1971 Chevy Chevelle Wagon - Part 1: Suspension Upgrade

How to Get Modern Performance Out of Your Classic Chevelle

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Since cars first started rolling across asphalt, hot rodders have imbued them with feminine qualities. Instead of "it" many a gearhead refer to their ride as "she". Yeah, it's a little odd, but we're guilty of it as well. Maybe it's just a holdover from the old days when ships were thought of as belonging to the fairer gender; we, however, prefer to think that it's due to our obsessive love affair with them. Take your average classic muscle car, for example. In stock form they are pretty hot to look at, but from a handling standpoint they can be miserable to deal with. Thankfully these ill manners can be made a bit more demure by adding in some modern suspension components.

Global West has been making suspension widgets for Chevelles for quite some time, but recently, they decided to kick it up a few notches. What they came up with was a coilover system that does more than could be accomplished with just bolt-on parts. Yeah, there's welding, cutting, and grinding, but they've engineered the kit to be fairly straightforward to install. Going with this coilover system offers increased suspension travel, more adjustability, less weight, and a greater variety of spring rates. But this kit is about more than just the coilover component.

As Global West's top guy, Doug Norrdin, told us, "Replacing the upper control arms changes the caster and camber curve of the frontend. Most of the 1960s and 1970s cars had very little caster. Caster directly affects straight-line stability, improves self aligning, and also the camber sweep. The camber sweep is the amount of camber change due to the combination of caster and spindle inclination angle. By effectively using caster and a different camber curve, you can increase the cornering capability of the car dramatically without inducing additional tire wear.

On the performance side, keeping the tire flatter on the pavement obviously increases cornering ability, because more rubber is in contact with the ground. The lower arms have a huge benefit over the stock because of their strength. Chevelle lower arms, around the ball joint area, need to be beefed up because today's tires have far more grip than what was available 40 years ago. Add in stiffer springs, a bigger sway bar, wider front tires, and the stock lower arms become inadequate for hard cornering use."

Performance handling also puts added strain on a car's (or wagon in this case) braking system. To address this, we ditched the stock front disc and rear drum brakes for the latest technological wonders from Wilwood. In addition we completed the package with a fast-ratio steering box, also from Global West. The result is a Chevelle that still has classic good looks, but now with modern underpinnings to make it ride like it was built last week instead of four decades ago.

For this test we picked up a 1971 Chevelle wagon to make things even harder. We figured if we could make this big A-body handle, then its lower, shorter, and lighter coupe cousin would see an even bigger benefit. This kit is brand new, so at press time they hadn't confirmed final pricing, but by the time you read this they should have some numbers up on their website.

Stock 2/24

1. Nothing much of note here, just the typical stock suspension found under most 40-year-old Chevelles. Everything was in decent shape with the exception of the coil springs, which had blocks installed to counteract sagging.

Remove Brakes Springs Sway 3/24

2. We’re not going to dwell on how to take off all the old parts since it’s pretty simple. Just remember to be careful when removing the springs since they are under tension. After Global West’s engineer Eric Norrdin removed the brakes, control arms, springs, and sway bar this is what we were left with.

Stock Spindle And Steering 4/24

3. The stock spindle and steering arm will be reused so we blasted them clean and gave them a fresh coat of paint. We then bolted the caliper bracket from the Wilwood disc brake kit to the Chevelle spindle using the supplied hardware. Eric Norrdin feels it’s best to install all of this on a bench first since you may have to experiment with various spacers to get the proper caliper-to-rotor alignment.

Safety Wiring 5/24

4. The Wilwood hats and rotors came unassembled, but the hardware was included. After bolting the rotors to the hats, Eric Norrdin went about the task of safety wiring all the pre-drilled fasteners. It took a while to do, but the added peace of mind was well worth the effort.

Wilwood W6a Brake 6/24

5. Our wagon is big and heavy, so to get it stopped, Wilwood sent over their W6A big-brake kit. The key parts in this system are Wilwood’s forged six-piston front calipers. These binders incorporate race technology like stainless pistons and brake pad bridge-style retention bolts into a radial-mounted caliper that should stop the Chevelle on a dime with bit of change left over.

Wilwood Master 7/24

6. To complement our new Wilwood disc brake system we picked up one of their 11/8-inch aluminum tandem master cylinders. It has full separation between the front and rear chambers and offered in media burnished and black E-coat finishes. To dial in the correct brake bias we also plumbed in one of their trick proportioning valves.

Fabricated Shock 8/24

7. Lack of shock travel is one problem endemic to coilover suspension retrofits. Global West addressed the problem with this fabricated shock tower. Coilovers generally lose some suspension travel, especially if you lower the car. This is why the new shock tower is so important. It actually allows the suspension to have far more travel than if the shock was mounted to the Chevelle’s factory location.

Global West 9/24

8. Global West wanted to make installation of their frame modifications as foolproof as possible, so templates were included in the kit to help ensure a painless installation.

Control Arm 10/24

9. Using the first template, Eric Norrdin drew a curved line on the control arm flange. He then cut along that line and also where that section connected to the frame. This was done using a cutoff wheel for better control.

Second Template Ends Aligned Control 11/24

10. The second template was then laid on the frame so that the ends aligned to the centers of the control arm holes.

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