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ipd Street Coils and Bilstein Shocks
Phil Singher

John Self and Karl Grimm, who design the annual Volvo vs. Alfa Romeo rally, seem to take an insidious pleasure in laying traps for the unwary. At this year's event [May, 1996], Marsha and I fell smack-dab into a particularly vile example of such a trap and found ourselves trying to average 30+ MPH on a long section of "road" ("paved goat path" might be more appropriate) climbing up one side of a mountain and down the other. Just to make this more fun, they put a checkpoint right at the top of the mountain so we'd blow not one, but two legs of the rally by taking the bait. We were not alone -- quite a few others were eager to thank John and Karl for the near-death experience at the post-rally picnic. Now, if we'd actually followed the directions, none of this would have happened -- the whole section was to be driven at 20 MPH. Good one, guys.

All of which prompted me to finally finish the suspension mods on our 122S. I had previously installed a full set of ipd anti-sway bars and polyurethane bushings, and shod the car with Dunlop 195 X 60 tires, which improved the once-slushy handling enormously. Still, it always felt to me that the rear of the car tended to jack a bit, and that rough pavement caused excessive skittering in corners or hunting in the straights (both conditions probably aggravated by the fat tires). Since improving the car's performance is more fun than having a bank account, and since ipd products have never let me down, I ordered the lowering springs and shocks. ipd sells various other shocks at lower prices, but they claim that only the Bilsteins will work on a lowered car, and I took them at their word.

I was happy to find that installation is simple and requires no special tools beyond a floor jack and a ball joint splitter. Put the car on stands and remove the wheels. Take up the weight of the rear end with the floor jack and remove the limiting straps. Let down the jack, and you can probably pull the old springs right out. Because of the mods I already had, I also had to take the end links of the anti-sway bar loose, and loosen the front of the trailing arms to get it to drop far enough. The procedure is just the same in front, except that you have to take the lower ball joints loose. Put in the new springs and reassemble. Easy! You might be surprised that the new springs are much shorter than the originals -- they are a fair amount stiffer, and if they were only a little bit shorter, the car would actually sit higher than before.

The front bump stops need to be shortened or removed. It is easy to cut them down with a hacksaw when the springs are out. The rear limiting straps need to be shortened. If you have the anti-sway bars, you can shorten the end links by buying shorter bolts and hacksawing the spacers down. I did this in the back -- my front bar actually fit better with the shorter springs and the original end links than in the previous installation. A bit of muscle is necessary to compress the new shocks (they are gas charged and want to expand to their full length when not under load), but you won't need to call in Arnold Swartzenegger. You can do all this in an afternoon.

When all was said and done, the car sat only about a half-inch lower than before, which indicates to me that the old springs (with only 400,000 miles on them) were pretty much smashed down to begin with. Also, the gas shocks give just a little upwards push. This was fine with me -- I was already dodging speed bumps.

Surprisingly, the ride is smoother than before, at least, to my particular behind. The jacking, skittering and hunting are gone. I have yet to find the limits of the new handling. I am entirely gratified. ipd will accept returns on these springs for sixty days if you don't like the results, so they must be pretty confident. Bilstein warrants their shocks for life.

If you feel inspired to spend money on some mods, my advice is to do them in the following order (assuming you're not going to do them all at once): anti-sway bars first -- these make a night-and-day difference. Second, the Bilsteins. Third, the polyurethane bushing kit ('66 cars and older only, sorry) and the springs last. Whatever you do, do not use the stiffer springs with the stock shocks -- you'll go down the road looking like one of those noddy dolls some people put in their rear windows.

So, Karl and John, we're ready for next year. Do your worst. Ha ha!

More info on the web:

The text of this article originally appeared in the Volvo Sports America Western States Magazine, November/December 1996.

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