The great thing about buying a beat-down classic A-body is that you don’t need to hock household items or sell off family members to medical science to afford one. The bad thing is that it has a low buy-in for a reason. Lots of wear, lots of tear, but then again making treasure out of trash is what this hobby is all about.
A good example is Chris Gordziel’s ’67 El Camino. He picked up this hunk of classic Chevy iron for a measly $1,500. Of course, for that meager sum, it barely ran, had a few bashed-in panels, and was sketchy to drive on roads that weren’t laser straight. His first task was to get it running by dropping in a freshened-up big-block and fixing some of the body panels. With this complete, it was time to address the items that were conspiring to make driving the Elky a real buzzkill, namely the poor handling and brakes.
Stuffed into the handling category are the steering components. After all, even a car with a top-shelf suspension package will suck to drive if it has vague, unresponsive steering. For handling we decided to go with Classic Performance Products’ (CPP) Stage II “Pro Touring” kit (PN 6467PTK2). Included are front and rear tubular control arms, front QA1 coilovers and rear shocks and drop springs, along with front and rear sway bars. Gordziel’s ’67 was rolling on tired four-wheel manual drums and he lived in constant fear of eating the bumper of the car in front of him. The solution to this was CPP’s Big Brake kit (PN 6467FRBKBB) that included rotors, calipers, hubs, spindles, parking brake cables, brake lines, brackets, and everything else needed to convert over to four-wheel disc. To finish off the upgrade we added in a 500 series steering box (PN CP50004) and a power brake booster kit (PN 6772CBB4), which included the proper disc/disc proportioning valve.
Now a big pile of new parts is cool and all, but we wanted to see what the gain would be from dropping such a big stack of cash. We realized before starting this adventure that the stock 15-inch rims would never clear the new binders so we picked up a set of Vintage Wheel Works wheels and wrapped them in some street-friendly Nitto rubber. After all, we wanted to test the suspension/brake upgrades and the only way to do that fairly would be on the same tires.
With all the parts on hand we grabbed our tools and headed over to Best of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California, for a little quality time on their lift.
Putting it to the test
Sure, the new parts looked great, but what we wanted to know was how much better the ’67 would perform. To keep this a suspension test and not a tire test we made sure to install our new 17-inch Vintage Wheel Works wheels and Nitto 555R tires prior to the baseline testing. This way we had a true before-and-after testing of the suspension and brakes.
The big-block ’67 looked like it was getting ready to flip over onto its roof. It was fun to watch, but not conducive to good handling. Before getting motion sickness our wheelman, Nick Licata, was able to nail down a best time in our 420-foot slalom of 6.82 seconds, which equates to 42.1 mph and far better than we expected. On the other hand the four-wheel manual drum brakes were abysmal with a best 60-0 mph braking distance of 192.90 feet! That’s past the point of being bad and firmly into the dangerous category.
With all the suspension parts installed, and the ’67 wearing a fresh coat of black primer, we headed back to our El Toro test track. After a few warm-up laps we were rewarded with a best slalom time of 6.22 seconds or 46.2 mph. This was a substantial improvement over the previous tests. Moreover the El Camino’s body roll was now under control and the tighter steering made the Chevy easier to weave through the cones.