Unitized auto body construction has always been a way to save weight and reduce manufacturing costs for automakers. However, 50 years ago unit body construction was never much on strength due to its sheetmetal monocoque demeanor. Throw a lot of power and aggressive handling at these boxy compacts and they bend and flex significantly. Body panel gaps change as you round the turns and the alignment settings suffer ever-changing geometry, which adversely affects handling.
Schwartz Performance pioneered the very first bolt-in full frames for classic muscle cars like the 1962-’67 Chevy II, 1967-’81 Camaro, and 1968-’74 Nova. What this means for you is a completely different driving experience when body and frame become one. Once you bolt this chassis to your Chevy, you’ll never go back to pure unit body again. The benefits transcend what you get from just using subframe connectors since chassis flex is greatly reduced. The Schwartz Performance full frame is a great option for those wanting to greatly enhance their car’s handling prowess. As a side benefit, it looks pretty damn good. These are just a few reasons why we went this route on our ’63 Chevy II project.
Jeff Schwartz, founder of Schwartz Performance, explained that their full frame chassis bolts onto the classic Chevy II/Nova unit body without having to cut the floorpan or perform extensive modifications. Some OE brackets have to be cut off and minimal drilling is required into the Nova’s rear framerails. If you want wider rolling stock, the G-Machine chassis allows fitment of up to 345mm-wide rear tires if you mini-tub the wheelwells. What’s more, we had our full-floating Moser 9-inch rear axle narrowed to 56-inches hub-to-hub, allowing for a deeper dish in the rear wheels.
Schwartz Performance full frames are not bulky, Jeff tells us. In fact, the Schwartz G-Machine chassis reduces overall vehicle weight by 50-70 pounds because it employs an aluminum power rack while getting rid of heavy leaf springs and other bulky items not needed anymore. A 50/50 weight distribution is possible when you use an aluminum LS engine and do simple tricks, like relocating the battery to the trunk.
Schwartz Performance doesn’t mass-produce these bolt-in frames. They’re built to order one at a time by a team of skilled professionals. What you get for your money is a fully welded chassis built on a precision jig. The transmission crossmember is fully adjustable and available for anything from a two-speed Powerglide to a six-speed TREMEC Magnum. The coilovers they use are unique because they’re 16 1/2 inches tall in front and 14 1/2 inches in the rear for full suspension compliance. Jeff tells us his approach to smoothness is minimizing friction in the suspension, which vastly improves ride and handling. The control arms are fitted with needle bearings instead of polyurethane bushings, which allow the suspension to move freely without binding.
Contributing to the smoothness and crisp handling is the Schwartz Performance enclosed tubular sway bar, which is housed in a tube and fitted with nylon bushings. It is a fully adjustable race-style sway bar that reduces roll, working more like a torsion bar. As you would expect, the suspension geometry is optimized for proper camber gain and the steering rack pivots are lined up with the lower control arm pivot points to virtually eliminate bumpsteer.
Both the front and rear suspensions are fully adjustable fore and aft to center the wheels in the wheel openings; adjust the pinion angle; and features separate alignment adjustments for toe, caster, and camber, which greatly speeds up the alignment process.
Schwartz Performance offers a variety of brake options depending upon your driving agenda. The standard brakes they offer are great for cruisers and those that want to dabble in high-performance driving. They also fit wheels down to 15 inches. The next step up is the 14-inch Baer 6P Pro-Plus disc brake package, which can do anything you’d like it to do, including open track days. One of the baddest Schwartz Performance brake kits offered is the Baer 6S, which is a one-piece forged caliper and is ready for anything. This brake kit is for the hard-core road racer while also being suitable for street use. These huge 14-inch Baer brakes require an 18-inch diameter wheel. Additionally, the Baer calipers are available in many colors. Hey, there’s no rule that says you can’t look good while going fast.
Schwartz Performance offers quite a few shocks from different makers. This allows the customer to pick the shocks that best fit their driving habits, along with their budget. The QA1 double-adjustable shocks chosen for our Chevy II project can be tuned for performance, ride comfort, and, of course, ride height. These will suit the weekend autocrosser/road racer, as well as a daily driver.
Once the chassis was done it was shipped to the Super Chevy tech center where we will slide it under our ’63 Chevy II project and see just how easy it is bolt under a car that was never designed to have a full chassis. But that’s another story for another day. For now let’s take a look at how a Schwartz bolt-in chassis is fabricated.
Photography by Dominick Damato