The Stance and Suspension Guide
Building scale automotive replicas, I get asked constantly about ‘how do you lower your models’ or ‘how can I stance x’. Well, there are several answers to that, but I like to refer back to real life and ask most people “well, how do you lower/stance a real car?”
To some of us, that answer may come naturally, but to others it may not. And the fact that it comes naturally does not always equal out to being able to do it in scale. Obviously every kit you purchase will be different, but most kit share commonalities when it comes to suspension. There are basically three types of kits, suspension wise: strut/spring type, leaf spring type, and metal rod/solid axle type. For this tutorial, we will be discussing the first two types, as they really take more care and attention to get accurate, and in my opinion they take more skill to recreate. By the end of this tutorial, you should feel very confident in modifying suspension on any kit you build.
Let’s first discuss the types of suspension out there and how you would manipulate each system in real life, and see if we can apply any of those techniques to our scale replicas.
Leaf spring suspension is commonly found on older vehicles, and many trucks, as it is a cheap and effective form of suspension, with few moving parts and basic components. The main components of the leaf spring suspension is the leaf, axle, hangers (front and rear) and shackles (front and rear).
Now, there are several ways that you can lower this type of suspension, some require little to no real modification, and some can be more extensive (c-notching the frame and much more, but we will discuss some of that later). You can flip the axle to the top of the leaf setup, which will give a substantial drop, you can flip the actual leaf upside down and use the axle on either side of it (top or bottom) and get a very substantial drop, and you can also combine either of this with a ‘de-arched’ leaf spring, which is taking the stock leaf combination, and removing some of the central leafs to allow the suspension to droop more. Another technique is using a ‘lowering block’ which is basically a large block that goes between the axle and leaf, separating the two, increasing the amount lowered. You can also employ any of these techniques with the use of lowering hangers and/or lowering shackles to fine tune the drop even further. Some of the more extreme drops may require notching of the frame in a C shaped manner or re-welding the frame to accommodate the axle. This allows the axle to move above the height of the frame from the factory, enabling much greater axle travel. Here is a very crude picture I have drawn in paint to show the different types of leaf spring suspension lowering techniques, and to give you an idea of what each (vaguely) looks like:
As you can see, there are several different techniques to allow a person to lower leaf spring suspension, with the ability to mix and match multiple different techniques to fine tune your lowering experience. Most of all of these techniques can be used for scale building. You can actually flip and glue the leafs to the axle, or if you’re like me, you can grab some spare styrene and some modeling wire and recreate the u-bolts and attach the axles to the frame in true fashion. Want to get in-depth? Grab some styrene stock and C notch the frame for infinite lowering possibilities (this will of course require much more in-depth modification of the frame, body, bed, and other suspension components, so measure three times, cut once). Recreate new leaf hangers and use some rod stock to make lowering shackles, the possibilities can be endless when working with styrene, and I highly recommend that you visit your local hobby shop to purchase some different size rod, sheet, and strip stock to make your life much easier when making these types of modifications.
A more modern and now much more common type of suspension is the spring/shock suspension. This can be several different combinations of springs, shocks, struts, or even coilovers, and usually employs a spring, and a shock, and sometimes these two are combined to form a strut, commonly found on compact or sports cars, and some of these combinations can be transformed to a coilover type of suspension. In order to lower most of these types of suspension, you can just purchase new parts designed to lower the suspension geometry, whether it be a lowering spring to go on a stock strut, a set of new lowering struts combined with lowering springs, a lowering spring combined with a lowering shock, or a set of adjustable coilovers which can be set to any desired height. There are other options that can be added, like modified steering knuckles, modified control arms, modified shock/strut mounting positions, but for now we’re keeping it simple.
Obviously there are some kits out there that come with the spring/strut combo, some that actually have metal springs (a great example is the Aoshima Toyota AE86, I prefer the Initial D flavor). For those kits, you can either choose to make new springs by wrapping some thin gauge wire (I use around a .5mm wire because it scales out to around a half inch) or you can cut some of the spring that come with the kit and make it shorter, thereby lowering the suspension. When lowering, there is usually no modification to the strut required as they are already designed with a wide travel range and can accommodate a shorter and even taller spring, if you’re interested in going 4x4ing.
Other kits use a cast together spring and strut combo, or individually cast springs and shocks. These kits require more modification and are more complicated to lower, but not impossible. To lower these kits I usually modify the actual body of the strut to shorten it, or sometimes there is enough of an area below the spring (referred to as the spring pedestal) to shorten it, effectively putting the spring closer to the strut body and hub. On some kits, it may even be possible to skillfully remove the hub from the strut body and reposition it higher up, lowering the suspension. On shock/spring combos the spring will have to either be swapped for one that is shorter from a junk kit, or it will have to be split in the center and shortened, or shortened from the top or bottom, whichever is easier. The shocks will also have to be shortened, this can be accomplished by cutting where the smaller part of the shock body enters the larger part, and sanding both parts equally (remember, shocks body halves should look to be of equal length or very very very close).
Along with lowering a vehicle comes the popular topic of stance and how to stance a vehicle, or how to give a vehicle a particular stance. In a real application, camber, caster and toe are all adjustable, but on most stock applications they are limited to their range of adjustment. This is where some of the options mentioned earlier come in to play, such as modified steering knuckles, or adjustable upper/lower control arms. Some vehicles also have adjustable caster/camber plates, so as you can see, there are multiple ways you can adjust the stance in a 1:1 application, but unfortunately, most of these options don’t translate out into a 1/24 or other application. Sometimes it will be possible to modify the steering knuckle, but unfortunately this is one of the situations where you will have to put your skills to use and start hacking parts up.
In order to adjust the camber on your spring/strut type kit, you will more than likely find that the easiest route to take would be to do some strategic sanding. I prefer to sand non-critical parts such as brake rotors (when applicable) or when not feasible, sand critical mounting points such as the hub. I have also found that moving the locator nub on the top of the strut can net you some camber angle, and although it may seem insignificant, it can be a very critical point to score just a little extra angle. On the rear suspension, it may be critical to remove the hub, do some sanding to the mounting points, and then reattach the hub at an angle to achieve the right camber angle. On some of the Revell tuner kits (namely the Civics, Integra, and RSX) you can make score marks, or remove a V shaped part of material in the back of the hub/strut assembly and physically push the pieces back together and glue them together so they are now fused at the camber angle you desire. Here is a diagram I made (once again a wonderful masterpiece from MS paint) to show some of the easy and quick ways to achieve camber:
Below are some pictures a friends have sent me of some leaf spring suspension vehicles and parts, depicting flipped axle type, and axle under leaf:
Here we have some basic leaf spring kit parts, from top to bottom we have the axle/differential housing, the leaf springs themselves, and this kit in particular has a lowering block style pedestal to mount the axle to the leafs, pretty trick! (photo courtesy of Brandon Reid)
Here you can see the lowering blocks attached to the axle/differential, ready to be mounted to the leafs and body.
The axle has been temporarily attached to the leafs, and the leafs have been put in place to show what the fitment looks like with this particular kit using a flipped axle type leaf suspension. Notice how the frame is curved above the axle tubes, this is how you would ‘c-notch’ a frame to allow a drastically lowered stance, the frame is shaped into a C to avoid touching the axle from suspension travel (to be clear, this is not a C-notch, this is how the frame is designed, it gives you the right idea).
And here we have a preview shot of how the kit will sit with the suspension temporarily placed. As you can see, the flipped axle design of this kit gives it a very low ride height, and possibly with some more modification, could be made to go even lower.
Here are some pictures of a completed kit with the flipped axle type leaf suspension:
As you can see, the flipped axle type suspension keeps the differential and axle tucked up next to the body, allowing for a pretty low ride height. Notice how tight it can be to fit parts in there, and also notice the scratchbuilt shocks on the outside of the leafs. This is an excellent example from our friend Tonio Seven.
Here is a more direct shot of the flipped axle suspension, once again, notice how tight everything becomes with the axle flipped and closer to the body.
And here’s how that setup looks from the side. Check out how much tire is tucked into the wheel well, and how level the car is. Very nice Tonio!
Here Tonio has sent us a few pictures of a scratchbuilt leaf spring setup, customized further by adding ladder bars. This looks to be a setup for racing, giving a taller ride height instead of lowered to allow the fitment of larger tires and possibly to give the rear end more height than the front end (a term called rake).
Here is a more angled shot of the scratchbuilt leaf setup, along with the attached ladder bars. Real cool and simple setup to get the desired effect!
I had asked for some pictures from several other friends of their strut/spring type suspension kits and some of the modifications done to them in order to lower them or stance them out. My good friend Michael Newport sent me some very nice pictures along with some text to show just how easy it is to stance and lower two of his kits, so I will just copy and paste his work and we will collaborate:
Michael Newport –
This is the bottom of the Aoshima Subaru Legacy Wagon, no mods were made here.
This is what the suspension looks like on the Subaru. Here – the only modification was taking about 3mm of the top of the strut off ( it had a flared section @ the top & a “pin” that fit’s in the hole in the chassis. These parts could be reused by re-attaching them on the shorter strut, however, in my experience, unless you drill and pin those parts back together, they are not strong and break. ) I simply left those parts off & the top of the strut sit right were the “pin” hole is. Most of the time – this cannot be seen after the vehicle is flipped back over & on it’s wheels.
Look closely; you can see how short the strut is from “connecting”. Simply bending the suspension down (up) will allow the ride height to sit where I set it. Tack the bottom suspensions points in place w/ liquid cement, and the top of that strut w/ CA.
Front Strut / spring / knuckle / Brake assembly. What you DON’T see here is the roughly two spring coils that were removed to “shorten” the assembly. That’s all the work done here. Note: that part of that coil assembly is flat; more on that later.
Front Strut hole. No mods here.
Assembled. In order to get the shorter strut assembly to fit and not fall out, the lower a-arms were simply “bent” to be lower. Remember that slice off the spring? It allows the whole assembly to slide inboard @ the top, allowing for some camber adjustment.
The slightly bent upward A-arm (remember, this is upside down)
BEWARE! When bending – too much too fast can break stuff! This was filled w/ liquid cement, but it’s always going to be weak at this point. The crack could be filled w/ CA, or for even more detail, the entire bushing area could be removed, rebuilt and could be made to function as well ( a topic for another day ).
Yup – breakage can happen to any part when haphazardly handling them. This will have to be pinned to be fixed properly. Or I may just put it in place and tack it back to the knuckle.
Tamiya Savanna RX-7: rear axle assembly. Barely seen here – the two slices placed in between those CV joints & the Differential with a razor saw. These allow the suspension to “move” a little ( in conjunction w/ some other slices on the swing arms)
In order to get those swing arms to ‘swing’, the chassis had to be modded a bit. The two “holes” up there? That was some frame that got in the way of lowering.
Another shot of that frame removal. Also seen here is the Shock holder that was made from a slice of evergreen tubing. More on that in a minute.
Scratchbuilt shock. Two evergreen tubes and a small eye hook.
Shock / suspension assembly. You can see the other cut in the swing arm here ( underside – near where the bushing would be)
Different angle of same assembly. The shock will fit into that holder, and that is what will set the rid height. Once the suspension is set & glued in ( the differential & the swing arm mounts are the glue points) the car can be set on it’s wheels, and from inside the chassis, the ride height can be adjusted, set & that shock glued in place.
That’s the adjustable point.
Up front – the Strut assembly. 2 or 3 spring coils were removed. The pin that holds it to the chassis was replaced w/ an evergreen rod. Since I DON’T want to modify the lower a-arms on this one, two evergreen pins were added at the ball joint. The smaller of the two is like what came in the kit, and locates it to the a-arm; the wider one brings the strut assembly back to “stock” length, effectively moving the knuckle up, or lowering the car.
No mods here.
No mods here either.
Assembly is assembled. I’ll trim off that excess “ball joint” later.
And here are a few shots of both of each, the Subaru Legacy Wagon, and the Mazda RX-7:
Thank you Mr. Newport for your work on that article, and for the pictures. We appreciate you.
Before I finish this tutorial up, there are a couple more things I wanted to show. Here are some of the other types of spring/shock suspension, such as coilovers, and even a little trick with some Aoshima kits that include actual springs for suspension.
Here is a coilover that I scratchbuilt for a Revell 1990 Ford Mustang LX. I used 1.6mm rod for the lower body, 1mm craft wire for the upper body, .5mm craft wire for the spring itself, and 1.3mm rod drilled in the center for a mounting eye. This will affix with a pivot pin cut from larger diameter wire/craft wire.
Here is the coilover placed in its position in a modified rear end on the Mustang. I have removed everything that was attached and re-mounted the differential with tubular control arms, and stock location coilovers instead of the large spring and small shock setup. I have also done away with the factory quad-shock setup. Everything attaches with pins made from craft wire to allow the suspension to pivot.
Here is a neat little trick with Aoshima suspension kits that use an actual spring. You can just make new springs to lower the car, it’s very simple. Here you can see the difference in spring height on the stock struts.
First find a screw or bolt the size of the spring you need. This is usually pretty easy for me and I keep an assortment close by of sizes just for this purpose, both fine and coarse thread (coarse gives a wider spring gap, fine gives a closer one, better for coilovers). Then find some wire close to the size of the spring you want. This is over exaggerated at 1mm for the wire, but it’s for tutorial purposes.
Take the wire and wrap it around the screw/bolt starting at the top. Make one entire loop around the bolt, leaving a ‘leg’ of wire poking out. Follow the threads all the way around to form the loop.
Forming the loop gives the spring a starting point. Next, use that ‘leg’ to twist the bolt and wire around, while holding the excess wire, and letting it wrap around the bolt/screw, following the threads all the way around, and continuing down the length of the bolt/screw.
Next unscrew the bolt/screw and viola, a new spring, cut to desired height and adjust the ends to sit flat.
Here’s a simple way I added camber to another kit:
I sanded the hub face at an angle to get the desired camber angle for the wheel.
Here I have made an adapter to sit inside the hub. The front brake rotors actually slide over this hub assembly, so the nub will stick out the front of the brake rotor, and the wheel will attach to it. As you can see it is glued together at an angle, and the larger part is also sanded at an angle (before gluing the smaller piece inside the larger piece) to be flat with the face of the hub. (I believe I used 3mm styrene tubing drilled out to fit a 2 or 2.5mm rod, this is an older pic so I don’t have the parts in front of me to measure.)
Here you can see how the nub sticks out. This is technically the ‘axle’ as the wheel will attach here. Notice how the larger part cannot be seen because it is flush with the hub face, and also notice how the axle is angled? This is to ensure the back of the wheel sits flat against the hub. Pretty clean and simple.
Mr. Newport also showed me a cool trick to help with those pesky situations where camber or lowering a vehicle is causing problems with attaching wheels: rare earth magnets.
Using some 2 part epoxy putty, he attaches one magnet to the wheel and one to the hub, giving an way for endless wheel options by just pulling the wheels off of the model, and clicking on a new set. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Here you can see the magnets epoxied to the wheel and axle.
For attatching the Aoshima wheels, he used magnets epoxied to Aoshima poly caps. Caps go inside the wheel and then attach to the axle.
Magnets in use on his Mazda Miata go-pro drift machine. You can see them attached at the hub on both sides.
And the infamous Miata go-pro drift machine in question:
And that is the end of this in-depth, suspension tutorial. I hope that you have been able to take some knowledge away from this, and I hope that you feel comfortable now in lowering the ride height or even adding some camber to your future scale automotive replicas. If there are any questions, please feel free to ask!