Whether you have always been a fan of the Camaro or are new to the F-body, driving a classic Camaro is a visceral experience. The second-gen (1970 through ’81) is the model many feel offers the perfect balance of handling and power. But how easy is it to improve upon a great platform? According to the folks at Ridetech, it’s a bolt-on proposition.
Many enthusiasts are no longer satisfied with sitting around car shows or cruise nights. When their beloved classic was built, it was designed — albeit now an antiquated design — to offer some semblance of performance and handling. The aftermarket has a way of helping enthusiasts get the most out of their hot rods, and if you want a suspension that surpasses the factory limitations, it’s usually going to require some drastic changes.
Updating a second-gen Camaro suspension is a beginning step to improving performance. But if you really want the ultimate in handling capabilities, Ridetech offers a complete coilover system for 1970-1981 Camaro and Firebird. The kit includes everything needed to upgrade your existing suspension.
The Install Begins
The kit includes a Tru Turn frontend kit, front MuscleBar sway bar, rear four-link, and four HQ-Series coilovers for each corner of your vehicle. The benefit of buying a complete suspension system is, it takes the guesswork out of trying to get all the parts to work together. Zip Simons of Street Metal Concepts in Sanford, Florida, believes in the validity of that statement and gave us the opportunity to follow along as the guys installed a Ridetech kit into a customer’s car.
“I think anyone is capable of installing this system with some general knowledge and tools, as well as the patience to read all of the instructions,” Zip affirmed. Having a safe way to lift the car is very important. Preferably, a two-post lift can be used, but a set of jackstands could do the trick if you don’t mind doing it all while lying on your back.”
Many feel a four-link is one of the best upgrades you can make to a leaf spring-equipped muscle car or truck. Leaf springs were invented in the 1700s, and are a tried-and-true suspension design — for a truck or daily driver. Although leaf-spring technology has come a long way since the days of the horse and buggy, it has one significant limitation.
By design, a leaf spring is expected to not only support the vehicle, but also locate the axle. Advancements in suspension design have proven it is better to isolate those two functions by utilizing a spring to support the car, and have solid control arms to contain the suspension movement. To do that with a second-gen Camaro suspension, the folks at Ridetech developed a unique four-link design that revolutionizes how to mount the bars.
A Link Like No Other
According to Steve Chryssos, marketing manager at Ridetech, “We’ve gone with a full-redesign to introduce a completely new four-link rear suspension system specifically for the 1970 through 1981 Camaro and Firebird platform. As many have come to expect from Ridetech, this is a bolt-on four-link kit. The new kit is designed to be used with either coilovers or shockwaves. It also includes our new Unicradle, adjustable upper bars with R-joints, non-adjustable lower bars with R-joints, and all mounting brackets and hardware.”
If you have never heard of a Unicradle, this RideTech-developed design is significant in two ways. First, this kit uses a triangulated four-link design. The lower, lateral four-bar tubes index at the forward leaf-spring mounting points. According to Ridetech, this design feature addresses production variations and framerail thickness issues that are common to the second-generation F-body platform.
Secondly, installation does require cutting. A steel structure bolts to the inside of the rear bulkhead area (in the car, behind the rear seat) to locate the forward mounting points of the upper-link bars. This all-new design offers the use of longer-than-traditional upper-link bars with revised mounting points for improved roll center, forward bite, and anti-squat characteristics. The rear bulkhead in these cars is a very strong area — especially where the bulkhead ties into the floorpan at the transmission tunnel.
RideTech engineered this interior brace that bolts to both the bulkhead and the rear edge of the transmission tunnel to allow the end user the ability to retain a rear seat. Holes are cut into the bulkhead to allow the upper four-link bars access to the inner Ridetech brace without any welding to the car’s unibody structure.
“The upper trailing arms through the floor was a bit of a surprise to me,” quipped Zip. “I admire their willingness to engineer proper function instead of confining the bars to the limited space typically utilized for four links in these cars. We did take extra measures to curb sound transfer by building “silencer covers” over the parts inside this car. Ridetech actually provides the parts and instructions to modify the seat to accommodate the upper trailing arm cross member.”
Typically, there are two ways to connect a four-link’s suspension bar to the car. One is with a bushing-filled rod-end, the other is to use a spherical rod-end. If rubber or poly bushings are used, they will inevitably compress under load. This not only affects the geometry of the rear suspension, but as the bushings twist through their range of motion, they add resistance to the movement of the axle. This increases the effective spring rate, which is not good if you’re trying to dial-in your suspension.
A spherical rod-end does not have a bushing to compress, and will remain consistent in its range of motion. However they do present a couple of challenges when used on a street car. One is a very harsh reaction to bumps, as there is no bushing to cushion the sudden impact of the bump. Another concern is the need for constant maintenance. That’s a nearly impossible task on a street-driven car or truck. Everyday driving will subject the rod end to the abuse of grit and grime entering the swivel-ball area and grinding away the bearing surface. This introduces both wear and additional friction. Enter the Ridetech R-Joint rod end.
This patented rod-end design is made of 17-4 stainless-steel, and combines the best qualities of low-friction movement, lateral stability, full-range articulation, and quiet operation into one special “rod end” that is as at-home on the street as it is on the racetrack. The R-joint features a self-lubricating bearing cage along with a spring-loaded locking mechanism to maintain constant tension. Premature wear and noise are eliminated. The unique design allows for high articulation in three planes, with 360-degree axial rotation and 30-degree lateral rotation.
On the front, the StrongArms tubular upper and lower control arms are designed with more caster adjustment than the factory ever offered, and they also allow for a tighter turning radius. The upper and lower control arms are engineered to deliver a huge improvement in performance over your stock stamped steel arms.
The included spindles will help cure an inherent characteristic of bumpsteer, and the geometry problems associated with stock spindles. In testing, Ridetech found bumpsteer is almost non-existent (.050-inch throughout 5 inches of travel), when used in combination with its new center-link bracket. The Ridetech spindles also have a 1 3/4-inch-taller steering arm, and the spindle-pin location is 2-inches higher. This lowers the car 2 inches when installed. On a car that was once limited to a 15×7 wheel, Ridetech states they can now fit an 18×10 up front with a 275/35R-18 tire.
“The difference in ride quality and handling is night and day,” Zip stated. “I would consider any stock second-gen Camaro to be just your average “floatie” cruiser that is pretty comfortable but lacking any attitude or agility. These cars feel like they are on rails with this suspension package. Before we started this install, I took the owner of this car for a ride in another car with the kit. His responded with, ‘This feels just like my 2017 Z06.’ Obviously the massive gain in performance/handling takes away some of the “cushy” comfort, but these are now track-capable cars without the expense of a full chassis.”
This is a very involved upgrade and requires you have some serious mechanical aptitude. It is a task that will also require a serious investment of time, so plan accordingly. But, once you have driven your upgraded second-gen for the first time, you will understand how meaningful the upgrade is to the drivability and enjoyment of your hot rod. If you’re ready to have a Camaro that handles like a late-model muscle car, give Ridetech a shout to get your upgrade underway.