For any lowrider traditionalist, the hydraulic suspension is the heart of this automotive culture. It’s what makes a lowrider truly stand apart from all the rest. Whether you’re captured by the low and lean style of a ride that lays frame to the floor, or you love the dancing or hopping action, it can be said that hydraulics are coveted by the lowrider enthusiast.

How Does It Work?

The basic premise of a hydraulic system is to use cylinders that are similar to a shock absorber in example, to raise a vehicle up and lower it down. The way it works is through electric pump motors, dump valves, accumulators, and batteries. The electric-driven pumps compresses pressure on the oil, thus extending the cylinders up, and when the valves that hold the pressure are released, the fluid returns into the reservoir tank.

PROS:

  • Feels more traditional because it also defines a lowrider
  • Quicker action, more batteries for quicker performance
  • The sound of hydraulics is simply irreplaceable
  • Ability to three-wheel and hop with ease
  • More components means more room to get creative in your setup
  • More components to chrome, polish, gold plate, or engrave
  • In use since 1955, hydraulic suspensions have a history of performance so long as the installation is done correctly using quality parts
  • It’s easy to spot a leak. Just look for oil.
  • When the right size of coils used for weight distribution and shocks are mounted front and rear, the ride comfort compares to air suspension just the same

CONS:

  • More complex to install
  • Takes up more space because of components and batteries
  • If it leaks it will fill you car with hydraulic fluid, whereas a leak on air suspension will fill you car with … air
  • Oil, batteries, and a crappy install can lead to fire
  • Not knowing how to use the switches properly can ruin your setup by blowing seals or hoses
  • More expensive to maintain
  • You have to maintain batteries and make sure they’re charged
  • Compressors take time to gather pressure while batteries do not
  • Much more weight than air suspension
  • Too much battery force and weight can buckle a car’s body structure and frame
  • No height gauges are currently available
  • You’re going to have to cut the frame of your vehicle
Hydraulic suspension is what makes a lowrider truly stand apart from the rest.
Hydraulic suspension is what makes a lowrider truly stand apart from the rest.

Conclusion

While both hydraulic and air suspensions have their pros and cons, the ultimate decision is up to you and your own personal preference and style. As for me, well, being an old-school purist I’d never switch from a hydraulics setup. The action, the delivery, and the complexities of a hydraulic system makes it all worth the extra money and time to maintain them.
I do admit that maintaining an air system would be a lot less time-consuming but sometimes pain is part of the process when you alter a suspension. The tediousness of maintaining a hydraulic setup makes you appreciate owning a lowrider and it’s become a tradition to maintain batteries, while the sound and action of hydraulics alone makes it all worth the while.
Much akin to the food game, it’s safe to say that it’s like hosting a barbecue. You could always opt to order a party platter from Lucille’s, but nothing beats the tradition, the familiarity, and the pain of having to go to the store and throw some meat on the grill with a beer and some good friends.

Our Advice

Regardless of the system you choose, both of them will require regular maintenance and inspection. In addition, a correctly installed system (regardless of whether it’s air or juice), will provide you with years of worry-free service, and while both will eventually leak, the proper installation will ensure that the problem won’t come anytime soon.

"Hydro Continental"
“Hydro Continental”

We also advise you to seek professional consultation if you plan on using either of the systems. While hydraulics seem to have earned a bad rap for being bouncy and providing a bad ride, all we can say is that you can easily make a hydraulic system run as smooth as an air system so long as you dial in all your components, choose the right parts, and choose the right experienced and professional installer. Though it may be fun to gather a few club members up at your driveway to help perform a possible Frankenstein experiment on your setup, you will spend just as much cash on the barbecue and entertainment that you would going down to a professional shop like we did with this hydraulic project install.

A professional shop is recommended for a hydraulics project install.
A professional shop is recommended for a hydraulics project install.

We took a ’79 Lincoln Continental Mark V “Hydro Continental” and delivered it to House of Pain Customs in Baldwin Park, California, to install a CCE Equipped Hydraulic front and back double whammy setup. Follow along as we introduce to you how the basic steps of a hydraulic setup are installed into an inevitable lowrider. The crew at House of Pain brought together an All Star group of Hydraulic Pros, which included the appearance of Hellified Hydraulics and the Keith Richards welding experience.

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1. The first steps all begin by jacking up the vehicle and pulling off the wheels and tires once on jackstands.

Hydraulic suspension is what makes a lowrider truly stand apart from the rest.

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2- 3. The crew at House of Pain Customs quickly removed the front and back shocks, then begin to cut part of the front coils down to size to help remove the original coils easier from the front A-arms.

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4. After being cut to a shorter size the front coils are pried out with a large crow bar.

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5. From there the original front coils are then cut down to about a 4 and 1/2 turns so that the vehicle will lock and lay down to the frame.

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6. Luis cuts the precise hole and fitment for the 8-inch CCE cylinders to go through. He uses a Miller plasma cutter to make the hole where the original shock was mounted to the frame.

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7. Experience, skill, and the Miller Plasma Cutter combine to make a perfectly round hole for the hydraulic cylinder.

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8. The CCE 8-inch front cylinders are fitted with the kit-supplied elbow fitting that are Teflon taped down on the threads before they are tightened down.

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9. The cylinder’s donut and flat plate cups are assembled to the front cylinders.

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10. The front and rear cylinders are placed on a bench vise to tighten down the elbow fittings to prevent any oil leaks.

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11. The front cylinders and coils are then installed inside the front A-arms of the vehicle.

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12. Luis uses his MillerMatic 210 welder to weld the larger and wide-diameter rear flat plates to the rear original coils that were cut down to 2 and 1/2 turns to lock and lay the vehicle.

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13. Jesse applies his welding capabilities in the “Hydro project” by welding up the Optima Batteries rack with measured out and cut-to-size angle iron.

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14. The two battery racks are then welded to the right and left side of the big Lincoln’s trunk floor.

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15. Two Yellow Tops are then placed in each side of the permanent rack to complete the four each battery-powered Hydraulic system.

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16. Pete from Hellified Hydraulics comes in to lend a hand in the double-whammy pump assembly.

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17. The CCE dumps are being installed onto the blocks.

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18. The return hoses are also connected to complete the hydraulic pump system, which will mount on top and center of the trunk, leaving lots of space in the trunk for three ice chests full of cold beer.

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19. Big Luis jumps inside the trunk to add hydraulic fluid to the large whammy tank, which is recommended instead of motor oil or tranny fluid.

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20. The hydraulic pump system is place on a welded rack also, so that the system can be bolted up in place.

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21. That’s the “low down” when it comes to a basic front and back hydraulic suspension install.