1968 Chevy Camaro - Country Honk, Camaro Revival Part 2

Suspension, Brakes Steering & Rolling Stock

Terry Stevens Dec 1, 2005 0 Comment(s)

We left you last month with the body straight and ready for the paint shop. As you can see from the image above, there has been a slight lapse in continuity! At the last minute we decided to hold the dirty prep work and all the paint stages for an early '06 issue that will feature paint and bodywork.In this month's installment, though, we discuss the requirements to improve the handling and road manners of the First-Gen Camaro without sacrificing ride quality. Accept it as fact that these cars were horrible handlers in stock form, due to several factors:

*Poor A-arm geometry (virtually no negative camber)
*Springs that were too tall (high center of gravity)
*Tiny front sway bar, no rear sway bar (no resistance to roll in a turn)
*$.50 shocks (poor ride quality)
*Bias-ply tires (great for smoky burnouts but little else)
*Drum brakes prevailed (even the front disc brakes were grossly inadequate for the weight of the car and the speed it could attain)

The aftermarket (compaines such as Hotchkis Performance, Detroit Speed, Flaming River, Baer Brakes, BFGoodrich, and Bonspeed) has responded to these inherent deficiencies and created products that are literally bolt-on upgrades. In addition, these companies have spent tons of money and time to improve on GM's engineering so that customers will benefit from the improved ride quality and handling. You can now make any Camaro handle as well as any current performance vehicle, and look better doing it!

The lead image depicts the original "air" suspension system--no drag, light weight, and ride and handling like you are driving on a cloud! This picture simply approximates the stock wheel and ride height of the First-Gen Camaro as a reference to the final ride height in the right- hand image.

Yes, the attitude could be lower and it could even be raked. However, this car does not bottom out and the wheels do not rub in any steering maneuver. It handles like a slot car and rides better than I ever imagined! If you are going to lower your car more than what the aftermarket parts are designed for, be aware that you may degrade the ride, the handling, or both! There is nothing worse than putting time and money into your ride, then not wanting to drive it because it beats you to death, rubs the wheels, or slams down over every bump in the road. Though this engineering and design costs, it is amazing that you can buy extremely high-quality kits for a little more than the cost of stock or off-brand components. You do get what you pay for.

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Hotchkis Performance makes a Total Vehicle System (TVS) suspension kit for Camaro models from '67 to '02 that are designed to improve handling. In addition to the rear sway bar and its attachment components (shown), it includes the front sway bar, front coil springs, and rear leaf springs. All hardware is included.

Hang the loosely assembled sway bar so the dog-bone attachment points may be marked. It is a good idea to drill all necessary holes, weld other holes closed, and mock-up the components before removing the axle for its refurbishment or replacement. This way you won't mar the final finishes with the test fittings.

These are the rear attachment plates for the sway bar. If the interior is installed, you'll have to remove the back seat. It is also wise to remove the front seats so you have adequate room to work.

At this point the car sits too high, but the interior has yet to be installed and the convertible top attached, and the gas tank is not yet in place. There were no other suspension changes made after this picture was taken. The addition of interior weight (a driver and one or more passengers) makes the final ride height perfect. Since the car will settle on a newly installed suspension, don't make height changes or adjustments until it has been driven.

The HPS 1000 Hotchkis Performance shocks are made by Bilstein and valved specifically for Hotchkis. The advantage of this shock is that it instantaneously adapts to every road condition (the patented Bilstein valve design negates the need for an external adjustment mechanism). Hotchkis TVS kits lower the First-Gen Camaro 2 inches in front and 1.5 inches in the rear. The leaf springs are designed to reduce axle wrap-up under hard acceleration. The Baer brakes and Classic Tube stainless brake lines provide a nice contrast.

We addressed the Camaro's poor handling traits by replacing the stock A-arms with these Detroit Speed beauties. Owners Kyle and Stacy Tucker are former GM engineers and have designed their tubular control arms to significantly improve the camber, caster, and bump steer shortcomings of early Camaros.

The Hotchkis big-block coil springs accommodate the weight of the six-speed and new engine accessories, and they snuggle into the Detroit Speed spring pockets. The small-block ones couldn't be used without going with a shorter front tire and would have caused clearance issues. The stock drum spindle was cleaned and powdercoated by Robbie Morrow (CPC Stripping and Powder Coating). Robbie powdercoated the subframe in a contrasting color; it will remain virtually chip-free, enhances overall appearance, and is easy to clean. If time is not an issue, then spend those 50 or more hours smoothing the subframe.

The front sway bar bolts perfectly into the stock location. All Hotchkis bushings are polyurethane and they may squeak if not lubricated. All Hotchkis components hold the lubricant in the bushing. Grade 8 and stainless hardware are part of the package.

The Baer Track brake kit (13-inch, front and 11-inch rear) has everything needed to replace whatever brakes your Camaro came with. The 13-inch rotors do require a minimum wheel diameter of 17 inches, however. Check with Baer, as it has already made templates of many aftermarket wheels to ensure there will be no caliper/rotor clearance issues. Installation is easy; remember to swab the rotors and calipers with brake cleaner after assembly.

Because First-Gen Camaros had so many different brake fittings, Baer sent a ton of extra parts in its 13-inch kit. The washer on the right is from the OE drum brakes, and since we used the original spindles, we saved it. The left washer is for the OE disc brake spindle that has a slightly smaller shaft diameter. Save all those old parts until you have finished the car.

Is this cool or what? Baer asked what the car color was and then matched its logo to the body color.

The Bonspeed Delta wheels are the perfect complement to this car. The BFGoodrich g-Force KDW 245/45ZR17 tires provide a smoother ride than we thought possible and work very well with the Hotchkis Performance and Detroit Speed components to get the LS2's horses to the ground in full stride.

Phil Hudson puts his 30-plus years of experience to work ensuring that the Camaro will make full use of the high-tech suspension. We did a rough square-up at the shop, and then left it to Phil and his computer to get the alignment spot-on. The Detroit Speed A-arms have adjustable caster inserts that allow a major range of adjustment for street or track vehicles.

Confession time. Who needs stinkin' instructions? Actually, we did read them...

...There is no project that does not justify a new tool...

...so here is our new steering wheel adapter remover in action so we could attach the pesky turn signal and wheel-tilt stalks!

...so here is our new steering wheel adapter remover in action so we could attach the pesky turn signal and wheel-tilt stalks!

Flaming River's 30-inch tilt column is available in either stainless steel (that can be painted) or polished stainless steel. The steering shaft was drilled for the locking bolt once the final position was determined. Flaming River supplies all the hardware as well as a selection of universal joints to join the column to the stock power steering or manual steering box.

The finished product! The black column blends right in. Though not a full-blown custom interior, it's rather simple and features classic colors that go together well.

The only area we haven't addressed is the addition of subframe connectors. Hotchkis is currently developing them for the Camaro convertible, and the prototypes will soon be fitted to this car. Convertibles also have a cross brace plate, but it will not fit with the Flowmaster exhaust system. Bobby Livengood made this plate to replace the OE brace.

This is the ride height resulting from the products we used. We chose the wheel and tire combi-nation after long discussions with all the suspension sponsors...

...It is the opinion of people much more enlightened than we that 17-inch wheels and tires are possibly the optimum combination for ride quality and handling in the First-Gen Camaro. Further, the car is very pleasant to drive and feels more comfortable than a Z06 Corvette.

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