When the call went out for entries to the 2009 Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, Hotchkis went with what some may consider an unusual choice for a hot-handling entry: Art Alvarez' '65 Chevelle wagon was tapped to represent the Southern California-based company, and after seeing it perform we understand why.
Some particular models of cars are like good candy, once you're hooked, you can't stop. For Art, that irresistible automotive candy is two-door wagons. Back in 1997, Art got the taste for Chevelle two-door grocery getters when he bought his first one, a '64, and found several other enthusiasts with the same addiction. After that wagon proved to be a problem child with numerous electrical issues, Art passed it onto his son who worked in Michigan as a mechanic and bought a cherry '64 wagon with only 34,000 miles.
After having some fun with his second '64, Art heard that his good friend, Chevelle builder Dick Etchison, was moving to Colorado and parting ways with a '65 Chevelle wagon. Art quickly sold his second '64 wagon to buy the '65. Art also knew Dick had done a ground up restoration on the car and it was in pristine condition. After the deal was struck and Art had the Chevelle at home, he quickly began transforming the two-door from a bone stock hauler into a corner-carving import intimidator. First to go were the stock wheels and tires in favor of some Torque Thrust five-spokes (which later became billet 20s), and finally the Bonspeed two-piece wheels wrapped in Nitto NT05 rubber for the Super Chevy Challenge.
Because Art likes to drive his cars all the time, a Vintage Air climate system was installed, and Malibu interior trim from Original Parts Group replaced the standard Chevelle 300 trim the wagon came with. To give the wagon some extra grunt, the 350/200-4R it had between the fenders was replaced in favor of a GM Performance Parts ZZ383 pumping out 425hp backed by a 700R4 transmission built by Bowtie Overdrives.
So the car could handle all that power, Art went with a Hotchkis Sport Suspension Total Vehicle System with tubular upper and lower A-arms with the correct offset for B-body spindles for improved suspension geometry. The Hotchkis control arms feature fully TIG welded construction with 1.5-inch diameter tubing, CNC machined spring cup with stackable spring shims for adjusting ride height, polyurethane spring isolators, and laser cut steel arm gussets for extra strength. Providing some extra cushion are Bilstein/Hotchkis HPS1000 shocks.
Out back, a Hotchkis adjustable rear suspension package was installed, with adjustable upper and lower trailing arms that positively locate and control the rear axle for smooth and consistent launches with reduced wheel hop. The adjustable upper arms also allow for easy pinion angle changes to better tune the rear suspension when the car is lowered. The stock 10-bolt rear was pitched in favor of a 9-inch rear with 3.25 gears and a limited slip system to put all the 383's power to the pavement.
Keeping the body level is Hotchkis' Extreme Sway Bar Set, with tubular 1 3/8-inch diameter front bar and 15/16-inch rear bar. The rear bar has two adjustments, 75 percent and 100 percent stiffer than stock, with TIG welded end links and polyurethane bushings. Both bars feature Hotchkis' market-first fully articulated mounting system, which improves traction, decreases body roll, and allows the handling/balance tunability to compensate for larger rear tires and front/rear weight bias.
Making sure the wagon stays under control is Hotchkis' Performance steering rebuild kit. The kit comes with new inner and outer tie rod ends with 4140 forged ball studs and triple lip sealed boots installed in hardened steel forged housings, and center link assembly. Stopping all the action is a Baer Aluma Sport braking system, with dual piston calipers and cross drilled 12-inch rotors.
Driver's Impression - On the Autocross Course
This wagon performed exactly what we've come to expect from Hotchkis Sport Suspensions and was a total blast to drive. Even with OEM (read: very slow) ratio steering, navigating the autocross course was quite manageable. This nimble wagon also drove "small," which made threading the cones much easier. As for the brakes, well ... the Chevelle had the best brakes of all the cars I tested that day. These stoppers worked perfectly for the weight and balance of this car; they were confirmed, consistent, and complimented the suspension quite well.
I used the weight of this car for an advantage on corner entry and had much fun throwing it through the gates, then catching it at the apex and hammering the accelerator pedal to motor on down the course. The initial offset slalom posed no problems for the Chevelle grocery getter and I got great turn-in and smooth transfer back to power entering the crossover. After the offsets that approach the end sweeper, applying the brakes smoothly and uneventfully slowed the car allowing me to get over the hump and transition back to throttle a lot sooner than almost any other tested car. Back across the course to the power section found a light engine ping but this was momentary. Can this unassuming, tan wagon handle this job? A definite vote of "yes" from me.
What I particularly like about the Hotchkis suspensions is the predictability. I often tell people that there are no surprises; a Hotchkis car will come around on Tuesday but pre-warn you Sunday. I was able to plan and control my track line placement, and found the car very neutral and well-balanced. You'd never expect a grocery getter to get an "A" for my part of this automotive flog fest but this one sure did! Like its older sister, the Newman Car Creations 210 Wagon, I loved every minute spent behind the wheel. -Mary Pozzi