Long Roof Road Racer

A little suspension help and a good set of rollers turned this grocery getter into a canyon carver

Mike Petralia Oct 23, 2003 0 Comment(s)

This is a bit of an unconventional story. Most high-performance cars began their lives as high-performance cars right off the showroom floor. Or, in the odd case, were converted to hi-perf duty sometime in the past. But there's always room for more. And this car has LOTS of room for more. Station wagons have not been highly regarded in the past. Their bulk and unconventional body style don't lend themselves easily to aggressive driving. But, that's not a reason to forget them. Did you know that early Malibu (Chevelle) wagons were simply stretched bodies on and Chevelle frame? The suspension is identical and that's what we're concentrating on here.

Edelbrock has been offering some pretty trick suspension parts for Chevrolets from the '60s to the present and we wanted to see how easy they would be to bolt onto an unconventional ride. We found this '68 wagon in better than decent shape while searching for our next project. The crew at Edelbrock eagerly agreed to install all of their best suspension products for improved handling. That included new shocks, springs, and rear control arms. We left the drag race oriented traction bars off (they may be added later) and stuck with the components that will make the wagon handle better. The wagon's previous owner had already rebuilt the stock underpinnings using Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings, front and rear, and had upgraded to Master Power front wheel disc brakes, so all Edelbrock had to do was install its key components.

While it was at Edelbrock's shop, the braking experts at Russell Performance also installed a set of braided stainless steel brake lines to improve the stopping power of this grocery getter. After the install was complete, we noticed that the rear of the wagon sat dangerously low. Edelbrock admitted that their springs (made by Eibach, specifically for Edelbrock) were designed to support the relatively light weight of a Chevelle trunk, not the heavy back of a station wagon. Since Edelbrock does not offer another spring, if the tires rub or the bumper drags, we may have to add some coil spring spacers later. But, as you can tell by the first photo showing the wagon and Carl Stuber's '68 Chevelle, the springs make the car sit right on.

The wagon was driven to an alignment shop to have its frontend adjusted and can now haul groceries as well as some serious you-know-what with more style and confidence then most long-roofers ever have.

LONG ROOF FIRST IMPRESSIONS
By John Barkley
First, I noticed right away the lower stance, not just from the outside but inside, too. Sitting lower to the ground gives it a more sporty feel. Since the wagon is heavier than a sedan the springs are designed for, it's down an inch more in front and two inches in the rear than noted in the Edelbrock Catalog--looks great! The combination of the 16x8-inch fronts and 17x9-inch rears with 50 series tires and the Edelbrock springs and shocks have improved handling dramatically. The wagon corners flat now, even with the undersized factory front sway bar (and no rear bar), because of the adjustable upper rear control arms we were able to reset the pinion angle and center the rear of the chassis. As you know, centering is even more important when you lower and run a fat tire and wheel combination in back. Pinion angle changes in the wrong direction, so the adjustable uppers help. Pinion angle will also be important when I install the good motor because a correct nose down attitude will help to hook the wagon up. The overall driving experience is greatly improved; the wagon feels more like you're in control all the time, it responds immediately to input through the steering wheel. The ride is a little more firm, which I like, not mushy like before. It bottoms out once in awhile because we didn't cut or replace the snubbers with shorter ones--an easy fix. Finally, the look: I've gotten lots of compliments. The Cragar SS wheels were the perfect choice, especially going to 16 and 17s, perfect blending of the old and the new, which this car will be from bumper to bumper when it's done.

5

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Since Edelbrock designed their suspension components to fit on a car, not a station wagon...

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...we wanted to show you how each vehicle looks with the Edelbrock parts installed.

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The first step in installing new parts usually involves removing some old ones. Unbolt the front brake calipers and hang them from the frame.

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Next, if you plan to replace the tie rods or adjusting sleeves, as we did, measure the length of the installed steering arms on both sides before removing them. Recheck your measurements with them hanging free.

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Support the lower control arm with a floor jack and loosen the ball joint. With the castle nut still installed to keep the arm from springing open under force, a firm smack with a hammer usually will knock the ball joint loose and the spring can be pulled out.

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Here's the spot where many lower control arms crack, as the stock one did on this car. So while the spring was out, we installed this replacement arm we got from the junkyard.

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The Edelbrock/Eibach springs (right, PN 5240) are considerably shorter and stiffer than the stock springs in this wagon...

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...so that made installing them very easy because they slipped right in place.

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Don't forget to properly torque the castle nut and install a new cotter pin, which, ironically, was missing from this wagon when we started working on it.

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Edelbrock's new tie rod adjusting sleeves (PN 5250) thread right on, replacing the originals. You'll want to closely duplicate your original measurements here and then have a professional alignment shop check it after.

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Talk about bad alignment! We found that the driver's side outer tie rod was bent (who knows how or when), so a replacement was installed.

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Edelbrock's tubular lower rear control arms add serious strength to the rear suspension. They come with polyurethane bushings installed and are a direct bolt-on.

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The adjustable upper rear control arms from Edelbrock (PN 5248) give you tremendous suspension tunability. They feature a spherical ball frame mount and work with stock or, better yet, polyurethane housing bushings in the rearend.

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Although we left them off for now, this is Edelbrock's trick traction bar (also called anti-hop bars) for coil-spring cars (PN 5213).

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All control arm bushings get a liberal application of silicone grease, included with the Edelbrock kits, before assembly.

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This is the tubular support brace (black diagonal bar, PN 5211) that Edelbrock designed to firm up the trailing arm's forward mounting point. It's an easy bolt-on with or without the Edelbrock suspension package.

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The new coil springs from Edelbrock were designed to hold up the back end of a car, not a heavy wagon. We might add some coil spring spacers later on because the wagon rides very low in back.

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Be sure to properly torque all fasteners and recheck them after about 100 miles.

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Edelbrock's Performer IAS (Inertia Active System) shocks (PN 33016 front, 34016 rear) can switch instantly between a firm and soft circuit delivering both a smooth and great handling ride.

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With the car up off the ground, the crew at Russell Performance (an Edelbrock company) installed these street-legal stainless steel braided brake lines to give a firmer pedal to this wagon.

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Cragar SS wheels (16x8 with 4 3/4-inch backspacing, front and 17x9 with 5-inch backspacing, rear) and Nitto 450's (245/50-16 front and 275/50-17 rear) finish off the wagon's look and stance nicely.

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