How many times have we cast our eyes upon a pristine custom truck sitting pretty at a show 'n' shine with its incredible body mods and covered in a beautiful paint scheme with endless coats of clear? Peering inside the cab we are mesmerized by the magnificent dcor and overwhelming audio sound components complete with a DVD unit and multiple monitors grafted into the dash, headrests, and headliner. Opening the hood, our pupils constrict, due to the engine accents and polished billet aluminum and chrome jewels reflecting their shimmering beauty. Everything that is in sight above the truck's rocker panels is high show quality.
Just as important is what's underneath the truck, including its frame and suspension. Not only do the frame and suspension components support the truck's weight, they are also responsible for ride quality, ride height (stance), and handling performance.
We have noticed an increase in classic truck frame and suspension technology being implemented into a truck's character and true identity. It seems some builders are scrapping the original truck frames and fabricating newly re-designed frames, either with rectangular or tubular framerails, while using innovative suspension designs, such as both IFS and IRS (independent front and independent rear suspension). Conventional rear suspensions have been refined with reconfigured suspension pick-up points, featuring four-link, three-link, and wishbone designs, using a Panhard bar and sway bars, front and rear. These suspension improvements have dramatically increased the early model truck's handling, performance characteristics, and ride quality. In addition, combining the new suspension geometry with pneumatic 'bagged systems slams the truck's rockers on the ground.
We have learned from speaking with many of the leading custom truck and chassis builders that first-time customers want all the creature comforts of current new '04-'05 daily drivers, featuring A/C, electric seats, electric windows, auto door locks, cruise control, DVD player with monitors, and even GPS - don't forget the heated seats. The ride quality must also be in tune with all the cushy comforts, in contrast to the buckboard, kidney-bustin' ride quality of the early classic trucks.
Aftermarket suspension components have come a long way from the days of the Bell drop front axles with kingpin, and '37-'48 Ford spindles with '40 Ford backing plates mated with Buick wide-finned brake drums.
Some years ago, builders were dredging through salvage yards searching for Mustang II independent front suspension components to graft onto their framerails. Back in those days, Heidt's Engineering, TCI, FatMan, and other manufacturers developed a Mustang II IFS Kit complete with crossmember coil spring/shock hats, upper and lower A-arms with 2-inch drop spindles, and disc brakes (rotors and calipers). These kits have been very popular. To alter the ride height of rear suspensions, folks would typically just flip the rearend housing from its stock location under the leaf spring packs to above the leaf spring packs, creating approximately a 6-inch drop in the rear. After relocating the rearend housing above the leaf spring packs, the rearend's travel becomes limited due to the distance from rearend housing to the framerails. To allow for adequate suspension travel the framerails are notched. Other alternatives of rearend suspensions are to eliminate the leaf spring packs and install a four-link or four-bar system with coilover springs to control the suspension travel and a Panhard bar or watts linkage to eliminate any lateral movement. To this end, we have seen the Corvette IRS, Jaguar IRS, and Dutchman or Kugel IRS systems.
We are seeing the introduction of Corvette C4 suspensions being adapted to post-war Chevy '47-'59 trucks, '67-'72 Ford F-1s and F-100s, and other '48-'65 pickups. This suspension will deliver both a firm ride and superior handling, producing pure fun for the driver.
Nissan's '04 Armada SUV features rear independent suspension that includes disc brakes, and we wonder how long it will take for it to be adapted to suspending the back half of a custom truck, because its unique design separates the shocks and springs.
Adapting both front and rear independent suspension will totally change the truck's turning, braking, acceleration and overall ride characteristics. Currently, we are seeing pneumatic spring and 'bag suspension falling in favor with the custom truck and rod crowd. Air Ride's ShockWave is an air spring/shock absorber system that allows the ride height of the vehicle to be adjusted to the point of the framerails or body rocker panels to rest on the ground. Depending on the pneumatic manifold system, each corner can be independently adjusted.
The stance of any vehicle is definitely one of the major contributors (besides wheels, tires, and paint) to a classic's overall image.