photos by: Daean Chase, Rick Seitz
It’s All About The Stance. Really, it is.
The perfect stance can best be described in the way the Supreme Court once defined obscenity: You know it when you see it. As a guy who’s built a few good cars, that simply wasn’t enough for me. I needed to research this further and be able to define it with more clarity. If I could, I’d make the definition absolute and simplify it as much as possible.
Why was this so important to me? Because it’s so important to everything. The way a car looks is akin to how a person looks, right? And are people concerned with how they look? Of course they are. Beauty and fashion are defined by this concern. Similarly, the initial impression your car makes on anyone who sees it is important, and the very first thing they will notice is how it sits. (Note: in some Midwestern and Southern states, this may be pronounced “How it sets” – this is not an error. The way a vehicle “sets” down over its suspension, wheels and tires is indeed a description of its stance.)
Beyond the obvious contribution to the overall style of the vehicle, the stance defines the purpose of the car. More accurately, it tells what the car was built to do. A 4×4 should have a different stance than a drag car. A Pro-Touring machine should sit differently than either of them. This may be information for those who are well-versed in automotive technology, but even a casual enthusiast should be able to tell what a car with a perfect stance is good at.
For you, I will take this a bit deeper and make a couple assumptions. Based on the title of this publication, you’re probably a fan of American cars that are mostly street driven and modified for improved all-around performance. Knowing this, I will share with you the recipe for a perfect stance. How close you get to that is on you, but I’ll give you some hints along the way.
To look really mean and angry, a muscle car should have wide wheels and tires to provide additional traction in all situations, and the car should be lowered down over them to improve the center of gravity. If the car is too low, the performance is hindered by the lack of clearance to components, tires, and pavement. The suspension travel becomes limited and wide tire fitment becomes impossible. So, yes, cars can be too low. But, the right amount of low is really good.
The perfect amount of low is based on the front tire. When viewed from the side, the front tire should be tucked up into the wheel well. There should be no air gap visible over the tire when the car is parked on level pavement with the wheels aimed perfectly straight ahead. The car can go lower until the edge of the wheel touches (visually) the wheel well cut out. With a very few exceptions, the suspension function will be limited if the car is any lower than that.
With the front wheel tucked perfectly up into place, where should the rear tire be? Here is the answer- it doesn’t matter. Before you send that angry email, hear me out.
Once the body is properly lowered over the front tire, open the door and place a level on the rocker panel. Lower the back of the car until the bubble is centered and the car is flat from front to rear. Remove the level, close the door, step back, and admire your work. This is very close to the optimal stance for your car.
Since drag cars typically run very tall, very wide rear tires, their fat sidewalls can justify a tiny bit of rake (tail high stance). Too much will look silly, and you certainly don’t want the back end of a drag car lower than the front end (consider the aerodynamic penalty of such a move) but a tiny bit of nose-down attitude works with a drag-flavored muscle car.
A road-racy Pro-Touring car should be just about perfectly level. Of course the front tire will be really close to the body at full lock – it’s a lowered car with a wide wheel/tire stuffed under it. That close fitment comes with the territory and is something we need to understand. A proper alignment with a bit of extra camber dialed in will help tremendously, as the geometry with the top of the wheel angled in a bit provides a lot more clearance during steering than you’d expect. It also aids turn-in grip on the autocross course, but that’s a lesson for another time.So, your front tire is tucked nicely, the car is level, and you’ve got an awesome stance. All good, right?
Well, there are a couple other things that need checking. What is the lowest point under the car? Measure how much clearance the lowest point(s) have to the ground and keep that dimension in mind when going over speed bumps or creeping up to a concrete parking lot barrier. If it’s your oil pan, consider a shield of some kind. If it’s your exhaust system, consider revising the design to offer more ground clearance. Don’t forget to check the clearance between your tailpipes and your rear tires and suspension. When you lower the car a bit, things can get a little too tight back there.
I’ve been speaking about lowering as if it was super easy. Normally, it’s not. Swapping springs, trimming them down and putting them back in place is not a five-minute job. You don’t want to rely on any kind of clamping device to lower a spring. Lowering blocks on leaf springs are okay, but they shouldn’t be cheesy. They should be indexed into position and securely mounted if you choose to go that route.
Ideally, you’d have adjustable coil-over shocks on all four corners. These allow for ride height changes without having to remove them from the car, which is really nice and saves a ton of time. We are fortunate enough to live in a time when adjustable coil-overs are available for almost every enthusiast automotive application, which is great. We are not fortunate enough to live in a time when such upgrades are really inexpensive, though. But, when teamed with adjustable shock absorbers, coil-over setups provide a wide range of adjustability within the limits of the factory suspension design (in most cases). That’s a worthwhile investment beyond just having the ability to set the perfect ride height, as different coil weights and varying shock compression and rebound settings can contribute greatly to a cars performance on the street and on the track.
Plus, you know, that killer stance.
After spending almost a decade in the aerospace industry, Scott Parkhurst chose to learn about racing engines by working in some of Southern California’s most respected engine shops. He took on the role of Tech Editor at Popular Hot Rodding magazine back in 1998, and was instrumental in the development of both the Engine Masters Challenge competition and Engine Masters Quarterly magazine. He was also the founding Editor of Street Thunder magazine and Author of the V8 Horsepower Performance Handbook.