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Friday 21st May 2004


TVR Wedge Suspension Overhaul

Andymadmak fills us in on how he sorted the handling of his 400SE

Anyone who's ever owned a V8 TVR wedge will know that they aren't exactly renowned for their limousine like ride quality.  This would be OK if the handling was good enough to compensate for this, but if we're honest most wedges don't handle at all well either!

Having come from a Chim as my first TVR I enjoyed the Wedges more "connected" feel, but only those totally blinkered by wedge obsession would claim that the standard set up on a 400se gives it Chimeara like agility, and thats not such a high bar to aim for either in absolute terms! 
 
My efforts to improve my wedges suspension set up actually started some time back. A couple of years ago I had asked Richard Thorpe at RT Racing in Sheffield to replace all the bushes, front and rear, in an attempt to eliminate some nasty 90mph rear end vibrations, stop the wallowing and reduce the vagueness in the steering that is the common experience of the factory set up. 

This had been partly successful from the handling standpoint but it was still not really good enough, and the vibes were as bad as ever.  In fact with the vibrations at 90mph it was sometimes hard to stop the eyeballs blurring, necessitating either an 80mph or 120mph cruise!  (I've since learned that I'm not alone in suffering from this phenomenon).

The change in bushes had however served to highlight just how poor the damping was on the standard (and by now very tired) TVR units.
 
Following my engine and gearbox rebuild earlier this year (as reported here) I became acutely aware that the only safe way to harness the new levels of performance now available to me was to get the suspension sorted out properly once and for all.
With Le Mans coming up I wanted the beast to be in top fettle for the warp factor nine attack on that famous Parisian peage so I decided to bite the bullet and do the suspension job sooner rather than later.

Surprisingly, Mrs Madmak raised little objection to the additional expenditure when I mentioned it (as she slept ) so I yelled Banzai! at the credit card and went in search of shock absorbers and all things springy!

Choices, choices..

As usual with me, I phoned around and spoke to a few people about what sort of equipment was available for the 400.  Thanks again to everyone here on PistonHeads and elsewhere that offered advice. I've heard lots of stories about AVOs, Ohlins, Spax, Redline and others.

In truth, for the wedge owner there seems to be no overall consensus. Different people swear by, and swear about all the different makes!  Except for the Ohlins, most unit prices were within a Shell Oil accountants estimates of each other so it really just came down to who I was most comfortable with.   Having worked with him before I finally decided to ask Richard Thorpe for his views on the matter.

The Wish List

Richard has raced wedges and built wedge racers for other people for many years and he's also taken care of my car for the last three, so he knows his subject pretty well. Surprisngly he didn't have an off the shelf, one size fits all solution to my "whats the deal on new shocks for a wedge?" line of questioning!  His response was "Basically it all depends what you want from the car,  think about it and let me know".

"Fast road use with the occaisional track day " is what I suspect most people would say in response to this question. But Richard wanted to know what I actually wanted the car to feel like, how I wanted it to respond to my inputs and what I felt I was prepared to compromise on together with those things that I was not. He could make it a very fast track day car indeed but it would be pitched into the nearest hedge the first time I drove it home. Likewise he could make it nice and GT like to drive, but it would hamper my fun when I really wanted to play.

So I went home and sat down to write up a list of desirable features and effects that I wanted from the revised suspension set up.
 
I decided that:

  • I wanted the car to be able to cope with the variable topography of Derbyshire's finest roads without crashing and bottoming out
  • I wanted a reasonable level of ride control/comfort without a wallowing or floating at high speed
  • I wanted good sharp turn in at the front end
  • I wanted to retain the standard ride height (I've nearly lost the exhaust too many times to want to make it any lower!)
  • I wanted a bit more traction at the back end and for it to be a bit less bump sensitive
  • I wanted to be able to adjust the set up if I changed my mind about any of the above, including ride height.
  • I wanted good quality units that would last, and (I'm ashamed to say) look good!

Once I'd done this I called Richard again and went through it with him.  Having reviewed my wish list Richard said I had a couple of choices available to me but he thought the best advice would be for me to fit some new design fully adjustable Redline Shocks that he has custom made to his specification. These units are made specifically for the wedge and  he also does versions for Griffs, Chims etc. (in fact when I took the wedge in there was already a Griffith there having similar units fitted).

The latest versions he said would be able to deliver the sort of control and adjustment  I was looking for, plus they looked great as the bodies are made from machined alloy.  A full four wheel suspension set up and alignment was also recommended. The springs would either be replaced or re powder coated depending on their condition.

This sounded like a good option to me so I a budget was agreed, a date was set for the work and I went off to talk to my wife while she slept again!
 
I delivered the beast to Richard's Bailey Street, Sheffield premises at the beginning of April.  Richard promptly handed me one of the shocks for a closer inspection. I'm no expert but to my eyes the finish is superb and the quality of manufacture appears to be first class.  "Here, just look at this ," gurgled Richard with obvious pride, "Feel this quality, these adjusters will never seize up ".  Again I had to concur, the metal adjustment knob had a nice positive "click" action to it that further served to confirm my initial impressions of precision engineering.

We ran through my basic suspension set up requirements one more time and then as I prepared to leave Richard advised me to allow a couple of hours on the day of collection so that he could go through the set up and adjustment procedures for the units with me.  "I'll be happy to adjust them for you any time, but many people like to be able to try things out for themselves and change things till they hit upon a set up they really like, " he said.
 
On top of the suspension work it needed an MOT,  an engine check over to make sure all the settings were optimised following the running in period and an oil+filter change.

So thats why it does that...

Richard called me a few days later with the news. Basically things were going OK, but as is always the case with wedge ownership a few extra tasks and anomolies had come to light as the work was progressing!  

Both front wheel bearings needed replacing, together with the NS ball joint and track rod end. One of the front anti roll bar mounts was broken too.  There was also some evidence that the driver's side drive shaft UJ had been fouling the old shock absorber from time to time.  According to Richard this would explain why sometimes the back of the car had felt like it was "Jacking up" when pulling away. 

He also said that the drive shafts on my 400se had the biggest UJs and were unlike anything else he'd seen in nearly 20 years of working on wedges!  They do say every TVR is unique but this was ridiculous!

The old springs were measured and found to be good though and so were sent for powder coating.   MOT permitting the car would be ready for me for just after Easter.
 
Richard also remarked on the engine and gearbox, saying that they both felt superb following their rebuilds, and that the engine was now "really very nice, with lots more power to come as it gets looser with more miles on it ".   I really appreciated these comments from him as he didn't have to say anything - after all he hadn't done that work. It just goes to show that even with much of his business now handling S cars, Griffs, Chims, Cerbs and the odd Tuscan,  Richard simply can't disguise his enthusiam for a good old wedge when he gets his hands on one!
 
The collection day dawned bright and sunny and I couldn't wait to get out of the house to collect the beast.  When I got to RT the car was sitting outside being washed. It looked lovely, but it also looked different!   It took me a few seconds to work it out but the ride height was now about an inch or so higher .  Richard informed me that this was the standard ride height and was the way it should be for the car.  I'd gotten accustomed to the old "slumped" look over the past few years (especially at the rear)  as the old suspension units had slowly died.

"Take it out and try it first and then come back and tell me what you think, " said Richard.  "I've set it up the way I think you want it, but lets see how well I've done " he added.

First impressions

He'd done very well thank you very much!
 
In truth, it's a different car to drive. Poised, balanced, nice ride, great turn in, able to absorb mid corner bumps well, no crashing, banging, bottoming out. In fact, it's a revelation!  The steering in particular feels really nice now.

 

I asked Richard about this last point when I arrived back at RT for my "lesson".   His response was that he'd noted my requirements for good turn in and had set up the front end a bit stiffer than usual and he had also dialled in a touch more toe in just like he does on the Tasmin Race cars when he sets them up. Whatever the magic touch he used it certainly worked!  I've now done a few hundred miles and I honestly cannot fault the way the car is set up. So far I've had no reason to make use of the adjusters. 
 
Now here's an added bonus too. 90mph, and the vibes have almost gone. Not completely mind you, but those that are left seem to be eminating from the tightness of the LSD.  I can actually see where I'm going now, and at all other speeds the car feels deliciously smooth and taught.  I'll have to ask Richard about that next time I see him!
 
Thats me finished spending for the year now, although I still need the new footwell carpets, and there are a few stone chips on the nose and there's this one tiny crack in the veneer and...........   Do you think she's woken up yet?

Roll on Le Mans!

Andy Marshall aka andymadmak

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18 comments on this story

Last comment was by adam quantrill
on 29th May 2004