StreetGrip: Hyperco And RideTech Save An Aging 1980 Trans Am

HyperCo and Ridetech are a match made in heaven. Both coming from racing backgrounds, the two have been teaming up for some time now, and they have really hit a homerun with Ridetech’s StreetGRIP System.

Hyperco, known for their racing heritage, started working with Liteflex to produce transverse leaf springs for Corvettes. Its background taught them leaf spring cars were in constant need of maintenance, so they wanted something that performed better. The two companies worked extensively to extend the life of these composite leaf springs, eventually creating something that lasts 5 times as long as traditional steel leaf springs. 

Hyperco subsequently set their sights on the biggest non-racing market– performance road cars. This brought about their relationship with Ridetech, and the endeavor to create performance suspension for muscle cars. Like Hyperco, Ridetech has been at the forefront of performance suspension for classic and muscle cars for more than 20 years. Hyperco execs liked what the folks at Ridetech were doing with modern suspension on classic cars, and reached out to them. At first they were supplying Ridetech with race-grade coil springs for coilovers, but they soon geared up to create offerings for the average enthusiast. Ridetech requested composite leaf springs for a system they were developing, and the rest is history.  

Enter Ridetech’s StreetGRIP System. As the name would indicate it’s an extremely capable suspension setup for street cars. Both companies recognized there were enthusiasts out there who didn’t want a full-on race suspension, but something they could cruise and still be able to handle some spirited driving when the opportunity presented itself.

Going fast around corners isn’t just for sports cars. The advent of events like autocross, and the quest for a good-handling muscle car have spurred manufactures to cater to those enthusiasts. The popular way to accomplish this with a muscle car has traditionally been a fully custom suspension system. But what about the everyman–the guy who can’t afford it, or doesn’t have the tools to fabricate a triangulated 4-link?

At one time, Ridetech’s systems were only sold as a set, leaving many enthusiasts feeling like they couldn’t afford such an upgrade. Now, it offers the components of the StreetGRIP System individually, making its products more accessible so you can build as you go.

The features and benefits of making the switch to a StreetGrip System over a stock suspension setup are numerous, including, modern handling, exceptional ride quality and lowered ride height. According to Ridetech’s website, “StreetGRIP suspension is the perfect solution for restored muscle cars as well as mild customs like restomods and pro-touring street machines. It is a complete easy-to-install solution. A direct replacement for original style suspension, the system includes everything you need including Hyperco lowering springs, adjustable shock absorbers, high-performance bushings, a heavy-duty swaybar, tall ball joints, hardware, and instructions.”

Recently, when it came time for an employee at Ridetech to upgrade his worn-out, stock suspension for something offering more than gratuitous body-roll, we jumped at the chance to follow the build to see how easy it was to make the swap. Here at SM, we are big Burt Reynolds fans and were excited to see the vehicle being modified featured a fire-chicken on the hood — a 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. As far as we can tell, the once glorious bird has actually been kept in great shape, but the stock suspension had seen better days.

For 38 years old, this ’80 Trans Am looks pretty good. The same couldn’t be said about the suspension, though.

You can see in the “before” picture, the Trans Am sat like a monster truck. The wheel gap alone could house several cases of Coors. We’re not sure how the Bandit would feel about that – on the one hand, there’s room for beer, on the other, it sits more like Snowman’s big rig. But we digress…

Just because it has mud flaps, doesn’t mean it needs to sit like an 18-wheeler. This Trans Am was in dire need of a suspension upgrade.

Levity aside, the Trans Am is a cool car, deserving a certain level of respect, in the form of new suspension. Follow along as we show you the steps it took to bring this sky-high Pontiac back down to earth and give it the proper handling it deserves.

Ridetech’s StreetGRIP System includes adjustable shocks, Hyperco dual-rate coil springs, taller ball joints, a front sway bar, delrin bushings, mounting brackets, and Hyperco’s composite leaf springs.

For this installation, the folks at Ridetech chose to start at the rear of the car. The first step was to remove the famous snowflake wheels. 

Step 1. Remove the snowflakes.

Almost seems like this isn’t too far off from the stance the Firebird started with.

Once the Firebird was up on the lift, the wheels were ready to come off, along with all of the old hardware. We love the shape of these old Firebirds. The aero on these cars is pretty radical, and justice is really only done with a proper stance.

Can you say clapped-out? This suspension might have been able to get the Firebird around town, but it definitely wasn't doing any performance driving.

The next step was mounting the new Hyperco composite leaf springs into the stock shackles with the new delrin bushings in the kit. The new leaf springs are leaps and bounds superior to their antiquated steel counterparts. They’re 70% lighter than steel, last 5-times longer, reduce maintenance, increase tire life, ride smoother, and are an overall superior design. There is also the added bonus of not succumbing to corrosion, like the rusty, old leaf springs pictured above.

Using the supplied hardware and stock brackets, the composite leaf springs from Hyperco are ready to go on.

Once the new leafs were mounted on the original brackets, they began the reinstallation. The mono-leaf design offers a linear spring rate that saves 70 pounds of unsprung weight. We’re sure the installer’s back was thankful for that.

Everything in the kit installs the same way the OEM parts do, which means the leafs go right in place of the old steel springs without any modification.

Once again starting at the rear of the car, they ran the supplied hardware through the leaf spring and new mounting brackets that come in the kit.

One bolt in the rear, one in the front, a few U-bolts, new brackets, and the new leafs are in.

Next the leaf springs were bolted to the perches on the axle housing using the supplied u-bolts and hardware.

Using the supplied brackets, the installer was able to secure the leafs to the stock perches on the axle housing.

Below are some more shots of the process and a better look at some of the components that went on during the installation.

Just like the driver-side, the passenger-side goes in with ease.

Below you can see a closer shot of the delrin bushings the StreetGRIP System integrates. While we see many companies gravitating toward rubber or polyurethane bushings, Ridetech chose delrin because it requires no lubrication, doesn’t squeak, and allows the suspension to move more freely without binding or stiction issues. You can also see how simple it is to install the mounting bracket securing the leaf springs to the perch on the axle housing.

The new leaf springs include delrin bushings that prevent binding and stiction. This is a vastly superior setup compared to the old steel leafs and worn-out rubber bushings.

The final step at the rear end was to install the Ridetech shocks. It’s as simple as running the bolts through the shocks and mounting tabs. These all-aluminum monotube shock absorbers are rebound adjustable, which takes a lot of body roll out of the suspension eliminating some of the float that Trans Ams like this one, are known for. The shocks supplied in the kit also carry a 1,000,001 mile warranty.

The last step to finishing up the rear end suspension was to install the supplied adjustable, monotube shocks. These will greatly reduce body roll in hard cornering.

Moving on to the front, they needed to remove the wheel and all the suspension components hiding behind it, but first, the caliper needed to be hung so the brake line wouldn’t become damaged from dangling freely.

Don’t let ’em dangle, you could hurt something.

Once the wheel, rotor, and brake system were out of the way, the control arms could be removed in order to install the new StreetGRIP bushings.

With the old components removed, the StreetGRIP bushings, sway bar, shocks, and Hyperco springs were ready to go on.

To make room for the new delrin bushings, the worn-out, rubber bushings needed to be removed. An air hammer with a chisel made quick work of that stubborn junk. Short of burning them out, this is probably the easiest way to remove them.

Removing the old, rubber bushings is a lot easier with power tools, but if you don't have access to an air hammer like this one, you can always purchase a bushing install/removal tool from Ridetech.

To make a somewhat easy job even easier, they used a special Bushing Installation and Removal Tool (part # 85000009made by Ridetech to install the new bushings. Without it, pressing new bushings into the control arms can be a real pain, when it doesn’t have to be.

Ridetech's bushing install/removal tool makes quick work of pressing the new bushings into the control arms. As an added benefit, the delrin bushings don't require any lubrication.

With the control arms off of the car, and the new bushings installed, the next step was to install the new tall ball joints from Ridetech. These will dramatically improve the OEM camber curve to give the Trans Am a much more stable feel through the corners.

With these taller ball joints, the Trans Am will have a better camber angle for powering through corners.

The signature blue Hyperco dual rate springs were next. According to Steve Chryssochoos, of Ridetech, ” these vehicle-specific, dual-rate, front coil springs offer the best of both worlds– ride quality and crisp handling.” A sponge cake probably would’ve done a better job than the stockers, but now with the performance springs, the owner will be able to throw it into a corner with confidence.

The new dual-rate front springs made by Hyperco go in just like the stockers, but these vehicle-specific springs have been optimized for performance.

With the springs installed, the new front shocks simply slide into place and can be bolted into the stock locations. Requiring patience and a little-bit of know-how, this kit is designed to go together fairly easily.

New front shocks will improve the ride quality, and when paired with the rest of the front-end components, will seriously increase the handling capabilities of the Firebird.

While they aren’t included in the StreetGRIP System, it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to replace the worn out Pitman arm, center-link, and tie rods. So, those got replaced before the new StreetGRIP sway bar and end-links went on, along with the corresponding bushings. After all, a suspension system is only as good as its weakest link. Eh, get it? Okay, maybe that was a terrible pun, but it’s still true.

While they don’t come in the kit, it just made sense to replace the old tie rods, Pitman arm, and center-link.

Installing the sway bar, bushings, and end-links brought the front end portion of the system to a close.

The newly completed front suspension will undoubtedly provide better handling to this Trans Am, and a huge part of that is due to the large front sway bar, which will drastically reduce body roll.

If nothing else, the front end sure does look a whole heck of a lot better. We’re sure it will handle like a bat outta hell too.

After all that hard work bringing the front end into the 21st century, the last piece of the puzzle was to slap the wheels back on and set her down to check out the stance.

Snowflakes go back on, and it’s time to check out the new stance.

The StreetGRIP suspension system has really done a great job of cherry picking the best bang-for-your-buck parts in terms of suspension upgrades. This system was designed with the average enthusiast in mind, and it’s capabilities reflect that. It’s for someone who wants to get the most out of their ride without spending a huge sum of money all at once.

Instead of going for tubular control arms, and fancy coilovers, the StreetGRIP system offers parts to the consumer that will bring about the most change in a car’s handling. To have all of the bells and whistles is nice, but this system isn’t about fluff. It’s about what makes the most difference. And frankly, the stance on this Trans Am speaks for itself.

From monster truck to low-slung hot rod. Bandit would be proud.

To find out more, go to Hyperco and Ridetech. As always, check back in with us at Streetmusclemag.com, and keep those hammers down.

Article Sources

About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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