Part 1: Bolting on Hotchkis’ Total Vehicle System (TVS)

Fourth-Generation Trans Am and Firebird Formula owners already know what’s par for the course when it comes to their factory-issued ride-and-handling components. Sure these late-model V-8 Birds handle better than many of their stock siblings from the breed’s previous three generations, but what if you really want your ’93-’02 to ride on rails?

General Motors installed deCarbon struts and shocks (they’re the orange ones!); hot-wound-steel, non-variable-rate springs; and cast sway bars standard throughout the Fourth-Gen’s 10-year production run. Working in synergy, these components were designed to offer good performance for a wide range of driving styles.

But what if you want excellent performance? Do you handpick each part of your new ride-and-handling system based upon positive reviews you’ve read in the press or on the Internet? If so, do you risk ending up with mismatched parts and defeating your goal?

Hotchkis Sport Suspension takes a different approach to solving the ride-and-handling problem. Its Total Vehicle System (TVS) for Fourth-Gen Firebirds promises the sophisticated synergy of a factory-engineered suspension, with a strong emphasis on increasing these vehicles’ performance on the street, autocross, and racetrack.


"Do you handpick each part of your new ride-and-handling system based upon positive reviews you’ve read in the press or on the Internet?"


Intrigued by the possibilities of taking corners at greater speed, enjoying more precise vehicle control, throttling into stickier lateral acceleration, and bragging about better slalom and course e.t.’s, we contacted Hotchkis and ordered a TVS system, which included performance swaybars, springs, and strut-tower brace. (Note: Hotchkis has since added subframe connectors, fabricated lower trailing arms, and adjustable Panhard bar to its TVS kit: PN 80021, MSRP $2,137.95. If you wanted to order the exact components we bought, the price is $1,246.80)

Hotchkis says it’s developing specific shock/strut packages for its TVS kits, but they’re not available to the public yet. In the meantime, it suggests that customers pair Bilstein B6 HD “Yellow” 46mm front and rear dampeners, PNs 24-024068 and 24-024075, purchased from Summit Racing Equipment for $153.97/$94.97 each, respectively.

Before installing the new bolt-ons, a project that took a little more than a half-day, we unleashed the Bird at Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville’s road course, and measured the its stock-suspension’s baseline performance. We’ll show you those before numbers and compare them to the after results next issue.

For now, follow along as we take a look at Hotchkis’ Total Vehicle System, and share some of the highlights of installing it on our project ’95 Firehawk. (Note: This Firehawk came from the factory with stock T/A and Formula Firebird suspension components, and had not been outfitted with high- performance suspension from SLP.)

Hotchkis Sport Suspension on the Science of Sway Bars

Sway bars can provide adjustment of driving dynamics like understeer and oversteer by transferring weight to different corners of the suspension as the vehicle navigates a corner. In many cases, adding a stiffer rear sway bar can make a vehicle originally designed to understeer either neutral or oversteer.

Properly designed and tested antiroll bars give a car optimum handling potential and chassis balance. This is accomplished by changing the roll couple (the stiffness of the front versus rear antiroll bars) to achieve this optimum handling balance—generally neutral to slight understeer, but it depends on the application, vehicle, and driver preference.

With an adjustable rear sway bar, you can precisely dial in your handling to match the overall grip of the tires, the type of driving (tight autocross, fast road course, or spirited back-road driving), and your preference as the driver.

John Hotchkis