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.

Line To Be Cut 12/24

11. With the template in place, Eric Norrdin drew a circular line around its edge. This is the area of the frame that needed to be cut away for the new shock tower.

Plasma 13/24

12. Since this area will eventually be welded up the cut doesn’t have to be pretty, so we used a plasma cutter to get it done quicker, but a standard cutoff wheel could be used. The key here is to cut and grind on the hole until the template easily passes through the new hole.

New Shock 14/24

13. Once the new shock tower fit in the hole we were ready to weld. The tower is held in proper orientation by using the two existing control arm holes.

Shock Tower Post 15/24

14. Here’s the tower after being welded in place. To make it as strong as possible, Eric Norrdin welded the tower to both the frame and the control arm flange.

Global West Suspension Upper Control 16/24

15. The kit came with their G-Plus upper control arms. These have additional caster built in and an improved camber curve. Together this helps keep the car in better contact with the pavement. They came pre-assembled with new ball joints, billet cross shafts, and Del-a-lum bushings.

Global West Suspension Del A Lum 17/24

16. We asked Doug Norrdin about the Del-a-lum bushings and he explained, “These bushings were designed by Global West back in the ’80s and are considered the best in the business. The six-surface design provides movement like a bearing would have. The bushing has an aluminum housing with a Delrin insert, steel sleeve, and outer thrust washers. They are lubricated through a grease fitting, and the housing is channeled with a grease groove. The bushing provides uninterrupted movement straight up and down with no bind. This takes deflection and bushing bind, which affects spring rate, out of the equation.” As a bonus they don’t squeak and have a lifetime warranty.

Global West Lower Control 18/24

17. The Global West lower control arms are specifically designed for coilover applications. Due to the increased loads, doubling plates are used in the spring mounting areas and cross tubes help support the loaded shock mounting area. Straps are also used around the bushing housings to strengthen the housing to the tube. Like the uppers these came pre-assembled with ball joints, bumpstops, and Del-a-lum bushings.

Penske Shock Eibach 19/24

18. Eric Norrdin installed the upper control arm, slid the Penske shock/Eibach spring assembly in place, and secured it by using the supplied bolt and conical shock spacers. Choosing the right spring rate is contingent on how the car will be used. If you’re planning top run aggressive at autocross events, you might want to go with a higher spring rate than if you’re just cruising along a curvy mountain road.

Penske 20/24

19. The lower control arm was then bolted in place and attached to the bottom of the Penske shock.

Wilwood Brake 21/24

20. With both control arms bolted in, we could then put our Wilwood brake assembly in place. The Wilwood kit included massive 14.25-inch diameter, 1.25-inch thick rotors. Some people think that large-diameter rotors are just for looks, but they dramatically improve braking performance due to increased leverage. In addition the extra mass helps to control and dissipate heat better.

Wilwood Brake 22/24

21. With both control arms bolted in, we could then put our Wilwood brake assembly in place. The Wilwood kit included massive 14.25-inch diameter, 1.25-inch-thick rotors. Some people think that large diameter rotors are just for looks, but they dramatically improve braking performance due to increased leverage. The extra mass also helps to control and dissipate heat better.

Global West Fast Ratio 23/24

22. Replacing all the suspension parts would have been wasted effort if the sloppy and slow steering wasn’t addressed as well. Our fix was to install this 12.7:1 fast-ratio gearbox ($539) from Global West, which included the correct coupler. The box also included the needed fittings for either O-ring or inverted flare hoses. In addition, we replaced all the steering parts with the exception of the pitman arm. For added strength we also tossed in a set of Global West’s tubular tie rods ($45 each). These help resist flexing during hard corners when the load on steering linkage is high.

Install Front Sway 24/24

23. Lastly, we installed the 11/4-inch front sway bar. Again, since we plan on dodging the cones, this is a bit heavier than the 11/8-inch bar that normally comes with the kit. With that the front suspension and brake upgrades were done, and we could move to the rear of the wagon in part two next month. Then we’ll hit the test track and see if this old ride has learned a few new tricks.

Sources

Eibach Springs
Corona, CA 92879
800-507-2338
www.eibach.com
Wilwood Engineering
Camarillo, CA 93012
805-388-1188
www.wilwood.com
Global West Suspension
San Bernardino, CA 92408
877-470-2975
GlobalWest.net
Evod Industries
Fallbrook, CA 92028
888-471-8473
www.evodwheels.com
Penske Racing Shocks
Reading, PA
BF Goodrich Tire Company
Greenville, SC 29602
(877) BFG-TIRE
www.bfgoodrichtires.com
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