The ‘Black Art’ Of Classic Car Suspension Tweaks

26. March 2012

rat look lowered classic beetleFor all you home mechanics out there who have tried to uprate your car’s suspension, you may have seen into the abyss that some ‘in the know’ call a bit of a black art.

Indeed , my own classic old Beetle (well, just officially classic as it’s 1972 rather than a 1950’s Oval or some-such)similar cherished beast) has suffered - and I mean suffered – from various attempts over the past ten years to get the ride height and comfort factor to kind of hold hands together, for want of a better way of putting it.

It is currently the most comfortable it has ever been – it’s off the road SORN Declaration has seen to that, but start her up and drive anywhere that isn’t a perfectly smooth, flat runway (all British roads in other words) and you will soon find that it’s a bit of an aerobic workout.

Let’s see, it was around 1997 that I first had the vehicle lowered using basic, traditional adjusters. So low in fact, that the wheel arches touched the tyres when cornering and the unsettling smell of burning rubber would waft into through the quarter lights. Clearly this would not do.

Several suspension raises later, the sobering reality hit me that altering the manufacturer’s suspension settings on any vehicle is a bit of a minefield. Suspension is what makes your classic car safe and comfortable. What feels good at 25mph can feel positively frightening at 60mph. And as for cornering, well, that is a whole new board game..

My first pleasant experience of lowering the ride height of my Beetle and actually driving the vehicle was the introduction of an uprated anti-roll bar at the front. Finished in a nice gold anodising, this beast was at least twice the thickness of the flimsy looking OEM item that was subsequently discarded. For one summer, the positives outweighed the negatives as I whizzed round roundabouts like a train on rails, defying the expected vehicle dip to the left and able to overtake almost anything – in the dry. The wet was another matter with all the weight of a Beetle in the rear of the car, the oversteer was something that would stir me from any misconceived smugness. Later, the replacement of the rear tyres (195’s) with something a bit cheaper proved to be almost the worst decision I have ever made in my life, after spinning out of control on a very wet roundabout in the middle of the night. No damage was done, but I will never buy cheap tyres again.

So onto dropped spindles. Expensive, supposedly the answer to all my prayers, dropped spindles were purchased and eagerly fitted. Giving a natural 2 inch drop simply by having the spindle offset from the centre, this seemed like genius. Though for my bug, it made no noticeable difference. The confusion over why a 1972 Beetle would stubbornly not accept change was becoming a rather expensive obsession.

So from basic adjusters, to dropped spindles - to a lowered beam. Surely this would be the holy grail..

So a few hundred quid more spent on my classic old troublesome bug and I reckoned I’d cracked it. Gaz Adjustable Shocks would give me the ability to fine-tune the ride comfort. Or so I hoped. No more tweaks and adjustments to my classic car insurance policy I thought (always let your insurance company know of any changes or modifications to your vehicle).

The reality was that it still rode like a bucking bronco to the extent that it was easier to keep my wits about me and just go round any major dips in the road wherever possible. When a mechanic told me all those years ago that classic car suspension was a ‘black art’ I nodded and smiled, but now I really know what he meant.

Currently, the car sits forlornly outside awaiting the funds to burst it into life again, but should those funds miraculously materialise, I know that the hunt for the perfect ride will commence once more.



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