At one time or another, most of us have been guilty of scheming for added power, even taking the time to hash out the aesthetics, way before ever giving thatratty old suspension a second thought. Adding fuel to the fire, we need to take into consideration that today's average small-block is easily throwing down in excess of 400 hp; truth be told, we need to come to terms with the simple fact that our beloved musclecars were never intended to be subjected to these types of extremes some 10-plus years later. That said, mingle the power with the dated, ill-handling road manners, and you've concocted a recipe for potential disaster.
While we're not going to get into the historical outline of shock absorbers, we do want to point out that all shocks are not created equal. In their simplest form, shocks are nothing more than a means to help provide a smooth ride by controlling excessive suspension movement. For a really smooth ride, a well-designed shock will allow the use of a softer spring rate, while the shock itself will control the rate at which the spring will react to bumps. Or, to put it visually, have you ever noticed a vehicle with its front wheel bouncing up and down uncontrollably, all while tracking straight? That's a worn-out set of shocks at work.
If you're only looking to exchange your vintage junkers for a factory replacement, then just about any new shock will suffice; however, if you're looking to step into the performance arena, this is where the door really opens up. The good news is, unlike yesteryear, we have a wide variety of quality shocks to choose from. Depending on your application and what you're trying to achieve, the aftermarket offers everything you need for cruising, open-track, or drag-racing applications. Going one step beyond, several manufacturers now offer their own lines of shocks with custom valving to match their suspension components. This means less guesswork on settings and easy bolt-on applications. Another viable-yet more extreme-option is getting into single-adjustable shocks that allow for additional tuning or, for the ultimate in suspension tweaking, you can go with a set of double-adjustables, which allow custom tailoring for any road and track conditions. So whether you're looking for a basic replacement to something exotic, we've listed the best of the best, and now you'll be in the know of what's out there.
Believe it or not, many prefer nonadjustable shocks over their trick counterparts, namely for the sake of simplicity. Depending on what manufacturer you opt for, nonadjustables tend to feature a wide range of valving to accommodate for various types of energy (bumps), large or small. Another advantage is the price point, which is still slightly higher than OEM replacements but generally less than adjustables.
Bilstein has had a tremendous history in motorsports, from Winston Cup to off-road, and with its success, the company has taken advantage of the data to produce shocks that offer improved handling and stability without having to sacrifice ride comfort.
|Boot included||Contingent on application|
|Applications||'65-90 Caprice/Impala, '68-02 Camaro, '64-66 Chevelle/ Malibu, '53-82 Corvette, '64-96 Impala SS, '73-88 Monte Carlo/SS, '68-74 Nova|
|Price (each)||Front: from $109|
|Rear: from $109|
|Contact||858.386.5900 · bilstein.com|
If you're into a nostalgic look but have come to expect modern performance, it's hard to ignore the classic gunmetal-gray finish of the IAS shocks from Edelbrock. IAS (Inertia Active System) is a patented feature, which provides a plush ride on rough roads and will firm up on smooth roads.
|Applications||'67-81, '93-02 Camaro, '64-77 Chevelle/|
|Malibu/El Camino, '70-77 Monte Carlo, '53-82, '84-06 Corvette, '62-74 Nova, '65-96 Impala/Caprice, '65-70 Biscayne/Bel Air|
|Price (each)||Front: from $75|
|Rear: from $75|
|Contact||310.781.2222 · edelbrock.com|
HotchkisHotchkis' HPS 1000 shock absorbers are custom tailored from Bilstein, featuring proprietary valving to complement Hotchkis' suspension components. These offer a flawless switch between a comfortable ride and control.
|Boot included||Contingent on application|
|Applications||'64-72 Chevelle/Malibu/El Camino, '67-81 Camaro, '68-74 Nova, '78-88 Malibu/ Monte Carlo, '65-70 Bel Air/Biscayne/Impala, '78-96 Impala/Caprice|
|Price (each)||Front: from $91|
|Rear: from $91|
|Contact||562.907.7757 · hotchkis.net|
KYB Corporation of America
KYB's Gas-a-Just High Performance Shocks are affordable and built to offer a killer ride while delivering maximum control. Inside, the higher gas pressure helps plant tires to the ground, and the monotube design with a floating piston provides fade-free performance.
|Applications||'67-81, '81-92(rear), '93-02 Camaro, '64-83 Chevelle/Malibu, ’53-96 Corvette, ’55-57, ’65-96 Impala/Caprice, ’59-87 El Camino, ’70-88 Monte Carlo, ’68-79 Nova|
|Price (each)||Front: $37.95|
|Contact||630.620.5555 · kyb.com|
If you have a strip car that sees limited street duty, Lakewood offers front 70/30 and rear 50/50 drag shocks that have excellent road manners while allowing the frontend to rise to transfer weight onto the rear tires and then to settle quickly. For more aggressive applications, Lakewood also has a 90/10 version.
|Applications||'67-92 Camaro, 64-87 Chevelle/'Malibu/El Camino, '63-82 Corvette, '70-88 Monte Carlo, '62-79 Nova, '75-80 Monza, '71-77 Vega|
|Price (each)||Front: from $46.39|
|Rear: from $46.39|
|Contact||216.688.8300 · lakewoodindustries.com|
Single-Adjustable & Double-Adjustable
If you're one to tinker, have a street car, and want the basic ability to stiffen or loosen the shocks as you please, then single-adjustable is the way to go. These shocks allow you to adjust the rebound and are priced significantly lower than the double-adjustable versions. But when it comes to complete tunability, double-adjustable shocks are by far rated supreme, allowing for unlimited control of both compression (bump) and rebound (extension). The biggest drawback, if you can call it that, is the incredible range of configurations they allow for. If you've only had limited experience with them, be prepared to allow for a learning curve-and expect to shell out a few Benjamins over the single-adjustables.
Air Ride Technologies
While taking advantage of the wide range of adjustability of a double-adjustable shock, Air Ride incorporates an airbag as a supporting member of the suspension as if it were a coilover spring. This air "spring" has nearly infinite adjustability of load capacity and spring rate, which translates into nearly infinite adaptability to any given road condition. Yes, that includes both the road course and dragstrip.
|Bushing material||Polyurethane and spherical end|
|Applications||'62-79 Nova, '67-02 Camaro, '64-72 Chevelle|
|Price (pair)||Front: $849 single-adjustable,|
|Rear: $699 single-adjustable,|
|Contact||812.481.4787 · ridetech.com|
Chris Alston's Chassisworks-VariShock
If you didn't already know it, Varishock is another division of Chris Alston's Chassisworks and offers both single and double-adjustable shocks, dubbed as Quickset 1 and Quickset 2. You have a choice of Varishock Bolt-in, offered as an application-specific shock, or the Varishock Smooth Body for custom setups; however, you'll need to supply the dimensions, including compressed and extended length along with the mounting type. Quickset 1 features 16 different settings, while Quickset 2 gives you up to 256 combinations! Additionally, every shock is constructed out of billet aluminum, assembled, and dyno-tested in-house.
|Bushing material||Choice of polyurethane or spherical|
|Applications||'53-57, '65-81 Bel Air, '67-02 Camaro, '64-77 Chevelle, '53-82, '84-87, '89-04 Corvette, '65-85 Impala, '70-88 Monte Carlo, '62-79 Nova|
|Price (pair)||Front: $354 single-adjustable, $628 double-adjustable|
|Rear: $354 single-adjustable, $628 double-adjustable|
|Contact||888.388.0249 · cachassisworks.com|
Detroit Speed & Engineering
DSE is known for producing trick first- and second-gen Camaros, as well as '68-74 Novas. To complement its suspension line, DSE offers matching shocks with custom valving through Koni. All shocks are simple bolt-on items that are rebound adjustable and provide killer handling performance and ride quality under any road conditions. DSE even offers special rear shocks that have been developed around the company's mini-tub kits.
|Bushing material||Polyurethane, front; 11/42-inch bearing mount, rear|
|Applications||'67-81 Camaro, '68-74 Nova|
|Price (each)||Front: $99|
|Contact||704.662.3272 · detroitspeed.com|
Strange Engineering offers lightweight aluminum shocks with easily accessible external compression and extension tuning knobs. All feature billet steel crossbars, 10 settings for a variety of adjustments, and easy adaptability for both street and track use.
|Singe/Double Adjustable||Yes/Call for additional applications|
|Applications||'67-02 Camaro, '64-83 Chevelle/Malibu, '62-79 Nova, '58-96 Impala, '70-80 Monte Carlo|
|Price (each)||Front: from $150 single-adjustable,|
|Rear: from $150 single-adjustable,|
|Contact||847.663.1701 · strangeengineering.net|
QA1 Precision Products
Another heavy hitter in the single- and double-adjustable market is QA1 with its line of Proma Stars. The single-adjustable offers 12 settings, while the double-adjustables have 24 settings for compression and 24 settings for rebound. Added features include a machined aluminum body and a 51/48-inch centerless ground piston rod for valving consistency, and they don't leave the factory until each shock is dyno tested and serialized.
|Bushing material||Choice of polyurethane or spherical|
|Applications||'67-02 Camaro, '64-87 Chevelle/El Camino, '63-current Corvette, '55-90, '94-69 Impala, '70-88 Monte Carlo, '62-79 Nova|
|Price (each)||Front: $140 single-adjustable,|
|Rear: $140 single-adjustable,|
|Contact||952.985.5675 · qa1.net|