Why it's bad to be dumb with Koni adjutable shocks

September 8, 2004

when i was 16, i had a 1977 VW Scirocco i raced with my dad in D Street Prepared SCCA Solo II. being young and poor, i couldn't outfit the car to the maximum spec allowed all at once. so i saved and saved until i could come up with the $500 or so for a set of Koni SAs -- the end-all, be-all piece of hardware for me and my fellow VW buddies.

the Koni shocks for this car were externally adjustable on the front ("Firm->" knob), but on the rears you had to remove the shock, compress it fully, twist to adjust it, then reinstall.

when we went racing, i would crank those babies full stiff. the car on a smooth track on Yoko A-008 RSII's would respond really quickly because there was pretty much no suspension movement ;-). we'd get to the track early enough to do this procedure, since the 2 hour drive from the SF Bay Area to Crow's Landing Naval Air Landing Field (where most of the events were held) would not be fun in a car with essentially no suspension.

anyhow, went to an event, adjusted the schocks, did my runs, worked the course for the rest of the day, and was plum tuckered out in the afternoon. it was a hot day, and the last thing i wanted was to get under the car to remove / adjust / replace the rear shocks for the drive home.

"I'll just soften up the fronts" i told myself.

fateful mistake .... being a lazy teenager (which leads to lazy adulthood, btw), i neglected to soften up the rear shocks for an entire week after the event.

next comes a lesson in vehicle dynamics....

driving home from my job selling "furniture" (sawdust

  • glue + camlock hardware == furniture???) at the local Home Express store, i spotted a friend on the road up ahead in his trick 280Z and sped up to catch up to him.

rounding a nice 90-degree sweeping corner that i enjoyed every time i went home from work, the car hit a small bump about 1/2 way through the turn.

the soft front handled it fine, but when the rears went over the bump -- bounce! the tires lost traction for just enough time to send the rear of the car swinging out wide. oversteer in a FWD car -- what a suprise ;-).

countersteering, the rear hooked up again just in time to send me straight into a fire hydrant on the side of the road.

the car stopped on top of the hydrant, and I heard a loud thundering/hissing noise. the rear of the car began to lift into the air (honest). i unlatched the seatbelt and jumped (honest) out of the car and looked back and saw the rear end about 1-2 feet off the ground, water spraying furiously from under it. the car rolled forward off the column of water, and i took off running for the nearest phone to call 911.

the fire department came with several trucks, and three police cruisers showed up too.

i walked back to the car just in time to see the a fireman opening the car door and water just poured out. it must have been up to the window sills. the rear window was broken out and the windshield was cracked in many places. the pretty-good paintjob was ruined -- the column of water had lifted all sorts of gravel and rocks up with it, which all rained down on the car.

after it dried out, the car still ran and drove fine -- i just needed to replace the glass that had broken, i threw away the moldy carpet and rear seat, had the moldy seats reupholstered, and i left the dented bumper on the car as a reminder.

i continued to run the car in Solo II, having lots of fun with my stripped, "full-race" (to me -- remember, i was 16) scirocco. i ended up selling it for $400 to a guy who never registered it, and drove it to Mexico where it was later found abandoned -- neuspeed suspension, 16v wheels, and schroth harness removed.


ps -- that was the 2nd fire hydrant i "took out". the first was when, 30 days after i got my license, i rolled my dad's new car over a hydrant after experimenting with excessive speed. i'm lucky to still be alive and to have not hurt any innocent bystanders ;-). no accidents since then!