Wayne Thompson, of Evansville,...
Wayne Thompson, of Evansville, IN, graciously loaned us his ’32 Ford roadster for testing; Bret Voelkel did the driving on the autocross course.
Bret Voelkel is a multifaceted guy. An entrepreneur and astute businessman by nature he’s also a hard-core hot rodder who always liked cars that were low and fast, qualities that could be found in air-bagged cars built in his garage. His efforts with air suspension didn’t go unnoticed and it wasn’t long before others were beating a path to his shop door, which led to the formation of Air Ride Technologies (today that company is known as RideTech), a leader in aftermarket suspension components.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Voelkel is constantly developing and testing new products and recently we were able to see a few of the latest products and try them out.
This simple-looking box has...
This simple-looking box has the sophisticated internals to collect motion data that can be translated into measurable ride-quality statistics.
RideTech’s most basic and least expensive version of the popular ShockWave series the recently introduced Black Series uses a steel body twin tube shock that’s non-adjustable. It provides good ride and handling characteristics with all the advantages air suspension offers.
Master Series is another new air spring design. It uses an aluminum-bodied twin tube shock with single and double adjustability as an option. Single-adjustable versions control rebound (extension) the double adjustable allows both rebound and bump (compression) to be altered.
Select Series is the latest in the air spring designs and features a monotube shock with two sets of electronically controlled valve packs. By using the latest OEM technology, these shocks can switch from a soft, compliant cruise mode to a more aggressive sport setting with the touch of a button. Designed for vehicles that see radically changing loads, such as passengers, luggage, or trailer towing, they’re also great when the canyon-carving mood strikes.
With the recorder on board...
With the recorder on board each set of shocks were tested 35 mph over the same stretch of country road with typical lumps, bumps, and holes. Data was collected in both directions three times for a total of six laps.
A departure for the company that became known for air springs, these new coilovers are both affordable and effective. The shocks use an aluminum impact forged body and are a monotube design because in Voelkel’s opinion it allows for a larger piston, which offers better oil control. A large 5/8-inch shaft and oversize rod guides provide piston stability and there are internal bumpstops to cushion the blow if and when the shock tops out during full extension.
Currently RideTech coilovers are being offered in two forms: the non-adjustable version, which features soft valving for a smooth ride; and the adjustable style that has 26 settings for rebound adjustment. Of course choosing springs is critical when selecting coilovers. To help that process RideTech has developed a simple spring-rate calculator that can be downloaded off their website.
We showed up at the test site...
We showed up at the test site equipped with a variety of RideTech’s offerings. Each of our test cars was equipped with three different ShockWaves and the new coilovers.
To get an idea of how the various RideTech products performed we accompanied the crew to a testing session at the Mid-American Air Center in Lawrenceville, Illinois, where an autocross course had been set up. A variety of vehicles were being tested that day, including Voelkel’s Buick GSX, a Chevy C10 pickup, and of particular interest to us were two street rods, a ’32 Ford roadster and a ’34 coupe. The testing consisted of timed runs around the autocross course and ride quality evaluations on nearby roads.
Although it’s not likely that many street rodders will turn out for a day at the track, how well your car handles is important. Trimming lap times may not be a priority, but being able to negotiate a corner or an off-ramp at speed safely and securely, especially when you’re going faster than may be prudent, or when that unexpected evasive maneuver to miss a bus full of nuns becomes necessary, great handling becomes a valuable trait. Not to mention it makes driving a lot more fun.
Comparing suspension components still involves a stopwatch and a closed course and the process produced some interesting data on our two test vehicles. The ’32 had solid axles on both ends, a transverse spring with conventional shocks up front and coilovers in the rear; it received changes in the rear suspension only.
Pete Swain’s ’34 coupe exhibited...
Pete Swain’s ’34 coupe exhibited considerable body roll on the autocross course. Predictably, increased compression damping and higher air pressure helped cornering but hurt ride quality in later testing.
RideTech’s John Hemmer (seen...
RideTech’s John Hemmer (seen here) and Greg Schneider kept busy swapping suspension components. Here the ’34 receives a pair of Black Series ShockWaves.
Like a proud papa, Voelkel...
Like a proud papa, Voelkel has his hands on everything that wears his company’s name. Interestingly, much of the new shock technology has come from RideTech’s development of products for the military and other industrial applications.