Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Body Roll and Riding With Friends: a Childhood Memory

1970 Buick GSX

Last week I was writing an article about handling modifications for cars. Of course the subject of body roll came up, that thing that automotive enthusiasts absolutely hate. Body roll is when the body of a vehicle literally rolls in the opposite direction a car is turning. What ends up happening if you roll the body too much is the tires on the inside of the turn actually pick up off the ground. Let me tell you that having any of your tires leave the ground is bad. You can lose control and possibly roll the vehicle, plus you at least temporarily lose forward momentum.

There are all kinds of technologies to help prevent this from happening, such as stabilizer bars and chassis braces. But back in the day when I was a kid most cars (particularly the huge land yacht American cars) handled like garbage. Those cars had body rolls like the Biggest Loser.

A strange childhood memory came flooding into my mind as I was writing the article. When I was a kid and I would go somewhere with friends, all of us sitting side-by-side in the backseat of a mom's car, we would play a little game with the car's body roll. Every time we went around a turn we would all lean with the roll like we were on a roller coaster. It sounds stupid now, but for some reason the game was fun. We would even scream like we were on some amusement park ride.

Thinking about it now, I realize that none of those moms were taking any of those turns at more than 15 mph. And I remember that even if we had tried to not sway from side-to-side in the car we wouldn't have been able to stop our sideways motion. Cars really do handle better these days, considering I have driven vehicles where I can take a 90 degree turn at 25 or 30 mph and the tires barely squeal. Anyone who complains that cars these days aren't as good as back in the day needs to stop looking through the rose colored glasses.

But I do have to admit I have a fantasy about buying an old muscle car, be it a Chevy, Buick, Ford, Dodge, etc. With a huge V8 and tire-evaporating rear-wheel-drive, I would attack the car's suspension and chassis with vigor, tightening things up so the body roll would be almost eliminated. Or I guess I could pick up a new Dodge Charger SRT8 that has a modern suspension system and have both knuckle-dragging power and incredible handling all in one package. But there's something cool about having old muscle, especially old muscle that handles better than you would expect. 

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