If what you know about Speedway Motors is informed only by the ads you see in magazines like this, then the company’s entry into the high-performance suspension market may seem a little unlikely, if not opportunistic. Speedway has an image as a preeminent mail-order outlet for parts manufactured by dozens of independent vendors, something that it’s worked hard to create. And it’s done the company well. Its position as one of the “big three” in the mail-order world has made the Smiths one of the most prominent families in the industry.
But that’s only part of the Speedway Motors story. You see, the mail-order thing is kind of secondary to the Smith family’s primary interest: racing. In fact, the late Bill Smith founded the company in 1952 as a means to generate funds to keep his own cars on the, well … speedway. The company began producing its own parts as a means to make its own cars more competitive. Remember the thing about selling parts produced by dozens of vendors? Well, Speedway is one of those vendors. The company makes many of the parts that it sells in the racing market.
Raised literally on the track, it was inevitable that Bill’s sons would follow in the ol’ man’s footsteps. But not all of them stayed with the go-fast-turn-left variety of racing that gave the company its name. Carson, for one, played a pivotal role in Robby Unser’s highly successful Pikes Peak team (for decades the Smith and Unser families have been fast friends, so to speak). Since the company is an extension and support system for the family’s racing interests, it made sense for Speedway to venture into new markets.
But, catering to such a niche market like Hillclimbing isn’t exactly part of a good business plan. So Carson applied the knowledge he gleaned in Hillclimbing to another set of fast cars that turn left and right: Pro Touring. The ’65 Nova that Speedway built and campaigns on the autocross circuit isn’t a marketing ploy; it was a proof of concept for a series of street-intended suspension systems it sells under the G-Comp name. These clean-sheet designs offer more adjustability, lower roll center, favorable camber gain, and antidive properties than the stock systems they replace.
Part of following in Bill’s footsteps also means getting really competitive. While the Nova did well on the track, it was ultimately a street car adapted to racing. Competing with the car, specifically having to make tuning changes on the fly, revealed a few shortcomings.
So the Smiths did what came natural to them, they collaborated with the Unsers. Together, along with Speedway engineer Tom Brown and the rest of the Speedway team, they designed—once again from scratch—a stouter front suspension system for all-generation rear-drive Novas and first- and second-gen F-bodies (others are in the works). It’s actually part of a package that includes two rear suspension variants, one based on a torque-arm design and the other a two-link system based largely upon the truck-arm design that dominated NASCAR for decades. We’ll get into the torque-arm suspension in the near future.
The G-Comp Unser Edition front suspension design boasts easier tuning and the potential for more aggressive geometry (3 degrees more positive caster than the G-Comp and a more aggressive camber gain) required to dominate at the track. “There’s a big difference between putting something on the street and running autocross,” race team manager Bill Schneider says. “Sometimes we’d get a little aggressive but we had to make it so it was roadable and not too rough. So that meant it had to be easily adjustable. The Unser version is adjustable in pretty much every way.”
Make no mistake; both systems are capable of street and track use. Only the emphasis changes. If the G-Comp is a street system that can be used on the track, the G-Comp Unser Edition is a race system that can be driven on the street. “Don’t get me wrong; both systems give you more camber gain, camber in general, and caster than a stock design,” he continues. “But the Unser system just offers that much more alignment latitude that you need to compete.”
More than just greater adjustability, the Unser system offers easier adjustability. For example, rather than relying on threaded fittings to set camber and caster, the system uses purpose-made shims and keyed plugs. Want to change the caster? Swap out the plugs in the upper cross-shafts to move the control arms back and forth. Want more camber? Swap out the special shims to move the arms inboard or outboard. The incremental system also applies to the coilover mounts; holes in the upper mounts correspond to a series of holes in the plates that mount to the crossmember. Just move the mounts up or down to set the ride height, using the spring collars for fine-tuning. There’s no more guesswork. Just set the toe after any changes.
Let me stress that last point: the defined shape of the parts means the components move only in pre-set increments, eliminating the need to verify the alignment settings beyond toe. “If you don’t put the inner fender panels in, all this stuff is fully accessible from the top,” Bill points out. “Even toe, you can reach right down through the top of the car and loosen up the tie-rod ends to change toe. Get yourself a set of toe plates and you can set toe right at the track.” So drive the car to the track then drop the nose, increase the camber and caster, and set the toe-out to race; change everything back to standard specs and drive the car home with the same specs that you arrived with.
Naturally, the Unser Edition’s increased function and structure command a price premium over the standard G-Comp. However, think of it as an inside line to Speedway’s race shop for tuning information. “We’re always available to talk as far as tuning,” Bill reveals. The Unser Edition also accommodates a larger tire: 275/35R18 to be specific.
Yeah, the increased and simplified adjustability and the greater tire capacity are great, but what happens when all that rubber meets the road? Well, at the Holley LS Fest West in Las Vegas this year, Robby Unser placed Third overall driving Speedway’s 1970 Camaro in the Grand Champion division. Now, before you dismiss a Third-place finish, consider that the two Corvettes that finished ahead of him were built in the new millennium. Also, his 32.827-second autocross lap was only 0.76 seconds slower than winner Rich Willhoff’s 32.067-second lap in a ’06 Corvette modified by similar standards as the Camaro. Granted, we’re talking Robby Unser as the driver of record, but the Corvette has the benefits of a more favorable weight distribution and an independent rear suspension.
Recently, we got the opportunity to follow along as Chris Holstrom Concepts assembled and installed a G-Comp Unser Edition front clip on its company mule, a ’68 Camaro that the shop built in a matter of eight weeks and debuted at the Goodguys Des Moines event. More than easily adjustable, we found it to be easily buildable and remarkably complete (everything except coilovers and brakes, since both are so application specific). That it attaches to the stock pickup points (including core support) and mounts on billet-aluminum blocks rather than squishy bushings is just icing on the cake.
Let’s be fair: the G-Comp Unser Edition front suspension isn’t for everybody. In fact, most people who only occasionally run autocross would probably benefit more from the more conventional street-intended/race-capable G-Comp (which Bill stresses is extremely track capable). But if the ability to make quick adjustments to suit a particular track is high on your criteria, there may not be any better option than Speedway’s G-Comp Unser Edition. CHP
Photos by Chris Shelton