By now the burgundy '88 Camaro IROC-Z gracing these pages has become a familiar sight to Super Chevy readers. In past issues, you have witnessed everything from its cosmetic transformation using Auto Air Colors' waterborne paint, to brake and suspension upgrades featuring Baer Brakes and Hotchkis Performance. In this month's issue, we are extracting the Hotchkis Performance Sports coil springs (PN#1903) from all four corners and replacing them with front and rear Cool-Ride kits from Air Ride Technologies. The reasoning behind the switch, first and foremost, was to improve the '88's ride quality. In 1982, when the new F-body debuted, its claim to fame for Camaro-performance freaks was that the new Z28 could out pull the '82 Corvette on the skidpad. Unfortunately along with improved handling, the new Camaros also gained a reputation for riding like a steel-wheeled skateboard. For high-performance Camaro fanatics, living with a stiff ride has come to be an accepted price to pay for skidpad superiority.
On March 7, 2005, Air Ride Technologies announced the arrival of its Cool-Ride kits for the '82-'92 Camaro. The best way for us to describe the content of the release is simply to quote it: "Air Ride Technologies has finished development for the '82-'92 Camaro F-body cars. The front Cool-Ride kit consists of an air spring and bracket assembly, which directly replaces the coil spring. Your factory or aftermarket strut assembly remains intact. This kit is also compatible with any performance replacement strut on the market. The Rear Cool-Ride kit directly replaces the OEM coil spring. The handling and performance are increased dramatically with this kit. If you pair it up with a four-wheel independent control system, you will be able to manipulate this system to get your car to handle and launch exactly how you want it to.
It was great to learn that Air Ride Technologies had released a kit specifically designed to fit our '88 IROC-Z, but its product release didn't quite answer our main concern. What we were looking for was an assurance that our IROC's ride quality would improve. The next step in our information quest was to log onto Air Ride Technologies' Web site and search for Frequently Asked Questions - Bingo! Here's what they had to say: "How is the ride quality? Wonderful! If you closed your eyes, you would swear that you were in a new luxury car. The ride quality is also adjustable to your taste from inside the vehicle. (Try that with a coilover or leaf spring!)."
Dependability concerns? For those of you unfamiliar with air suspension, or perhaps even hold a low opinion of it based on what you've heard from a fellow that had a friend who knew someone that lived next door to a guy that had bad luck with airbags, we'll give a quick response. First off, it seems the subject of air-ride suspension is like a Harley-Davidson; there's always some guy who has never owned one who can tell you all about them. Not wanting to be one of "those guys," there are a few of us at Super Chevy who currently have air-ride on our vehicles along with firsthand experience.
Without starting an argument, it's hard to say whether the first guys bagging their rides were street-rodders or mini-truckers. It seemed to occur around the same period in time (mid-1990s). The one thing for sure is, it was the mini-truckers who pushed the limits on how low a vehicle can go. The last thing a mini-trucker was or is concerned about is ride or reliability; the whole purpose is to lay absolutely flat on the ground. Consequently, spotting trucks at the side of the road (especially around a truck run) with broken homemade or even so-called professional custom-fabricated air-ride setups is not all that hard to do.
The two most common causes associated with air-ride failures are bags (same thing as an air spring) that have been installed too close to a revolving or moving part, therefore causing a bag to leak or pop. Not quite as disastrous but equally inconvenient are leaking air lines caused by friction or are improperly connected at the fittings.
The beauty of installing an engineered product, such as an Air Ride Technologies Cool-Ride Kit, on our Camaro is that the proper bracket geometry has been incorporated into its design after extensive research and development. This means no rude surprises from an airbag failure causing a potentially lethal accident, or premature suspension wear chewing up expensive tires. In addition to proper design, another important consideration is the quality of the parts contained in an air-ride kit. Since the company's founding over 10 years ago, Air Ride Technologies has included automotive-specific components from quality manufacturers, including Firestone and Thomas to mention a few. When it comes to air-ride suspension we can't stress enough the importance of high-quality parts. Not only does it matter for day-in-day out service but ease of installation, as well.
There's one more possible weak link in dealing with the installation of an air-ride setup-how professional the installation is conducted. One can have the best kit in the world and if certain assembly details are ignored, the system can fail.
To help with the installation of our Camaro's Air Ride Technologies Cool-Ride Kit, we traveled from our Orange County offices out to Hot Rides By Dean in Moorpark, California. Shop owner Dean Sears has a reputation for producing meticulous work on everything from ground-up builds to minor installations. In the captions, we have noted special precautions that Dean and his mechanic, WyoTech graduate John Bruce, took to ensure a trouble-free life expectancy for our IROC's Cool-Ride setup.
The best part of any performance modification is to get in the car and take a testdrive. Right out of the gate, our Camaro's ride quality was improved markedly over any suspension combinations we tried previously, including stock. Since then, we have logged over 800 miles on the Camaro, and it really has become a pleasure to drive, not to mention it's fun to lay it out when it's time to park.
Of course any magazine can write all the praise in the world about a product, but it's all meaningless fluff without hard data to back it up. Consequently, we have provided before and after data charts for our valued readers to compare and decide which suspension system best suits their requirements.
As promised at the beginning of this story, we have some hard numbers to look at. Before any modifications to the IROC were ever made, we ran it through the 420-foot slalom. Here are the numbers we came up with: In its factory stock form, the Camaro ran the slalom at 38.2 mph at 7.52 seconds. When it was later upgraded using Hotchkis springs, sway bars, subframe connectors, torque arms, etc., it ran the same slalom at 45.5 mph at 6.35 seconds with a gain of 7 mph. When we ran the Camaro through the slalom with its new Air Ride system, we set the adjustable Tokico shocks on the lowest setting.
After this, it ran in the high-6s and low-7s, which was not good enough for us. So we readjusted the shocks and set them near the top setting. With five possible rebound positions, we set the shocks at the #4 position. After this, we ran the slalom five more times; this time around, we achieved some consistent numbers. The Camaro ran some solid mid-6 times; its best time was 6.47 at 44.2 mph. At this point, we were happy and decided that Air Ride had proved itself on the track. Yes, we could have set the shocks on the #5 position and run it through the cones a few more times, all the while adjusting the air pressure to move the numbers even lower. But it was lunchtime, and we were happy with what we had achieved.
Perhaps the greatest achievement for this car and us is the fact that the ride quality drastically improved. Before, when the suspension was at its stiffest, we could run over a dime and tell you if it was heads or tails. Now we can clear the mountain-sized speed bumps in parking lots then let the car down so it looks low and mean. And don't think for one minute that we're going let the guy in the Porsche ride our tail through the canyon passes, either. He's going to at least be 10 car lengths behind trying to negotiate the curves!