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Suspension kits can help a vintage truck handle more like a car

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Classic trucks are, forgive the pun, picking up in the market. There are several explanations: The popularity of trucks in the new market, relatively cheaper prices compared to cars that have been considered collectible for a longer time, and even the utility that comes with an extra vehicle that can haul. One problem with old trucks, though, is that they were primarily used as tools. Ride and handling were secondary design considerations, if considered at all. So how do you take an old truck and turn it into something a little more fun? We spoke with Dan Oddy from Detroit Speed at the 2019 SEMA show to get some answers.

Detroit Speed’s four-link rear suspension kit requires a notch cut into the frame for rear axle clearance, and the mounting bracket matches the notch shape. Photo credit: Mike Austin

With trucks both growing in popularity and widely available, the suspension shops are adding parts to their catalogs. We spoke with Dan specifically about the Chevy and GMC C10, which is a new application for Detroit Speed. The short answer for how to make a truck handle is to use the same suspension tricks that work on cars. That starts with ditching the rear leaf springs. Companies like Detroit Speed, Heidt’s, Roadster Shop, Ridetech, and many others make kits to convert a rear suspension to a four-link coilover setup.

Different mounting points for the links and coilover allow for some adjustability. Photo credit: Mike Austin

“Our main objective was to do a nice bolt-on system, just to make it easy for someone in the garage with hand tools to make a nice driving truck out of their weekend or daily driver,” says Dan. Detroit Speed’s bolt-in kit (there is also a weld-in option) involves cutting a notch in the frame, cutting off the factory lower shock mounts, and drilling several holes for the new crossmember and suspension link brackets. The finished product is a stiffer suspension with more locating points, plus adjustability built into the link locations and coilover mount. On top of that, it’s easier to change out the shocks and springs to suit the use case.

Detroit Speed’s front suspension kit features an aluminum spindle and completely new suspension geometry. Photo credit: Mike Austin

The second part of getting a truck to handle better is the front suspension. Here again, suspension companies are applying their existing designs to trucks, including the GM square body. Detroit Speed is working on its own front suspension kit for the C10, with a prototype unit on display at the SEMA show. It’s less a parts upgrade than a full re-engineering, with new upper and lower control arms and rack and pinion steering. “The stock stuff is a little out of date, technology-wise,” says Dan. “What we did is make a forged aluminum upright, so we could get the caster and camber gains that you need out of a good-handling truck.” The front is also meant to bolt in with minimal drilling, and he adds that Detroit Speed’s design will fit a stock disc brake kit from the later 1999-2007 Silverado for easy upgrades.

A crossmember (cut short here on the SEMA Show display stand) contains the mounting points for the steering rack as well as the lower control arms. Photo credit: Mike Austin

Trucks might cost less than a comparable classic car, but upgrading the suspension doesn’t come with a similar discount. Full kits cost thousands of dollars for each end of the suspension. Detroit Speed’s rear kit start at $3,095; pricing isn’t set for the front kit but Dan estimated that it will be around $6,000.