From powered carriages to modern automobiles, the design of the suspension system has always been to keep the occupants of the motorized vehicle reasonably comfortable and safe, while providing isolation from road noise, bumps, and vibrations. Of course, the main combatants in the quest to satisfy the intended audience of the suspension are the components of a suspension system-namely the springs, shocks, and various linkages (like control arms). As the audience for a production car is the intended target market for that specific vehicle, the automakers do the best job they can to design a suspension for that market. Given the parameters of a "dependent suspension," like the live-axle in the Fourth Gen F-bodies, GM worked to produce a variety of tuned suspensions deemed "cost effective," either for a general audience looking for a smoother ride (such as the V-6 base model) or for enthusiasts looking to maximize the handling characteristics of the car (the 1LE package). After being released to the public, the Fourth Gen F-body has attracted quite a following among enthusiasts for its abilities to excel in various forms of competition, including both road and drag racing. Fortunately for enthusiasts, a seemingly endless assortment of aftermarket equipment is available so that the car can be properly fortified for its intended purpose. To that end, one small start-up company was formed in 1998, and later joined forces with Thunder Racing to fill a market niche for expertise in drag-racing chassis and suspension setups.
According to Brian Jeffery, founder of Madman & Co. Racing-and aptly named "Madman" for his high-energy style-"Our shop serves a wide range of race cars, including specialty built spec series racers such as Pro-Mods. But our reputation has been built up by doing custom suspension work and consulting on drag race-bound F-bodies. Getting F-bodies to hook at the strip and maximize their traction to ultimately lower 60-foot and quarter-mile times provided a market foothold that has allowed us to develop our own hand-built products that take the platform deep into the 8s." Many times, an enthusiast hears about or personally sees Jeffery helping out a customer or enthusiast who is battling suspension issues at a strip. He states, "In a lot of cases, an enthusiast doesn't have the suspension background necessary to know what combination of parts and suspension setup will work in order to get the car to hook up properly at the strip. Generally, only after having thrown the whole gamut of popular bolt-on suspension parts at the car and only marginally getting better will someone finally realize they need help and call to discuss suspension setups and what we offer. In addition to F-body specific parts like the Outlaw torque arm, the most important commodity I can provide is technical advice on what will and will not work in order to get the cars to hook."
With formal training at Jerry Bickel's chassis fabrication school, plus the Roy Hill chassis and crew chief schools, Jeffery has been crafting his trade for a few decades. Past accomplishments include being the "clutch" technician on Roy Hill's '96 IHRA Pro-Stock Championship team, and suspension work on numerous F-bodies, including past and present F-body record holders Joe Overton and Rick Intrau.
Follow along as GMHTP takes you inside the Thunder Racing/Madman & Co. Racing chassis shop, and transforms a 9-second Firebird from a bolt-on car into a purpose-built street and drag racing leviathan. Equipped with a Madman-built twin-turbo LT1, the '96 Trans Am of Ohamar Berry will be baselined in its current state and then equipped with a full Madman suspension. Then it will be subjected to the strip again in order to document the differences in 60-foot times, and, just as importantly, the logic behind each suspension change to dramatically reduce the short times.
In baseline form, the '96...
In baseline form, the '96 Trans Am was set up for street duty, utilizing a typical assortment of high-quality aftermarket suspension pieces. Coilover springs and adjustable shocks provide the dampening, while the suspension utilizes a full-length transmission-mounted torque arm, lower control arms, and an aftermarket Panhard bar and rear sway bar. In addition to weld-in subframe connectors (to provide chassis strengthening), the car has a six-point rollcage.
Installation of the new suspension...
Installation of the new suspension components begins by disconnecting the negative lead on the battery, and getting the car elevated on a lift. Typical installation labor is generally around 8 hours on a stock-type suspension with an aftermarket rear. Both shop labor and technical assistance is $70 per hour. The driveshaft is then removed by unbolting the four 3/8-inch nuts and U-bolt clamps, holding the U-joint to the rearend yoke with a 9/16-inch wrench. Once removed, the U-joint bearing caps are taped in place, and the driveshaft is carefully slipped back out of the transmission tailshaft and stored.