Most performance enthusiasts who live and breathe old cars have come to accept those mechanical shortcomings that go along with owning them, and have yet to be solved by either themselves or the aftermarket. Companies that specialize in chassis and suspension upgrades are one of the fastest growing segments of the industry, and they are ripe with products that give extensive help in bringing cars of the last century into the new millennium. However, this is not always an easy or inexpensive thing to do, especially for the do-it-yourselfer.
The seasoned fabricators at Fat Man Fabrications in Charlotte, North Carolina, don't give up that easily. If you are around any area of the classic car industry, it's a good bet you have heard of them or used their products before. Recently, through careful thought, engineering and planning they have tapped into a relatively untouched area that's of paramount interest to us: First-Gen Camaro rear suspension upgrades.
Now, we know there isn't much room under these cars with which to work. When considering a four-link for example, space for bottom links wouldn't be an issue. The problem is in finding room for equal length upper links, triangulated or parallel, without butchering the floor. You run into ground clearance problems when using triangulated ladder bars, not to mention cosmetics. As far as IRS goes, it's too complicated, heavy, and expensive for all practicality. Given all this, Fat Man has come up with a solution that is so simple it shouldn't work, but it does. Keep it simple, right?
Dubbed "Wonderbar," it's a wonder no one thought of this before. The foundation for the whole system is the use of tapered, half-length monoleafs that replace the stock parallel leaf springs. Amazingly, these are stiff enough to resist spring wrap, but they also give just enough to assure traction and not spin the tires. On top of that, they act as anti-sway bars as well because they resist the tension from body roll as they twist.
Next up is the clever but simple shock bar. This locates off-the-axle bumpstops that bolt to the body. For now this will limit this set up to '67-'68 Camaros because the bumpstop location on a '69 is different, but never fear because they are already working on a solution for that.
As far as installation goes, you simply unbolt the bumpstops and bolt in the shock bar. Not only does the shock bar provide upper mounts for the coilovers (standard) or Air Ride Shockwaves (optional), it also locates one side of the Panhard bar. The Panhard mount on the rearend is even a bolt-on item as it uses two U-bolts to attach it to the housing, one side sharing a leaf spring U-bolt.
Moving on to the lower spring/shock mount plates, these also replace the stock items, but they have provisions for the lower coilover mount. Position the new U-bolts over the housing, install the included aluminum spacer, monoleaf, spring/shock mount plates, and finally, the new hardened washers and nylon lock nuts. All that's left is to install the coilovers.
On a stock car that doesn't have aftermarket sub-frame connectors, sway bars, or anything else to get in the way, this is a 99-percent bolt-in operation. The only exception to this is that Fat Man recommends welding the shock bar to the body after it is bolted in place. Additionally, if there are some of the aftermarket items on your car, such as those on the Camaro in this article, you are in for a little fab work (see pictures), but still nothing too bad. This is an installation that could be done in any garage, even if you had to drive the car to the muffler shop to have the welding done. Follow along and see how it couldn't be any more simple or effective to get your First-Gen running firm and cornering hard.
WHAT A RIDE!
I own three Camaros; one late-model and two '68s. They all have their own drive characteristics (of course, I've only driven two of them: the '96 convertible six-speed and the Vortech-powered '68. The other is still in the build process). Whether that makes me somewhat of a Camaro expert, I'd question, but regardless, I know what I like--and don't like--about the legendary F-bodies. One thing I can say for sure, is that they don't drive like a Cadillac, nor a Corvette, unless they have been extensively modified in either of those directions. But after my test drives , in the donor car used for Fat Man's new rear-modified leaf suspension system, I may have changed my opinion.
I took this spunky '68 on a 15-mile jaunt around Fat Man's North Carolina facility late last year. The roads there aren't the best --with potholes and cracks every so often--but they did offer a sense of twisty, winding canyon paths that I'm used to here in California. The car wasn't overpowered, but it did have some energy, and I did have to put in some muscle to turn the non-power steering wheel. All that aside, the planting and cornering ability of this new semi-elliptical half-leaf spring system was firm and predictable. Did it handle like a slot car? Not really, because it wasn't set up that way. Did it smoke the tires? Well, if you want to quickly go down the quarter-mile you don't need smoke, you need traction--and that it did have.
Before I took off behind the wheel, Mr. "Fat Man" and I crawled under the car and he showed me how simple this system was to install. Simple is an understatement. With the quality of components and the basic premise to how it all works, it's easy to see how this is a viable alternative for the F-body owner who wants the ride comfort and performance handling the Camaro should be capable of. Did I enjoy it? Yes. And so will you.--Terry Cole