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It’s no secret that muscle cars of the 1960s and '70s were originally designed to perform at their best when pointed in a straight line, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add corner carving to a vintage machine’s repertoire. Back in the late 1990s, before the pro touring craze really took off, Detroit Speed & Engineering founder Kyle Tucker was a GM suspension engineer working on the Corvette development team by day and wrenching on his own projects by night.
Dissatisfied with the suspension and chassis components that were available at the time, Tucker decided to develop his own custom parts for a ’69 Camaro project that he was building for Power Tour, starting with components like tubular upper control arms to get modern geometry and more adjustability. His project, the Twister Camaro, went on to win awards like the Goodguys’ Street Machine of the Year, and folks soon started to take notice. “People started calling him asking how they could buy the parts that he had developed,” explains Chris Stein-Martin of Detroit Speed. “And that really got the ball rolling.”
Detroit Speed's X-Gen 595 Front Suspension Module derives from the original 1969 Camaro front subframe that made Detroit Speed a legend in the industry.
From there Tucker moved on to lower control arms, coil-over conversions, and other components, initially focusing on the first generation Camaro architecture before later expanding out to other platforms. The roster now includes popular favorites like GM G-Bodies, A-Bodies, C10 trucks, and Mustangs, and the menu of supported vehicles continues to expand. But a few years back, the folks at Detroit Speed also took notice of an emerging trend.
“People started to graft the subframes that we developed into all kinds of different cars,” Stein-Martin tells us. “So we wanted to make the process easier for fabricators who wanted to do that.” And thus Detroit Speed’s X-Gen universal suspension systems were born.
“Obviously it requires a bit more work than the direct bolt-in options for the platforms that we currently support, but it means that you can put Detroit Speed suspension on essentially anything,” he points out. “These X-Gen systems are designed to be grafted in much more easily than taking something that was designed for a specific application and then adapting it to a different platform.”
The X-Gen 595 Front Subframe (shown here being installed onto the frame of a 1969 Pontiac GTO) was intended to make the process of grafting the subframe onto different platforms easier.
At its core, the X-Gen 595 front suspension module is derived from Detroit Speed’s first generation Camaro system. “It uses the same crossmembers and suspension components,” says Stein-Martin. “But it’s not connected to a Camaro subframe – that subframe has a bunch of shape to it because it’s designed as a direct fit system for that platform, so it’s very specific to that vehicle. Instead, the X-Gen system is connected to just straight 2x4 frame rails to make it easier to adapt.”
The system is made in the U.S. and features stamped crossmembers for improved structural rigidity, tubular control arms, forged aluminum spindles, a splined sway bar, and a Detroit Speed-developed quick-ratio rack and pinion steering system, along with a number of different choices for shock and spring combinations. As such, it’s a complete package that comprehensively addresses the limitations of factory technology that’s often now more than half a century old.
“There just wasn’t as much knowledge about suspension geometry during that era,” he says. “And so there’s a lot of improvements can be made by incorporating modern design. It’s not just advancements in the suspension itself – it allows you to take full advantage of contemporary tire technology as well. 1960s tire tech was a completely different world compared to what we have today, and modern suspensions are designed to handle the contact patch and outright grip that you can get from a modern performance tire.”
While it might be tempting to throw a set of lowering springs on a factory suspension setup to get a dropped stance and a stiffer setup, Stein-Martin tells us that the biggest gains to be had from incorporating a modern suspension design into a vintage chassis are often the elements of a suspension setup that you can’t see. “Geometry isn’t just caster and camber numbers – it’s roll centers, it’s side view swing arm, it’s front view swing arm – it’s all of the other elements that, when put together, transform the dynamic behavior of the vehicle. And we look at every one of those elements when we’re designing a system like this.”
Detroit Speed's Universal Quadralink rear suspension kits are available in staggered and non-staggered layouts and complement the X-Gen front suspension kits. Detroit Speed can assist you in selecting the right shocks and spring rates for your vehicle.
While the X-Gen system can make a vintage muscle car handle like a modern sports car, that doesn’t necessarily mean that vehicle has to have the unyielding stiffness of a track-focused beast like a Viper ACR. Instead, the characteristics of the system in really come down to customer preference.
“Our systems are designed to be dual purpose,” Stein-Martin says. “In a general sense, it’s performance that’s refined enough for the street that you can also use on the track; we’ve developed our systems to provide that versatility. The original idea was to get the ride and handling of a modern Corvette in these vintage platforms, and as with modern Corvettes, the tuning of a particular system really determines the balance between street and track capability.”
That comes down to things like how aggressive your alignment setup is, which shocks and springs you’re using, and the sway bars you select. “Those are the knobs that you turn depending on how you’re planning to use the car,” he adds.
“So if you’re planning to drive the car strictly on the street, you might select softer springs and shocks and smaller sway bars to provide more suspension compliance and better ride quality. But if it’s primarily a track car, you might set it up to run as much negative camber as you can stand with the biggest sway bars and an aggressive shock and spring combination. And if it’s a dual-purpose vehicle, you’ll probably want a setup that lands somewhere in between. Street and track driving are both intrinsic parts of the development and testing process for anything that we make.”
Detroit Speed X-Gen systems can work for just about every car. In addition to this Willys, other notable vehicles built with them includes a Chevrolet C10 for racer Brian Finch and the "Michael Meyers" 1969 Plymouth Road Runner built by Salvaggio Design for Kevin Hart.
The X-Gen 595 universal front suspension system offers a range options when it comes to shocks, springs, sway bars, and hubs, the latter of which are available in GM, Ford, and Mopar configurations. And for those who’re really looking to take their setup to the next level, Detroit Speed also offers the X-Gen Universal rear suspension system based on their proven Quadralink setup. Designed for unibody vehicles, this staggered system utilizes Detroit Speed's exclusive four-link geometry design and patented Swivel-Link technology that allows the suspension to fully articulate smoothly and silently. The system also incorporates a horizontal track bar that provides precise rear axle lateral location during hard cornering, ensuring that rear end of a vehicle can keep up with the X-Gen system up front.
“The first thing to do if you’re considering a system like this is measure the width of your frame rails,” says Stein-Martin. “We have two options for width, and one is narrower than the other, so you’d look at your track width and the width of your frame rails to determine which system is closest to the vehicle you’re going to adapt the system to. When you’re grafting in a whole suspension system like this, there’s going to be a fair amount of fabrication involved – you’re essentially cutting out what’s there and replacing it with this. We provide detailed installed instructions with the system, but the gist of it is that you want your wheels to end up in the same location as they originally were with the stock suspension as far as fore and aft goes – that’s the goal. It’s just something you have to lay out, measure, cut carefully, and weld in. There’s plenty of skilled people out there who are capable of doing this, but it’s a little more involved than a typical DIY job.”
He recommends giving Detroit Speed a call to see what might be available for a given application before pulling the trigger. “If you’ve got kind of an odd-ball like a ’48 Cadillac, this universal system is probably going to be the best option for you. But if it’s something that’s a little more common in this performance realm, we might be in the middle of developing a system for that platform, and it might be worth waiting for the direct fit option in that case. Right now our focus is primarily GM and Ford, but we do have plans to expand into other brands as well.”