Volume III, Issue 9, Page 4

Bret Voelkel on air suspension

By Ro McGonegal
Images courtesy Air Ride Technologies
9/16/2008

We met Bret about ten years ago while fumbling through an ancient Hot Rod Power Tour. As always, he was driving a thought-provoking, somewhat out of the ordinary piece, this one a ‘70 Mustang with slick bodywork, big drive wheels, and a supercharged small-block (Ford) under the hood.

By all estimation, Bret’s car was the only one riding on air rather than steel. We witnessed his dogged tenacity keeping his ride intact and performing over the long haul (one fire, several mechanical snafus), plenty to keep him under the thing every night out in the motel parking lot.

This was the PT phase of extreme engine combos, a raging inferno that would prove the mettle of the car, the owner, and the integrity of his creation. Owners simply put up and shut up. The only other guy with as much trouble was Nick Scavo and his 8-second, wheel standing, nitrous big-block, all-steel, ’65 Impala NMCA racer. Scavo was going to the nearest air freight terminal every other day to pick up new valve springs. Happily, both guys and their cars made it out alive. Though Nick’s effort was valiant and successful, Bret’s Mustang portended an exciting and immediate future.   

Air bags? Hell, they smacked of hoppers and low-riders…gone modern. How could air bags ever replace heat-treated steel springs? Sure, they were neat if you wanted to lay your ride down on the ground low-rider-like when it wasn’t going anywhere, but could they ever shame a conventional arrangement in terms of roadability and knock-down handling power?

Several Power Tours later, we experienced the definitive ride. We’d gone several hundred miles in an Air Ride-equipped Silverado over all kinds of road surface and handling challenges. It surely surpassed our expectations by a freaking mile. Here’s how all of that came together.

: How long have you been interested in cars?
BV: Like most of us, I’ve been into cars since I was a teenager. I’m not sure how that came about…neither my dad nor anyone else in my family was into hot rods at all. We were farmers!  Some of the guys at school were into Novas, Chevelles, and Monte Carlos and I just gravitated toward that crowd.

: What was your first one?
BV: My first car [besides the Buick Electras that Mom and Dad drove] was in 1978, a ‘67 Buick Wildcat with a 340 4bbl motor, a single thrush muffler, hubcaps and white letter tires. I installed those little twisties into the coil springs to jack it up for that cool look. It was actually a nice car until I got it! After I blew up the engine in that, I got a ‘73 Torino Gran Sport, a real nice black one with a 351C engine.

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