story by Steve Temple
avid off-road enthusiasts, a suspension lift opens up a whole world
of possibilities. The difference between a stock ride height and
even a moderate three- to four-inch lift can mean the difference
between a sweet trip through a rocky mountain pass or a day spent
hung up on a rock. Of course the primary purpose of a lift is to
accommodate big tires, but there’s also the secondary goal
of lookin’ cool. Off-road functionality is the main thing,
though, as the added clearance keeps a 4x4 riding high above can-opener
shaped rocks aimed straight at its soft underbelly. The wide range
of stock suspensions and the demand for flawless handling and ride
quality make the lift industry a tough one, one that cries out for
experienced, dirt and rock-savvy off-road enthusiasts making the
decisions. That’s what you get with Superlift Suspension Systems
— in addition to a range of lifts for each application, you
get a jillion miles of off-road experience.
Lovett, president and CEO, and the staff at Superlift have a personal
understanding of the off-roader’s passion. The company touts
itself as the only suspension company owned and operated by enthusiasts,
and while we don’t have actual statistics, Superlift’s
involvement in a broad spectrum of off-road events, broadcast media
and consumer education all speak volumes.
Louisiana native, Lovett cut his off-roading teeth in Southwest
Colorado on family vacations as a pre-teen. “My Dad had a
fleet of old Jeep trucks,” Lovett remembers, but a ’71
Toyota FJ 40 Land Cruiser was the star of the Lovett excursions.
The Toyota is still in the Lovett family.
and Superlift reached adulthood together. In the late 70s, a 15-year
old Lovett was washing trucks and changing tires at a four-wheel-drive
shop in West Monroe, Louisiana. Superlift, a small division of a
large spring manufacturer, was one of the shop’s suppliers.
After a brief stint in college, Lovett relocated to Alabama and
went to work for Superlift.
the timeline gets a bit more complicated. Superlift’s parent
company was sold and the lift-kit division liquidated. Committed
to the market, Lovett found financial backing and started his own
mail-order company, Lift Kits, Inc. “I was working at an off-road
salvage yard during the day and shipping product for LK Inc. at
night,” Lovett says.
a mudbogger slogging out of a sinkhole, Superlift was resurrected
by its original owner. He moved it to Durango, Colorado and teamed
up with Rocky Mountain Off-Road Warehouse. Lovett’s LK, Inc.
became its best customer, and in 1983, the companies merged, with
the main office in Durango, and West Monroe operation serving as
the eastern distribution point. Over the next three years, Lovett
and his father emerged as the owners and Superlift came back to
Fast forward: Lovett is now sole owner of the company. From its
humble beginnings in what is described as a shack on the Lovett
family property, Superlift grew from a small warehouse to a massive
warehouse. In 1997, a 53,000 square-foot manufacturing facility
was built on a nine-acre compound. With state-of-the-art technology
and a research and development department, Superlift is one of only
a few suspension companies with in-house manufacturing capabilities,
and now builds its own plate-steel and tubular bracketry. In 2002,
a 62,000 square-foot warehouse and office complex joined the manufacturing
facility — filling up only about half of the available space
— so there’s room to keep growing to keep up with future
Looking back, though, how has the industry changed in the past
20 years? “In the mid ’70s, there were really only two
suspension types, either leaf springs with a straight axle or coil
springs with a straight axle,” Lovett says. “Ride quality
wasn’t that big an issue. Today there are more players, more
people in the business and the industry is more demanding. And now
you’re seeing the resurgence of the tall lifts.” Not
only that, with the introduction of twin traction and torsion bars,
suspension systems are much more complex, increasing the complexity
of lifting them.
One Superlift response to the changing industry is to make sure
its customer base is well informed. According to Lovett, the Superlift
catalog is used as a reference guide for vehicle lift capabilities.
Between the catalog and website, the company provides what amounts
to a textbook on lifted suspensions. There’s a maximum tire
size chart, a installation time guide based on the level of lift
(along with a degree of difficulty rating), an explanation of ride
quality vs. lift height, and a SuperSpeak dictionary of automotive
engineering, industry and enthusiast terms.
The website’s FAQ covers most enthusiast questions, such
as, “What is the difference between a Pitman arm and a steering
arm? Answer: a Pitman arm attaches to the steering sector shaft
on the steering box; a steering arm attaches to the axle knuckle.
Here’s another: “Are longer spring shackles OK?”
The response: Excessively long spring shackles flex too much and
create a more negative caster angle when installed at the front
of your front springs, which results in bad handling traits. Longer
shackles reduce entry and departure angles and they only result
in half the lift of their increased length over stock. (You already
knew that one, of course.)
Then there’s the all-too-obvious retort to that lame request:
“Can I get the name and phone number of a certain Superlift
model?” Noooo, you can’t.
In its commitment to “one size does not fit all,” Superlift
lets off-roaders put together their own system based on vehicle
type, stock suspension specs, end use of the vehicle, tire size
and budget. For instance, note these three different options for
rear lift: Lift blocks that space the springs away from the rear
axle, recommended for pick-ups with good spring strength that won’t
be used for heavy hauling or towing. Add-a-leafs, used with or without
blocks, which beef up the springs and stiffen the suspension and
are recommended for pick-ups that will be used for towing and hauling.
And, finally, replacement springs for vehicles with broken or seriously
fatigued rear stock springs.
Manufacturing and marketing suspensions are apparently not enough
to keep Lovett and his band of off-road enthusiasts busy. The company
is also a partner in an off-road park, sponsors a TV show and is
heavily involved in motorsports. If you had to come up with a reason
for Superlift’s broad diversity, it would probably simply
be: “Because it’s fun.” That’s Lovett’s
straightforward explanation for his 1200-acre off-road vehicle park
in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Of course, just as Superlift’s show Off-Road Adventures on
the Outdoor Channel and the company’s motorsports sponsorships
promote the sport, so does the Superlift Off-Road Vehicle Park.
Yet this facility also serves as Superlift’s testing ground.
Located three and a half-hours from West Monroe and offering up
every conceivable type of off-road terrain, the Hot Springs facility
is where Superlift enthusiasts go to “see if we can break
stuff,” Lovett says with a note of glee.
The wooded acreage had been an unofficial off-road site since the
late 1970s, with 4x4s using the original logging roads and power-line
easements and eventually developing a network of off-road specific
trails. Then, in 1999, the owners closed access and put the property
on the market. Superlift and 11 other investors bought it and began
the on-going process of building new trails and challenging obstacles.
The park includes both finesse and horsepower-required hill climbs,
mud pits, rock gardens, water crossings and what Lovett calls “the
gnarliest rocks you can imagine.” The park is open to the
public on weekends, leaving the other five days for the tough work
of product testing.
Then there’s Superlift’s Off-Road Adventures TV show
covering everything from vehicle build-ups to driving adventures
in Baja. The principals in the production prove the show’s
tag line, “the four-wheeling show for enthusiasts, about enthusiasts
and by enthusiasts.” In addition to Lovett, Superlift’s
media guy, Trent McGee, former tech editor of a four-wheeling magazine,
manages the show’s scripts and assists in execution. Bob Hazel,
the father of rockcrawling competition and the ProROCK series, supplies
a wealth of four-wheeling footage through his Sports-In-The-Rough
guided trail riding events. Brad Smith of Smith Products, a 10-year
veteran of filming field video, produces the segments.
Rounding out Superlift’s strong presence in the off-road
community are its motorsport sponsorships that include the Ross
Hoek Race Team in the CORR Sportsman Stock class where he was a
consistent finisher in the top four last year. There’s also
Thomas White’s Twister Racing, a stand-out on the tough-truck
racing circuit, USHRA points champion in 1998 and current leader
in the 2003 points race. And last but not least, rockcrawler Chris
Durham, 1999 ARCA points champion and a regular competitor and top
finisher in the ARCA, ProROCK, EROCC, UROC and CalROCC series. Superlift
is also a title sponsor of the 2003 ProROCK Rockcrawling Series,
a participating sponsor of the Jeep Jamboree and involved with a
number of four-wheel-drive clubs.
So it would seem that Superlift is just about everywhere 4x4 enthusiasts
are to be found, not simply selling parts but taking an active hand
in supporting a shared passion for off-road adventures. Bret Lovett
wouldn’t have it any other way.