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Starting From The Rear

From Air Shocks to ShockWaves...Your Editor's "Latest" Project

Jan 28, 2003

While the ride characteristics weren't really bad, the Chevy sat with a bit of a nose-down stance. The OEM Mustang II frontend was installed (by its previous owner, Todd Gravelle) with its crossmember set to get a lower stance, but it still retains a decent amount of travel. A '56 Chevy rearend was hung with a de-leafed spring pack and air shocks, but even with the air completely drained from the shock bladders, the end sat higher than the front. While I could have easily bumped the front up a little with a taller coil, I was more content with the idea of lowering the rear, and I had a few options.

Most assumed I would airbag the rear and yank the excess leafs, but that wasn't what I was thinking. The other option was to get rid of the leaf springs altogether and to go with a four-link and airbags, but that's not what I had in mind either. After seeing Air Ride Technologies' latest ShockWave offering for rearend applications, I had the problem solved, and with the least amount of heavy work involved to boot. Air Ride agreed, and put together a kit to suit the particulars.

For the installation, the Primedia Tech Center was once again utilized. When we got all the old air shock components removed, it became even more obvious that we were looking at a cake job. Worries of the ShockWave's bag coming in contact with the rearend housing once inflated were quickly put to rest the minute they were bolted in--in the exact location as the air shocks without alteration--as there was ample room between the rearend housing and the bags. Unlike the previous style of ShockWave, which utilizes a double-convoluted airbag, these use a sleeve-type very similar to the air shock, making it so you don't have to mount the shock-bag combo way out from the rearend. Further aiding the ease of the installation, the compressor bolted right to the brackets for the old one, and even the gauge-switch panel bolted right to the dash where the old one was (albeit mounted out of sight, which makes it hard to see exactly what pressure you're running--that's what a little compact mirror comes in handy for!). The only real additional work entailed routing the air lines and fittings, wiring the solenoids, compressor, and switches, and mounting the air reservoir tank. See--cake!

After wrapping the job up, I mentioned what we'd done to a few friends, all of whom were not aware there was such a conversion available. While the cost is quite a bit more than your typical air shock setup, the benefits are well worth the extra coin. Just consider the fact that the ShockWaves include adjustable QA1 shocks, and that right there is pretty much worth the price of admission. Throw in Air Ride's new Big Red solenoids, and it's a no-brainer! The cool thing about the solenoids--no, not the noise they make like mini-truckers droppin' frame on the boulevard--is that you can get an equal amount of air in each bag with even shots of the switches. Air Ride provides their rear kit with a typical four-bag solenoid, which allows you to isolate the rears and avoid the dreaded "corner roll" syndrome. All in all, if you're looking for an improved-ride adjustable suspension for your car, this is the ticket. The ShockWaves are available in a variety of lengths and mounting options.


Air Ride's rear ShockWave conversion kit includes everything necessary to upgrade from air shocks--including solenoids! Provided the proper info, Air Ride can supply you with a kit that can be installed in short order.

Before airbags really took off, many a tail-dragger left his chrome along the highways and byways thanks to air shocks. Unfortunately, most systems provide limited adjustability and, with puny compressors, very slow lift-and-drop times.

The well-done step notch and horizontal shock mount left us with the perfect situation for the ShockWave upgrade.

At first, you might think there wasn't a big difference between the ShockWaves and air shocks from this comparison (even the new compressor is "smaller"!). Well, there is a big difference, especially considering the Air Ride compressor is rated at .50-cfm @ 150-psi, and when you factor in a 2-gal. air reservoir tank, that's more volume than the old air shocks could ever imagine handling!

Given the right measurements (compressed and extended shock length, bushing/stem size, etc.), Air Ride was able to provide its newest ShockWave, developed specifically for rearend applications with a smaller-diameter sleeve airspring, which bolted right in place of the air shocks.

Even the compressor bolted right where the old one previously mounted (on brackets welded to the shock crossmember). Air Ride states you can mount the compressor wherever is most convenient, but due to noise emissions, the further away from the driver's compartment the better. The compressor was wired directly to the battery (also in the trunk), with a 20-amp inline fuse.

Doesn't matter if you're a schematics designer from IBM, directions always come in handy! This just happened to be Jason's first job in the Tech Center, so he wanted to make sure everything was wired and plumbed up just right.

The Big Red solenoid block was first. The four-way setup was utilized to isolate the rear bags and avoid pressure shift when cornering.

Since the switches control the airsprings using smaller 1/8-inch airline (along with the supplied wiring), everything was bundled together with the car's wire loom and run beneath the doorsill plate.

The new controls are not only more accurate, but easier to use thanks to a backlit gauge and (lighted) separate switches for each side.

The gauge/switches were wired up (key ON), airlines fit (with squarely-cut ends for no leaks!), and the panel installed right where the old gauges were. The only drawback is not being able to see the gauge reading for the air pressure. A little compact mirror does the trick, but we figured out that two equal shots (pressing the switch twice) for each side gives us 30 pounds.

You can run the ShockWaves straight off the compressor; but for situations where they get used more often, it's nice having a reserve tank such as this. We mounted the Air Ride tank tucked back on the right-side trunk pocket, routing the lines up around behind the back seat panel.

When all was said and done, the system looked like it belonged--because it did! Even if you've just got shocks and leafs, converting over to the ShockWave setup isn't that difficult. Of course, a C'd or step-notched frame helps, and once that's done, the shock crossmember's a breeze.

With zero air pressure, the Chevy sits nice and level now (maybe a bit lower in the rear). Air Ride recommends running at least 5 pounds in each bag (absolute minimum) when driving so not to damage the ShockWaves. A good rule of thumb for adjusting the QA1 shocks: One positive click for each 10 pounds of pressure in the bags (the shocks have a total of 12 firmness positions via a switch located toward the bottom).


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