Stiffer, Stronger, Faster!

Complete Suspension Upgrades for '78-96 B-Bodies

Popular Hot Rodding Staff Jun 21, 2002 0 Comment(s)

It's not everyday that you get a call to shoot Penthouse Pet Lori Michaels and her classic '96 Chevy Impala SS. Well, as it turned out, we got a call to shoot the car and not the babe, but that's OK because Ms. Michaels decided to go all-out on her '96 Chevy Impala SS--for looks as well as performance. In addition to the 700-plus-hp coming out of the Beck Racing Engines-tuned mill, the car needed to corner and handle properly.

A stock Impala SS has impressive handling abilities out of the box but look to the experts at Hotchkis Performance in Santa Fe Springs, California, to take a great car and make it even better. You can get the Hotchkis Performance front end kit with all the parts necessary to swap out the coil springs, tie rod links, and sway bar. John Hotchkis had his engineers working overtime to develop a set of sway bars that were 100 percent stiffer in the front and 144 percent stiffer in the rear. This translates into keeping the car level through seriously tight corners. The suspension kit also centers the rear axle in the wheelwell for an appearance benefit, as well. Hotchkis Performance not only made the suspension kit drop the vehicle a bit and handle like an F1 racer, but allowed for individual tunability in the rear lower control arms.

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Though we normally don't show you the after shot so early in the story, this is what the wheelwell should look like when you're done. The front had a giant gap when we started, and the rear wheel was sitting too high in the fenderwell due to the large amount of stereo gear in the trunk (350 pounds!). The wheel is still forward of the centerline of the fenderwell.

Once the front wheels were removed along with the brake calipers, we loosened the upper arm nuts and carefully dropped the lower arm and suspension. When using a floor jack, be very careful because the coil spring is under load and must slowly and gently be lowered. Otherwise, the spring can come out of the arm and cause serious damage.

The Hotchkis front coil spring is a variable rate spring that has a tighter winding at the top than stock (the coil spacer shown is also thicker than stock). The top coil spacer pad was secured onto the new springs with tape to keep it in place during the coil spring installation. Once secured, the new Hotchkis Performance springs were ready to be inserted back into the upper pocket.

With the spring seated in the top, a pair of pry bars were used to insert it into the lower pocket. This was tricky and was done slowly to prevent the spring from coming back out.

Now that the springs were done, we moved on to the front sway bar. After the end links were removed (we replaced them later), the center attachments and bushings were loosened, and the entire sway came out, driver-side first.

Before attaching the new sway bar, the bushings were greased with the appropriate white grease. A good coating was needed on the inside of the bushing to allow for proper movement of the bar under load.

With the new bushings properly attached to the new sway bar, the passenger side of the sway bar was inserted first and then the driver's side. Once inserted, we were ready to start the bolts for the center bushing brackets. They were left loose at this point.

With the center bushing brackets attached, but loose, we installed the new end links. The bolts were torqued down to 13 ft-lb. Then, we tightened the center bushing bracket bolts to 24 ft-lb of torque.

Once installed, the new connecting rod was screwed into the same location as the stock rod, and then the jam nuts were tightened down on each end.

Once the entire sway bar was attached, the spindles were reattached to the upper arms and the brake calipers reinstalled. The front end was almost complete.

The steering tie rods on the stock Impala SS were decent, but Hotchkis Performance improved on them. The connecting link has been strengthened as part of this kit. After marking the location on the threads on both ends, the stock links were removed.

As you can see from the preceding photo, the stock steering end link on the left was held on with clamps to keep it in place (the lengths are relatively the same). The Hotchkis Performance end link joint is much beefier in wall thickness and was held in place with jam nuts after they were installed.

HOTCHKIS HOLLOW BARS ARE THE NEXT BIG THING?

Evolution is constantly taking place over at Hotchkis. The latest offerings are hollow sway bars--they've engineered a series for many of their most-popular applications. While these are lighter than their solid counterparts, they've been engineered to have the same torsional energy as their solid predecessors, so no performance is sacrificed in order to decrease the weight of the car. We got an up-close look at some of the new parts and replaced the solid units under our in-house-project Grand National while we were there.

It is important to get the wall thickness correct so the hollow bar won't kink or collapse while being bent. All Hotchkis bars are inspected for correct shape, size, and integrity during the manufacturing process.

We got an exclusive peek inside Hotchkis' manufacturing facility and were impressed with the knowledgeable personnel and high-tech quality control equipment.

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