Second generation F-Bodies used to be second fiddle to the original iteration of GM’s pony car. Bigger and heavier than the models they replaced, the 1970-1/2 Camaro and Firebird were stunning beauties. But for some reason, they took longer to catch up to classic status compared to their older siblings. With the advent of ferocious and plentiful LS/LT power, the biggest gripe regarding post-’75 F-bodies, a lack of horsepower, has long been banished to the dustbin of history.
Chrome-bumper models jumped to most-favored status years ago, with later iterations joining the fray later. These “disco era” models were hampered by aforementioned horsepower woes, and styling that profoundly altered the Ferrari inspired lines of the early cars. Even though the rubber bumpers added length and weight, we’ve always loved the late-’70s/early-’80s F-bodies with their big-beaked styling. These days, every second-gen is appreciating in value and desirability.
Sadly, although the F-body was always a great handler, it’s road-holding capabilities were more the results of deft tuning and calibration, betraying what was essentially horse-and-buggy suspension technology from the ‘50s. With stamped-steel A-arms up front and a solid axle and leaf springs in the rear, this was hardly revolutionary, even 42 years ago.
So, while an LS swap is a no brainer when it comes to these old GM pony cars, what’s the best way to bring the suspension and brakes up to modern standards for day to day cruising, not to mention hitting the track to go autocrossing on the weekends? The answer lies underneath Violetto Custom’s LS3 powered 1978 Firebird Trans Am we told about last year.
Let’s take a look at how Bradenton, Florida based Violetto Customs executed this transformation. Owner Telly Violetto got to work by completely replacing the decades-old suspension and brake system on the car. After unbolting and removing the old GM suspension and scrapping the factory four-wheel disc brakes, some housekeeping was in order.
A comprehensive wire-wheeling cleared away all the crud and debris of the last 42 years. Then the guys sprayed the undercarriage and subframe with truck bed liner and went back over it with a semi-gloss-black color coat. With the street side of the car clean and prepped, the next step was to get going with the brand-new front and rear suspension system from Ridetech. While requiring seasoned mechanical chops, installation is a reasonably straightforward procedure.
Ridetech’s 1970-1981 F-Body Coilover package includes everything you need to completely upgrade your existing suspension. The package contains a complete TruTurn front kit, front MuscleBar, rear 4-Link, and 4 HQ Series Coilovers for every corner of your vehicle.
The benefit of buying a complete suspension system is you don’t have to scour the country or multiple vendors to source a new suspension. Via countless R&D hours, Ridetech dialed in the perfect spring rate and components for your vehicle’s performance and ride quality. You can buy the front or rear system separately or as a complete setup. Here is a list of the goodies, both front, and rear, courtesy of Ridetech.
- Upper StrongArms feature corrected ball-joint angles for the tall spindles. The upper ball joint is moved back to allow for additional caster setting to improve high-speed stability and steering feel. Injection-molded Delrin bushings with 13-percent Teflon are used to reduce deflection and stiction.
- Lower StrongArms feature a double sheer lower mount for increased strength. It has also dropped the lower shock mount to increase suspension travel and moved the lower ball joint forward, to increase caster settings while keeping the wheel centered in the wheel opening. Injection-molded Delrin bushings with 13-percent Teflon are used to reduce deflection and stiction.
- TruTurn was added to this kit that includes tall spindles, steering arms, tall inner tie-rods, billet tie-rod adjusters, inner rods, and a center link. They work together to provide minimized bumpsteer and improve camber gain.
- HQ Series Coilovers utilize an impact-forged-aluminum body and Monotube design to deliver excellent ride quality and handling. Allowing for fine-tuning of the ride quality and handling, the rebound knob is located at the top of the shock for under hood access. They come standard with a 1,000,000-mile warranty. For the most hardcore autocross or road course racing use, consider triple adjustable TQ Series CoilOvers.
- Front MuscleBar helps reduce body roll. The system also includes all-new end-links that provide immediate engagement between the chassis and control arms. The frame bushings include a Delrin liner to eliminate stiction.
- Bolt-On 4-Link dramatically improves traction, handling, and ride quality. The design delivers an exceptional performance with minimal cutting, and almost no welding required. Equally important, the unique design addresses production variations and frame rail thickness issues that are common to the second-generation F-Body platform. Ridetech developed an innovative “unicradle” design that is significant in two ways. Lateral tubes index off of the leaf spring mounting points, rather than the frame rails. A separate steel brace bolts to the inside of the rear bulkhead area (in the cockpit) behind the seat to locate the forward mounting points of the upper link bars. The R-Joint rod ends combine the best qualities of low friction movement, lateral stability, full-range articulation, and quiet operation into one special bearing that is as home on the street as it is on the racetrack.
We talked with big cheese Steve Chryssos, Director of Marketing for Ridetech, and he relayed some more cool features of this F-Body setup.
“Our TruTurn front suspension accommodates a 10-inch-wide tire with an excellent turning radius while saving you money by retaining your front subframe.
“At the rear, our subframe design mounts at leaf spring pickup points rather than frame rails, in the interest of strength and precision. OEM Gen-2 frame rails are known for ’70s inconsistencies and rust issues. With today’s power and tires, people are actually tearing out their frame rails, so we designed a system that avoids them altogether.
“The rear suspension’s upper link forward mounting points attach to a unique bulkhead cradle located behind the rear seat. It optimizes suspension geometry while retaining full use of the OE back seat. Called “Unicradle,” the design also reduces unibody flex by reinforcing the rear bulkhead. The icing on the cake is Ridetech’s R-Joint rod ends at all rear link points for maximum articulation without binding.”
“The included HQ Series coil-overs with forged aluminum bodies offer monotube valving and rebound adjustment. HQ Series works for most – Street and some high performance driving events. Optional TQ Series triple adjustable coil-overs available for competitive driving.”
Next up, some burly binders to match the new suspension. Violetto called up world-famous Baer Brakes and ordered up a set of shiny new hardware. Baer representative Rick Elam, filled us in further, “For Telly’s build, we supplied our Pro+ 14-inch front and rear brake system. This features a six-piston caliper mounted to a 14-inch, two-piece rotor (front and rear for that complete cosmetic/matching look). The rear six-piston caliper has pistons sized correctly for rear applications, so the system not only looks great, but it is balanced correctly.
Let’s take a closer look at the 14″ Front Pro+ Brake System. The package comes with the 6-piston calipers, dust and weather seals. The system uses the same pad shape as the C6 Corvette so pad replacements are easy to get, and you can use your favorite manufacturer that builds pads for Corvettes.
Billet aluminum hubs come assembled with premium bearings packed with Redline synthetic grease and billet dust caps. Rotors are pre-assembled with NAS high-grade stainless hardware. All mounting brackets, stainless braided hoses, and hardware are also included. The 14″ Pro+ is designed to fit most 18” or larger wheels.
Bringing up the rear, Telly chose the companion set, the 14″ Rear Pro+ Brake System with Park Brakes. The rear drum hat is called a banksia park brake. It’s a more modern drum-in-hat, that uses less moving parts and a single sprung shoe that offers more surface area. The billet backing plates are machined for each unique housing end, and are thick to also act as a mount for the brake bracket.
Along with the big horsepower LS3 that was transplanted into this car, the new suspension and brakes really transformed this 42-year-old F-Body. Telly took the completed car around the high banked Daytona track last year for Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge and his feedback was as follows:
“The Ridetech suspension coupled with the Baer brakes really brought this car into the 21st century. You can have classic styling and keep up with modern Corvettes, Camaros, and Mustangs. The car was so capable that the only thing that held us back was the late ’70’s aerodynamics. Other than that, the Trans Am tracked steady and true at high speeds and cornered like a thoroughly modern muscle car. The Baer brakes were like dropping an anchor out the back. They have easy modulation and consistently provided fade-free stops lap after lap. The install was so easy that aside from a few mods, both the Ridetech suspension and Baer brakes were essentially bolt-in affairs…”