Since the dawn of hot rodding, the goal has always been a simple one: go faster. For generations, people have been pushing — and finding — the limits of their automobiles. But going faster brings obstacles, and for many enthusiasts, those obstacles are orange cones strategically placed on a parking lot.
If you’ve never thrown your car around an autocross track, you might be missing out on some cool action. TCI Engineering can help you get past some of those orange obstacles a little easier, while still going faster. This suspension company has developed chassis and suspension kits for classic muscle cars, hot rods, and even trucks, to help each of them handle today’s penchant for speed, with a side order of better handling.
We checked in with Jason Wilcox, marketing coordinator for TCI Engineering, to get the low-down on its second-generation Camaro suspension offerings. While there are still many who prefer to drop the hammer and try to keep their car in a straight line for 10 seconds or less, you’ll find the autocross in an adjacent parking lot at many drag races. These cars share similar horsepower ratings with their straight-line compadres, but underneath it all is another story.
Geometry is the branch of mathematics concerned with the properties of configurations of geometric objects. In layman’s terms, it’s basically the study of points, straight lines, and circles. It’s those basic principles of geometry which helps companies like TCI Engineering figure out the best angles and arcs that can all work together to help your car perform better when you’re not driving in a straight line.
It’s always recommended to get an alignment done anytime you change front suspension components. Installing a IFS from TCI doesn’t change that requirement, but you can make simple adjustments at home to get your car to the shop without completely destroying your tires on the way. Destroying them driving around cones, however, is a different story.
Jason tells us there are plenty of videos online that can help with setting the alignment of your Camaro suspension, but TCI’s kits make that first adjustment easier for the enthusiast. “The design of our spindle and steering arm will allow the end user to get really close caster angles with a simple angle finder. The four-bolt pattern that the steering arm uses allows the angle finder to be placed on the arm itself to find caster. Camber and toe are relatively easy to check with an angle finder, some steel stock, and a couple tape measures,” he affirmed.
Now that we’ve had a refresher in geometry, let’s talk about TCI’s Pro-Touring IFS Camaro suspension kit, which Jason says is 100-percent bolt-in. That means no cutting or welding to swap in the new dropped crossmember. When we asked Jason what’s different, the answer was a single word: everything. He said, “Our whole suspension is designed around our custom spindle and dropped crossmember. With the lower arms at proper ride height, there is more ground clearance, more camber gain, and even though we run more static caster, the wheel is still centered in the wheelwell.” This translates to more ground clearance with a three- to four-inch-lower adjustable ride height.
Our whole suspension is designed around our custom spindle and dropped crossmember. -Jason Wilcox, TCI Engineering
TCI includes two settings for the upper control arm (UCA), with an upper mounting for street settings and a lower mounting for the more aggressive track setting. We asked if the more aggressive (lower) UCA mounting would cause excessive tire wear, Jason had this to say, “Not necessarily. We typically suggest having two shim packs – one for the upper holes and street settings, and a second set of shims for the more aggressive track settings.”
Of course, TCI tests all of its suspension kits. “In all of our test vehicles, the arms are set on the lower holes with somewhat-aggressive alignments 100-percent of the time,” Jason stated. These test vehicles aren’t limited to the track, either. Jason tells us the cars see plenty of street miles, including trips to Las Vegas and all over Southern California.
“It’s nothing too crazy as far as alignments go,” he continued. “To be fair, these cars are getting frequent on-track time, so the tires are being replaced once a year. Having excessive toe is what will wear the tires quickly, having static camber by itself doesn’t seem to wear them much at all.”
Better Cornering Through Geometry
One key to better cornering is the toe settings. While a street setting generally has a slight toe-in, a zero toe or slight toe-out is going to provide better cornering capabilities. For those who are racing a car 100 percent of the time, alignment settings are rather extreme, and tires would see excessive wear if subjected to daily street driving. But, as Jason reminds us, race cars eat tires, so dedicated racers are well aware the tires aren’t going to last 30,000 miles.
If you’re planning double-duty for your Camaro, with a little more aggressive street manners dialed-in, a zero toe will probably suffice to keep tire wear at a minimum. Also, use the upper (street) mounting for the UCA. Even with the additional shims, it’s a bit of work to change out suspension settings and get a correct alignment every time you want to autocross your car. Finding a happy medium will give you great performance and improved tire wear in both environments.
Rack-and-pinion steering is one of the major improvements to increase steering responsiveness. Changes to the suspension and steering components can cause bumpsteer problems, which greatly affect steering control and responsiveness. Without consideration of these angles, each time the suspension compresses — such as during hard cornering — the steering angle changes, requiring more input from the driver.
Jason stated that responsiveness and turning ratios are improved with a rack-and-pinion system. “Our steering arms were custom designed to minimize bumpsteer and maximize Ackerman for increased lateral grip.” Because both front tires follow different arcs during cornering, Ackerman geometry is used to change the toe setting, increasing toe-out as the car turns into a corner.
Finding The Ultimate Balance
These factors are all a part of the design of the TCI frontend system to make improvements in all aspects of handling and cornering. That leaves us with the question about its Torque Arm rear suspension kit, which is designed to improve handling, as well. Jason told us that the IFS can drop 120 pounds compared to the original front clip, but what happens to the rear?
The TCI rear Camaro suspension utilizes a torque arm setup in place of the leaf springs. Just like the front, the rear torque arms are also designed to bolt-in. However, they do require some drilling. If your car has mini-tubs, the install will also require some welding. We asked how the rear suspension kit affects weight.
We asked if the front and rear kits are a package deal, meaning, is it necessary to replace the rear with a TCI kit when you install the IFS. “Yes, but not for the reasons most might think. Of course, they are designed and packaged to work in unison,” Jason said, “However, the tunnel is very narrow and short, so we must install a 9-inch housing in order to clear the floor.”
These kits are designed for the everyday car guy to install. -Jason Wilcox
We asked why an OE rearend can’t be used, Jason had this to say, “The second gen is an odd one, because the factory rearend will not work with our torque arm. Our pinion bars will interfere with the floor on a stock 10- or 12-bolt. So, we include a complete 9-inch axle with all Camaro suspension kits for the second gen.”
Jason tells us the torque arm Camaro suspension definitely improves the handling over a leaf spring suspension. “A leaf spring naturally wants to only travel vertically. In a corner, they bind at the bushings as they try to articulate. This creates a snap-oversteer situation on corner transitions.”
He continued, “The torque arm features a telescoping slider at the front of the arm that rotates as the car goes through suspension travel and articulation. This allows the car’s handling to be controlled by the coilover shocks and rear sway bar with no suspension binding variables.”
The link bars can be adjusted for length to adjust wheelbase, and the height can be adjusted to control squat. Controlling pinion angle is handled through the adjustable bars on the torque arm. “These kits are designed for the everyday car guy to install. We’ve spent a bunch of hours perfecting every aspect of not only performance engineering, but also, making the kits as easy as possible to install,” Jason said.
Setting Up The Suspension
Jason told us a wide variety of springs and shocks are available with the front and rear suspension kits. He said, “Ridetech offers a number of options for coilovers, the standard being the TQ series. This is a great all-around street and performance coilover setup.” TCI has standardized spring rates that can be used for most popular applications and weights, with most popular engine and transmission combos covered. “When you get into our staged packages — where customers are going to be racing their cars — we offer custom shock valving based on extensive testing. For the hardcore track guys, we have the Ridetech Triple adjustable units with our custom valving,” Jason clarified.
Since you can’t really advise someone over the phone or through email about what the best setting is for the adjustable shocks, Jason did have this to say about initial setup, “We like to start right in the middle of the shock settings for autocross. For the street driver — where comfort is of utmost importance — we start with a softer setting, and work from there. After that, it really depends on the customer and driver input. Each road and each track is different, so a good setting on one track might be too aggressive on another.”
Tires also play a huge role. Jason said, “Make sure the tires are fit for competition and are running the proper pressures recommended by the manufacturer.” He did say this usually translates into lower pressures than what are used on the street, and various brands of tires can respond differently. What it really boils down to is driver input and driver feel.
“The key to making the car work in the turns is front grip. With a single-adjustable shock, we would suggest to tighten up the rear and soften the front if the car is pushing. Try to make single, small changes at a time and keep a log. Every car has different weight balance, so one shock setting may not work for another,” Jason suggested.
Brake packages included with the suspension kits vary from OE-style up to six-piston Wilwood calipers with up to 14-inch rotors. The OE style is available for those who want an over-the-counter alternative, so the customer can buy parts at just about any parts house and not be stranded. For the more competitive, the Wilwood kits work great and won’t break the bank.
Both Camaro Suspension kits are available from TCI Engineering or from supply warehouses around the country, and can be installed by the enthusiast without a lot of cutting and welding. If you can drill holes and handle a wrench, you have the skills necessary to do your own installation.