney Mason popped the Camaro up on the ART lift and performed a successful air suspension transplant. Considering he's the guy that did much of the basic design for the kits, he probably knows the shortest way to get the job done.