Tri-Five Chevys are for old guys who are content with 283s and Powerglides. At least that’s what the typical 40-something muscle car enthusiast thinks. Perhaps the high demand and prices of Camaros, Novas, and Chevelles have something to do with it, but that stereotype no longer holds true these days. There seems to be a resurgence in popularity of Tri-Fives as of late, and people aren’t building them like before. The days of puny Mouse motors in stock restoration are long gone, and the new crop of Tri-Fives sport LS-series small-blocks, overdrive transmissions, big rollers, and mean stances.
Although they look the part of a corner-hugging Pro Touring machine, can they actually walk the walk? The answer is an emphatic yes, and to get details on how to make it happen, we sought the expertise of some of the biggest names in Tri-Five suspension hardware. Our panel includes Craig Morrison of Art Morrison Enterprises, Aaron Strietzel of Classic Performance Parts, Doug Nordin of Global West, and John Hotchkis of Hotchkis Performance. Although we covered aftermarket Tri-Five frames in great detail last month, we wanted to focus on budget-oriented bolt-on suspension upgrades this time around. If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that the products are available to build a comfortable cruiser to an all-out performer; there’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get started.
Craig Morrison: Many hot rodders have proven that the average ’64-72 muscle car can be built to handle very well, but Tri-Five Chevys don’t get much street cred in that regard. Art Morrison Enterprises has been involved with some very impressive Tri-Five builds that have performed quite well in instrumented testing. We built a ’55 Chevy project car named GT55 to showcase our Tri-Five hardware in 2003. The car was fitted with AME suspension components, a Bill Mitchell 530hp small-block, and a Tremec T56 six-speed transmission. After it was completed, we drove it from our facility in Tacoma, Washington, to California Speedway for several rounds of instrumented testing. On BFGoodrich street tires, the car produced some amazing numbers. It pulled 0.94 g on the skidpad, ran the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds at 116 mph, stopped from 60 mph in 132 feet, and went through a tight slalom course at 48.37 mph. At the time, the most comparable new car to these numbers was a 575M Ferrari. It’s not too often you can compare a Ferrari GT car and a ’55 Chevrolet!
Aaron Strietzel: These cars are usually built as cruisers, and there are many easy bolt-on suspension components available to dramatically improve their street manners. The good news is these cars already have a decent suspension to being with. If you’re starting out with a bone-stock Tri-Five, one of Classic Performance Parts’ frontend rebuild kits is a great place to start. They include a new set of springs, three-way adjustable shocks, and our Polyplus performance graphite control arm bushings, bumpstops, and strut rod bushings. Other components in the kit include ball joints, inner and outer tie-rod ends, and a new idler arm. You take things one step further with a set of our sway bars, control arms, and a 500-series steering box. These simple upgrades will make a Tri-Five handle like a modern daily driver instead of a 50-year-old car, especially if you already have bigger wheels and tires.
John Hotchkis: From a handling perspective, the biggest drawback of the Tri-Five Chevy is that it’s relatively heavy and very tall. That creates a lot of leverage from the glass and roof as the car rolls through a corner. Consequently, one of the worst things you can do is put bigger wheels and tires on a stock suspension car. That puts more stress on the car and makes it roll even more. Even so, you can still make a Tri-Five handle very well, and one of the most affordable and effective modifications you can make is installing a set of sway bars. Combined with sticky tires, our sway bars offer a huge improvement in handling, and Tri-Fives make much better cruisers than first-gen Camaros.