Chevy II Renovation, Part 1

Giving a Box Nova the Full Heidt's Suspension Treatment

John Nelson Sep 1, 2005 0 Comment(s)

In the quest for better handling and braking performance, some Chevys just need a few bolt-ons and some well-considered tweaking. In other cases, more radical surgery is the order of the day. The original Nova definitely falls into the latter category. They ride tolerably and remain popular with enthusiasts, but turning and stopping prodigies they aren't. In this two-part project, we'll be raiding the Heidt's Hot Rod Shop catalog to totally transform the chassis and suspension system of our test subject, a nearly stock '66 Nova. For starters, we'll be performing radical bolt-on surgery by installing Heidt's Superide II IFS front subframe and the host of turn-quick and stop-fast goodies that come with it.

Why call this job "radical bolt-on surgery?" Well, the entire stock Nova frontend has to be removed before it can be replaced with the Heidt's subframe. Once that's done, the new Superide unit bolts right into place using the original mounting holes, no welding required. The stout subframe unit is constructed from 2x3x1/8-inch thick steel box tubing, much thicker than the stock steel stampings. The motor mount stands are welded in place, so once the subframe is installed, all that remains (a few twists and turns aside) is to mount up the suspension and brakes, replace the engine, hook up the steering, and put the thing back together.

We asked Gary Heidt about the advantages of installing one of his Superide systems, and he was quick with an answer, though not the one we expected. We thought he'd talk about the increased stiffness of his subframe, or the fact that it cuts about 150 pounds off the frontend of the car, or maybe even the modern components used on the Superide II IFS. Instead, he gave us a more fundamental reason to expect improvement in our subject Nova's handling. "The original '60s suspension used the performance technology available at the time," he told us. "We've come a long way since then, in terms of improving suspension geometry and handling characteristics. The original setup gives a good ride, but not good handling. With this system, the car will drive nice and handle better." Gary also mentioned the tunability we'd be gaining with the Aldan coilovers used in this system, which are adjustable for both damping and spring preload, as well as his adjustable power-steering valve.

John Barbera of Johns Customz & Performance, our pro installers for this project, echoed these thoughts. "We've got a car that's seen normal wear and tear on its original frontend, but it has a mildly built engine (a 350-horse small-block rather than the original six-banger, with more to come), so we want better handling and braking, stiffer suspension, and better control (i.e., adjustability) for both the track and the street." John agreed that we were gaining all these things with the Heidt's setup and the components it employs.

Speaking of components, Heidt's offers a variety of options with its front subframes, and we went for the good stuff--most of which you'll see below. With the Superide II package, plain steel control arms are standard, the upper units being adjustable for caster and camber. We've already mentioned the fine-tuning capability we'll have with the Aldan coilovers (we'll explore this in Part II), and we should have extra handling prowess by adding the optional swaybar kit. Stopping won't be a problem, as Heidt's sent along its 12-inch Wilwood four-piston Big Brake kit, while Wilwood kicked in an exquisite manual dual master cylinder and the necessary flex lines. The steering system was a joint effort; Heidt's upgraded us to a power rack-and-pinion, but as you'll see below, we even gained control of the power-assist rate with Heidt's adjustable power-steering valve kit. A Flaming River tilt column and wheel connected right up to the new rack. As a final touch, we added Heidt's inner fender panels to make sure the Nova's engine compartment comes out sano as can be.

While the subframe and its components are bolt-on items, remember that this is a major project, and it'll take some time--even some improvisation--depending on your particular setup. The photos that follow are an overview rather than a comprehensive look at the process--you'll find the complete lowdown in the detailed instructions. Johns Customz, which does jobs like this all the time, recommends that the home mechanic set aside two full weekends to accomplish the task.

Of course, more than any of these details, we're all interested in the bottom line: Does it work? How will our worked-over Chevy II handle with all these modern amenities in place? Well, you'll have to wait for the final verdict, 'cause we're only half done. In Part II of our Chevy II Renovation, we'll be attacking the Nova's rearend, replacing it with a Heidt's rear subframe. Then we'll make another trip to the test track where, as they say, the numbers don't lie. We're looking forward to the results, and hope you'll stay tuned.

7

Here lies the foundation of Heidt's Superide II IFS subframe for '62-67 Novas. We added Heidt's optional front swaybar, and also chose a power rack-and-pinion over a manual unit. At the rear of the photo are Heidt's sano inner fender panels. All necessary hardware is included in this thorough kit, but a parts list is included so you can double-check your shipment and make sure you're ready to rock.

After supporting the '67 on jackstands placed behind the firewall, all the front bodywork must be removed. Be sure to disconnect the wiring, and save all the bolts, as they will be reused. In this photo, we've removed the radiator and we were going after the core support. Johns' Paul Morrow took a shot at drilling out the retaining rivets, but it proved easier to cut the core support off, as shown here.

With the body panels and core support set aside, the path was clear to remove the engine and transmission, which in turn allowed the front clip to be removed. Paul started with the top bolts, three on each side. Liberal use of penetrating oil is recommended; one of our 40-year-old bolts promptly snapped when we tried to loosen it.

Moving to the bottom of the Nova's empty snout, there are two bolts to remove on each side at the inner fender-to-firewall junction. On the driver side, you'll also need to remove the three bolts holding the stock steering box in place and disconnect the Pitman arm.

You'll find another pair of bolts on the opposite side of this juncture, outside the engine bay. Remove these as well.

And just like that, the factory subframe pops off. Well, not just like that . . . between the ancient factory coating and decades of road grime, it took a bit of prying. This thing is no lightweight, so be sure to support it with a floorjack.

This is an ideal time to clean and detail the firewall, and as you can see, Johns Customz did just that before installing the Heidt's subframe assembly. John and Paul had a third person help support the subframe until they got the bolts started. The Heidt's holes lined right up with those in the old Nova's firewall.

The brackets for the adjustable firewall-support tubes mount on the upper firewall, again in the stock location. Since the tubes themselves are adjustable, shims aren't needed at this location.

The support tubes were then bolted into place. Be sure to follow the directions here, or you won't be able to get these bolts back out once the engine is in place. Later on, when the body panels are installed, these tubes allow gaps in the sheetmetal to be adjusted. But at this point, Paul placed a jack under the crossmember until the unit just began to lift, and then turned the tubes until both were centered and there was no slack.

Paul then bolted up the Heidt's narrowed control arms. The top arm is adjustable for alignment purposes. Paul then assembled the Aldan coilovers. The top shock mount simply bolts into the control-arm mount.

The lower shock mount, however, doubles as the mounting point for the optional swaybar we ordered. Heidt's provides the correct long bolt for this purpose.

Opting for the swaybar means drilling and tapping mounting holes. The mounting points are 23 3/4-inches apart, centered on the crossmember, the top hole is 1 3/8 inch from the top of the crosspiece, and the holes are 1 1/2-inches apart. Paul measured and marked out the first two dimensions, then used the swaybar-mounting brackets (with the bushings installed) as a template for the last hole.

Swaybar installed, Paul installed the 2-inch drop spindles, which will help give our '67 an in-the-weeds stance. Ball joints are preinstalled in the control arms; castle nuts and cotter pins are provided.

At this point, we stopped to survey our progress. All agreed that the installation was going smoothly and that things looked good.

Next up was the power rack-and-pinion. For this application, using Heidt's narrowed control arms, the rack ends must be shortened 5/8 inch on each end. Paul cut the necessary length off with the rack bolted in place, then measured to make sure that each side was adjusted evenly--in this case, 13 inches from framerail to spindle end.

Now for a slight diversion . . . with the stock steering column out of the picture, we linked our Flaming River tilt column and Waterfall steering wheel to the rack-and-pinion with an FR steering shaft and U-joints.

At this point, Paul had removed the original column and slid the Flaming River unit into place. The new column came with a snazzy billet mount, which would have left us with a gap in the Nova's dash. Paul instead ground off the factory column-locating tab in the upper bracket, then drilled a small hole in the new column, and put a screw through the lower bracket to keep the column in place.

Long story short, Paul installed the steering U-joints and cut the steering shaft to the proper length, making sure the shaft didn't interfere with the U-joints' movement. We don't have space to show you here, but the shaft was drilled with locating holes for the U-joint setscrews, and we put Loctite on them to boot. The shaft is close to the Nova's headers; we'll show you what we did about that later.

The tilt and signal levers were then installed, followed by the wheel adapter, and finally the wheel and horn button (not shown).

To wire the new column into the Nova's electrical system, the factory half-moon connector must be cut off and new female wire ends crimped on. Each color wire has a designated slot in the provided flat plug end, which mates to the steering column's male plug.

Our column concerns dealt with, we turned to the brakes. Heidt's supplied a 12-inch Big Brake kit, featuring Wilwood Dynalite components that include three-piece, slotted and drilled rotors, featherweight four-piston calipers, and an exquisite aluminum master cylinder.

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