Line drawing of shock absorber...
Line drawing of shock absorber inside the spring.
I almost sold this '58 Corvette a couple of years ago-it was that bad. It was just a total pain to drive. It moved all over the road and would never stay in a straight line. This old straight-axle just wasn't any fun to drive. I'm not into garage decorations, so it was time to move the car down the road. But then I decided to use some new current technology and give it once last shot.
A new set of BFG radial tires and a good alignment cured most of the problems, but there was another step-four new shock absorbers. New shocks would take the final bounce out of those old springs and let the car go smoothly down the road. Since I was going to keep this '58, and even drive it to work a couple of days a week, it was time for new shocks.
The only question was which sort of shock would work best. I knew I didn't want a set of resto shocks with all the proper markings-those are for the trailer queens that don't get driven. The resto people will pay a fortune for a set of really bad shocks, and they're more than welcome to them. Why anyone would put 42-year-old shocks on a perfectly good car is beyond me. On the other hand, these same folks have "invested" in Corvettes while the rest of us have made a nice chunk of change in the stock market.
Take a moment and look at...
Take a moment and look at this old drawing. Notice the lower mounting bracket. This is different from any shock you've done in the past, unless, of course, you work on late '40s and very early '50s Chevys a lot.
The real problem is that most of the shock companies don't have high-tech shocks for a '53 Chevy chassis. Remember, if you're driving a straight-axle Corvette, your chassis is really from a '53 Chevy Sedan. We're talking about some really old technology here. On the other hand, the real purpose of the cylindrical shock absorber hasn't changed since 1953-only the way the shock absorber works has changed.
We want a shock absorber that keeps the car from oscillating every time the spring moves. The English use the correct term: "damper." The shock absorber dampens the movement of the spring. If it wasn't for the shock absorbers, your Corvette would look like a pogo stick going down the road. Every bump you hit would send the spring into an oscillation that wouldn't stop until the next one started.
At any rate, I decided I needed new shocks to make the old '58 drive better. It took a little searching, but I discovered that Vette Brakes and Products carries the KYB line of gas shocks, and even makes them for the old straight-axle Corvettes. Considering that the car is almost 50 years old, gas shocks are pretty high-tech.
This is the rear axle arrangement...
This is the rear axle arrangement on '53 to '62 Corvettes. The whole problem here is going to be the top shock nut on the rear crossmember. The original shocks were installed at the factory before the body installation. This presents a whole new set of challenges for you at home.
When I was in the automotive service business, KYB was one of my favorite products. They were an exceptional value and the manufacturer was always good about replacements should a problem arise. When Vette Brakes said they had a set for my '58 I was pleasantly surprised.
The next good surprise was how much the ride of this old beast changed, improving to a new level. I would best describe it as a sport ride. It's not BMW-quality, but it's a lot closer than any other straight-axle I've ever driven. The gas shocks are firm, but without the harshness usually associated with high-performance shocks.
I just may be proving that these early Corvettes can be used like a real car. How about using one as a daily driver, and not just a couple days a week? I guess I would have to have a top on the car, though, and I'm not quite ready for that.
Richard Newton has written two best-selling Corvette books in the past few years: How to Modify and Restore Your Corvette: 1968 to 1982 and Corvette Restoration Guide: 1963 to 1967. These are both available from Motorbooks International at (800) 826-6600 or www.motorbooks.com.