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1955-1957 Chevy Air Ride Suspension - Out Gettin' Slammed

We install cool new parts from Air Ride Technologies in a bare-bones 1957 Chevy

By Dakota Wentz, Photography by David Stoker

A lot of things come and go. Whether it's in the automotive or plastic cup industry, old trends get knocked off and new trends become the "King of the Mountain." One trend that hit the scene years ago was the installation of an Air Ride Technologies system under your ride. Unlike most trends, this one has done anything but diminish. In fact, it seems every year Air Ride ups the ante with its latest products, creating an airbag phenomenon that can't be ignored. One area on which Air Ride has taken aim is the Tri-Five market. Sure, it has always had products for shoeboxes, but lately it's taken the performance, ride quality, and all-out cool factor to a whole new level.

Air Ride Technologies makes performance its premier design criteria and has shifted its '55-'57 suspension program into high gear. New to the Tri-Five scene is Air Ride's latest addition to its arsenal of front suspension kits-the StrongArm kit with ShockWaves. The StrongArm and ShockWave combo is a direct bolt-in replacement of the original coil springs, shock absorber, and upper and lower control arms. The StrongArm tubular control arms are built using CNC-bent, 0.219-inch wall DOM tubing, and laser-cut bracketry to ensure lasting strength and reliability. Each individual arm is JIG-assembled and welded by certified Air Ride craftsmen. The StrongArms have been engineered to optimize suspension geometry, ball joint angles, and wheel alignment at your new lowered ride height. The proven reliability of the patented ShockWave O-ring sealing technology and new 16-position adjustable valving let you fine-tune your car for racetrack precision, comfortable cruising, or anywhere in between.

For the rear, Air Ride has added an AirBAR application to the '55-'57 lineup. The bolt-on four-link system is a direct bolt-in replacement of the original leaf springs, and requires no custom fabrication to install. The ride height of your car is typically lowered by approximately 2 inches, and the fully deflated height is typically 5-6 inches lower than stock. The area with the most improvement is the handling and cornering performance because the AirBAR eliminates the OEM leaf spring and replaces them with a four-link rear suspension. The four-link bars offer more precise positioning of the rear axle to eliminate flexing, and increase stability through the corners. The AirBAR is then equipped with the new ShockWave 7000. Like the ShockWave up front, the slender 4-inch-diameter ShockWave 7000 delivers performance, ride quality, a low cool stance, and the ShockWave O-ring allows fine-tuning.

Controlling air pressure at each corner of the car is Air Ride's latest and greatest control system, the RidePro e, was created for one purpose-to control air suspension. The system is a no-hassle one with membrane switches and digital readouts enclosed in a small case. Air Ride has made the case easily mountable because so many users are looking for that "specific" look. The control case can be flush-mounted, surface-mounted, or left unmounted. Every RidePro e system is built with the "ride height on start" feature. The preset function will automatically raise your ride to a safe, user-programmable air pressure every time it is started. The system is also plug and play. Weatherpak connections are used where the wiring harness will be exposed to the elements and all connectors are self-indexing and locking to ensure proper connection. The RidePro e system is compatible with several Air Ride compressor systems.

Like a kid in a candy store, we had to get our hands on these new products from Air Ride. We found a bare-bones '57 that is in the process of a ground-up restoration to install these cool new parts from Air Ride. Along with the AirBAR, StongArms, and RidePro e, we're also going to install the BigRed four-way air compressor system.

Because the four-link will rub, the parking brake brackets and the rear brake line bracket on the passenger-side framerail must be removed before any installation can occur.

When installing the AirBAR crossmember, slide it forward until it hits the edge of the body mount. Then, drill holes in the frame using the required bit and secure the crossmember in place using the self-tapping screws.

When determining where to mount the upper ShockWave mount, measure 20 1/4 inches from the edge of the crossmember bracket to the large hole at the bottom of the frame.

Once the mounting point is located, mount the upper ShockWave mount. Be sure to use the correct mount because there is a driver- and passenger-side mount.

Mount the four-link bars to the crossmember mount, but do not tighten them down yet.

So far, the setup should look something like this. The crossmember is secured and the four-link bars are installed on the crossmember.

Before installing the ShockWave 7000s, apply thread sealant on the air fittings and then screw the air fitting into the ShockWave.

Hang the ShockWaves from the upper mount.

Although you can do the work with the rearend under the car, ours was already out and we decided to handle the build out in the open. When installing the axle brackets, there are several things to accomplish. First, make sure the driver- and passenger-side brackets (the passenger-side bracket has the diagonal link bracket welded to it) are installed on the correlating axle sides. Second, the brackets should be welded into place 31 11/16 inches apart on the outside measurement, then center the bracket between the axle flanges; the brackets should be mounted 90 degrees with the pinion.

Once everything is squared away, weld the brackets to the axle 1 inch at a time to avoid warping the axle.

Mount the ShockWave to the axle using the billet bracket on the axle, and then mount the four-link bars to the axle brackets. When mounting the ShockWaves, there is a driver- and passenger-side bracket; the correct bracket will offset the ShockWave toward the wheel.

With the axle in place, install the diagonal link using the spacers and hardware.

The final product should look similar to this.

With the back all wrapped up, it's time to install the Air Ride StrongArms with ShockWave bags. Here's a bird's-eye view of the Air Ride setup.

The Air Ride kit comes with bushings and ball joints, but they're not installed. Use the Air Ride hardware and bolt up the ball joints.

The kit does come with bushings, but one thing it doesn't come with are new cross-shafts. Therefore, either use the old ones, or buy a set of new, aftermarket cross-shafts. No matter which one you use, there is some grinding on the cross-shaft in order for it to fit in the StrongArm.

For clearance issues revolving around the ShockWave air spring, the outer lip of the coil spring pocket must be trimmed.

Bolt the lower StrongArm to the car. The sway bar mount should face the front of the car.

Like before, put the air fitting into the ShockWave, and then bolt the ShockWave into the coil spring pocket. Make sure the fitting isn't touching anywhere. Next, bolt up the spindle and upper control arm. When the setup is complete, make sure no part of the ShockWave is touching at anytime during suspension travel.

With the suspension all set up, it's time to install the Air Ride BigRed four-way system. The system comes with a Viair 400 compressor, a 10-port 5-gallon tank, a Ride Pro e controller, a BigRed airvalve, 60 feet of 1/2-inch DOT air line, and DOT fittings. The coolest part is that the rise time is approximately 2 seconds.

Install the fittings into the 5-gallon tank.

When installing wiring and air lines, be sure to follow the Air Ride instructions for proper routing and placement.

The Ride Pro e program should be installed in a safe place, away from the harsh conditions.

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By Dakota Wentz
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