Oldsmobility.com - Your 1967 Olds Cutlass / 442 Headquarters


Front Suspension Tech:
Lowering Your Cutlass

by Keith Dickson
for OLDSmobility.com

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Lowering the ride height of your Cutlass or 442, either for the lower center of gravity (which dictates to more precise and manageable cornering) or simply for that "cool" slammed look, can be achieved in several different ways.

The nay-sayers will tell you not to, but the old stand-by is to cut the coils. The custom boys have been doing it for years, with pretty good results. Removing some of the spring material effectively changes the spring rate, making it stiffer, even though you have not changed the diameter of the wire.


Photo courtesy of Doug McClanahan

The more you cut, the lower it goes, and the more resistance to moving it will have. Cutting the springs does not hurt the integrity of the spring, as long as the cutting is done with a cutting wheel, since the heat is so localized to the end of the spring. Cutting the spring with a torch is acceptable but not the best way...there has been much debate over whether the heat from the torch to just whack a coil or two will damage the temper of the springs. Many backyard do-it-yourselfers have made the mistake of lowering the springs by using a torch to heat the springs, causing them to slowly collapse. While this might work and look good for a very short period of time, the excess heat will cause the metal lose its temper and collapse even further to the point of uselessness, or to become brittle and break. Essentially, either way you've completely ruined the springs.

For the do-it-yourselfer, the option which offers the best benefits for the least amount of money is to cut your existing springs. The only basic rule of thumb is: Cutting 1 full coil and an inch lowers the ride 2 inches. If you have an initial soft ride and the springs are somewhat worn out, start off with a little less, put it back together and see if its the height you are looking for. A cutting wheel for your saw goes for about $20 bucks and works great.

ALWAYS trim off one coil at first...you can always cut more off, but if you decide the installed height is TOO low, you won't be able to reverse the process. A buddy tried the lowering game and insisted on saving time and doing 2 coils on the first try instead of just 1. The result? CLUNK, the car comes down on the jack and pins it under the crossmember. The lesson here, boys and girls, is NOT to get in a big hurry then have to shell out $$$ on new springs! Cut one coil first and see where that gets you. Keep in mind that cutting the spring will increase the spring rate...which will make your ride quality a little firmer. If you have access to them, big-block AC-equipped cars will have stiffer springs to compensate for the additional weight, so if you're simply after a firmer ride, trimming these springs a coil or two could be the answer. However, trimming an already stiffer spring for lower ride height will only make it MORE stiff, so beware.

Hotchkiss Lowering Springs
Lowering springs are among the best ways of safely reducing the ride height of your Cutlass, though you could run into front-end alignment problems, depending on the degree of drop.

Probably the most cost-effective route is simply to install performance lowering springs. If your existing springs are worn out after years of use, contact Hotchkis Performance for 1"-drop performance springs or Performance Suspension for either OEM or 1"-2" drop springs. With these dropped springs you don't need the lowered A-arms or drop spindles, etc. for a mild lowering look. (NOTE: Lowering springs may throw your alignment too far out of wack to adjust properly, resulting in increased tire and ball joint wear.) Both vendors have a very good selection of performance suspension parts.

The safest way of lowering the front-end of your Cutlass is to install drop spindles. You can get these from Performance Suspension, either alone or as part of a disc brake package. Drop spindles allow you to have a lower center of gravity for better handling and will keep the steering geometry usually pretty close to stock. But they DO have one problem: if you don't increase the spring rate, you are MORE likely to bottom out than if you cut the springs, as you will still have the stock springs at the stock compressed height, and the stock travel. For example, if you had 6 inches of travel at the wheel before bottoming out prior to adding the drop spindles, and then add 2" drop spindles with stock springs, you're cutting your suspension's travel to 4", so bottoming could become more of a problem.

However, by using a stock spindle and a cut (or performance lowering) spring, you have increased the effective resistance in the spring to bottoming, so riding through a pothole will make for a slightly firmer (bumpier) ride, but you'll stand less chance of actually bottoming out.

Another option catching on VERY quickly in the performance sector is airbags, inserted into the coil springs. These are relatively inexpensive if you can do the installation yourself. Big trucks have been using airbags for years, and the technology is very stable. If you want functionality and you want low, you have to have an active suspension. Air is the ticket. Every piece of food you have eaten, every piece of clothing you own, every car part you have ever installed, heck, even the CARS themselves when they get shipped to the dealer, ALL were delivered with vehicles riding on air springs. Hundreds of millions of axle miles per year prove that air bags are in fact an incredibly reliable way to provide rising rate springing. Most users report that 5 PSI in each airbag gives a very comfortable ride. To cure traction problems, racers will put about 20 PSI in the right airbag (to preload the right tire) and leave 5 PSI in the left, and then make adjustments from there. When they leave the strip, they remove the extra air pressure and drive home in comfort.

Bottom line: no matter what anyone tells you, scrapes will happen! NO stretch of road is perfectly flat and "s**t" happens, especially if loading the back seat down with buddies and/or the trunk with racing equipment. The overall ride is going to be better but you DO feel more bumps...and the front end takes a lot more abuse.

The first thing you have to look at after lowering the car (if you do so) is ground clearance...and one of the first problems to crop up is the exhaust clamps and bolts. If you have large studs you might be in trouble. Take the time to either trim the exhaust clamp studs or spin the clamps around so the studs point sideways. Also, don't forget to re-adjust your car's headlights.

 

For you performance enthusiasts: get Dick Miller's book on suspension tuning and read it. It will help you understand what is going on when you launch your car and the available solutions to making it work better and is an excellent resource. This manual is designed to help the reader understand the principle of why GM coil-sprung rear-wheel-drive cars act the way they do under acceleration.

To order call 901-794-2834 or visit dickmillerracing.com

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This page last modified on June 09, 2002.