The steering and suspension system in your car may look simple enough, but in actuality it's a complex series of arms, links, springs, and pivots. All of it is there to do a few basic things, like soak up bumps in the road, track straight and allow you to turn corners. The car is stuck to the road by four relatively small contact patches, so the alignment settings also manage that contact patch and keep it as large as possible while the suspension cycles. Even though the stuff is there to do these basic things, there are settings you can adjust even on a brand new vehicle to make it handle better and make the tires last longer.
What does all of this have to do with the musclecar owner? Well, if you have upgraded to radial tires, wider tires, lowered the car, or are prepping the car for an autocross/open track day, you will need to have the alignment set for those new parameters. Let's face it: There's nothing worse than having your car wander all over the road and eat front tires for breakfast. Plus, the proper wheel alignment, whatever the application (street, strip, autocross/road course or a top speed assault) will maximize your suspension's potential and deliver the best possible performance.
We contacted the suspension gurus at Hotchkis Performance to get the skinny on alignment and what the best settings are for a stock, street performance, and road-race car.
While we were there, Aaron Ogawa, the chief engineer at Hotchkis, also showed us how to read tire temps to diagnose alignment and tire pressure issues.
We used a '69 Camaro owned by Drew Oliver, who works at Hotchkis and beats the F-body up on autocross courses on a regular basis. The car was pulling to the left instead of tracking straight, one sure sign the alignment was askew. It's not a bad idea to check the front end alignment often if you do frequent open track or autocross events, as these harsh environments can cause the setting to change.
While the car was up on the rack, Corey Bedortha walked through a few checks to determine why the car was pulling to the left. Come to find out the left side of the car had less negative camber, but after getting it back to spec the car was ready for the next event.
Most Factory Settings (bias ply tires) 0.5 Negative Camber 0.5 To 1.0 Positive Caster 0.24 Toe-In
Good Street Performance Settings (radial tires) 0.5 Negative Camber 3.5 TO 4.5 Positive Caster 0.10 Toe-In
Good Autocross Settings (will need aftermarket components to achieve these settings) 2.5 TO 3.0 Negative Camber 4.0 TO 6.0 Positive Caster 0.0 Toe-In (Big Course) 0.10 Toe-In (Short Course)
A Few Definitions Caster Caster angle is basically the angle of an imaginary line that runs through the center of the upper ball joint to the center of the lower ball joint. The car will always be set with positive caster as it improves high speed stability, helps the car track straight, and improves the tires' contact patch during a turn by complimenting the camber setting. Too much positive caster will slow steering response and make the car hard to turn.
Oversteer Oversteer is when the back end of the car breaks loose and slides toward the outside of a turn.
Understeer Understeer is when the front end of the car breaks loose and slides or pushes toward the outside of a turn.