Bilstein Shock Installation and Road Report

TBT – I dug out an old email I sent to Firm Feel Suspensions up in Vancouver, Canada after I installed a set of new Bilstein shocks on my 70 440 Challenger back around New Years of 2013.

I figure you might get a kick out of it.

In the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School, the boys' gym in the background. Same building as in 1980 and many years before, but we didn't have the cool looking Viking Ship paint job back in then.

In the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School, the boys’ gym in the background. Same building as in 1980 and many years before, but we didn’t have the cool looking Viking Ship paint job back in then.

 

—-Original Message—–
From: challen yee [mailto:challenge@sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Sunday, January 27, 2013 8:55 PM
To: Dick Ross
Subject: Re: Bilstein Shocks RCD 70 challenger

Hi Dick,

I finally installed my Bilsteins on my car this weekend and have my initial report.
First, the installation was straightforward. I haven’t replaced shocks on a Challenger since I was in high school in about 1978, but fortunately, my memory came back and remembered the little techniques to make the job go smoothly. The main one was using a 10 inch cresent wrench to open up the lower control arm mount just enough to gain enough clearance to tap that lower front shock mount home.
The trick on the rear shocks is that the upper bolt needs to be hand installed from the bottom of the car, sitting facing the brakes with the head in the wheel well. Tightening happens with the 3/4 box holding the self locking nut through the trunk to hold while tightening the bolt from the bottom.

The rears, fortunately have clearance in the upper mount that no problems occurred when slipping the upper mount in.

All this was done in my driveway while my wife was out on errands.  (LOL)

First, it’s nice to hold in my hands some quality shocks and say good bye to the old monroe-matic garbage. I noticed the Monroes had some pressure in them but nothing compared to the effort required to collapse the Bilsteins.

Initial driving impressions. Getting quality shocks makes my Challenger more composed and mature.

The ride quality improvement is definitely noticeable, especially on the highway at speed. I can go 80 to 90 easily without the shuddering from all the imperfections in the road. Down here in the Bay Area we’ve got a lot of highway reconstruction going on so the pavement is a mess. Before with the old shocks, you’d need some spinal traction to stop your back from feeling every crack in the highway.

THe Bilsteins smooth things out, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a surprise, because the reputation of the Bilsteins preceded my ordering them, but definitely, they meet my expectations in terms of ride. Very nice.

The second test was stopping. Low speed and highway speed hard braking.
This is an area there is also very noticeable and welcomed improvement.

The big difference is the apparent departure of what my 9 year old son calls “Cartoon Stops.” That’s when I’m hard braking and the rear end is unweighting the back tires so they start screeching, unable to grab the road. It’s the epitome of a stereotypical big block muscle car trying to stop.

Well, that has changed after adding the Bilsteins. The car has a more mature attitude, more composure when stopping, as the shocks help keep the big e-body’s weight balanced the right amount to keep the tires planted on the road. Even the tires are some old BF Goodrich T/A’s,I’m getting some solid performance now out of them (eventually I want to get some better tires after I burn these out).

I used to auto cross a mainly-track-driven 1966 GT-350, so it’s nice to get some of this awesome handling in my street driven 1970 Challenger 440 R/T. THanks to Firm Feel, I’ve got a Mopar that is more fun and more drivable.

I haven’t taken enough turns to get solid impressions on how the car handles but I’ll send a note after I get some data together.

Thanks,
Challen

—END EMAIL

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

Copyright © 2015 ChallenYee.com TheDodgeKid.com BestBuckBuck.com All Rights Reserved.

1978 – 1985: The Days of My First Challenger

Note: This is a continuation of previous posts about experiences during my teenage years in the late 1970’s. I’ve been looking for the rare photos I had of the car but I haven’t been able to find the few I remember having. If I find them I’ll update this story’s photos (which I have with some old photos).

I recently was contacted by a few of my old high school streetmachiner friends who discovered this blog and it was a pleasant surprise to hear about some of their car experiences over the last decades. So it’s with you all of you guys in mind that I post this article, hope it helps bring back some pleasant memories.

It was a fun and fascinating time, those days searching for my first car. I had two close car buddies, Scott Douglas (The Ford Expert) and Rick Elliott (The Chevy Expert) who together through junior high school and the early days of high school, would spend more time than we should have day-dreaming about life cruising the streets, roads and highways. Rick was the first one to get his car, a 1955 Chevy Bel-Air Wagon which he wanted to restore, so it sat in his backyard for what seemed like years. Then Scott got his 1967 Mustang fastback, which he kept in his driveway as it went straight into customization mode, which over those early years became a local legend, a wimbledon white GT-350 styled ground pounder with gold stripes. Then I found my 1971 Challenger, which, by the way, was the first one that was able to be driven.

 

A summary of the High School Days with my first Challenger

 

The Family Outing

My dad and I checked out a lot of Challengers of all years, but in January of 1978, when I was 15, I finally found a Challenger with a combination I could live with that was under $2000. By this point, my mom was involved and I think she wasn’t interested in me getting a radical fire breathing monster. Funny how mom’s suddenly get involved when that critical moment materializes, as if she’s going to drive it. Buying a Challenger, my first car, becomes a bit of a family affair. We found the Blue Flash in some obscure used car lot in San Jose with about 42,000 miles, previously owned by an old lady. And as far as what you think Challengers are normally, it was a bit of an old lady’s car. It had a floor shift automatic and a 383 two barrel (which still had some awesome torque), single exhaust, no sway bars, dark metallic blue paint with a black vinyl top, power steering with a 5.2 turn box,  a salt and pepper interior with a cigarette burn hole in the back seat, air conditioning, and wire rim hubcaps with 70 series “Mohawk” Tires, and a unique trim package I’ve rarely seen since.  The price was $1700, or $1900 out the door. It ran great. At the time I had $1250, so my Dad helped me with the rest.

first_1

Thanks to my brother Nick Yee, he uncovered this photo with highlights the original condition the 1971 was in before I started tampering with it with my teenage hands. Photo taken about 1978.

 

Some Random Reminiscing

As with many of the younger persuasion, I slowly began modifying and personalizing my Challenger. I will not go into extensive details here, but suffice it to say that as a young street machine freak, you just do as you feel and that is okay. It was all about whatever you can afford and whatever seems like a cool idea gets the nod of approval. This Challenger turned into my high school ride and also my ride into adulthood. The Challenger was a reliable partner through my high school days: having a really great time cruising with all the motorheads at school, wild burnouts in the back parking lot, road trips, and general partying. We were raising hell on the highways and byways and, fortunately, survived the experience and didn’t hurt others.

Worthy of MoPar note was the quickest car at school owned by Dale Mosher, a hemi-orange 1969 Dart with a 440 six-pack with a black vinyl top and 4.10s in the back. Truly a rad rocket.

 

The absolute best cruising night was in 1979 when a huge group of us got together to go cruising on a Saturday Night in San Mateo, California. We met in the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School and just about everyone showed up who had the car fever, including the blue Torino Wagon with the yellow dome light pulling unsuspecting motorists over (you know who you are, my friend). I could  start naming people but I’m sure I’d miss someone. If you were there, you’d remember those days before the “No Cruising” law. That strip on El Camino Real was absolutely packed.

We were living the mystique that is conjured in ones mind when you think of the “Muscle Car Era” all the while with Van Halen, AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring in the background. Actually it was the Oil Crisis Era, but we did not care. What was cool was my young nephew and niece used to cheer out, “Dukes of Hazard!” to the sounds of the big block Mopar or how some high school girls used to have their talks while sitting ON my car in the back parking lot at school, thinking it was cool place to hang out.

first_2

This photo was taken by my Navy bud, Michael Avery. I think we were doing some backroad moto-ing in the National forest east of San Diego in 1981.

first_3

This photo is from my Navy bud, Michael Avery, here I am probably at the Navy gas station or Navy DIY auto shop at Naval Training Center, San Diego in 1981.

 

 

A quick rundown of most of my modifications that occurred over time:

Edelbrock Torker,  a Holley 780 CFM with vacuum secondaries, topped off with a Moroso Low Profile Air Cleaner

Eagle Headers and dual exhaust with cross over and Thrush turbo mufflers, tail pipes dumping down over the rear axle

Windage Tray, B&M shift kit, Accel Supercoil, and Mopar Electronic Ignition

American Vector 15×8(?) with Goodyear Polyglas GT G-60 back and F-60’s front (torsion bars needed to raise front end to clear tires)

Addco sway bars front and rear with urethane bushings

KYB Shocks with coils overs in rear (gave me another 1/2″ clearance for my tires)

Stewart Warner under dash mounted Tach

Ducktail T/A type rear spoiler

Sanyo Bi-Amp AM-FM Cassette indash strereo Jensen co-ax rear speakers and some small tweeters in front

Dual racing mirrors from the local Scherba’s Auto Store

 

In Closing

I could recall a bunch of stuff, but I just want to pitch something out there for you guys to chew on.

Thanks for reading.

First Challenger a 1971 as in the area it was stored while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983.

First Challenger a 1971 as it was in the area it was stored while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983. Friends said that the Amrican Vectors looked great when I was peeling out. When I find my photos of the car when it was stock, I’ll post them. Originally the car had longitudinal side “door-ding” moulding and the biggest piece of chromed pewter wrapped around front edge of the hood and fenders to give the bumper a wrap around look.

This early 1980's photo is of Scott Douglas, the Ford Expert, part of a triad friendship along with Rick Elliot, the Chevy Expert. When I had my Mustang, Scott was always ready to help me with whatever I needed.

This early 1980’s photo  of Scott Douglas, the Ford Expert, part of a triad friendship along with Rick Elliot, the Chevy Expert in the early days at Palo Alto High School. When I had my Mustang, Scott was always ready to help me with whatever I needed.

A partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff in1979. I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool too draw over it with his pen. Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School.

Just a partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff (1979) . I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool to draw over it with his pen. Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School. Ready for exhibition speed at the slightest provocation.

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry). All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook.

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry).Missing is Mr. Don Jang, my drafting teacher for 3 years.  All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite and mentor through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook. I was class of 1980 but 1979 ROCKS!

I didn't know the PALY yearbook staff was not print my write up I submitted with my photo. At the discretion of some high schooler in 1980, I will only be known as the guy with his Challenger

I didn’t know the PALY yearbook staff was not print my write up I submitted with my photo. At the discretion of some unknown high schooler in 1980, I will only be remembered as the kid with his Challenger

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

Copyright © 2015 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com BestBuckBuck.com All Rights Reserved.

My first Dodge Challenger in storage

Throwback Photo- Circa 1983

.
After graduating high school in 1980, I joined the Navy and used my first Challenger to make several trips up and down between Palo Alto and San Diego between 1981 and 1982.

When I was assigned to a seagoing unit out of Hawaii in January 1983, I chose not to transport the car and instead stored it in my parent’s backyard.

Eventually someone made and offer to buy my car and I sold it while I was away.

Had  a lot of good times with that car.

 

The fastest road trip my car made was being driven by my brother, a Highway Patrol Officer, from Thousand Oaks to Palo Alto where we left around midnight and arrived around 4am driving up Highway 101.

First Challenger a 1971 as in the area it was stored while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983.

First Challenger a 1971 as it sat in the storage area (with cover off for photo) while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983. My choice of mag wheels and exhaust dump offs (which flared out after the mufflers and before the rear axle) were inspired by one of the Palo Alto High School English teachers named Barry Bergstrom who had the American Vectors and “Bergstrom Pipes” on his orange Chevy Nova that he drove to school and sometimes bracket raced (from what I heard). Also credit the Dukes of Hazzard County for wheel selection. PALY upper classman 1979 grad Dan Kirby said these wheels looked great when I was peeling out because you could really tell they were spinning … which I often felt obliged to do every time he gave me the “stomp on it” hand signal.

 

 

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

 

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.

When the rubber meets the Road

Observations on the suspension, tires and handling

With the updated suspension, the Challenger drives straight while staying pretty level and even around turns.

I’m running the standard arc Firm Feel Industries (FFI) HD leaf springs, 1.00 FFI torsion bars and Bilstein shocks. FFI 1.25 front sway bar with lower control arm braces, FFI factory style 0.75 rear sway bar, factory manual steering, and Mopar Performance frame connectors. If I had to characterize the new suspension in just a few words, I would say it feels like the car “acts as one unit” and not the front end feeling like it’s in one city and the rear end is in another.

The straight line road feel is good and reasonably comfortable. The suspension feels tight and a lot quieter with the new leaf springs. After having taken the car out for a few drives, the one thing that I found uncomfortable was the sort of bumpiness feeling of the tires when driving pulling some G’s around a constant radius turn.

 

tire

One thing about my BF Goodrich Tires are they are NEW. Which is terrible for best traction. So I want to put some wear on them before I fully judge them. Yet this weird feeling with the tires jogged my memory from a past experience.

I remember from open-tracking my old 1965 Mustang was the tire pressure can have this effect.

When I first started open-tracking, I was under the wrong notion that having a higher PSI is better for racing or track driving, and some fear of tires coming off rims. On my Mustang (a red GT350 clone with white stripes) I ran 225/50×15 BF Goodrich Comp T/A’s and ran 40 psi in front an 38 PSI in the back. The result was the car felt a little bit like a sidestepping hobbyhorse going around turns. Instead of a nice smooth controlled slide/drifting around turns, the car seemed to be be stupidly bouncing sideways. It felt terrible. It felt like being in Bozo the Clown’s car at Sears Point Raceway.

 

A Ford Interlude

MoPar fans, please excuse the Ford photos ;), but that is what I had to do in the 1980’s, when my brother and I picked a Mustang for a platform, a car that had lots of available parts at the time to do what I wanted at reasonable cost.  I still had my first Challenger up until about the mid 80’s, but sold it when it was idle in storage – I was serving in the Navy overseas at the time. My brother drove the Mustang while I was away.  Also I want to give thanks to the influence of a good friend, Scott Douglas, who was one of my original car fanatic buddies in junior high school. He grew up becoming an expert on Mustangs and Shelbys and was always willing to lend a helping hand when I was home on leave.

Photo at left is my first open track at Laguna Seca, using 235x60x15 Goodyear Eagles on steel magnum 500’s, and photo right is with the 225x50x15 BFG Comp T/A’s on Torq-Thrust D wheels plus side exit exhaust.

lagunasecaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I lowered the tire pressure to 35#(F)-32#(R) everything completely smoothed out and I had complete confidence in the ability to feel the car drift very smoothly around turns. Absolute control.

 

Okay, okay… and back to the Challenger!

Anyway, back to my Challenger. I checked the pressure on all 4 tires cold, and they were all at 36 PSI. I immediately lowered all of them to 33#. I’ll see what happens the next time I’m out. The max recommended pressure in 35#.

[one day later]
Okay, took the car out for a spin with my son and we mildly terrorized the local highway and cloverleafs and what did I discover? Ahh… I got that loving feeling back between me and the road. I can tell the bumpy drifting is gone and the BF Goodrich, while not sticking as long as a lower profile tire with racier tread, was acting consistently and predictably. I was able to control the drifting with the accelerator pretty easily without feeling like Bozo the Clown.

The E-body was staying very level around constant radius turns and the tires feel like they’re drifting with just a little oversteer. The manual steering is giving me some decent feedback and feel. Definitely would like to take on turns where I can stab the front end into a tight corner and see how it handles going through and out of the turn. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the handling of this big E-body that’s packing a 440.

I’m watching my 10 year old son riding shotgun. He is more interested in Minecraft, watching TV and listening to the local rock station, so he’s not too much of a motorhead yet, but I can catch him out of the corner of my eye when I’m getting on to the highway and bringing the RPM’s high enough to engage the outboard carbs, the exhaust is roaring while our bodies are getting pressed back on the seats. It gives me some sort of weird fatherly pleasure as he’s bracing himself in the presence of horsepower.

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

 

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.

Back to the Future

A trip back to my past
PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL – Palo Alto, California

 

The Back Parking Lot of Palo Alto High School, where most of the students parked their muscle cars.

Where the street machine craze went real- Palo Alto High School, the back parking lot where between1978-1980 we practiced the loosening of our youthful daring, restrained by a world of academics and motor vehicle law. It was in this part of the parking lot where many a street machine came screaming at high R's and high G's around the end of the lot with tires laying down prodigious amounts of rear and sometimes front tire rubber across the barren asphalt.

Where the street machine craze went real- Palo Alto High School, the back parking lot where between1978-1980 we practiced the loosening of our youthful daring, restrained by a world of academics and motor vehicle law. It was in this part of the parking lot where many a street machine came screaming at high R’s and high G’s around the end of the lot with tires laying down prodigious amounts of rear and sometimes front tire rubber across the barren asphalt.

 

Just look at the money they pumped into this high school football field. I guess, considering it is within a mile of Stanford Stadium where the Cardinal (once the "Indians") play, they needed to spruce things up. Belive it or not, my two kids are hiding with their heads out of view in my car.

Just look at the money they pumped into this high school football field. I guess, considering it is within a mile of Stanford Stadium where the Cardinal (once the “Indians”) play, they needed to spruce things up. Believe it or not, my two kids are hiding with their heads out of view in my car.

 

 

In the back parking lot os Palo Alto High School, the boys' gym in the background. Same building as in 1980 and many years before, but we didn't have the cool looking Viking Ship paint job back in then.

In the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School, the boys’ gym in the background. Same building as in 1980 and many years before, but we didn’t have the cool looking Viking Ship paint job back then.

 

Palo Alto High School and the current day entry gate to the football field. Man, they sure beautified this area since 1980. It looked like a dump with a cheap cyclone fence in 1980. Sure makes for a nice pick with my Challenger now.

Palo Alto High School and the current day entry gate to the football field. Man, they sure beautified this area. It looked like a dump with a cheap cyclone fence in 1980. Sure makes for a nice photo-op with my Challenger now.

 

Palo Alto HIgh School auto shop, where Mr. O.D. Mitchell awarded me twice as many units for taking Auto in my senior year because I did the work. I also won the Industrial Arts Award. Mr. Mitchell was one of most important mentors I had in my youth. He told me once, "Yee, most teenagers have one of three vices: sex, drugs and speed... Yours is speed."

Palo Alto HIgh School auto shop, where Mr. O.D. Mitchell awarded me twice as many units for taking Auto in my senior year because I did the work. I also won the Industrial Arts Award. Mr. Mitchell was one of most important mentors I had in my youth. He told me once, “Yee, most teenagers have one of three vices: sex, drugs or speed… yours is speed.” Apparently the beautification budget hasn’t got to this area of the school yet. It looks almost exactly the same as it did when I graduated in 1980.

 

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

 

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.

High School Flash Back

HIGH SCHOOL DAYS – 1976 through 1980

Palo Alto High School – Palo Alto, California

 

PART OF THE PALO ALTO STREET MACHINE ASSOCIATION – Yearbook photo

A partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff in1979. I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool too draw over it with his pen. Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School.

Only a partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff in1979. I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool too draw over it with his pen (THANKS ALOT, BOB) At least he gave it his best shot to draw a Direct Connection logo.  Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School.

 

MY SHOP TEACHERS 

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry). All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook.

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry). All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook.

 

 

MY SENIOR YEARBOOK PHOTO – with my first car, a 1971 Dodge Challenger

I didn't know the PALY yearbook staff was not print my write up I submitted with my photo. At the discretion of some high schooler in 1980, I will only be known as the guy with his Challenger

I didn’t know the PALY yearbook staff was not going to print my write up I submitted with my photo. I was surprised when I opened up the book and only saw my portrait without any comments. At the discretion of some high schooler in 1980, I will only be known as the guy with his 1971 Dodge Challenger. It was a 383 with Slapstick, dark blue with a black vinyl top, and salt and pepper interior.

 

Here's a recent (2014) photo of the same area of the parking lot as was in the 1979 group photo. Photo by Challen

Here’s a recent (2014) photo of the same area of the parking lot as was in the 1979 group photo. The front of my car in this photo is in the same space as the 1979 photo. (photo by Challen)

 

..

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.