During an era when most manufacturers were still building vehicles with straight front axles, GM realized that true automotive enthusiasts sought to corner and brake-as well as accelerate-and engineered the underpinnings of the C2 Corvette (which later carried over into the C3) to facilitate this. This suspension-which combined independent coil springs and control arms up front, and a fixed center section with independent trailing arms in the rear-was unheard of in a domestic vehicle for the time. The technology worked very well, providing arguably the best-handling mass-produced domestic cars of the mid-'60s and well into the '70s. But as technology advanced, the C2 and C3 suspension started to show its age, as well as its drawbacks.
In what was almost certainly a compromise between physical space, economics, and the manufacturing technology of the period, GM chose to use a single multi-leaf spring to support the rear of these Corvettes. Mounted laterally, or transversely, the spring is bolted firmly to the center section of the rear differential in the middle, with each side of the spring supporting the weight of one half of the rear of the car. While this configuration does allow each side of the suspension to travel independently up to a point, one of the drawbacks of the transverse spring is that suspension movement on one side is invariably transferred through the spring, which has an effect on the opposite side. As an example, if, while cornering, the inside rear tire drops due to a low spot or pothole, the outside tire can unload briefly, negatively affecting the car's adhesion. While there are modern composite mono-leaf springs available that help with this problem, we sought to eliminate the transverse spring from our car completely and convert it to a truly independent rear coilover suspension.
Having been impressed with the front suspension components from Speed Direct that we installed on Project C3 Triple-Ex last month, we began researching our options on by visiting www.speeddirect.com. The company's Shark Bite rear coilover kit is advertised as being all inclusive, offering either single- or double-adjustable shocks and a multitude of spring rates to accommodate the driving habits and ride-quality preferences of any Corvette owner. Even better, thanks to Speed Direct's proprietary rocker assembly, everything bolts in place of the factory components with no welding or grinding required.
Since our car will see a combination of street, track, and likely autocross duty, we liked the idea of adjustable shock absorbers and a stiffer spring rate for our suspension. If this were a dedicated track car, the double-adjustable shocks would exponentially expand our tuning options, but for this car's purposes, single-adjustable units will keep suspension tuning simpler while still offering far better adjustability than the factory setup.
The other decision we had to make was which spring rate would be appropriate for our car. In general, springs with softer rates offer a smoother ride but sacrifice handling by not keeping the tire firmly planted at all times. As a rule, we're prone to sacrificing the ride quality of our Corvette if it means improved handling, so we opted for the 400-in/lb-rate coil springs. Let's face it: If we cared that much about ride quality, we'd be in a Cadillac, not a Corvette. Even so, springs with a lower spring rate are appropriate for cars that see mostly street duty, and the Speed Direct rear kit offers the best of both.
By simply jacking the car and supporting it, the rear coilovers can easily be removed for spring changes, offering the advantage of running a soft spring in normal driving and swapping in a stiffer one if you plan some autocross or track time on the weekends. We'll likely try different spring rates on our car later on, but for now we'll be using the stiffest springs offered, for maximum cornering capability and traction. (Frankly, we own performance cars because we enjoy driving aggressively, ride quality be damned.)
Once our parts arrived from Speed Direct, we took a quick inventory, comparing the parts to the list provided and verifying that we had everything we needed for the installation. The parts were professionally packaged in a combination of bubble wrap, plastic, and papers, ensuring that none of the powdercoated parts were damaged during shipping. All of the parts and packages were also clearly marked with the part number, description, and orientation (right or left), which really helped make the job easier. The Speed Direct instructions were clear and concise, and the only special tools we needed were a torque wrench and snap-ring pliers, which we had, and the spanner wrenches that came with the kit. If you have average mechanical skill and a good set of handtools, this is an easy do-it-yourself job you can accomplish over a weekend.
With the advantage of a vehicle lift, it took us about six hours to remove our factory suspension and install the Shark Bite coilovers and related components. Putting the vehicle back on the ground, we made a preliminary ride-height adjustment, drove around the block to allow the suspension to settle, then put the car back on the lift to check all the fasteners and reset the ride height. While our initial impression of the rear coilovers during the testdrive was very favorable, with stable handling, a smooth ride, and nimble steering response, we couldn't really put the car through its paces just yet. Because we lowered the ride height of our Stingray by an inch and a half, we'll need to set wheel alignment and corner weights with four-wheel scales before taking it to Gainesville Raceway for some serious track testing. Stay tuned as we perform these steps on Project C3 Triple-Ex in a future issue of VETTE.