Next, tap the camber-bar mounting bolt out of its seat, using a punch if necessary, so the outboard end of the bar can be installed; with that done, hammer it back into place. Again, this may take some wrestling and prying. Once I got the bolt through the camber bar, I slid the lower mount of the halfshaft loop into place on the mounting bolt before securing it with the nut; I also tightened down the upper mounting bracket for the safety loop at this time.
Now is also a good time to make sure your camber bars are tight. I used Vette Brakes and Products bars, which use a jam nut to keep the bar from unscrewing. They weren’t tight enough, which caused the bars to loosen as I drove the car to the alignment shop. The result? Dangerously excessive negative camber and one destroyed rear tire. Lesson learned.
Slip the upper shock-mount reinforcing bracket around the factory bracket, orienting it in the same direction as the factory mount (one toward the front, one to the rear), and weld it in place. If you can’t weld it during the initial install, don’t worry: It can be done later. Just be sure to remove the shock before you fire up the torch.
To mount the coilover, slip the top of the shock into the mount and bolt it in place, making sure to orient the adjustment knob at the bottom toward the inboard side. Our upper mounting bolts were a little long, so we used a bench grinder to shorten them. Verify that you’ve taken all the pressure off the spring before you start installing the coilover at the top. Once it’s in place, tighten the two jam nuts on the bottom of the coilover, mount the bottom of the shock, and bolt it into place. The nut should be toward the rear.
Other than adjusting spring tension and ride height, that’s it for the coilover-specific installation; the rest is similar to the factory reassembly procedure. Install the parking-brake cable, adjusting the parking-brake shoes if needed using the serrated wheel assembly at the bottom of the hub. (Check your Haynes manual for instructions.) Install the brake rotor, followed by the caliper, then connect the brake line, taking care to route it around the coilover. (You may need to use a flexible line.)
Next, I installed a 0.75-inch rear sway bar supplied by Addco. While small-block C3s didn’t generally come with rear bars, they should have the necessary threaded mounting holes. Unfortunately, someone had puttied in the rear holes on my car, so I got to dig the stuff out and chase the threads using a bolt before installing the sway-bar brackets. I also had to remove one of the exhaust hangers for clearance.
To connect the bar to the trailing arms, install a bracket on top of the arm and thread two bolts through it, into the bottom bracket (the one with two weld nuts installed in it). Unfortunately, the holes in the brackets and the ones in the arms were a little off, so I omitted the bottom bracket and used Grade 8 hardware (bolt-washer-arm-washer-lock-washer-nut) to bolt the top one directly to the arm. With that in place, assemble the link with its multiple bushings and washers, remembering to tighten it down once the car is back down on its tires.
One of the challenges of this particular assembly is that I had selected 9-inch-wide wheels from Summit Racing, and ordered them with an extra inch of backspacing. This left the inside sidewall of the tire either in contact with the rear sway bar, or frighteningly close to it. I’m no fan of wheel spacers, but there weren’t many other options, so I bought a set of 5⁄16-inch spacers at the local O’Reilly, then had 0.125-inch shaved off of them at North Georgia Machine. This setup provided enough inboard clearance, but didn’t push the wheel out so far that it prevented sufficient lug-nut engagement.
That done, it was time to bleed the brakes and check the ride height. Since the 550-pound front coil springs that were in the car raised the nose, I swapped them for a pair of 460s from Muskegon Brake. This gave me the lower stance I was looking for on both ends. The top of the rear fender arch now sits roughly 25 inches from the ground, with the front about a half-inch lower.
The next order of business was getting the car lined up using the alignment specs in the instructions. Van Steel provides three sets of specs—street, advanced street, and track—and I went with the advanced-street settings. After driving a bit to get acclimated to the car, you’ll also want to adjust the shock stiffness to meet your driving habits. Van Steel suggests starting with 5 or 6 clicks, which is halfway through the shock’s adjustment. Exceeding the maximum number will damage the shock, so be wary on the top end of adjustment.
I’ve now got about 700 miles on the new rear suspension, and while I have yet to flog the car in a controlled environment, it’s an entirely different animal on the road. There’s no longer a need to “set up” for a curve by taking the slack out of the rear suspension slowly before putting it under load. Turn-in is sharp and immediate, and the rear simply sticks, responding especially well to acceleration through—and out of—curves.
It sticks well enough, in fact, that it’s easy to feel how deficient the factory seats are when it comes to lateral support during hard cornering. I guess that explains the C5 sport seats sitting on my office floor.
Special thanks to Leon Arrowood and Rick Clough.
Check out the rest of the series in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Sure-Footed Shark!