Can You Go Fast on Air Suspension?

It’s not really a secret, but let’s be real: I love stance. Nothing is better than a racecar with a big wing laid out on the pavement. With my obsession for “low,” you would think I would have all my cars set up to be street sweepers, but performance will always come first and foremost on my builds.

I admit I picked up the stigma somewhere along the way that bagged cars are show cars and show cars can never be racecars. After I had heard “needs more low” one too many times, I bought a set of coilovers and dropped it on the ground.

My 2005 Mustang at its “lowest” | Nicole Ellan James photo

My car sat two inches off the ground, and I embraced the static life. It looked damn good but I got stuck on things all the time, navigating speedbumps was like climbing Mount Everest, my exhaust pipes started to resemble more of a square shape, and I just thought this was all part of the lowered life.

After a while, I got tired of driving onto a wood block just to be able to squeeze the low-profile jack under the car just so I could replace something else under the car for the millionth time that took a beating from always scraping.

So I raised the car, slightly. But it was too little too late, I had amassed close to 150,000 hard driven miles by this point, and the timing chain gave out which parked the car. Throughout the whole ordeal I never even thought to consider air suspension because I didn’t know what to expect regarding performance and handling. I didn’t know anyone running air that was set up for performance and all I had really heard was that air suspension systems could give out at any moment and the compressor was super noisy and added weight to the car.

A friend of mine who also drove an S197 Mustang was always changing his mind about what direction he wanted to take his build. One week it was a show car, the next week it was a drag car. His modifications seemed random and unfocused, but he did have air suspension. This was really my first up-close exposure to air suspension. I was surprised it didn’t make all kinds of weird sounds, and my friend assured me the system didn’t add all sorts of crazy weight to the car if any at all. He never road raced the car like I did mine, but he did pretty well at the drag strip, and it sparked my interest in the performance aspects of air suspension.

Enter Cody Miles and his 2007 Subaru WRX STi.

Over the last few years, I have followed Miles on Instagram and have watched his build progress from its days as a multi-duty machine that went racing on the weekends and endured an 80-mile work commute five days a week, into the barely street-legal car he’s set many time attack records in… all on air.

The thing about Time Attack is that it focuses on one thing: setting the absolute fastest single lap you possibly can. It must be perfect, no missed shifts, no miscalculated braking zones, and an endless hunt for the perfect line. Consequently, this also means he is pushing the car to its furthest limits – all of the parts need to be strong and withstand the strain of repeated 20-minute driving sessions.

Miles runs the 3H management system from Air Lift Performance. Controlled by an app on your phone or in-car button control, the suspension can be adjusted instantly in real time. It receives its air from a single Viair 400 compressor mounted in the trunk.

The design features lightweight monotube shocks/struts with threaded bodies and adjustable mounts that allow for 30-level adjustable damping. Depending on vehicle application, most of the struts have had adjustable camber plates integrated into the design with high-quality spherical bearing upper mounts. These mounts help the car maintain perfect alignment and precise steering.

Hot Rod Photo

Miles car puts down around 500 wheel horsepower, but can air suspension handle more power? The answer is yes, yes it can. Take a look at Todd Fullford’s 2016 SRT Hellcat.

Fullford has set a record as one of the fastest Chargers in the world, but also one of the fastest Air Lift-equipped cars in the world.

To accomplish a quarter mile run in 9.83 seconds at 138 mph, he upgraded to a 2.5-inch pulley for the supercharger, added an aftermarket cold air intake and runs E85 fuel. These relatively small tweaks allow the 6.2-liter V8 to produce close to 950 rear-wheel horsepower on a stock drivetrain and engine.

Fullford’s air suspension system makes use of dual Viair 480 compressors, the Charger has a full 4.9-inches of drop on the front axle and 6.7-inches on the rear axle, all at the touch of a button.

Fullford has shared in various interviews that his builds have usually focused on power and performance but since he started the build with an already powerful car and adding another 100-200 horsepower isn’t exactly a groundbreaking feat, he wanted to go a slightly different direction. “The drag strips are crowded with Hellcats. Custom car shows, not so much. I put all my efforts into making this car stand out visually instead of time slips and dyno charts,” Fullford said. He added he gets a lot of hate from die-hard muscle car guys for “ruining” his car by bagging it.

In a video created by Air Lift Performance, professional test driver Brian Smith gets behind the wheel of three cars – 2013 Subaru BRZ, 2005 Ford Mustang GT, and a 2012 Volkswagen Golf R – to show how air suspension stacks up against coilovers in different driving scenarios.

It should come as no surprise that all the results measured and logged by Air Lift Performance indicated that the air suspension outperformed coilovers with each car on every test. The brand of coilovers used for testing was not disclosed.

Regardless of how accurate the results depicted are, these record-setting cars prove you can go fast on air suspension.

About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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