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Everything You Need to Know About Shocks for Your Corvette

All About Shocks: An absorbing look at the best Corvette shocks for the street, dragstrip, and road course

Rick Jensen May 26, 2015 0 Comment(s)
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Corvettes exude confident street handling, and their composed suspensions have morphed mere owners into confident drivers for decades. The lowly shock absorber sits at the center of that superb suspension—quietly keeping your Corvette under control.

The last 50 years of OEM Corvette shocks have been a mix of capable, harsh, and heavenly. In-house Delco dampers mixed with aftermarket units in tooth-rattling C2s and C3s, which gave way to taut C4s with mildly adjustable FX3 and Selective Ride systems. C5s bowed with the revised Selective Ride option, but GM’s 2003 introduction of the highly capable Magnetic Selective Ride Control was a game changer. MSRC was further refined for the C6, and now a third-gen MSRC system is available on the C7. The MSRC systems allowed Corvettes to be both more comfortable on the street and more capable on the track. And the fact that Ferrari licenses this technology from GM should tell you something.

Watch a first-gen Magnetic Selective Ride Control system tame a C5

But as we all know, not everyone opts for high-end damping, and base shocks on mass-produced cars can’t be everything to everyone. Standard dampers are fine for a spirited dance to the local cruise spot, and magnetic shocks are OK on track days. But for a serious driver looking for optimum performance on the street, dragstrip, or road course, a dedicated set of dampers is key.

Operation

Before we start shopping for those sweet, sweet dampers, let’s discuss how a shock works. Simply put, shock absorbers dampen your vehicle’s wheel and body motion, limiting its suspension travel and maximizing each tire’s contact patch. The result is predictable steering response, agile, sure-footed handling, and a comfortable ride, even on rough pavement.

If you’ve ever bombed down the road in a car with worn shocks, you know how bouncy, uncomfortable, and borderline dangerous the ride is. Thankfully, testing your vehicles for weak shocks is simple, as long as you know what to look for. Take a quick drive on a couple of different roads, and pay attention to your car’s movement over bumps, and during acceleration, braking, and swerving. If it exhibits any abnormal harshness, bouncing, nosedive during braking, or squatting during acceleration, your shocks may need to be replaced. You can also look under your vehicles to check for leaking shock fluid, a surefire sign that your damper(s) are on the way out.

Gm Magnetic Ride Control Shocks 2/20

Credit: Copyright 2015 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.

Construction

Shocks used to be a simple solution to a complex problem, and were known by their tube designs. But today, triple tube, twin tube, and monotube aren’t specific enough. Factory electronic systems have included Selective Ride and Magnetic Selective Ride Control, and the aftermarket has birthed user-adjustable shocks. Single-adjustable shocks let you change both the compression and the rebound together. Double-adjustable shocks allow the compression and rebound to be adjusted independently. There are even triple- and quadruple-adjustable dampers for road racing machines.

Thankfully, all of these complex designs share similar base components, so it’s easy to wrap your head around. Here’s what your shocks are made of:

External Components

The housing is a cylindrical tube that contains the shock’s innards. It is smooth in most OEM applications, and threaded for coilover designs. Some applications also use a dust cover, or boot, over the housing.

The suspension mount is the top shock mount that attaches to the vehicle’s body. Attachment options can include a threaded rod with nut, retainer, and insulator, an eyelet with a mounting tab or a large bolt hole, or a strut-type mount with multiple mounting bolts.

The chassis mount is the bottom shock mount that attaches to the vehicle’s chassis. Attachment options can include a threaded rod and bolt, an eyelet with a mounting tab or a large bolt hole, or a strut-type mount with multiple mounting bolts.

Adjustable shocks also have some type of external adjustment apparatus that alter the shock’s internal operation; they include knobs, buttons, slots for an Allen wrench, and turning the piston rod.

High-end racing dampers often use a remote or piggyback reservoir. When connected to the shock with a hose, it allows you to make easier, more precise adjustments. It also helps keep the hydraulic fluid cooler.

Internal Components

The rod is, well, a fixed rod that is mounted at the bottom of the shock at one end, and wears the piston at the other. In fancy talk, it’s known as damper rod, and it wears a housing seal to prevent fluid from seeping out.

The piston is where the compression and rebound valves live. These valves use orifices to restrict oil flow during compression (wheel moving up) and rebound (wheel moving down). Re-valving shocks is a common modification for both street performance and racing; we’ll go more in-depth on that in a bit.

Fluid, or more accurately hydraulic fluid, is the liquid inside of shock absorbers. It is separated by the piston and its seal, and it flows through the valves to provide the damping. Quality fluid has the following properties: anti-foam and non-volatile for accurate damping, and anti-wear for long seal life.

Note that Magnetorheological (MR) fluid is the special fluid found inside of GM’s Magnetic Selective Ride Control shocks. This fluid contains iron particles that can be polarized by magnetic fields. So when the signal to each MSRC shock’s internal coil changes, the MR fluid’s viscosity instantly changes as well.

Depending on the design, shocks contain nitrogen or air to pressurize the fluid. The gas is located in either the outer chamber of a twin-tube shock, in a plastic bag, or mixed in with the oil. Monotube designs, with their bigger components and greater control, typically use a high-pressure nitrogen gas.

OEM vs. Aftermarket

You know how your engine’s stock air intake is quiet, but restrictive? Well, aside from the occasional outlier (like those sweet, sweet Z06 dampers), most OEM shocks are also designed with compromises that limit their performance. After all, there are a gazillion all-terrain SUVs out there that have never spun gravel in anger, so it makes sense that many Corvettes wear base shocks because they’ll never see hair-on-fire driving.

That’s a damn shame, because most Corvette buyers would benefit from aftermarket dampers—they make a big difference on street ride and handling, too. So here are a few reasons why quality aftermarket shocks are a great upgrade for your Vette.

A Better Ride: in addition to improving 10/10ths handling performance, quality aftermarket shocks also offer a smoother, more comfortable ride over a wider range of surfaces. There’s a reason why drop-in Bilsteins and Konis are favorites of the serious street/occasional track day crowd.

Quality Construction: factory and low-quality replacement shocks aren’t as precision-built as quality aftermarket shocks are, which can lead to premature wear and leaks. Many aftermarket shocks use high-quality components, are machined to the tightest tolerances, and have a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser.

Near-Unlimited Compression and Rebound: Even the best electronically adjustable OEM shocks only offer a handful of driver settings, usually along the lines of “Tour,” “Sport,” and “Track.” And while there’s no doubt that the C7 MSRC system—and its 15-millisecond damping—is a tour de force, the fact is that a quality, double-adjustable damper can call up hundreds of combinations of compression and rebound. And in the constantly changing environment of hard-core street or racing use, that precise adjustability is priceless.

Better Geometry and Height Adjustments: There’s a reason why exotics like Lamborghinis utilize Öhlins coilover shocks with their race-ready, pushrod, double-wishbone suspension designs: optimized geometry results in optimized performance. Also, those sweet threaded coilovers offer amazing handling—with a side of precise ride height adjustments for that killer stance.

Customized, High-Performance Options: Regardless of your intended use, paying a few extra bucks for a quality set of serviceable dampers is a good idea. If your ride sees tons of street miles over the years, you can send them in to be refreshed to like-new condition, and if you bought smooth-body (non-coilover) units and want to lower your car later, they can be shortened to properly work with shorter springs.

If you’re going to race your Vette, they can be revalved for optimum performance on the track, and rebuilt after a season of heavy use.

Ultra-high-performance road-racing shocks from Penske and the like give you even more: CNC construction, premium-quality components, massive shafts, remote reservoirs, etc. And then there’s the adjustability: triple-adjustable units offer a single rebound adjustment along with independent, low- and high-speed compression adjustments. And now there are even quadruple-adjustable racing shocks that offer independent, low- and high-speed compression and rebound adjustments! While you’ll pay between $2,500 and $6,000-plus for a set for these coilover wonders, you’ll have the hardware to tame virtually any track in the world.

Application

Street shocks are replacement dampers that are used for mostly street duty. They’re built to keep your Corvette stable on a wide variety of roads, but also offer improved comfort and at-the-limit control over OEM shocks.

Drag shocks are used for drag racing. They can still be found in non-adjustable “90/10” spec, but the vast majority are adjustable. Just like road racers, drag racers benefit from hundreds of compression and rebound adjustments to get their car dialed in from track to track.

Road race shocks are used for road racing. Because of the extreme demands (and extreme dangers) of road racing, high-quality adjustable shocks are a wise modification. And depending on the driver’s class and goals, a pricey one—companies like Penske and Moton offer triple- and even quadruple-adjustable Corvette shocks that allow independent, high- and low-speed compression and rebound adjustments.

Shock Guide

The following products are good options for any Corvette owner who’s considering aftermarket shocks. C4, C5, and C6 shocks are the most prevalent, and there are some great C7 and C3 options as well. While the C2 and C1 aftermarket isn’t as big, specialized dampers are still out there, so unless factory correctness is your thing, don’t go rebuilding stock Delcos until you check out your aftermarket options!

Note that the prices are either provided by the company, or taken from an online store.

Bilstein

Bilstein supplied monotube shocks to a Mercedes back in 1957, and has been one of the world’s premier damper companies ever since. Bilsteins are consistently rated as some of the world’s best high-performance street dampers, they have long been successful in racing, and best of all, they cover a massive number of vehicles—including C1 through C6 Corvettes.
www.bilsteinus.com

C6 Bilstein Sport 46mm Monotube 3/20

Product: C6 Bilstein Sport 46mm Monotube
Part Numbers: 24-029773 (front), 24-029780 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $102
Notes: Sports provide the most control and the firmest ride, and work with lowering springs. The Bilstein HD line is best for stock-spring C6 Vettes, offering amazing handling with a smoother ride.

C4 Bilstein Hd Sport 36mm Monotube 4/20

Product: C4 Bilstein HD/Sport 36mm Monotube
Part Numbers: 24-002288 (front), 24-184588 (rear, sport)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $97
Notes: Bilstein recommends front HD and rear Sport shocks for early C4s. Later C4s use all HDs for non-Z51 cars, and all Sports for Z51s.

C3 Bilstein Hd 36 46 Mm Monotube 5/20

Product: C3 Bilstein HD 36/46mm Monotube
Part Numbers: 24-009461 (front), 24-184649 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $97
Notes: 36mm front shocks, 46mm rear. Sport line also available.

C2 Bilstein Hd 46mm Monotube 6/20

Product: C2 Bilstein HD 46mm Monotube
Part Numbers: 24-002837 (front), 24-004930 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $98
Notes: N/A

C1 Bilstein Hd 46mm Monotube 7/20

Product: C1 Bilstein HD 46mm Monotube
Part Numbers: 24-002837 (front), 24-004930 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $98
Notes: All models


Koni

Koni is a true shock pioneer, offering auto dampers as early as 1932, adjustable telescoping dampers since 1945, and the world’s first adjustable shocks. Koni makes shocks for damn-near everything—from race cars to buses, sports cars to trains. But unlike those cheap, wallowing horror-shows from other massive shock makers, Koni’s street and race shocks rank with the industry’s finest.
www.koni-na.com

C4 Koni Sport 8/20

Product: C4 Koni Sport
Part Numbers: 8241-1097Sport (front), 8241-1098Sport (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: Single
Price: $144
Notes: 1989-’96 model years with non-electronic suspension.

C5 Koni Sport 9/20

Product: C5 Koni Sport
Part Numbers: 3013-1023Sport (front), 3013-1024Sport (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: Single
Price: $279
Notes: 1997-’04 coupe, convertible, and Z06, not for electronic or MR suspensions

C3 Koni Str T 10/20

Product: C3 Koni STR.T
Part Numbers: 8050-1136 (front), 8050-1137 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $65
Notes: Complements lowering springs


QA1

QA1 offers a wide range of high-performance and racing shocks for Corvettes. Stocker Star series shock absorbers are direct bolt-ons for 1963-’04 Vettes. Its Pro Coil shocks and springs system provides ride control and height adjustability for 1997-’04 C5s. And the “R” series drag shocks have a firm compression with a wide range of rebound, for the ultimate in weight transfer. Every aluminum QA1 shock is 100 percent handbuilt, dyno tested, and serialized at QA1’s Minnesota facility, and they’re also rebuildable and revalveable by the QA1 factory, or QA1 Authorized Service Centers.
www.qa1.net

C5 Qa1 Coilover 11/20

Product: C5 QA1 Coilover
Part Numbers: GD402 (front), GD403 (rear)
Body: Coilover
Adjustable: Double
Price: $699
Notes: Springs included, adjustable ride height, stud/T-bar front mount, bracket/bracket rear mount

C3 Qa1 Stcker Star 12/20

Product: C3 QA1 Stocker Star
Part Numbers: TN508 (front), TN403 (rear)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: No
Price: $108
Notes: Stud/T-bar mount front, eyelet/eyelet mount rear

C4 Qa1 Stocker Star R Series Drag 13/20

Product: C4 QA1 Stocker Star R-Series Drag
Part Numbers: TR511 (front only)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: Single
Price: $159
Notes: Front shocks only, stud/T-bar mount


JRi Shocks

JRi Shocks was founded in 2007, and is an engineering-led company with over 300 combined years of collective racing and manufacturing experience. The C5/C6 Corvette shocks were designed with input from Danny Popp, 2012 and 2014 winner of the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. These nitrogen-charged Corvette shocks provide superior grip, enhanced response, and unmatched damping capabilities for performance street and Pro Touring applications. And JRi’s performance technology allows a transition from the street to the track in minutes, optimizing overall handling for the desired application.
www.jrishocks.com

C5 C6 Jri Shocks Monotube 14/20

Product: C5/C6 JRi Shocks Monotube
Part Numbers: 100-207 (package)
Body: Standard smooth or coilover
Adjustable: Double, separate low-/high-speed rebound (front), low-speed compression/high-speed rebound (rear)
Price: $3,199
Notes: Performance Street/Pro Touring


Viking

Viking was started in 2011 by industry veterans with over 40 years of suspension experience in the performance aftermarket. Chris and Christina King founded the company with the goal of providing high-performance shocks, springs, and rod ends at the best value in the market, with exceptional CUSTOMER SERVICE to boot. Viking offers front and rear smooth body replacement shocks for C1s through C6s, front and rear coilover kits for the C5 and C6, and front coilovers for the C2 and C3. Its mission is to make quality double-adjustable shocks attainable to everyone; by focusing on fully serviceable double-adjustables, Viking is able to keep prices competitive with competitors’ single-adjustable shocks, thereby providing the customer with a better shock for the same money. For example, Viking's Crusader is a twin-tube that generates significantly more rebound force than many monotube shocks in the high-end drag and road race market, and it has a broader adjustment range as well. And Viking's revolutionary Berserker Active Shock Management system lets the ultra-precise adjustability found in triple- and quadruple-adjust road racing shocks trickle down to the muscle car and street rod market. This non-MR system uses a suite of sensors and controllers to monitor a wide range of chassis inputs, including yaw rate, suspension position, shock piston speed, chassis acceleration/deceleration, and steering positions. It then automatically changes valving on the fly up to 1,000 times a second, covering low and high speed compression and everything in between. And the end user doesn't have to make a single adjustment!
www.vi-king.com

C3 Viking Warior Shocks 15/20

Product: C3 Viking Warrior
Part Numbers: VSK219 (set)
Body: Standard smooth
Adjustable: Double
Price: $704
Notes: Other shock valving options include the Crusader (high rebound for Pro Touring and drag-radial racing), and the Berserker (ELECTRONIC self-adjusting gives 1,000-times-a second valve adjustments, for all applications)


MTI Racing

Founded in 1993, MTI Racing is led by former World Challenge racer Reese Cox. Cox has won, raced, or been involved in racing series like SCCA, Corvette Challenge, 24 Hours of Daytona, and IMSA for decades. MTI Racing leverages that incredible experience by supplying top-quality racing products and support, and is staffed with a crew of engineering, fabrication, professional racing, and troubleshooting experts. Their C7 Z06 test car recently picked up a full 3 seconds at Atlanta Motorsports Park after removing the factory leaf spring and installing their coilovers!
www.mtiracing.com

C7 Mti Racing Penske Coilovers 16/20

Product: C7 MTI Racing/Penske Coilovers
Part Numbers: MTI-002-002
Body: Coilover
Adjustable: Triple
Price: $3,995
Notes: C7 and C7 Z06, MTI Coilover springs with Penske dampers, inverted mount, requires four shock sensors for ECM override.

C5 C6 Mti Racing Bilstein Coilovers 17/20

Product: C5/C6 MTI Racing/Bilstein Coilovers
Part Numbers: MTI-102-002
Body: Coilover
Adjustable: Triple
Price: $2,595
Notes: C5 and C6, inverted mount


Nitron USA

UK-based Nitron boasts over a decade of success, and benefits from a design team with an accumulated experience covering machining, materials technology, hydraulics, bike engineering, and F1 racing. The result is prestigious race wins and lap records around the world. Nitron shocks are designed, developed, and manufactured in the UK, and are handbuilt, billet-machined, fully serviceable, and customized to your spring and damping requirements.
www.nitronracingshocks.com

C5 C6 Nitron R1 R3 Coilovers 18/20
C5 C6 Nitron R1 R3 Coilovers 19/20

Product: C5/C6 Nitron R1/R3 Coilovers
Part Numbers: R1 Performance, R1 Street/Track, R3 Race
Body: Coilover
Adjustable: Triple
Price: $2,095 to $4,800
Notes: R1 Performance Kit is minus springs and remote canisters, R1 Street/Track comes with coilover springs, R3 Race Kit also adds remote canisters.


Penske Racing Shocks

Born in 1988 to supply shocks to Indy Car, Penske Racing Shocks (PRS) grew quickly, and soon supplied most racing series, including Formula 1 and NASCAR. PRS has a loyal following in the Corvette racing scene, and it handbuilds its billet-machined dampers to each customer’s requirements. Non, single-, double, and triple-adjustable dampers are available to Corvette owners.
www.penskeshocks.com

C7 Penske Racing Shocks Coilovers 20/20

Product: C7 Penske Racing Shocks Coilovers
Part Numbers: 7500, 8300, 8700, 8760 series
Body: Coilover
Adjustable: Double
Price: $4,900
Notes: Coilover packages are 1-inch shorter overall than OEM shocks due to clearance issues between the coil spring and upper control arm. Car must be lowered to have enough rebound stroke.

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