After 30 years of continuously building, rebuilding, modifying, and tweaking it, Tommy Vinciguerra (known far and wide as Tommy V., for obvious reasons) is as close to his '61 Vette as a man and a machine possibly can be. But just because he loves his Pro Street beauty doesn't mean he's ever entirely happy with it. In fact, quite the contrary is true. Tommy V., master fabricator and owner of Super Pro Chassis, is driven to find new ways to continuously upgrade the car's total performance envelope, and the end result-thus far, anyway-is a first-generation Corvette that retains its classic looks but goes, stops, and handles like a modern supercar. For some insight into how Tommy V. has accomplished that often-elusive goal, we tagged along for the latest round of performance modifications to the suspension, steering, brakes, and driveline.
Difficult though it is to believe, the suspension design found in C1 Corvettes dates back more than 70 years. The front end relies on forged steering knuckles linked to pressed-steel A-arms via king pins, coil springs, and tubular shocks. At the rear, steel longitudinal leaf springs serve to both support and locate the axle housing.
Previously, there were a number of things you could do to improve the performance of the original C1 suspension-including substituting polyurethane bushings for the rubber originals and installing gas-charged shock absorbers-but in the end you still had an antiquated and fundamentally flawed design. To bring the car's suspension performance up to more-modern standards, you need to substitute a completely new system. Tommy V. did just that, installing a Jim Meyer Racing Products front suspension, a Wilwood Engineering disc-brake setup, and a Flaming River Industries rack-and-pinion steering system.
Although Tommy V. could have built his own front underpinnings from scratch, he found the Jim Meyer system to be of such high quality that it simply didn't make sense to do so. The kit includes custom tubular A-arms, custom hubs, and a fabricated front crossmember to anchor all of the pieces. This setup offers a number of important advantages, including improved suspension geometry, lighter weight, greater rigidity, and the ability to easily install disc brakes and a rack-and-pinion steering setup. Sound like a winning combination? Follow along as we take you through the highlights of the installation.
In order to install the new suspension system, you'll have to remove the original setup, which can be taken out as a complete unit. Remove the front antisway bar, take out the two bolts anchoring the radiator support to the third-arm bearing-mount bracket extension, and disconnect both front brake hoses. Separate the steering-box pitman arm from the drag link by pulling out the cotter pin in the end of the link and unscrewing the plug that holds two ball seats inside of it. With the screw plug out, the two halves of the ball seat spread apart, and the pitman arm's pivot ball will pull out.
The front crossmember is held to the chassis by eight bolts on each side. After supporting it on either end with a floor jack, remove the bolts and let the crossmember down slowly with your jacks. When you do so, you will discover a large, tapered aluminum shim on each side, sandwiched between it and the chassis. These were installed on all solid-axle Corvettes to increase front-end caster and will be reinstalled in the same position with the new crossmember.
After test-fitting the new crossmember, Tommy V. marked a few areas where it needed to be trimmed and relieved in order to sit flat on the chassis. Following another test-fitting to ensure that all was well, the crossmember, the control arms, and various other parts were sent to Action Powder Coating for a silky-smooth and super-durable semi-gloss black finish.