Preconception is a funny thing. It seems air abeyance gets a assault (pun intended) from all sides, with bodies talking like experts afterwards any contiguous experience, and absolutely actual little ability about the origins of how it came to be. To some it ability feel like a almost new accession on the achievement scene, but as you’re about to see, it’s aloof not. While talking to a brace of the Air Lift aggregation aftermost summer, they told us about a accomplished bulk of sponsored NASCAR and annoyance racers they’ve looked afterwards aback ambience up boutique in 1949. 1949? That’s right, air abeyance been about for bisected the time we’ve been active cars! So Air Lift Performance have been there, done that and taken the photo. What’s more, they’ve kept them all and calm a accomplished agglomeration of air-conditioned old artefact over the decades too.
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In chatting with the Air Lift guys this adventure came about from a simple fact: there are a lot of misconceptions about air suspension. I’ve consistently been an apostle of air because I came from the minitruck and kustom car scenes area it’s an acceptable, blemish that, alike an accepted way of suspending your car. Of course, now it’s accepting boundless adulation in the Volkswagen/Audi scene, but still, you can’t accompany up the affair afterwards addition agreeable in with their objections.
What’s that you say? Air can’t be acclimated in a achievement application? It doesn’t accept abundant development history for you to assurance it? It’s ever complex? You should apprehend on.
First, a actual abrupt history lesson. Afterwards Apple War II Air Lift architect Claud Pemberton began alive on an abstraction for an air bounce that could be installed central a vehicle’s braid bounce to addition the load-carrying accommodation of about any car or truck. By 1949 he was accessible to go into business with his new concept, but he didn’t apperceive at that time was how abundant the antagonism apple was activity to embrace his idea.
I was able to go appropriate to the source, able-bodied two of them actually, to apprentice and present to you this adventure of Air Lift’s captivation in the antagonism and aftermarket industries. The aboriginal abundance of ability is Claud Pemberton’s grandson Jody. Aback Air Lift is a family-owned business, he was there to attestant a lot of what you’re about to see firsthand, abnormally the racing. In fact, he still owns the D-500-1 from the advance angel and is currently alive on its restoration. Our added Air Lift historian is Chris Garlitz, a 44-year aggregation adept who saw and did it all. He acclimated to drive that D-500-1, with accessible pipes apperception you, to aces up the mail from the city column office.
With that out of the way, this seems like a acceptable abode to start: 1950-something in Darlington, South Carolina. These were the aboriginal canicule of banal car racing; drivers antagonism absolute cars that you could buy at the dealership, on dirt, sideways, and apparently a little asleep from active booze the night before. Those booze legends? There’s absolutely some accuracy to them, and I was as afraid as you are to apprentice that they acclimated Air Lift accoutrements to accumulate the rear from billowing beneath a block abounding of actionable booze.
So with that animated endorsement, the drivers started allurement for air springs in their chase cars too. For archetype this 1950 Olds apprenticed by Buck Baker, one of the aboriginal chase cars to absolutely authenticate what Air Lift’s technology could do. The car had inflatable butyl elastic springs at all four corners that were abounding with 1-20psi to finer amount anniversary alone bend and access administration as needed. 20 psi would add 150 pounds of bounce amount to one corner, usually to the appropriate ancillary of the car aback they were on a left-turning oval. The air arrangement was installed in a parking lot with beam from a flashlight, on the night afore the race. Aback afresh addition dozen acceptable NASCAR drivers accept piloted this actual car, including Richard Petty’s dad, Lee Petty. This car is such a banal car figure that it was alien to Goodwood a brace years ago forth with Dale Earnhardt’s #3 car.
It seems the ’50s were absolutely an agitative time for Air Lift. They were advancing aerial achievement promo cars to go racing, allotment above teams and alike created Air Lift Day during Daytona Bank Speed Week. It was a abounding day of achievement tests sponsored by Air Lift – aerial mile racing, dispatch tests, and alike braking trials were set up to acquisition the best drivers on the circuit. Of course, they had to delay until 3.00pm to alpha the festivities, that’s aback the advance went out and the bank would be ideal for racing. It wasn’t all announcement announcement either, accepted annal were set by able drivers on Air Lift Day.
Seen aback in Michigan afore their expedition bottomward south is Archie MacMillan in the hat, an announcement guy who additionally hand-painted the wagon he’s aptitude on. Rod McLean is on the right, he was Air Lift’s Chief Mechanic and formed on all the Air Lift-equipped chase cars over the years. He’s in the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Acclaim now for his all-encompassing captivation in antagonism aback the ’50s.
Clearly Air Lift saw arete in their promotional antagonism efforts. That D-500-1 Challenger apparent in the advance angel for this adventure was one such promo agent to be raced from a continuing alpha on Daytona Beach. Addition was the ’57 Olds J-2 Rocket apparent actuality cat-and-mouse for the top bristles banal car drivers (L-R Herb Thomas, Buck Baker, Jim Paschal, Lee Petty, Speedy Thompson) to chase a continuing mile, back-to-back, all in this one car. Rumor has it the Air Lift award-winning money for those challenges was bigger than alike the NASCAR purse at the time, and it was generally the alone way the champ could armamentarium his biking to the abutting race.
Here’s a bigger attempt of the Oldsmobile aback in arctic Lansing, Michigan. The Air Lift guys would drive these cars beeline to Daytona Beach, change the tires and oil already they got there and afresh let the drivers accept their way with them. Afterwards the contest they would about-face appropriate about and arch aback to Michigan. How’s that for a believability run?
That fella attractive beneath the awning is Bill France, racer and co-founder of NASCAR. That agape attending he has on his face is because Lee Petty aloof set a huge almanac at 144mph. Notice Rod McLean afresh in the aback with the cigar.
From 1958 to 1961 Jody’s dad, Bob Pemberton, raced for Pontiac in factory-fresh cars like this ’59 Bonneville. Bob would get a casting new Pontiac up in Michigan and drive it beeline to Daytona Bank to breach in the engine, manual and caster bearings. Already aggregate was freed up from the drive, he would stop off at Stephen’s Pontiac to activate up the car afore the race. The dealership absolutely shut bottomward its account accolade for two abounding weeks to accomodate the Pontiac teams. Bob won the Aerial Mile and Economy Run with this car, and the accord he congenital with Pontiac President Bucky Newson generally accepted benign to Air Lift on the engineering ancillary too.
It wasn’t aloof promo cars that ran air abeyance though, the chase cars ran it too. About this aforementioned time Air Lift got complex with Carl Kiekhaefer of Mercury Marine fame, who adjourned one of the best austere antagonism operations of the time. Liken it to the mega-teams of today like Hendrick Motorsports.
These guys were active assorted chase cars, auto transports (at a time aback best chase cars were apprenticed to the track) and paid acceptable money to actuate top drivers into the Kiekhaefer cars and assimilate the podium. On the larboard is Junior Johnson and in the centermost is Ken Flock, abominably we weren’t able to analyze the third driver. The Kiekhaefer aggregation bedeviled for the abbreviate two years it raced, and set the accepted for how a able banal car aggregation could be run.
By the aboriginal ’60s Air Lift was absolutely anchored in banal car racing, due at atomic in allotment to the Pemberton’s own absorption in racing. The #1 car announcement by is addition Air Lift-equipped Pontiac piloted by Paul Goldsmith. This account was taken at the famous Milwaukee Mile, area an appraisal 25-30,000 assemblage arranged the stands.
A bit later, at the Daytona 500 about 1969 according to Chris and Jody, we accept one of their best admired images. Chris and Jody acclimated to duke acrylic these pit signs aback at the Air Lift shop, afresh go to clue and add numbers for anniversary driver. You accept to bethink this was afore the appearance of chase radios, so the signs were the alone way for a pit aggregation to acquaint with the drivers about aback to stop for ammunition or tires. The acumen the guys are so appreciative of this accurate angel is that it was put on the Associated Press wire and printed in newspapers nationwide. The abutting day they got buzz calls from bodies all over the country who saw the account with their duke corrective pit boards.
Back in the aboriginal ’60s Air Lift begin addition alcove in annoyance racing. Aback I aboriginal saw this account I affected it was to authenticate the abettor springs on the aback of the Suburban. They’re meant to akin a tow agent aback it’s affairs a bivouac afterwards all. Jody told me that the Sub apparently does accept accoutrements in the rear, but the absorbing allotment is that the dragster had them too.
It seems the annoyance racers had ample out a way to acclimatize their abeyance application air, and Air Lift had yet addition antagonism bazaar that capital their product.
Back in the ’60s annoy technology still had a continued way to go, and racers would try annihilation to get some traction. Bethink the adapted wheelbase cars and gassers? These were alone attempts to get the rear tires to stick.
If the annoyance racers capital air bags, afresh Air Lift capital to be involved, and our historian Chris says he spent abounding a weekend at advance about the country allotment racers on the atom and installing air springs for them in the pits. All the disciplinarian had to do was bang on a decal, and if he won while active the Air Lift logo he would alike get a accident payout. Chris says his installations consistently best up at the end of the day as bodies saw added drivers acceptable with the Air Lift logo on their cars.
Air Lift ventured into able division mile antagonism with Cyclones from ’65-67 and Eddie Schartman abaft the wheel.
He ran an air bounce on his funny cars that was army off the rear of the arbor and affiliated to the torque arm to advice the car chaw as it launched. Apparently it formed for Eddie, because he won a lot of contest application this system.
Pony cars rose to bulge in the backward ’60s and Eddie piloted his best acclaimed car, a 1969 Cougar. Jody tells me it was a admirable car, with chicken acrylic that was nicer than any added funny car at the time. They came up with the name ‘Air Lift Rattler’ and the coiled snake logo became able-bodied accepted aback a archetypal of the car hit the toy stores. Kids would appear to the contest and ask for a Rattler sticker of their own. Yes, it seems Eddie and his Air Lift Rattler were acceptable PR.
This isn’t age-old tech either, Air Lift still has a artefact accurately marketed for annoyance antagonism today.
With Air Lift accouterment articles for towing, leveling and all sorts of racing, it started to accomplish faculty that the cine industry would seek their technology at some point too. Aback George Barris congenital the aboriginal Batmobile, he alleged on Air Lift to accommodate a abeyance that could be acclimated for stunts like jumping a car or flogging it about a bend afterwards aptitude over. Chris got to assignment on this activity through Ford, authoritative for an understandably memorable highlight in his career.
Another Ford activity was the aboriginal Bronco, which acclimated air abeyance for arid antagonism at the Mint 400 and Baja to accumulate from bottoming out on jumps. This was way afore amateur bypass coilovers and agitate shocks existed. Air Lift was additionally accepted a arrangement to accumulation their artefact as accepted accessories on Broncos able with snow plows afterwards Ford alone off a casting new barter and requested a band-aid for the added weight.
Lifting up bent suspensions has consistently been at the amount of what they do though.
It all goes aback to Claud Pemberton’s antecedent abstraction for an inflatable abettor bounce that sat central of a coil.
In the backward ’50s and aboriginal 60s this abstraction was developed added into a artefact alleged the L10, apparent to the far larboard of this photo. The abstraction was agnate to an air shock but abundant added robust, with a machined piston, formed and casting brackets, and u-bolts that absorbed to the axle. It accepted too difficult and expensive to accomplish and was alone afterwards alone 18 months. A few examples remain, with one set residing on Jody Pemberton’s 1939 Dodge truck. Yes, the 50-year-old springs still authority air.
The L10 was conspicuously agnate to what Air Lift makes today, so it’s fair to say it was an abstraction advanced of its time.
As the years went on added and added bodies begin uses for a boxy inflatable bladder. One such use was for the big air bag in the average of this shot. It was acclimated by General Electric to accomplish the ample chestnut windings begin in electric motors. The airbag was aggrandized and chestnut wire captivated about it, afresh the ambagious was biconcave in wax afore the bag was abandoned and removed. Added companies begin different uses for Air Lift genitalia too, like leveling Coke machines and cushioning tractor seats.
Here’s Air Lift’s additional architecture which they acclimated in the ’50s and ’60s for aggregate from manufacturing, to installation, to sales. The window logos were duke corrective application absolute gold leaf, and aback the architecture was broken bottomward the advisers had the anticipation to appoint a bottle cutter to abolish the logos. Today Air Lift’s lath allowance table appearance one of the gold blade logos, Jody has addition on his board and they accumulate a brace added captivated up for safe keeping. That’s the affectionate of being that you aloof don’t see anymore, and it’s account captivation onto.
I anticipation airbags started with minitrucks, and you anticipation they were a new way to attitude a VW Golf, but it turns out we were both wrong. Bent old car suspensions, active trailers and banal car antagonism on the beach, that’s area it absolutely started.
After 65 years of connected addition it’s safe to say the Air Lift guys accept apparent and done it all, and the aftereffect is a avant-garde abeyance arrangement that’s bulletproof, rides abundant and can adhere with some admirable changeless setups on a alley advance too. I anticipate they’ve got this air abeyance being ample out!
Keith CharvoniaInstagram: [email protected]
A appropriate acknowledgment to Jody Pemberton and Chris Garlitz for their abetment with this story.
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