Bolt and Go

Fatman's new Camaro clip brings new handling prowess to a legendary performer

Terry Cole Jan 4, 2005 0 Comment(s)

There's no question that in its heyday the First-Gen Camaro was a slot car on the racecourse and a solid performer around town. With a little suspension tuning, those early F-bodies buzzed around the track faster and under better control than virtually every competitor that took a shot at the checkered flag. Furthermore, the Camaro's performance record has stood the test of time, raking in victories--and a street-machine following--like no other factory-produced machine in history.

But in today's world, with minivans and four-door imports that are more aggressive in road-holding capability, by comparison the legendary Camaro seems like a crude form of four-wheeled transportation. Can you imagine the humiliation of being out-cornered by your neighbor's Caravan?

Laugh as you will, the truth is that technology has improved so much that most all new cars can traverse the canyon curves with the best sports cars of the past--many even better.

To combat this problem, over the years a few aftermarket companies have developed ways to bring modern handling characteristics to older classic cars. One such firm, Fatman Fabrications, has been addressing the suspension issues for some time, offering a plethora of front end suspension kits based on the proven Mustang II design. With tubular A-arms and coil-over springs, tight, firm handling can be incorporated into virtually any vehicle.

But until recently, the First-Gen Camaro was one machine that could still get by with its stock front suspension. Now, Fatman has developed a complete bolt-on front chassis that simply replaces the original subframe and brings with it the newest design in stainless steel tubular control arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and adjustable coil over dampers. As a result, the cars receive a better road feel and easier to control factors such as ride height and compression/re-bound adjustability.

To see just how easy it was to upgrade the 36-year-old Camaro design, we took a trip to Super Stripes in Henderson, Nevada, where Mike Martin and his talented staff stripped off the old components and installed the entire Fatman system on a '68 donor car in less than one full work day. In fact, the only reason it took that long was that we were there to photograph it going together. Had they been turned loose without the shutter firing, the whole transformation would have been done in just a few hours.

The donor car, which was obviously an old quarter-mile competitor, had seen better days and was in dire need of a new direction. As it turned out, it proved to be the perfect starting point for this undertaking, as it had all of the front sheetmetal still in tact and even provided our tech guys with a challenge when it came to removing some old rusty body-to-chassis bolts. So follow along and witness how easy it is to upgrade that old First-Gen suspension with a new frame and suspension from Fatman and state-of-the-art binders from Stainless Steel Brakes, We're so pleased with what we saw that we're sure this upgrade will help put the classic back in front of the canyon-carving pack.

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Upgraded suspensions systems are hot. Fat Man Fabrications' new bolt-on clip for early Camaros will turn the classic into a better performer. Included is a fully welded bolt-on subframe, stainless steel tubular control arms, rack and pinion, coilover shocks and all the requisite hardware. Our project received an upgraded brake package from Stainless Steel Brakes and a new steering column from Steering Columns Plus.

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Our donor car was a worked-over '68 that was without any drivetrain or interior. It was to our benefit, though, since it did have the sheetmetal and stock front subframe and suspension. The first step was to jack up the front of the car so the gurus at Mike Martin's Super Stripes could loosen the subframe-to-body bolts.

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The goal here was to remove the front sheetmetal as a unit, then roll the stock subframe out from under the main body. The process began by removing the hood.

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After removing the bolts the entire front sheet metal assembly was simply carried off.

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There were only three other connections that needed attention prior to the subframe being wheeled away. First was the stock steering box. Two bolts had the rag connector disassembled and the steering assembly severed.

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A spring clip was all that held the stock parking brake cable in place on the inside of the left frame rail. A pair of needle nose pliers did the trick. Once removed, the cable needed to be coaxed out from the front of the firewall.

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The final system that required loosening before the frame to body bolts were removed was the hard brake lines. In this case, since the car is getting all new lines, we simply cut them off.

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An air impact was used to loosen the rusted-on bolts holding the subframe to the body. Additionally, the original rubber bushings were hard as stone and simply broke apart. We learned that it might be a good idea to use a good penetrating compound on the old threads and let it soak in.

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Once all of the four frame to body mount bolts were removed the floor jack was lowered so the front wheels were on the ground and the clip was rolled out from under the body.

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Doing this made it easy to get the old frame out of the way.

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Likewise, the new Fat Man framerail section required only a couple...

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...of guys to correctly position under the Camaro's body.

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The new frame section used the same four mounting points as the original--two under the cowl and two at the end of the framerails.

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Note that we installed new bushings and fasteners.

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One thing that needs to be done prior to tightening down the body-to-frame bolts is to check to see that the frame is correctly aligned. Here a tape measure is used to measure corner to corner. This measurement will help to square the new clip under the body. If further adjustment is needed to help align sheetmetal, that can be done later.

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With the frame in place, our attention was directed at bolting on all of the suspension components. We started, as the directions indicated, with the rack and pinion assembly. This, a power unit, came with new bushings that bolt the unit to a pair of brackets at the front of the new frame's K-member. The bushings appear to be long, but when the rack is bolted in place, they act as a shock absorber between the rack and the frame.

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The distance between the steering arms on the Camaro clip is 2 inches wider than the rack being used, so Fat Man locates the mount on the driver's side over 1 inch and then provides this nicely machined spacer, which is 2 inches long and must be installed on the right side of the steering rack between the rack itself and the tie-rod end. This essentially "fools" the rack into thinking it is 2 inches longer.

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The frame section is notched for the pinion portion of the steering assembly to pass through. With the left (driver's) side of the rack being moved over an inch, the connecting shaft between the column and rack is more in line, leaving improved header clearance.

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Two heavy-duty bolts fasten the steering assembly to its subframe mounts.

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Once the rack is in place it was on to mounting the suspension parts. Some of the nicest components to the Fat Man kit are the stainless steel, one-piece tubular upper and lower A-arms, which come standard. The upper arm's installation is simply a matter of installing two bolts through the bracket on the frame and the cross shaft of the arms.

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The lower arms fit nicely into their welded-on bracket. A large bolt is driven through the eyes in the frame and the arm and a nylon-locking nut secures it down.

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As instructed, it is important to use an anti-seize compound on the threads of all stainless steel fasteners, if not, you will have a problem with the nuts galling on the bolts' threads.

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The Fat Man kit uses threaded-in ball joints on both the upper and lower A-arms.

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These units are simple to install (and, of course, replace when the need arises), but you will need a big open-end adjustable wrench.

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Pay attention to the lower ball joint, as it requires this small washer to properly align the stud in the spindle. Just remember that it goes on the bottom, if not you won't be able to get the tapered stud to seat in the lower hole of the spindle.

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With quality coilover shocks included in the kit, the frontend height is fully adjustable. As for installing these chrome beauties, a piece of cake! First you install the spherical joint between the two welded tubes in the upper portion of the frame, then install the long bolt and tighten the nut.

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Next, install the lower mounting plate, tighten down the four fasteners that hold it in the arm...

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...and slip the tube spacers on each side of the lower spherical rod and install the correct bolts.

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Finally, using the correct size sockets and/or wrenches, proceed to tighten the fasteners securely. Remember anti-seize and don't overdo it.

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With the A-arms and spindles in place, it was on to mounting the Force 10 brake package from Stainless Steel Brakes. In addition to 13-inch slotted and vented rotors, large four-piston aluminum calipers, this kit came complete with pads, bearings, seals and all fasteners. As for grip: we're sure it will haul this F-body down from speed with the best of them.

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With the hub/rotor assembly mounted on the spindle, the outer bearing is installed and the special washer and thin nut are threaded in place.

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Note to be sure to fully pack each bearing with high-quality grease before installation.

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Once the inside bearing and race were in position, the grease seal was meticulously installed. It's best to have the correct seal installation tool to do this, but if you're careful and have a solid piece of wood and a heavy hammer you can accomplish the install correctly.

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A pop-on grease cap finishes out the rotor installation. These big slotted discs will definitely look good through the windows of the billet wheels this car is to receive.

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As for looking good, these black finished four-piston billet calipers look as good as we know they work.

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Bolting them in place required correct location on the billet bracket and two fasteners.

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Loc-Tite here is a good idea, too.

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Other finishing touches to our Fat Man Camaro front clip install included these polished stainless steel ball joint caps: there was one for each joint, held in place by a screw that is threaded into the zerk fitting. Be sure to lube the joints prior to installing the cap, though.

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With virtually all of the frontend components in place (brakes, rack, etc.), we turned our attention to making the connection to the steering column. Since our donor car didn't have any interior, we got a hold of a new tilt column from Steering Columns Plus in Las Vegas. This complete unit featured the exact length we needed and came with a splined end that connected precisely with the universal joints provided in the Fat Man kit.

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With the column mounted in the dash, we set out to determine the length of the connection that was needed between the column and the rack. The first step required getting the universal joint on the end of the column. Simple, it just slipped on. Installing the other universal at the rack was just as easy.

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Once both of the universal joints were tight in place, a tape measure was used to determne how long the double-D shaft needed to be. In our case, we figured it needed to be a shade over 10 inches. Once cut to length, the shaft was fit into each end of the universal joints, which had been removed. Then the joints were relocated on their respective threaded shafts (at the column and the rack) and tightened down.

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The final job is to weld the double-D ends where they fit into the universal joints. Best bet is to have them TIG-welded.

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One final part to the Fat Man kit is their trick subframe connectors. These essentially tie in the new front clip to the car's existing rear subframe, bringing a new, solid level of handling capability to these early performers. The connectors bolt in place and can be welded.

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The final product: With a lower stance, the ability to accommodate wider tires, rack and pinion steering, powerful brakes, and full-frame rigidly, this '68 Camaro should be a blast to drive around the race course--or the local canyons.

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