Twenty-five years ago, you weren't cool if your ride wasn't jacked up. Gabriel Hi-jackers were the hottest shock on the market. And a simple install, which included routing a few small airlines coupled with a trip to the nearest air compressor, was all it took...and up you went, instant hot rod celebrity status! Of course, there were inherent problems to go along with the new image, such as the loss of a comfortable ride, lack of all performance handling capabilities (not to mention the extreme body roll around corners) and, of course, the watchful eye of the law! Boy, how times have changed.
Today, the hot scene in street cruising has taken (excuse the pun) a dip in the other direction. It's about getting your ride as close as possible to terra firma without sacrificing all drivability. Not that lowered cars are a new idea, mind you, but instead of examples such as classic early Impalas and Biscaynes (as most hot rodders remember being the stereotypical lowriders), these days you can find virtually anything with four wheels pushing the limits of ground clearance to new lows. But there's still correct-and incorrect-ways of accomplishing the goal of lowering your ride.
Extremely popular right now are the plethora of the air suspension systems being offered by a host of well-known companies. These setups, which we've done a couple of good stories on recently, seem to give you the best of both worlds: the ability to drive at a more tolerable ride height, while being "slammed" when sitting still. But when it comes to true canyon carving performance, most air bag systems were not designed for this type of action.
It's relatively easy to lower a car's stock suspension (and basically screw up all of the handling and comfort characteristics at the same time). For the front (and some rear suspensions), simply taking a cut-off saw or a torch and hacking away at the coil springs will-though its not always the best way-get the job done. If there are leaf springs out back, a trip to Pep Boys for an aluminum lowering block kit will easily (and safely) eliminate the rear's altitude problems. (You'll find versions ranging from 1 to 3 inches of adjustment.) On the other hand, you can do your homework, decide how you want the car to handle, and order the correct springs and sway bars from companies like Eibach, Hotchkis, LG Motorsports, and others. Then, perhaps most importantly, choosing a good shock absorber that will ultimately enhance both the ride and handling characteristics of your lowered car will give you the best of both worlds.
Recently, we set out to reevaluate the suspension on a lowered '96 Z28 Camaro that we've featured here before. The car has a host of top-line parts (Hotchkis bars, LG Motorsports control arms, and Eibach springs, to name just a few). In it's most recent incarnation, the late-model F-body had an almost perfect stance, with only a small gap between the top of the tire and the bottom of the wheelwell lip at both ends. Wouldn't it be cool, we thought, to see if we could gain adjustability of the ride height and still maintain (and perhaps enhance) the suspension's dampening? (And test the limits of ground clearance, knowing we could always raise it back up again?)
Enter the engineers at QA1 Hal Shocks. Known for extremely well-built and engineered dampers for virtually any application, the company had recently been advertising a setup for the fourth-generation Camaro that we thought would be perfect in allowing us to control the ride height of the car's front end, while at the same time giving us the ability to adjust for track conditions and severe dampening needs. Furthermore, since the car was already lowered, we thought that if we were to measure the actual length of the shock needed while the car was at its ride height, maybe we could find a shock with a shorter body and still have one that had some compression left. (In most lowered situations, dropping the suspension without going to a shorter shock stresses the shock's damping ability since it takes away almost all of its stroke.)
The QA1 Hal Proma Star GT aluminum body coilover shock we chose for the front end is a work of art. Its alloy body is threaded over nearly its entire length to allow positioning of the coil spring at varying points, which offers a range of ride height fine-tuning. The coil spring supplied is similar in length to a stock Camaro spring and was silver powdercoated. The complete unit simply bolts on in place of the stock shock/spring combo. As for how the shock felt, its damping characteristics can be adjusted in 12 steps, allowing you to tune for cornering, launching, or cruising (it's amazing-with just a couple of clicks the shock went from requiring just a little pressure to move to nearly being impossible to compress by hand). Quality of design and materials used are other bright spots for these fully rebuildable units. As you'll see in the accompanying photos, comparing the QA1 Hal shock to another well-known performance damper yielded some interesting differences. One of the biggest we noticed was the diameter of the shaft. The QA1 Hal unit is significantly bigger, making one believe that it might withstand more sustained abuse (read: harder cornering).
Rounding out our Camaro's dampening system is a pair of 12-way-adjustable rear shocks. Again, considering that the car is about 3 inches lower than stock, we chose to measure the shock's length at ride height and installed a shock that was nearly 3 inches shorter than what the factory calls for. Complementing this, we cut a coil off of the Eibach springs and removed the factory rubber seat. This allowed us to position the top of the tire right at the inside wheelwell lip. Talk about an awesome-looking stance! Finally, to round out the install, we took the factory rubber bump stop and shortened it. That way, when we do encounter a large dip or bump in the road, the added travel will allow the QA1 Hal shocks to do their thing and dampen the hit. As a topper, we installed a set of 13-inch Baer Racing brake rotors. Not only do these drilled and slotted discs fill out the 17-inch wheels and work with the factory calipers, but with an aluminum hat they aren't any heavier than the smaller stock units. Talk about looking cool!
With the trend to lower and better handling (and braking) cars, the need has arose for improved component engineering to allow a slammed ride to use the car's suspension as best as it can. While lowering a Camaro such as this one does impair the workable range of the stock geometry (as well as decrease ground clearance), if you're bent on getting the look, adding a selection of parts that better performs the task and takes maximum advantage of the new ride height will go a long way in offsetting the diminished level of comfort you may have gotten used to.