Matthew's Silver 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata in California

Matthew's '06 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Matthew became an FCM Elite customer back in summer of 2011. He wanted a setup for his NC Miata that gave him comfort as well as good backroad handling. At the time, we were still using Schrader valves to recharge the monotube Bilstein dampers with nitrogen. The upside is that Schraders allow user-serviceability if needed. The downside is that the seals have the potential to leak over time and the damper would not be functioning at its full capacity. So, 5 years down the road, Matthew's setup needed a refresh and we had advanced our technology and valving methods significantly in that time.

We made a revision a few years ago to his rear dampers to improve the initial softness as the road he was dealing with had very sharp expansion joints, runoff ditches and weren't always well-maintained. That improvement helped but I knew still was more possible as I kept learning and developing new technology.
Then, in early 2016 during a Socal road trip, I met Matthew near his home in Central California. We took his car for a test drive so I could feel it on his regular commute. It certainly was firm and I knew immediately what I'd change to make it really supple. Since 2013 we'd already had our novel and incredibly elegant KBO (Kerb Blow-Off) technology added to dozens of street and track Elite builds. In early 2014 we'd introduced Ripple Reducer which is the highest bang-for-the-buck technology we offer. Matthew had neither in his current Elite setup and I was confident this was a perfect time to retrofit and upgrade his original Elite coilovers since we've reached a high level of refinement with both technologies. I felt we could further soften the overall front damping plus at the very least add Ripple Reducer to reduce jitter and roughness on the very uneven pavement he had to deal with.

After we drove his car, I suggested a ride in my BMW 330i sedan which was overall stiffer in terms of spring rates but better tuned in terms of damping vs. his Miata. I knew it would ride better than his car on those same roads. He felt it himself and was curious how we achieved that result. I told him most of the improvement was from our KBO (Kerb Blow-Off) option and the balance came from the Ripple Reducer along with improved balancing of rebound force / compression force / internal gas force. They all worked together: RR at smaller displacement / higher frequencies; KBO at larger displacements / lower to medium frequencies; the rebound / compression / gas synergized to give maximum suspension travel over rougher roads and a softer initial up-take by the suspension compared to higher pressurized dampers. I sought to minimize harshness / jolt / disturbance that irregular surfaces would transmit through tire into the suspension and the chassis PLUS keep the suspension always resetting to its 'neutral' point so it was ready for the next bump or dip. Better ride quality, more confidence pushing the car to the limit and more grip would be the results. So he decided to save and add KBO, Ripple Reducer, and an updated FCM Elite revalve to his Elite Project wish list.
Once back home, I was eager to visualize what his new suspension would feel like. I like to design the damping soon after having a conversation with a customer (even knowing we wouldn't do the physical work for weeks or months due to schedulign constraints). I give each suspension a 'virtual test-drive' in my mind, feeling and imagining what the car would do driving over and through all kinds of features. It's something I've played at ever since first tweaking with my first autocross cars to help understand what's going on. I made calculations to damping ratios, rebound to bump ratio, gas force, the required amount of ripple reducer behavior (through holes) while still maintaining enough low speed damping force and making sure the suspension is not jacking down.

After coordinating our schedules and Matthew's vacation time, we did the upgrade in a long day's work here in Redwood City. Once the install was done, we went for a drive and felt our handiwork for myself. I have to say, I was quite impressed! I'd gotten used to the stiffer ride of the BMW (being more track-oriented but still street-friendly). Matthew's car was a true GT setup, even though he was using the softest springs we could obtain - 250 lb/in front, 224 lb/in rear for 1.57 Hz front and 1.72 Hz rear ride frequencies, 9% beneficial Flat Ride (rear-higher-than-front bias). Anything under 2.0 Hz I consider GT but the softer you can go the better for ride quality. The Miata has the wonderful advantage of good camber gain with roll so even a 'softly sprung' setup will still handle VERY well! And his did quite well in the corners.

Even on the lower-cost high-treadwear tires his lighter Enkei wheels were wearing, his Miata easily cornered at levels that would embarrass many Porsches. The response on bumps and undulation was exceptional (largely from the KBO upgrade) - nothing felt harsh or jarring. The Ripple Reducer feature, now in our v2.0 of that, was soaking up small undulations even better than our BMW 330i test car. (Oops! Time to make the Bimmer better!)

FLASH! Feedback from Matthew after several weeks driving his new FCM Elite coilover setup with KBO v1.9 and Ripple Reducer! Here's a link to Matthew's review on the Mazda Talk forum sponsored by Good-Win-Racing. This is a screen shot of his post, and the text is included below:
Well I finally got around to updating the suspension. Before I had Shaikh at FCM rebuild the shocks and install his new KBO (kerb blow off) and ripple reducer options, I bought the Goodwin underbody braces. That was quite a change by itself! The car felt like new, with much less vibration of the interior panels. This is a very worthwhile upgrade!

On to the suspension - Shaikh has definitely learned a lot since he initially built my coilovers five years ago. He mentioned to me that he had reduced the shock pressure and changed the rebound and compression settings based on my comments. The result is perfect (for me) - I have the cake and I'm eating it! The ride is supple and controlled; bumps no longer upset the car's path in corners; and my head no longer contacts the roof! Old concrete freeways are no longer painful!

I was so surprised by the changes that I had to compare the ride to some new factory examples. I test drove a BMW 2 Series and i3 (surprisingly fun electric car by the way), plus the Mazda 6. My Miata is much better! I wonder why BMW's are so popular - numb brake & steering feel; harsh ride; too many electronic nannies.

In any case, I can now highly recommend FCM coilovers if you want the best compromise between comfort and handling. Make sure you know exactly what you want before contacting Shaikh because he is highly likely to deliver what you ask for! Thanks everyone for your helpful advice.
I'm honestly thrilled to get this feedback from Matthew! I hadn't heard from him for several weeks after we went for the test ride together. I felt happy with the result but of course as my customer his opinion is the one that matters most. I didn't know he'd done comparisons to others cars and, as I've also felt, there is often a lot of 'marketing hype' built into the way a modern 'sporty' suspension is tuned. A lot of feeling, bouncing, stiffness, etc. that doesn't have to be there. We know how to make a car fast and smooth - I'd think the big automakers of the world would be able to, but the question is whether they are willing, or simply aren't able. Either way, FCM Elite gets another WIN! With what we can do now, a new Elite customer gets the benefit of our 15+ years experience optimizing suspensions.

Lucky, or well-designed?

As Carroll Smith succinctly said, quoting Branch Rickey (the originator) - "Luck is the residue of design." I know it! Otherwise I'd never have intuitively felt confident avoiding a squirrel in the middle of Turn 6 at Laguna Seca! (By the way, I comfortably passed that Porsche 964 a lap later on the inside of Turn 9). I have found that the window where you can achieve excellent handling is very close to the window where you achieve ultimate grip. There is an orientation in many (but not all) factory suspension engineers toward 'adding more damping' to get tighter transient control when more is not necessarily better. I've seen this for years with our elegant, non-active controlled FCM Elite suspensions. By focusing your DESIGN on maximum grip, maximum road-holding, maximum comfort, you get the LUCKY outcome of having a very well-handling, responsive, confidence-inspiring vehicle. Again, read Sean's comments to see how my assessment here is totally justified as I did not focus on handling in his case but on getting the most grip from the tires given the rest of the components (springs, sway bars, ride height, alignment) remained the same as before. I do speak about this at length in the 'Playing with Knobs' video which totally relates to electronic suspensions in that the computer is 'playing with' various knobs that may or may not be delivering an optimal ride - for a microsecond!

We've proven that through keeping it simple - designing for efficiency, durability, and harmony - we also get the best road-holding. We demonstrate that our suspension has better grip and better ride quality than the factory C5 Z06 suspension which was lauded as being exceptionally well-tuned on a rough road course (the Nurburgring in Germany). We did this without our KBO technology which I also know is another technological advantage over standard digressive or linear pistons which are common through the automobile industry. I would be very interested in a back-to-back test of all our best FCM Elite technology and tuning methods against a more expensive semi-active damping system! Perhaps we'll be able to test that hypothesis out sometime soon...!

If you want to experience this kind of Ride Harmony, let's get started! Submit your Consult Payment and Project Form.