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Magnetic Selective Ride Control---First Drive---Whoa! What a Great Option!!

Hib Halverson

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I finally had a chance to drive a six-speed, 50th Anniversary Corvette yesterday (Wed. 7/31) at a GM regional media event in Hollister, California. The venue was a 20-or-so-mile long "loop" of secondary highways and local roads GM had mapped-out for writers to evaluate various products. There also was a off-road course, on the near-by Hollister Off-Road Vehicle Park, on which I tested the new Hummer H2, but that's a story for a different list.

Like all 50th cars, the one I drove had the revolutionary Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC) option. MSRC was developed by Delphi Automotive Systems from technology invented by the GM Research Laboratories then transferred to Delphi when GM spun-off many of its components operations. While I'd been to a previous 50th Anniversary Corvette press show back in May, no one was allowed to drive the cars there and I wasn't big enough on GM Communications' radar screen to get an invitation to the full-line media preview held in Michigan a month ago; so yesterday was the first time I had a chance to test MSRC...and one hell of a test it was.

On the first run around this loop, I took it kind of easy 1) because I didn't know the road and 2) I had a GM executive riding with me. The second time around the loop, I went alone and broke most of the safety rules by which the GM PR folks request we media types to honor, that is...I ran this car just as hard and as fast as I could go on these roads.

Back in May, when I first saw the 50th car, a source on the engineering side at GM very familiar with Corvettes told me he thought that Magnetic Selective Ride control was the first adjustable suspension that was truly effective in improving the car's handling. I filed that tidbit away for a time I could try MSRC out myself. Yesterday, I realized the guy wasn't lying!

A little history: the grandaddy of MSRC was the original Selective Ride Control (RPO FX3) which was on Corvette from 1989 to 1995. While it was not a "real time" system and it did not sense ride motions, its controller did sense vehicle speed and adjusted shock valving accordingly. The user could skew the system's six valving steps up and down the car's speed range by setting a center-console-mounted selector switch in one of three positions. In 1989, SRC was revolutionary. Only one other sports car in the world had such a system and it was the Porsche 959, hardly an affordable car. One great feature of SRC was a wide bandwidth of available damping. The system not only could improve ride but it could also improve handling over either of the two fixed valve Bilstein shocks (base or Z51) which were available back then.

Next came the first generation of Real Time Damping (RPO F45) in 1996. This system was not much more than a way marketing folks could separate Corvette customers from their money. It was a bi-state system (ie: it only had two, discrete levels of damping) and lacked the bandwidth to be even a good ride enhancement, much less anything valuable for performance driving. Coupled with the 96 car's soft spring and stabilizer bars, it gave the Corvette a nice ride and its owner a $1700 hit in the wallet. What it also did is showcased some pretty interesting technology that allowed the shocks to change damping states in near real-time.

In 1997, "RTD" was upgraded to a continuously-variable system which didn't have much more bandwidth, but was, at least, capable of more than two levels of damping. While the C5's vastly improved suspension gave RTD-equipped cars good handling, damping of F45 still lacked enough bandwidth to both offer improved ride, over base shocks, and more aggressive damping, over Z51 shocks. RTD remained a ride enhancement that offered little to the performance driver but, at least, it was now continuously-variable. Was it worth the 1700 bucks? Waxers, cruisers and other C5ers with soft behinds got their money's worth. But, aggressive drivers? Well....if they opted for it, they spent a lot of money for little benefit. They'd have been better to save the 1700 bucks and buy Z51.

Fast forward to MY03 and Magnetic Selective Ride Control. Fortunately the march of technology was headed in the right direction (it was just slow in getting there) and near-real-time, "ride adaptive," shock absorber systems have finally come of age.

In the past, Corvette shocks, be they traditional fixed valve base shocks, the old SRC shocks or either of the RTD shocks, relied on a piston forcing shock fluid though specifically-sized orifices for the damping action. MSRC is something totally new and different. The shock is filled with a "miracle" liquid called "magneto-rheological fluid". This fluid was the result of a decade long development project undertaken by the GM Research Laboratory and Delphi. In short, when a magnetic field is applied to magneto-rheological fluid, its flow characteristics change dramatically and do so almost instantaneously. When you use a fluid which can substantially change its flow characteristics you end up with a shock absorber with very wide bandwidth. When you use a fluid that can be affected by a magnetic fluid, you, also, end-up with a shock that can change it's damping rate almost instantly---five times faster than could the 97-02 RTD, in fact. To be honest, I am not too familiar with all the technical aspects of MSRC hardware, yet, however, in an upcoming issue of C5 Registry Magazine, I'll publish an in-depth technical article on the system that will tell you all there is to know about MSRC and magneto-rheological fluid.

For now, here's a brief impression of how the system performed in my real-world test.

On my second trip around this impromptu test loop near Hollister, California, one of the first things I noticed is Magnetic Selective Ride Control has bandwidth. Man, does it have bandwidth....enough that it both enhances ride, perhaps, even better than did RTD, but also enhances handling such that you almost feel like your driving a Z51. The only places I could feel that the car still has base springs and bars is in some max. lat. maneuvers that also had pretty significant ride movement, like hitting a bump in a turn. I could get the suspension to bottom there...a sign that even MSRC has its limits for the performance driver in a car with soft springs and bars. The good news is: those limits are significantly extended.

I drove that car very hard through a number of different types of turns, combinations of turns and over different road surfaces. MSRC reacted with the right amount of damping and did so noticeably quicker than did the RTD used from MY97-02. Even when set in the "tour" mode the system still was pretty good in damping the car as it was being driven hard, but the mode to be in when your running hard is "sport". The system is a hell of an improvement over RTD in an aggressive driving environment.

In short, the system flat kicks butt and is well worth the money to the sporting driver who's got the extra 1700 bucks. For the first time since 1995, I can honestly say that I'd buy a Corvette with adjustable suspension. If you're an aggressive driver, you need these MSRC shocks. If you can't hack the price, borrow the money.

I'll close this brief impression with a question for the Corvette folks at GM:
Geezzzzzz people, why can't we have this on the Z06??? I'd trade the HUD, the memory package, dual-zone air and all that other fluffy BS for a set of those shocks!!!
 

69MyWay

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Hib,

Does the driver select the different modes on the 03 system like the 00 system? In other words, do you hold down the traction control button between the seats until you see the display switch to competition mode, etc.?

I like the C4 suspension option since it was a hard toggle so you could visibly see if it was on or off. On at least our C5, you have to re-toggle that thing when you are ready to get busy on the track, and it is done by holding it down, rather than just flipping a visible toggle.

One time Nikki had flicked it off by playing with it just as the starter dropped the flag. She did not realize she had turned it off and was using the competition mode to enhance her driving skills on a small road course. By about the sixth turn she finally totally lost control and ended up in the weeds. The system had really been working hard, and it was/is the old style active handling control.

I can't imagine how cool this new one must be.

Thanks for sharing.


So, when are they going to get you in to peek at the C6?
 

Rob

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Redbob

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And let's not give ALL the credit to GM; companies such as Lord Corporation have been researching and developing manetorheological damping products for a number of years, and applying them to non-suspension damping problems.
I don't know that Hib's (excellent! BTW) story fully makes that point that the MR damping fluid actually changes its' viscosity "on-command" by the effect of the magnetic field on the microscopic iron particles in the fluid.
- R
 
1

1DOWN6TOGO

Guest
Redbob said:
Minor point, but wouldn't you say these cars are "51st" rather than "50th"?
I mean, 1953 was Year 1, not Year Zero! :)

that logic is twisted.
try telling ur wife something like that on ur 50th anniversary and see is she doesn't slap you. so since i was born in 1982. does that mean i turned 21 on my birthday last january? i'm headed to the liquor store right now in fact.
adios
 
M

MacShee98

Guest
Excellent article. Thanks Hib.

Minor point: my 1986-1/2 MY Supra had an "electronic" valving system that switched between three valve settings via motors on the shocks. There were two settings, two switches in push-push toggle style, "Normal" and "Sport", on the center console.

Looking forward to the tech article on MSRC. I'd really like to see skid-pad numbers and slalom speeds vs non-MSRC equipped cars.

Thanks again!
 
J

jsimpson

Guest
"new" selective ride control.

Sounds like what my 89 Mazda 929 had. Three settings: stiff, soft, and interactive. Loved it; it was a great rear-wheel-drive road car.
 
J

jmp

Guest
Redbob said:
Minor point, but wouldn't you say these cars are "51st" rather than "50th"?
I mean, 1953 was Year 1, not Year Zero! :)

You're right... it's the 51st year of Corvette production (well, if you include 1983). But '50th' refers to an anniversary of the 1st year. It's all semantics! :crazy
 

Hib Halverson

Technical Writer for Internet & Print Media
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71 04 12 19
Does the driver select the different modes on the 03 system like the 00 system? In other words, do you hold down the traction control button between the seats until you see the display switch to competition mode, etc.?

I believe you're thinking of Active Handling and Traction Control which you enable or disable with a button on the console.

MSRC along with the previous Real Time Damping and the Selective Ride Control (SRC) of the C4 period are controlled by a rotary selector switch on the console near the AH button. F55 has two positions. F45 had three, as I recall.
And let's not give ALL the credit to GM; companies such as Lord Corporation have been researching and developing manetorheological damping products for a number of years, and applying them to non-suspension damping problems.
Redbob is correct. Lord developed the fluid, however, it was GM Research that applied it to automotive dampers.
I don't know that Hib's (excellent! BTW) story fully makes that point that the MR damping fluid actually changes its' viscosity "on-command" by the effect of the magnetic field on the microscopic iron particles in the fluid.
Thanks for the nice compliment.
In a conversation about the system with a GM engineer, I was told in a literal sense, the fluid does not change viscosity. When the magnetic field is applied the particles all "line-up" and that changes the way it flows. I'm in the process of further research on this issue and my story for C5 Registry magazine will have the details.
 

JBsC5

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Is it true further advances in this technology are already being planned..

Already GM is the master of this technology(rate of change capabillity) but I have heard that they have the capability to improve.. the reaction time..

Thanks for a great thread..GM's technology is truly impressive..not only the car..the system but the capability to produce such a system for the price they charge..

Although to be honest..if I were ordering a coupe..today..I'd probably still go Z51 (old habits die hard ) ;)
 
C

CorvetteWave

Guest
thanks for the nice review.
as much as i like technology, i just find it hard to say i will ever want a car that drives for me. for me the fun of driving a car like the vette is being able, or not, to handle the power on the edge.
to traction control, or not to traction control...that is the question.
 

WhalePirot

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nice piece!

You are rigfht! I'd buy a Z06 with the mag ride as a Vert. Love to do it as a 50th or 49th or 51st (this year).

Save the fluff for the Caddies or my pillow.

P.S. I celebrated the BiCentennial a year later, too!
 

Redbob

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Hib Halverson said:

In a conversation about the system with a GM engineer, I was told in a literal sense, the fluid does not change viscosity. When the magnetic field is applied the particles all "line-up" and that changes the way it flows.

Right again, of course. The fluid does not change its' viscosity, which is a molecular property of the fluid, but it changes its' flow characteristics, or what most people think of as viscosity.
For example, you throw a lot of mud into a stream of water, you haven't changed the viscosity of the water, but you've certainly made it flow more slowly. On the other hand, if you were to take a conventional mtor oil, heat it to 250 F, you have actually changed the viscosity.
The beauty of the MR fluid is the near-instantaneous change in flow characteristics that can be caused by applying the magnetic field.
- R
 
L

Ling_650vette

Guest
hey Hib i can't thank you enough for this :D

I've been having some guys in chat ask me about this option, and to tell you the truth, i was absolutly clueless as to the whole setup. We've got the FX3 system on the 91, and i heard it was "similar" in that reguards as far as ride control went, but i wasn't sure nor was i going to tell people that it was the same (because obviously, it's not...) But i thank you a whole lot for this info, anytime someone asks about it, all i have to do is point them to the action center
 

Hib Halverson

Technical Writer for Internet & Print Media
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71 04 12 19
An interesting "background" issue with MSRC is that, back in the late-90s, when the deal to spin-off a lot of GM's parts manufactureing operations was being drafted, *the * major leagal issue was which company, General Motors or what would become Delphi Automotive Systems, was going to get the intelectual property rights to the patents GM had received on devices that use megneto-rehologial fluid to damp automotive suspensions.

Of course, it was Delphi who ended up with the patents.

No doubt that technology will make billions of dollars for Delphi in the next few decades.
 
W

way2fast

Guest
WOW!! this new handling system is un-real, i saw the pic of the two vettes one w/one w/out the system, quite obvious what an assett to driving, does any one know if something like this will be an option on older models, not just 2003, can we add it on???
 

Redbob

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I'd lay money that the magnetorheological shocks are "tech for tech's sake" like the various so-called "active" systems we've seen in the past, and will go the way of the "active muffler" technology that was all the rage ten years ago.
Anyone remember digital dashboards? Don't you love 'em? And when you need to repair one, you just take it down to your local digital dash store?
 
J

jsimpson

Guest
I suppose if you'd rather fly an F-18 than a Pitts, you'd probably want this latest technological advance in suspension design. But I guess I'm just too old. In my heart, there hasn't been a Corvette built yet that I would rather have than a fuelie 57, drum brakes and all!
 

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