Let's face facts, folks: We don't love our musclecar-era Chevys for their handling prowess. Truth be told, today's lowliest econoboxeshandle and ride better than your average veteran Bow Tie, and in our book, that's just not right. So in this, the first of two installments, we set out to update the road-and track-manners of a big-block-powered '69 El Camino SS by installing Hotchkis Performance's Total Vehicle System (TVS), all the while documenting the results on the test course.
We weren't just looking for handling for handling's sake. The ability to take a turn at speed is great, and a smooth ride is hard to beat, but having a car agile enough to avoid unexpected obstacles (e.g., the swerving latte-sipper chatting on a cell phone, the unexpected canine crossing the street, the shredded tire tread in the middle of the lane) is priceless. If you're gonna drive the thing, you want to drive safely, right?
The complete TVS Package that our Rat-powered Elky's owner chose consists of Sport Springs and Hotchkis' new Extreme sway bars front and back, heavy-duty tie-rod sleeves, lower rear trailing arms, and new double-adjustable upper trailing arms. To this we added a pair of trailing-arm mount braces, a set of HPS 100 shocks, and an airbag kit. With better suspension in place, the stage was set to take advantage of modern rolling stock so we mounted up a set of Oasis Wheels 17-inch IROC hoops shod in BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW rubber.
To test the efficacy of the TVS package, we hit the test track with our veteran El Camino to lay down baseline numbers, run on stock-style 14-inch Cooper tires, no less. We headed down the road to the Hotchkis Installation Center for the upgrades, then returned some weeks later for post-upgrade testing. With the TVS in place and running our modern BFGs, we were able to twist through the slalom course 3.5 mph faster than baseline. What's just as impressive, however, is that we were able to make the run just over 2 mph faster on the old-school Coopers. Better suspension makes good use of better tires, but in this case, dividends are paid even with traditional tires.
Our skidpad test area was unfortunately unavailable during our baseline testing, but frankly, we don't need to know where we started to realize that the 0.85g we pulled with the TVS/BFG combo is impressive-as is the 0.76g we managed with the 14-inchers mounted. We've seen a baseline of 0.63g on a '70 Elky with similar rubber in a previous test. The more-modern alignment specs, lack of body roll, and better contact-patch management all led to less understeer-and greatly improved roadholding ability. Finally, our subject '69 stopped 8 feet shorter from 60 mph. We wanted to retest on the Coopers, but our day of testing had taken its toll on the car's stock binders, a deficiency we'll remedy in Part II.