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Summary of suspension overhaul 156 Sportwagon Twinspark

As there's always plenty of questions about this subject on AO, I thought I'd put my experiences and thoughts on here so it may be of help to fellow owners.

Car is is a 2001 156 sportwagon 1.8 twin spark.

So about 4 weeks ago I had a partial suspension rebuild, including upper and lower wishbones, GTA anti roll bars - powerflexed, rear hub bushes and some other stuff i can't remember. Obviously the car was much better, but I couldn't help thinking how much better it would be with new springs and dampers.

I intend on running the car for about 18 months to 2 years, so against the advice of the sane proprietor , I decided to spend more than the car is worth on dampers and springs

So after Lord knows how much research and speaking to Guys who have this kit, I decided on the Bilstein B12 kit. Bear in mind everyone I'd asked about the B12 kit were GT 3.2 or GTA owners NOT twinspark owners. They were very complimentary about the B12 kit, but there were also other Guys who really rated the Koni sports kit, including my brother who said it transformed his 3.0 GTV , but I thought I'd try the B12 kit

Anyway, it didn't really work out, it would've been excellent on a track but was hard and crashy on normal roads, it felt a bit like the car was going to fall apart within days if not hours. We reckoned it could be something to do with the twinspark not being as heavy as the 3.2's ( yes we had the correct springs on the front). I did go around a long sweeping bend though and it gave me enough confidence to keep accelerating, in the old guise, it would be panic stations at 40mph. The dampers in this kit were B8, the shortened ones as oppose to B6, the standard ones. We had a chat about the car and after a test drive it was agreed it wasn't working how Bilstein tell you it does in their media, I think they need to test it a little more on a Twinspark. A few more tweeks/alignments were made, but without me testing it anymore I was told it wasn't getting any better, that it ought to be swapped and at no cost to me. Fair play

What did I want to swap for? Well I wanted to keep the car as low as it's original SW veloce spec on Nivomats, but when I checked with EB spares about the availability of saloon sportpack springs, I was told they were special order from Alfa and IIRC £400. Not paying that for springs, so decided to stick with Eibach pro kit springs with saloon suspension mounts, not the Nivomat ones which can raise up rear end.

So that was the springs decided on. Shocks/struts/dampers?? well over a week I changed my mind every hour or so between Koni Sport and KYB Excel G and sometimes in between wondered whether to be a complete idiot, go the whole hog and get some KW V2's. I read a few horror stories about KYB's failing in a short time, but I read as many horror stories about Konis, Bilsteins and KWs, the internet is full of them! I toyed with the idea of taking the FSD's off the GT, putting some KW's or Koni sports on that, but the GT is excellent so didn't dare mess with it. I had to get real on price and was a little worried after the harshness of the B8 dampers that Koni might not be different enough. So after confirmation from KYB that I could use the Excel G's up to 30mm lowering, we decided to give them a go, maybe I would be happier with a slightly better than OEM ride rather than only being able to tank it down a freshly laid dual carriageway.

So the outcome is that without anyone in the car it sits level, I can slip 2 fingers between the tyres and the arches. It's a pretty good ride actually, I'm certainly no where near blown away by it, but it takes the knocks of our normal roads pretty well and it goes around roundabouts extremely flatly with little body roll which was 50% of what was bugging me about how it used to be (scary). I think I was expecting to drive out of the garage in a Bentley diguised as a 156 sportwagon, that's probably pretty unrealistic although the GT aint far off! (i get to go in lots of Bentleys/Rolls/Merc 5/600's so I know).

The only realistic downside is that with me, a passenger and about 35 stone/220kg of adults and about a 100 records in the back, the tyre rubbed on the rear arch for a couple of seconds in pulling out of junctions whilst turning. So maybe Alfa weren't so daft when they put Nivomat self levelling on originally cos I used to put some right weight in the boot and never got any rubbing.

You may be wondering why I didn't put FSD's on the sportwagon if they're so good on the GT. Well when i first had the GT the ride was poor to the point I wanted either rid of the shocks or the car. New Michellin tyres and an alignment completely changed the ride, I can't comprehend why it had such a staggering effect, but it did. So there was too much chance I'd spend a lot on FSD's and they'd be cack like they originally were on the GT.

If I had my 3 of my 156, one as it was pre works, one with the wishbones etc and GTA arbs done and one with wisbones etc, GTA arbs and the new dampers and springs, what would I spend my cash on considering I'm running it 2 years max? - the middle option.

I was advised against doing the shocks and springs and I should've really taken that advice, but I'm happy enough and it's kind of been a good experiment in view of future cars.

I should reiterate that I don't know anyone who has tried the B12 kit on a twinspark, plenty of people rate it on a V6 and unless they've only ever ridden a horse and cart, i"m sure it's very good.

Thanks go out to Ned at Autolusso for his no quibbles service and for answering a barrage of emails in a response time that puts the emergency services to shame. Thanks also to the mechanics that never get enough repect.
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Nice write-up
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alcooker View Post
As there's always plenty of questions about this subject on AO, I thought I'd put my experiences and thoughts on here so it may be of help to fellow owners.

Car is is a 2001 156 sportwagon 1.8 twin spark.

So about 4 weeks ago I had a partial suspension rebuild, including upper and lower wishbones, GTA anti roll bars - powerflexed, rear hub bushes and some other stuff i can't remember. Obviously the car was much better, but I couldn't help thinking how much better it would be with new springs and dampers.

I intend on running the car for about 18 months to 2 years, so against the advice of the sane proprietor , I decided to spend more than the car is worth on dampers and springs

So after Lord knows how much research and speaking to Guys who have this kit, I decided on the Bilstein B12 kit. Bear in mind everyone I'd asked about the B12 kit were GT 3.2 or GTA owners NOT twinspark owners. They were very complimentary about the B12 kit, but there were also other Guys who really rated the Koni sports kit, including my brother who said it transformed his 3.0 GTV , but I thought I'd try the B12 kit

Anyway, it didn't really work out, it would've been excellent on a track but was hard and crashy on normal roads, it felt a bit like the car was going to fall apart within days if not hours. We reckoned it could be something to do with the twinspark not being as heavy as the 3.2's ( yes we had the correct springs on the front). I did go around a long sweeping bend though and it gave me enough confidence to keep accelerating, in the old guise, it would be panic stations at 40mph. The dampers in this kit were B8, the shortened ones as oppose to B6, the standard ones. We had a chat about the car and after a test drive it was agreed it wasn't working how Bilstein tell you it does in their media, I think they need to test it a little more on a Twinspark. A few more tweeks/alignments were made, but without me testing it anymore I was told it wasn't getting any better, that it ought to be swapped and at no cost to me. Fair play

What did I want to swap for? Well I wanted to keep the car as low as it's original SW veloce spec on Nivomats, but when I checked with EB spares about the availability of saloon sportpack springs, I was told they were special order from Alfa and IIRC £400. Not paying that for springs, so decided to stick with Eibach pro kit springs with saloon suspension mounts, not the Nivomat ones which can raise up rear end.

So that was the springs decided on. Shocks/struts/dampers?? well over a week I changed my mind every hour or so between Koni Sport and KYB Excel G and sometimes in between wondered whether to be a complete idiot, go the whole hog and get some KW V2's. I read a few horror stories about KYB's failing in a short time, but I read as many horror stories about Konis, Bilsteins and KWs, the internet is full of them! I toyed with the idea of taking the FSD's off the GT, putting some KW's or Koni sports on that, but the GT is excellent so didn't dare mess with it. I had to get real on price and was a little worried after the harshness of the B8 dampers that Koni might not be different enough. So after confirmation from KYB that I could use the Excel G's up to 30mm lowering, we decided to give them a go, maybe I would be happier with a slightly better than OEM ride rather than only being able to tank it down a freshly laid dual carriageway.

So the outcome is that without anyone in the car it sits level, I can slip 2 fingers between the tyres and the arches. It's a pretty good ride actually, I'm certainly no where near blown away by it, but it takes the knocks of our normal roads pretty well and it goes around roundabouts extremely flatly with little body roll which was 50% of what was bugging me about how it used to be (scary). I think I was expecting to drive out of the garage in a Bentley diguised as a 156 sportwagon, that's probably pretty unrealistic although the GT aint far off! (i get to go in lots of Bentleys/Rolls/Merc 5/600's so I know).

The only realistic downside is that with me, a passenger and about 35 stone/220kg of adults and about a 100 records in the back, the tyre rubbed on the rear arch for a couple of seconds in pulling out of junctions whilst turning. So maybe Alfa weren't so daft when they put Nivomat self levelling on originally cos I used to put some right weight in the boot and never got any rubbing.

You may be wondering why I didn't put FSD's on the sportwagon if they're so good on the GT. Well when i first had the GT the ride was poor to the point I wanted either rid of the shocks or the car. New Michellin tyres and an alignment completely changed the ride, I can't comprehend why it had such a staggering effect, but it did. So there was too much chance I'd spend a lot on FSD's and they'd be cack like they originally were on the GT.

If I had my 3 of my 156, one as it was pre works, one with the wishbones etc and GTA arbs done and one with wisbones etc, GTA arbs and the new dampers and springs, what would I spend my cash on considering I'm running it 2 years max? - the middle option.

I was advised against doing the shocks and springs and I should've really taken that advice, but I'm happy enough and it's kind of been a good experiment in view of future cars.

I should reiterate that I don't know anyone who has tried the B12 kit on a twinspark, plenty of people rate it on a V6 and unless they've only ever ridden a horse and cart, i"m sure it's very good.

Thanks go out to Ned at Autolusso for his no quibbles service and for answering a barrage of emails in a response time that puts the emergency services to shame. Thanks also to the mechanics that never get enough repect.
Good feedback there
Like you say not many people have tried the B12 on a twinspark so maybe it's not suited to it for some reason all I can say is when I bought my GT the handling on the suspension was noticeably bad from the off. Since the B12 has gone on its a big difference, certainly justifys the cost. Don't get me wrong there might be better more expensive options that once set up give a all great ride in all conditions. But for me it suites me and the way I drive, and hopefully once the eibach AR go on it will be even better on the handling side
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A little update and a little bit of advice if anyone can help.

We've probably done about 400 miles with the new suspension now so if it's going to settle, it's probably done so by now.

I mentioned above that I was getting a bit of tyre rub when loaded up, this was only only the rear left and only happened occasionally. So we headed out over Crimbo, 8 & 9 year olds in the back and a few bits in the boot. Over 70 miles I got tyre rub off the rear left about 4 times and I started to think that I ought to have kept the sort wagon rear top mounts on instead of the saloon top mounts. It would have been higher unloaded at the back compared to front and worse looking, but better under load- tough choice.

So me and my brothers have been having talking tech between Wine, Cheese and screaming kids. I told them that the rear left was rubbing and I couldn't comfortably fit 2 fingers between the tyre and arch as on the other 3 wheels. I reckon it's 5-7mm lower.

So I found this on Eibach's site-
'Leave a ¼" to ½" space between the end of the coil and the spring seat pocket. This will help prevent spring noise when encountering large bumps'

As you'll see in the photo, this left rear spring tail sits right in it's stop end whereas on the right side the spring tail end sits a good half inch back from the stop end. We reckon in our very limited knowledge that if the left rear spring sat back 1/2" (as on the right side) it would also raise the car on that side about 5mm due to the slope of the damper's spring mount.

So question is does anyone reckon it'll be possible to jack the car up so the spring is unloaded and actually twist the spring back 1/2" without using spring compressors? Maybe a bit of KY jelly might help slide the coil into position.

I'll put a photo of the right side spring in another post( can only attach one photo on this device)
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Here's the right rear
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I thought I'd add a little update here.

Unfortunately one of the rear KYB shocks has broken it's seal That probably goes some way to explaining why the car has been fishtailing. Even before the shock had broken, it was pretty poor at carrying loads in the back, just having an 8 and 9 year old in the back was enough for the suspension to completely bottom out on some roads. Nicely level, but no load lugger. I definitely let my heart rule my head on this one.

I recommend before lowering and 'uprating' your suspension on your sportwagon, think clearly what you actually want from it. I reckon 90% of the car's use is around town at 20- 30mph, probably Lusso suspension would've been a better idea. If you've got kids in the back and their kit in the boot think carefully before steaming in and going on to Eibachs.

I've now got the springs and dampers off my GT V6 on the rear of the SW, they were nearly new. It's raised it up to 355mm with 340mm on the front, I actually think it looks better than level as the back gave the impression it was sagging even tho it was level. Obviously the rear feels much better now, but the front feels too harsh now and it's a bit seesawish so I might have to deal with that
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hello, nice write up.

First of all, sad to hear kyb are already broken...

As i had a 156 sportwagon with FSD+Eibach pro springs i strongly recommend to avoid this combination on the rear.
First: after a little time suspension on the rear will drop it will have a lowere rear and whenever it's loaded with passengers and luggage the tires will hit the wheelarch....

secend: the shocks are to soft - bodyroll will be quite high - compfort will be ok but overall suspension will feel verry softish

third: my setup is like 3 years old and has done 90tsd kilometers, mostly on gentile Autobahn @ about 120kph - i have been on a suspension /shock testing...... result front dampers only manage to damp 60% of the applied force the rears only managed 40% while 100 would be perfect, 80 is decend result - so my incredible expensive suspension is on it's way to die and i was not hard on it.... (these are GTA Sportwagon fsds)

Selling a Brembo Upgrade for 156's, Project Mu Pads (New) and fitting brake lines (new).

link to the thread
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+1 Black-Sheep

My experience with FSDs is exactly the same. After three and a half years rear shocks are completely wasted. Front ones are a bit better, but not much. Degradation is way too fast for this price range.

I`m looking for replacement dampers, but I`m not sure what to choose...
KYB and Monroe are known to have problems on rear end, Bilstein B6 are a bit expensive and a bit too hard. I don`t trust Koni anymore.
Anybody knows how do Eibach ProDamper behave on the long run?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Black-Sheep View Post
third: my setup is like 3 years old and has done 90tsd kilometers, mostly on gentile Autobahn @ about 120kph - i have been on a suspension /shock testing...... result front dampers only manage to damp 60% of the applied force the rears only managed 40% while 100 would be perfect, 80 is decend result - so my incredible expensive suspension is on it's way to die and i was not hard on it.... (these are GTA Sportwagon fsds)
If you have chance to put a stock springs back and retest the FSD once more, please do it.

IMHO FSDs don't like a lowered springs a much and their performance is reduced from the first mile in this case.
But I can't say anything wrong on FSD + Eibach on front. Just the rear is a bit hars. But here I'm blaming the Eibach springs which lowers simply too much (about -50mm instead of 30mm).
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i certanly would but the car will be wrecked soon + i don't have any stock springs nore time i used fsd made for the GTA, wich in my impression is lowered about 20mm compared to a stock 156 i think.... i realy hoped that would work out well.... turns out - it does not...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Black-Sheep View Post
As i had a 156 sportwagon with FSD+Eibach pro springs i strongly recommend to avoid this combination on the rear.
First: after a little time suspension on the rear will drop it will have a lowere rear and whenever it's loaded with passengers and luggage the tires will hit the wheelarch....

secend: the shocks are to soft - bodyroll will be quite high - compfort will be ok but overall suspension will feel verry softish

I'm shocked at your problems with the FSD's.

I used mine with 30mm lowering springs for years transporting heavy stock and they are still like new. It never bottoms out..ever!

I've been very pleased with my suspension choice after 5 years \ 55k miles. Yes it eats wishbones, but that's it. Its definitely softened up slightly (to my fathers pleasure lol) but still has no body roll and can be thrown around pretty much any corner at any speed!

Sounds like you guys got dud's
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Well mine FSDs worked great for some 60-70k km, after that degradation started. At 100k km car handling was like stock dampers at 130k km (I have used original dampers for 3 years). And now after 130k km (3.5 years after replacement - 260k km on the odometer) they are just dangerous, rear end is all over the place.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laptop_Matt View Post

I used mine with 30mm lowering springs for years transporting heavy stock and they are still like new. It never bottoms out..ever!
Matt,

I'm pleased for you, but I wonder, although you've a 30mm lowered rear, did you use the original SW top mounts for the suspension change or saloon top mounts? I've seen threads on here where people have used the original top mounts and they're rear has raised quite a bit. I could only get two fingers between arch and tyre, centre of wheel to bottom of arch was 340mm. It just couldn't handle it, I'm not surprised the damper went kaput.
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Guess what, another update!

Well I have to say I'm absolutely elated. I've spent the afternoon having some MORE changes done. Let me tell you why.

So with the Eibach springs on the front with KYB excel G dampers and GT V6 springs and dampers on the rear the car was sitting nicely at 340mm front and 355mm at the rear. The trouble was it was see sawing a bit too much. I was being so anal-lytical when driving to try and find what the issue was, I was purposely hitting manholes etc and the front was just too harsh. I decided that I needed to match the front dampers to the rear. So plan was to take the Excel G's off the front and replace with the GT V6 dampers. Driving more and being ultra anal, I started to feel like it was more the rear end that wasn't great over poor surfaces. I even started thinking I'd gone wrong fitting GTA ARB's with power flex bushings, it was just unforgiving, really getting me down.

In the end I decided that it was definitely the back damping that couldn't cope, so off to friendly neighbourhood garage to get the knackered KYB rear damper replaced and then get them fitted to GT V6 rear springs. I figured these KYB dampers must be good, loads of cars use them. This was to be the last straw, I was trying not to be too optimistic after all the disappointments. Anyway after fitting I reversed the car and could immediately feel a massive difference, not just saying it, it was night and day. I drove home with a massive smile on my face, I'd got my Baby back!

The difference it's made on the rear is incredible, it's what I would describe as a pleasant ride. What has really surprised me, not knowing so much about suspension, is how much the improved rear ride has affected the front characteristics. It was reasonably okay at the front, but now with only touching the rears, the front feels great over poor surfaces and lets face it, they're everywhere these days. The seesaw effect has totally gone, so now I think I know the importance of matching front and rear dampers. It's a plush ride now, a real town car, obviously it gets in a bit of a tangle on really rough chewed up tarmac, but I hit an undulation in a dual carriageway near me, one I've been using to test the rear end damping. Before with the Gt dampers and springs on the back end would dip considerably, wouldn't scrape the arches, but it's miles more composed now.

Obviously all this faffing around has cost quite a bit, but I'm thinking of the expense as 'suspension course fees'. For any future Alfas, I think I shall certainly stick with stock springs and maybe these KYB dampers.

I still can't believe how much the poor rear end affected the front though.

I would actually recommend this set up if you're thinking about renewing bits on your sportpacked sportwagon. The back is a bit higher than the front, kind of like GTA sportwagons seem to be. This comes in to its own when you load the car up with kids and luggage, nothing worse than feeling like you're doing a wheelie when loaded up. I believe from what I've read that the GT V6 rear springs are the same as later 156 TI's anyway.

So I now have a bit of kit to sell if anyone's interested. I've never done a classified on AO, but shall have a go later. I'll be selling a pair of (fitted early December 2012, can't be more than 1500 miles old) Eibach pro kit springs for any 156 and I think any GT and 147. Also a pair of rear GT V6 dampers, not more than 10k miles old. Also a ready built up combination of front GT V6 dampers and springs, again not more than 10k miles old, these can be slotted straight on as they are, but only for the heavy engined.

It's amazing how much better you think your car looks when it's working properly. I was thinking being as we'll I've done loads of Guinea pigging, any chance of everyone sending me a bit of cash
I don't think I'll be back in a couple of weeks saying how crap the suspension is. Watch this space!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TribesMan View Post
Well mine FSDs worked great for some 60-70k km, after that degradation started. At 100k km car handling was like stock dampers at 130k km (I have used original dampers for 3 years). And now after 130k km (3.5 years after replacement - 260k km on the odometer) they are just dangerous, rear end is all over the place.
How long do original alfa dampers last?

I expected to get at least 100k miles out of the FSD's to justify the original cost and because Koni have/had a 100k mile warranty.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alcooker View Post
Matt,

I'm pleased for you, but I wonder, although you've a 30mm lowered rear, did you use the original SW top mounts for the suspension change or saloon top mounts? I've seen threads on here where people have used the original top mounts and they're rear has raised quite a bit. I could only get two fingers between arch and tyre, centre of wheel to bottom of arch was 340mm. It just couldn't handle it, I'm not surprised the damper went kaput.
I didnt fit them myself, got an Alfa specialist to do it. Whether they knew this and used saloon top mounts i'm not sure.

Do you have a pic of yours? Here is an old pic of mine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alcooker View Post
Guess what, another update!

Well I have to say I'm absolutely elated....

It's amazing how much better you think your car looks when it's working properly. I was thinking being as we'll I've done loads of Guinea pigging, any chance of everyone sending me a bit of cash
I don't think I'll be back in a couple of weeks saying how crap the suspension is. Watch this space!
Great news!

Its annoying how a something slightly off can have a massive impact on the handling.

Last edited by Laptop_Matt; 29-09-14 at 16:19.
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Big ol wheels you've got there Matt!
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Yours looks great, perfect hight.

Yes the 18's are now gone, now have 17" GTA Teledials :-D
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Just done a 250 mile trip with fully loaded boot and 3 passengers, suspension performed brilliantly, I'm defo back in love with the ageing beauty. Going to buy it some new plush carpets as a pressie for it being so good to me.

Took a pic in better weather too
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