Volume I, Issue 2, Page 12

Dropped Spindles

In this issue of MaxChevy we will be talking about the handling and cornering of your car. Handling and cornering are becoming a real topic of discussion. With Pro-Touring being so popular, actual driving and good handling is something that is on everybody's minds. How a car handles and corners will definitely separate a real high performance machine from a "want to be" performer. Straight-line acceleration is no longer the only benchmark to a performance ride. This month I will be discussing some front suspension components and begin explanations and retell some history about early handling tricks and techniques concerning front suspension.

Let's talk about front spindles, both high performance and dropped versions. Dropped spindles have been around for a long time. This is a product that is near and dear to my heart also, since in 1989 we were awarded the NSRA New Product of the Year Award with our Mustang II 2" Dropped Steel Spindle. Yes, we have been producing dropped spindles that long, but please don't cringe too much about the Ford word, as we have dropped spindles for Chevys too.

Dropped spindles have a specific function. They are intended to lower the front of the vehicle by a specified amount, usually 2". The "drop" of the spindle really a misnomer, as it actually raises the spindle pin on the spindle body which therefore lowers the spindle body and thus the car.

Two inches is usually all you can drop the spindle inside most common wheels without interferences, since lower ball joints or tie rod ends tend to hit the inside of the wheel if you go down any further. With the advent of larger wheels, such as 18", 19" or even (ugh) 20" or 21" wheels on the front there is more room inside the rim, but the tooling costs to produce an assortment of spindles with different drops is just too prohibitive.

The first and most obvious improvement is the appearance of the car. It will now have the look and stance of a really cool car, not just somebody's dad's ride. And we all know how important the appearance of your car is when you pull into the Friday night cruise spot.

By lowering the car with dropped spindles the handling is also improved. Since the car is lowered, the center of gravity is also lowered. The car will lean less and feel tighter when pushed to its limits on an off ramp or other cool driving situations.  This is the essence of what has become know as a g-machine.

There is also another factor involved with some of the new dropped spindles now available. In previous years of serious road racing, originally in the '60s, guys would use certain spindles from other, usually newer cars to accomplish a specific geometry design change. They would use spindles that were taller, to specifically raise the upper ball joint. By doing that, the result would be that the angle of the upper control arm was now changed.

If you were to plot the new geometry, which is something we will discuss in depth in a later article, the front roll center is now lowered. That change alone makes a huge difference in the handling. The pivot of the whole front suspension is now completely changed, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

That was how it was done back then, the hard way, since the ball joint hole usually had to be resized and the upper control arms had to be reworked or shortened, or even modified to accept different ball joints. It was a lot of work and fabrication, but the gains were worth it. But even with these reworked spindles in place, they were not dropped spindles, so the ride height had to be lowered by other major chassis modifications.

Today you can simply purchase the best of both worlds. At Heidt's Hot Rods, we have new high-performance tall 2" Dropped Spindles that fit the '67-'69 F-bodies, '68-'72 Nova and '67-'72 Chevelle. The spindle pin is raised 2", which yields a full 2" drop, and the upper ball joint is raised 1-1/2" to change the angle on the upper control arm.

The combination of these two features will completely change the personality of your car, by changing what is called the "Instant Center" of the suspension. This is in itself a very involved topic, which we will cover next month. When combined with a good handling rear suspension, such as a 4-link with a properly located Panhard bar, it will improve the Camaro's handling almost to the level of a Corvette.

The nice thing about installing dropped spindles is that it is a completely bolt-on piece. In one afternoon you can completely change the personality of your car. The Chevelle will not show as dramatic of a change since it is a bigger car and has a higher initial center of gravity than the Camaro. Although the handling will be noticeably improved, it will not be another Vette. Sorry.

Hopefully this is enough to get you thinking about suspension action. Next time, we will continue discussions about altered and dropped spindles and get into more detailed explanations about instant centers, roll centers and roll axis and their effect on the handling of your car. Until then, just keep going fast, and don't look back.  

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