Friday came early. With bleary eyes, the lads from Gateway were off to the track at 6 a.m. amid rain clouds and threats of thunderstorms. But the troops, who had enjoyed the respite of Mid America's cruise night, were eager and ready for a long day's work. To be sure, they would have been dead in the water without the lift at Stephen Brothers. The lift wouldn't make much difference to a few friends working on a weekend project, but with time ebbing away, it was crucial. Track officials had two time slots, 1 and 3 p.m., available for testing the coupe with the RRS suspension. The boys from RRS and Gateway were shooting for the earliest slot.
The grind continued through lunch. Let's just say that it was tough to get the RRS suspension race-ready in the time allotted because you have to align the front end, bleed the brakes, and make sure everything is track-ready, from bolts to backing plates. For RRS and Gateway, there was no tomorrow-track time would end at 5 p.m. Though the clock showed some 16 total hours since the gang started, they really only had 10 hours to complete the task and run the car; by lunch time they had expended six. It was going to be tight.
In the midst of the madness,...
In the midst of the madness, Jeff Ford from RRS set up the RRS three-link for this photo. The assembly is available stripped (less axles and center chunk), with just the center chunk and axles, or complete as shown. The complete kit comes with the 31-spline axles and a center chunk packing 3.50, 3.73, or 3.89 locker rear gears. The brakes, when ordered, are 11-inch rotors.
The rack-and-pinion brackets...
The rack-and-pinion brackets mount in the stock steering box location on the driver side and the idler arm location on the passenger side.
RRS's bolt-in Watt's link...
RRS's bolt-in Watt's link is perfect for centering the axle and allowing full and correct range of motion. Panhard bars (a single bar that runs from one side of the chassis and connects to the axle tube on the opposite side) can skew the axle out of center alignment and lead to less than stellar handing. So the Watt's link, with its equal bars and propeller shaft either on the rear centerline of the axle or on a mount with the ends articulated off the rear end axles, offers a much better axle placement and greater lateral stability.
Lonny and Darrell finished...
Lonny and Darrell finished up the column, informing us that the column is cut where it comes out of the firewall. The cut is straight so the supplied bearing can be slipped in and seated with three Allen screws.
The manual rack-and-pinion...
The manual rack-and-pinion goes in without a hitch. RRS uses stock-style inner tie-rod ends to make replacement easier. Different from other racks, the RRS has built-in bumpsteer correction (for radically lowered cars) as well as a linear tracking system. This system stabilizes the rack on the long end of the tie-rod bar and thus offers better road feel, greater accuracy, and longevity.
It's The Little Things
Let it be said that we have the greatest confidence in Jason Childress and company. Otherwise, we wouldn't have stood in front of the car with our camera as Jason bedded the pads and checked the brakes. To our relief, the coupe stopped quickly and with little lock up. We were impressed with the KD BFGoodrich tires (again) and the King six-piston calipers and 13-inch slotted rotors.
While the RRS suspension installed smoothly, others things were causing problems; we were short one alignment machine. So the Gateway gang old-schooled it and used a tape measure. Crisis averted.
Note the water. The track was doused just before this run. Luckily, the vintage racers were able to get some of the dampness off the track before J went back out at 3 p.m.
Rain Doth Not A Run Stop
Rain hit the track off and on until about 2 p.m. Even so, the track was alive with activity; unlike drag racing, road racing goes on rain or shine. With the wet weather, the temperature had dropped from the previous day's high of 90-plus to a cool mid-'70s. Due to the wet track, we wondered if there would be much difference in the times at all.
By 3 p.m., enough activity had been applied to the track that it had gone from soggy to merely damp. Even so, the conditions were not nearly as favorable as they had been the day before.
In his first run with the RRS suspension and brakes, J looked fast, although not blindingly faster than the first series. But when we clicked our stopwatch, we saw that he was 11 seconds quicker than the first run on the original suspension. Then it occurred to us that the car didn't look fast because it wasn't a runaway stagecoach any longer; it was flat and sure-footed. Lap 2 was nearly as fast as Lap 1 (10 seconds faster than the original suspension) and this time we noted that the tires weren't smoking as J negotiated The Bitch. Lap 3 saw the same speed and vigor; this time, J hit 12 seconds quicker.
Later in the day, we were informed that the coupe's lap times were just 12 seconds off the lap times set by the competition cars. When we asked J about the suspension, he told us that it handled better than his '68 Trans-Am race car. With the right engine and tranny, he said, the car would be really fast. Being able to lop an average of 10 seconds off per lap is pretty huge in road racing; that equates to a minute every six laps.
To recap, the guys at RRS and Gateway did a complete suspension swap in two days, taking a lame Pony and making it into a fleet steed that was just 12 seconds slower than the fastest vintage racers at Hallett with a barn-find engine and a lame trans. With a stout powerplant and solid tranny, the little coupe may have been on race pace.
The track day proved that the RRS products are stout and sound in design as well as tough enough for the street. They are certainly tough enough for the track.