While we often rant on about crazed measures of infernal combustion or even jet cars around here, multiple hundreds or even thousands of horsepower along with scads of torque won't add up to a side order of beans unless you can actually put it through to the ground.
Racers know this perhaps better than anyone. As a racer who spent a good deal of time behind the wheel of a Porsche 917, John Hotchkis now steers a company that puts horsepower to good use through the design, production, and installation of performance-oriented suspension components. Jalopnik recently got a chance to tour the Hotchkis Sport Suspension shop. We walked away with a better understanding of the feat it is to get ill-handling sixties muscle machines carving corners like modern sports cars.
Stepping beneath the gaping roll-up door, we came face-to-face with a Mini set up for carving — its bulldog stance unmistakable. The Mini in question belonged to Hotchkis General Manager Henry Hancock. Chief Engineer Aaron Ogawa also has a Mini. When Ogawa's not clocking in at Hotchkis, he's out clocking the competition at AutoX events. He recently took home the trophy in SCCA AutoX STX class racing at California Speedway, putting all-wheel drive WRX's and everyone else back on the trailer. Also in-house was a Chevelle and a F-150 Lightning. The Chevelle was in for some suspension tuning, and the Lightning on the rack for a complete suspension upgrade. In another corner sat the bare shell of a '67 Camaro, surrounded by boxes and pallets of goods waiting to be installed.
The Hotchkis crew still gets an enormous amount of business from upgrading old Detroit iron. This for good reason. We were looking over some hiem joints and sway bars on display in the showroom when Hotchkis shared what we already knew but hated to admit, "Even the worst of today's rental cars handle better than sixties muscle." As the previous owner of a '67 Barracuda that came with five-inch wide pizza cutter wheels and drum brakes all around, I can attest to this.
For evidence old muscle takes well to suspension upgrades, we strapped ourselves into a Hotchkis-prepped version of a Jalopnik favorite. On the way over to the manufacturing facility, Hotchkis did his best Steve McQueen on the mean streets of Santa Fe Springs. Flicking the light end of the El Camino around corners here and there brought controlled drift action when summoned. It's important to remember older suspensions were designed for the bias-ply tires that came spooned around those stock, pizza cutter rims. Bolting up wide meats just taxes the original design even further.
Modern design and production has of course narrowed the room for suspension improvement over that of sixties iron, but has not eliminated it entirely. Hotchkis offers packages that improve even some of the best-handling modern cars. The ability to fine-tune suspension modifications for the street or track is another bonus. At lunch Hotchkis recalled shaving a half-second off short-track lap times at Buttonwillow in a Corvette Z06 equipped with a Hotchkis-designed adjustable sway bar. "It would get nervous. It would move around a little bit. You just couldn't apply the power. By stopping the rear roll you could just feel it on turn-in," Hotchkis said.
Hotchkis can also design suspensions from the ground up, and did so for the Foose Coupe when called upon by Chip Foose and George Gaffoglio from Metalcrafters. This year Hotchkis announced the same level of engineering is available even for less star-dappled rides at the Hotchkis Installation Center. "From Camaros and Bimmers to our Chief Engineer's Autocross Mini, we spend most of our off-hours at the racetrack using and proving our own hardware. With the recent addition of the Hotchkis Installation Center, we can now offer our customers the option of having their suspension dialed-in by the same team that designed and built it," Hotchkis said.
What else would you expect from a guy who's driven in the 24 Hours of Lemans and run a Porsche 917 around a racetrack?
Hotchkis Sport Suspension
12035 Burke Street Suite 13
Santa Fe Springs, Ca 90670