SEMA News—April 2011
Bolt-On Road Manners
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives
In December 1962, Petersen Publishing Company photographer Eric Rickman shot Don Hellwig (right) describing a new helper-spring kit to Hot Rod magazine’s LeRoi “Tex” Smith. Those who know Hellwig Products primarily for its truck and camper suspension parts may be surprised by the fact that the kit Hellwig was demonstrating was engineered for a Corvair.
But as Smith noted in his April 1963 article, drivers of “Chevy’s littlest compact sensation” were unaccustomed to what Smith described as the handing “eccentricities” that stemmed from the car’s rear-engine/rear-swing-axle layout. “Under most any condition, the car is very forgiving,” he wrote, “but placed in a position where it shouldn’t be in the first place, it can get cantankerous. Here is where a little improving of the stock suspension system can really be a boon.”
By the early ’60s, Hellwig Products already had a long history of improving stock suspension systems. Company founder Rudy Hellwig patented a helper-spring design in 1941 and began manufacturing the springs in his brother’s shop in Kansas. During the years immediately after World War II, Hellwig moved his family to Southern California and opened a spring manufacturing facility in Glendale. Don, his son, started working alongside his father when they were still in Kansas, and he took over the business when Rudy passed away in 1966. Soon after, Don relocated the business to its current central-California location in Visalia. Hellwig Products is still a family operation—Don’s son Mark is now the company’s president, and his daughter Melanie works in Hellwig’s marketing department.
Smith’s Hot Rod article showed how the Hellwig products bolted to the Corvair; once the parts were on, he and Hellwig took the car to “a certain S bend on a canyon road that is notoriously difficult to negotiate. Hit this turn just a bit too fast, and it’s like boondocksville!!” With the spring stabilizer kit in place, the Corvair’s handling was “greatly improved,” Smith wrote, and he was able to take the S turn “in the best Stirling Moss fashion.”