Thanks for the interview, Mark. We know you guys are very busy over in California and we appreciate you taking time out for the Stylin' Trucks web team. Can you give us a little history on lowering trucks? You know, how did it all begin?
Mark: Well, the Calmax story began in the 1980s when the lowering of pickup trucks was beginning to gain popularity. At that time you might find heated coils and leaf springs as the accepted way to get "the look."
But that was bad, right? You're just weakening the spring -
Oh, big time! By applying heat to the coil or leaf spring with a blow torch you're just weakening it. Yes, the truck lowering pioneers could make the truck sit lower, but only because they ruined the suspension.
But they got the lowered, sporty look they were going for...
Well, yeah. I mean, you can cut your feet off if you want to be shorter, but does that help anything? The truck would look really sharp, but at the same time, it would ride like hell. With the suspension system weak and all squashed, any little bump or pothole would bottom it out. Each time, that slamming is transfered directly through the frame and things start to break, including your back.
I take it you've got first-hand experience with this...
You don't know the half of it. My buddies and I would get back from a show out of town or something and I'm laid-up on the couch for two days because my back is so tweaked. Well, anyway, this is when the quest for the Holy Grail of truck and SUV lowering began. We wanted the lowered stance of a sports vehicle along with the smooth ride a soccer mom could love.
And the products to lower trucks just weren't available?
No, not yet. We're talking about the mid 80s here. People had been modifying cars for decades at this point and the hot rod guys had it all figured out. But they also had decades upon decades of products and solutions to choose from. The truck guys, though, they were just getting started and had to modify the factory parts. There just weren't many products to select from.
People aren't still using a torch to lower their trucks anymore, are they? That's pretty much solved now, right?
Oh, yeah. Of course. That was over 25 years ago and a lot has changed. Sure, there are still some knuckleheads using the "blue-tipped wrench" to lower trucks, but not many.
So what changed things?
Well, there was a giant leap in technology and the Drop Spindle was developed.
So what did the lowering spindle do for the truck guy?
Well the dropped spindle allowed you to lower your truck a couple of inches and still have a smooth ride. Really, all you're doing is moving the mounting point of the tire up by two inches. The beauty of it is that you're not changing or modifying the springs.
And your lowered truck or SUV maintains a factory-like ride.
Exactly. You've got a lower truck, which looks nice - real nice. Plus a factory-like ride - well better than factory! The truck is sitting lower, so it handles better, ya know? It's got a lower center of gravity, so it stops better, turns better, less body roll in corners. It's great.
So what if someone already has spindles on their truck and they want to go lower? What's next?
Springs. While some guys were using heat to shorten their springs, other guys would actually cut off some of the coils in their springs. That's just wild. You're going to remove important support material from the front of your truck? Man, that doesn't make any sense.
Like you said before, it's like cutting your feet off to be shorter.
Crazy, right? Well then someone finally did it right and engineered a lowered coil spring for trucks. So it still had the same weight carrying capacity and strength, but in a shorter package.
So truck guys are coupling a lowered coil spring with a lowered spindle. Did it ride good?
Good? I wouldn't say that exactly. The trucks were low and they looked good. But that shorter coil meant that the truck was prone to alignment issues, and while the ride was better, it wasn’t anything to write home about.
Do you write home a lot? I've never written home about anything, truck or otherwise.
Well, fella, I've got a few years on you and we used to write a lot of letters. (laughs)
So what is the main issue with spindles and springs?
There are three small issues: Alignment, Wheel Clearance, and Ride Quality. Getting the right look was no problem, some of the hottest trucks ever were lowered with spindles and springs. Truck shows from the '80s were littered with 'em and the magazines couldn’t wait to feature the latest truck on the cover.
So it sounds like everyone was happy.
Yes and no. They were happy about the look, but nobody was happy about the ride. Yeah, the truck may look great sitting low and level at the show, but alignment and suspension issues mean that if you drive it on a daily basis you'll have bald tires and a bad back.
So now we're stuck with the ride quality issue again.
Right. That is until DJM came out with the lowered control arm.
Aah, I see where you're going...
Yes, the idea of modified control arms had been around for a long time! Hot rod guys had been doing it, and there were actually some people cutting up factory control arms and welding them back to together with different offsets, trying to do what spindles and springs couldn’t do.
That doesn't sound like a good idea.
No, no way. That's not safe. The factory control arm was usually a stamped steel piece. Now, that's strong enough for factory use, but it doesn't take to being modified very well. That's why we, DJM, came out with a tubular control arm. It's super strong and has a lowered spring pocket.
And it takes a factory coil spring.
Right, so you use your factory springs, and maintain a factory ride. The lowered control arm has become the most effective way to lower your truck and maintain the ride quality the factory gave it, the alignment the factory gave it, and you won’t be ashamed anymore to pick up the team from soccer practice.
So, what, do you like soccer or something?
What? No! Never. - I'm saying that you'll have a great-looking truck or SUV, because it's lowered. But, the ride is still nice and smooth for your wife and kids. You know, and your back.
To sum it all up...
Don't heat your coil springs to lower your truck and certainly don't cut off coils. You can buy aftermarket lowering springs that are safe and reliable, but they'll have a stiff ride and won't align easily, which is fine because they are inexpensive and easily installed.
And what about spindles and control arms?
If you want to lower your truck and maintain a smooth, factory-like ride, get a set of spindles or control arms.
Thanks, Mark. It's been a real pleasure.