Air Ride's AirBar rear suspension system converts a factory leaf-spring suspension into a four-link. This begs the question: How is a four-link superior to conventional leaf springs? "A leaf spring is asked to perform several functions in the suspension," explains Bret. "In addition to holding the car up, it is expected to control the lateral, front-to-back, and pinion-angle movements of the rear axle. Obviously, trying to optimize all these functions ends in compromise. By separating the job of suspending the car from the job of holding the axle in the car, we can optimize each job more easily."
"One of the biggest benefits of an air suspension system is the ability to quickly tune the chassis to prevailing track conditions," says Bret. "Theoretically, you could achieve the same performance from a mechanical spring as you could from an air spring if you had the necessary skill, patience, and equipment to properly tune the suspension. However, road conditions are only one factor to consider in a car that sees both street and track duty. If you change the load in the vehicle with passengers or luggage, you have to start all over with the tuning process. It takes a lot of perseverance to tune a suspension via the traditional method of changing components through trial and error. Therefore, people often end up living with some level of compromise in ride quality or cornering performance. An air spring gives the ability to make tuning changes much quicker and easier at the touch of a button, which often equates to less compromise."
"Air Ride has a total of 28 in-house project cars, and there are two simple reasons for having such an extensive collection," Bret says. "First, I feel the only way to develop a product is to have a car in front of you for an extended period of time. This means no customer-imposed deadlines, cost considerations, or squeamishness about hurting their car. Therefore, you must own the car. Furthermore, the development should not stop when the first system is shipped. We constantly evaluate and refine our products based on our experiences on the road and at the track. Since we are building the car anyway, we also take the opportunity to create installation tech and track-day articles and take photos for ads and various feature articles. It is a time-proven method of development, refinement, and promotion that we have copied from the pioneers of hot rodding and racing. The cars are much more a tool than a toy in these respects. The second reason for having so many cars in-house is that it's a great excuse to feed my personal hot rod habit. I love these cars because, as is the case for many of our customers, I grew up with them."
One of the most common snafus of an air suspension install is air leaks, but fortunately, a few simple tricks can help you avoid them. If the air lines are cut cleanly and squarely, and thread sealer is used on the pipe fittings, leaks are actually quite rare. "To locate a leak, the old-fashioned method of spraying the connections with soapy water works best," explains Bret. More likely than not, the culprit will be at one of the connections. "I don't think I have ever seen an air spring itself leak. It's always a fitting that is left loose or has no sealer. DOT-approved fittings are a must as well, since they have a built-in insert that supports the inside of the plastic tubing to seal it better than standard fittings."
The straight-line machines of the musclecar era had some shortcomings in basic suspension design, and Air Ride works hard to correct these issues using modern technology. Bret says most OEM front suspension systems, especially those in GM vehicles, were designed to tilt the top of the tire outward when compressed. This resulted in understeer when driven to the extreme. "Their thinking was that in a panic situation, most drivers would instinctively go for the brakes, which, in a pushing situation would be the safe and correct action, but this design does not offer optimal handling," explains Bret. "Ideally, the top of the tire should tilt inward when compressed to maintain maximum tire contact when cornering, and we offer a taller spindle for several applications that improves this geometry. Likewise, the large, cushy pivot bushings commonly used in the '60s lead to lots of suspension slop. We use a firmer rubber or polyurethane bushing to maintain suspension integrity."