Many Corvette owners don't realize that the '53-62 models used the "modern" '49 Chevy independent front suspension all the way up to the first Sting Rays in 1963! If you ever wondered why driving an early Corvette felt a little like herding goats with a long stick, that's the reason. Link pins with kingpins aren't exactly the best engineering in a front suspension. And hindsight is always great when there's a better replacement.
The "better" replacement is the bolt-in IFS kit from Jim Meyer Racing Products. It's not only a better engineered IFS, but it also bolts up to the exact same holes GM used for the original and now extremely antiquated IFS. The Jim Meyer IFS also offers better stopping and steering and a handling package that will turn an early Corvette into a great car to drive.
The basic JMRP package includes a new 2x4x.188-inch wall box tube crossmember with upper towers welded into position. The new bolt-in crossmember holds the core support plus tubular upper and lower A-arms (7/8 x.156-inch wall upper arms and 1x.156-inch wall lower arms). The new 11-inch brake components feature over-the-counter GM parts that are readily available nearly everywhere. The parts list includes '70-81 Camaro spindles, 11-inch rotors, calipers and ball joints; and either a reconditioned Mustang II or new Flaming River quick ratio (three turns lock-to-lock), front-steer manual steering rack. The fully adjustable suspension utilizes QA1 aluminum and fully adjustable coilover shocks with multi-position upper attachment points that allow a wide range of ride-height settings.
Since the new rack-and-pinion steering unit requires splined U-joints and a shaft to connect to the steering column, some modification to the bottom of the stock column will be necessary, or you can use a new non-tilt column from either Flaming River (800/648-8022, www.flamingriver.com) or ididit Incorporated (610 Maumee St., Dept. VM, Tecumseh, MI 49286, 517/424-0577, www.ididitinc.com) that will make connecting the rack much easier. Jim Meyer does offer a linkage kit for hooking a stock column to the Flaming River rack. It requires the column shaft and the tube to be trimmed off at the bottom and two flat sides milled or ground on each side of the shaft to accept the new double-D U-joint on the column. This will connect the shaft and the other two U-joints to the rack. The steering column adapter kit also includes a urethane bushing and lock ring at the bottom of the column that secures the column tube and shaft together. The steering system requires three U-joints and a support bearing with bracket to snake around (or through) the exhaust manifolds or headers to get to the rack.
To work with the new brake system, Jim Meyer offers a brake kit that gives you a 1-inch diameter dual-chamber master cylinder, a Wilwood proportioning valve to balance the front disc/rear drum system, a new push rod and master cylinder extension tube, two 18-inch stainless braided brake lines, plus a plug and "T" that allow you to connect to your original brake line system. Twelve pages of illustrated instructions walk you through the installation. Or, if you happen to be near the great Northwest, you can bring your First-Gen to Jim Meyer's shop and they will do the installation. It's as simple as drive-in and drive-out in two-three days. Just call for a reservation.
Even though the new IFS bolts to the same factory holes, JMRP went one step further and added a 3-inch weldable tab between the upper tower and the frame for maximum strength. This can be reached from the engine compartment for a simple one-horizontal (weld) pass on each side.
There are a number of optional features to embellish the IFS. These include a one-inch diameter anti-roll bar, 2-inch drop spindles, 12-inch OEM Impala/Caprice disc brakes in the same ball joints, 13-inch Baer or Wilwood disc brakes, and an Air Ride Technologies ShockWave airbag system.
The installation can be done at home with basic hand tools, a floor jack, and jackstands. The car should be at least 24 inches off the ground to remove and replace the IFS units. Depending on how fast you work and how much help you have, the job can usually be accomplished in a two- or three-day weekend if you opt for a new column. It may take longer if you choose to modify the old column, however this can be a separate task prior to the IFS installation. If you don't have a welder or can't weld, get a friend to bring one over and make the three short welds for you.
In addition to the IFS kit, JMRP offers more '53-62 Corvette component kits. He offers a complete rearend kit that uses the popular narrowed 9-inch Ford unit and retains the stock ('53-62 Corvette) driveshaft without modification. Jim Meyer also produces a direct replacement 2x4 box tube, mandrel-bent chassis with any options you'd like, including four ShockWave airbags, front and rear stabilizer bars, the same IFS shown here, the above-mentioned rearend kit, 11- or 12-inch GM brakes, tubular crossmembers, and room for a 3-inch exhaust.
Upgrading a First-Gen Corvette has never been simpler, especially with all the options available. By using new technologies to improve the handling, stopping and steering capabilities, solid-axle Corvettes can much more pleasant cars to drive, even for long distances.