Suspension Upgrades – What to Update Now, and What Can Wait (GM)
GM Muscle Car Suspension Upgrades
GM arguably had some of the most popular muscle cars of their times. It had the Chevelles, Camaros, Novas, and Impalas along with their cousins in the Pontiac, Buick, and Oldsmobile platforms. GM really set the bar for power and performance in these cars.
These vehicles have a lot going for them. Between the iconic body styles and the power, they’re incredibly desirable. However, most would agree that the factory suspension is subpar by today’s standards.
With so many suspension offerings out there, many ask, “Where do I start?” Luckily, QA1 has several options based on your goals, and we’ll break down the things to consider. While QA1’s full-vehicle suspension systems are popular, many like to build their vehicle piece-by-piece, using the parts list of the suspension system as a sort of road map for upgrades. This helps on a budgetary standpoint (buying parts individually costs the same as buying the full kit) while also minimizing the time the vehicle is down for upgrades.
Follow along as we walk through which parts you should focus on first, and what can wait.
First off, complete an inspection. If the suspension is all original, you’ll definitely want to replace anything that is worn out, broken, or unsafe. Get the car up in the air and look over everything. While looking around, grab pieces and see if they move when they shouldn’t. Or look for witness marks - places where things have been rubbing that shouldn’t.
The suspension components from the factory are stamped steel. Over years of use and abuse, these can tweak or even fatigue and crack. For example, on the GM A-Bodies, the lower control arms are prone to crack by the lower ball joints. When the control arms are that old, the rubber bushings are bound to be cracked and won't hold things straight and true anymore.
When the time comes to start upgrading, you can be overwhelmed and think you have to replace everything at once. That’s not the case. They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat and there’s more than one way to rebuild your suspension. We’ve been doing this a long time and here’s how we would upgrade items to maximize the best bang for your buck.
Shocks and Springs
Start with upgrading the shocks and springs. Generally speaking, one of the biggest differences in the quality of the ride is your shocks and springs. It’s easy to overlook, but these help with handling around corners, braking, and just cruising down the road. We offer stock replacements, or you can upgrade to a coil-over system. Our shocks come in non-adjustable, single adjustable, or double adjustable to maximize ride quality and reach your car's goals.
We have many different spring rates to complement the shocks as well. If you want to go drag racing, hit curvy back roads, or just cruise down to the burger joint, then we can set you up with different spring rates to help with each one.
Next, you’ll want to upgrade to larger sway bars. Remember, from the factory, these cars were built to cruise down the road or go in a straight line. They weren’t really designed to go around corners. Our sway bars are larger in diameter than stock to help keep your car flat during cornering.
Most of the GM cars didn’t have sway bars in the rear, and we manufacture those as well to drastically improve the handling characteristics of your car.
All of our sway bars come with upgraded polyurethane bushings that help to eliminate flexing so the sway bar can work as efficiently as possible.
Tubular Control Arms
Once you’ve upgraded your shocks, springs, and sway bars, if you still want to improve handling further, then you’ll want to upgrade to a set of QA1 tubular control arms. Tubular control arms are stronger while offering improved geometry.
Let’s start at the bushings. The factory control arms utilized a rubber bushing that provided an ultra-comfy ride but didn’t help in the performance department. Our QA1 arms are upgraded with either a polyurethane bushing or a low-deflection UHMW bushing. These bushings still allow deflection so if you hit a pothole they won’t break the car apart but are firmer so the suspension can articulate and keep your car on track.
As we mentioned earlier, the GM arms are stamped steel and are prone to crack right where the ball joint installs on the lower control arm. To fix that issue, we use high-quality HSLA tubing to hold those ball joints to ensure the arm is much stronger than factory.
In addition, the control arms have much more modern geometry changes. Back in the '60s, tires were bias ply and liked negative caster, where today's modern radial tires love positive caster. We also corrected camber curves to help keep tires planted during cornering. What this all boils down to is that your car will drive nicer down the road or around the track.
The next logical step is to replace the trailing arms in the rear suspension. They offer many of the same benefits of the front control arms - added strength, reduced weight, and improved looks. These QA1 trailing arms allow the suspension to articulate and go through its range of motion easier while helping keep the tires planted during hard launches or hard cornering. These are a great addition because the previous upgrades will have you driving a bit more aggressively than in the past.
Tubular Frame Supports
The last thing you’ll want to start looking at is what all these parts are bolted to - the frame. After rigorous testing, we’ve figured out the weak points and how to fix them. Some of the things that GM did back in the day really don’t make sense, and we have the bracing and brackets to help fix those issues. When you start adding more horsepower, bigger tires, and aggressive driving, the stock frames can often show weak points. Make sure to give the frame the attention it needs to get the most out of all your upgrades.
There are many ways to build a project vehicle. Whether you want to do it all at once with a full vehicle suspension kit, or one piece at a time, we have a system that’s right for you.
For any questions on your ride, please give us a call at (952) 985-5675 or shoot us an email.