When Chevy first introduced the sporty new Camaro in 1967, turning fast and tight in the corners was not a prime concern. Suspension technology was just emerging from its cocoon in those days and the public's desire for a great handling performance car just wasn't what it is today. But with three years of unchallenged success on the Trans Am circuit under its belt, GM's engineers decided to redo the popular Camaro's body and suspension, subsequently a much better handling car was made available to the public.
The second-generation Camaro released midway through 1970 was a vast improvement over the first version and incorporated strategic bits of technology that the race teams had been using to keep their on-track Camaros one step ahead of the competition. Fast forward a dozen years or so and further technological improvements found on the race course again allowed the Bow-Tie camp to offer a much better handling F-car to an ever-eager, more aggressive consumer. Jump forward another decade and Chevrolet designed what can truly be called the best handling and best stopping F-body ever built-the Fourth-Generation Camaro.
In The Shadow Of The Vette
During the first three generations of Camaro production the Corvette was stealing its thunder on the road courses and canyons of America. Some buyers wanted a stealth Camaro that could not only keep up with the Vette, but also beat it in both price and performance. Something had to be done to make the old Camaros ride and drive like more than just the nice old musclecar it was thought to be. Enter Vette Brakes and Products of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Taking its name solely into consideration, you may wonder what Vette Brakes has to do with making an old Camaro handle? Not only does the company manufacture its own line of quality brake components for Corvettes and Camaros, they also manufacture their own complete line of performance suspension products for F-bodies and Vettes. And we're not just talking about sway bars and shocks. Vette Brakes was one of the first manufacturers to pioneer the use of fiberglass leaf springs on high-performance cars and also fabricate its own tubular steel control arms. What the engineers at Vette Brakes did for the Second-Generation Camaro was to combine the improved wear, reaction, and lightweight characteristics of fiberglass springs with the Corvette's mono-leaf suspension design to create the ltimate in a bolt-on, F-body suspension.
Vette brakes engineered the Camaro front suspension system using a single, lightweight fiberglass leaf spring running transversely inside the factory K-member and new tubular steel lower control arms. Some added benefits of using a fiberglass mono-leaf spring include: long-lasting fade/sag resistance, adjustable spring rate and ride height, lighter weight, and a spring that will never rust. Installation of the Vette Brakes Transverse Leaf (TVL) suspension kit is relatively straightforward and well within the capabilities of the average car enthusiast.
The only difficult part of the whole job involves cutting the factory K-member (We used a Hobart Air Force 250A Plasma Cutter, but a Sawzall will also work.) to allow mounting the fiberglass spring inside of it. Then it was a simple matter of replacing the lower control arms and installing the spindles and shocks. We even went an extra step and installed Vette Brakes tubular upper A-arms that are an immense improvement over the factory stamped steel units. The Vette Brakes arms improve handling by repositioning the upper ball joint, which stabilizes tracking at speed and works better with today's aggressive radial tire designs. Vette Brakes also supplied custom valved Bilstein shocks for all four corners and a 1 1/4-inch front anti-sway bar. In the back of our trick '70 big-block Camaro we added a matching set of 200-pound Vette Brakes rear mono-leaf fiberglass springs and a 7/8-inch rear anti-sway bar.
Adjustability Is The Key
One of the best aspects of the Vette Brakes TVL kit is that it is totally adjustable for both ride height and spring rate. Once installed all that's needed to raise or lower your Camaro's nose up to 3 inches is a socket and wrench, and in a matter of minutes you can be ridin' high or slammed to the dirt. Also, the front fiberglass leaf spring rate can be tailored to match road conditions and your performance expectations. The spring rate can be quickly adjusted in three increments from 600 to 750 pounds by simply moving a few bolts around on the spring mounting pivot blocks. Try that with coil springs! Also, none of Vette Brakes suspension components requires any welding to install and all the original GM suspension parts can be reinstalled at a later date if the need ever arises.
Since how good a car handles is directly proportional to how good its tires stick to the ground, we opted to mount a set of A032R Yokohamas, an aggressive DOT legal road racing tire on some wide-by-huge Weld Racing Type 76 wheels. The Yokohama 275/40ZR17 front tires mounted on 17x9.5 Welds completely filled the Camaro's wheelwell and gave it a very nasty look when viewed from the front. And a set of giant 315/35ZR17 A032R Yokohamas on 17x11 Welds look even meaner out back. Unlike most street posers, who mount fat rubber on their cars but never turn more corners than on their way to work, we intend to run this car all out on West Coast road courses and ball up some serious rubber on the fenders behind all four tires.
Approaching a decreasing radius corner at high speed also requires some serious stopping mojo and that's where the giant Baer binders we installed come into play. Baer recommended its Track system with 13-inch, zinc-washed, cross-drilled, slotted rotors, and two-piston PBR calipers for the front of the Camaro, and its Rod & Drag system in the rear using smaller, but equally effective, 11.35-inch rotors and lightweight PBR single piston calipers. The benefit of using a smaller rotor/caliper in the rear becomes obvious at the dragstrip when we go to install the 15-inch wheels with drag slicks (the bigger brakes won't clear a 15-inch wheel). Of course, if we choose to go with big brakes out back we could equip the car with a set of 315/35R17 BFG Drag Radials for dual-purpose dog fighting.
We plan to augment the Camaro's new stopping and handling prowess with a set of Energy Suspension's polyurethane body and transmission mounts to help this Camaro stop, drop, and roll with the best on the boulevard. While deadlines kept us from testing our Camaro on a skid pad, we know that most stock Second-Gen Camaros will pull mid 0.7gs around the 200-foot circle. When equipped with the same suspension, wheel, and tire components that our Camaro is, the skid pad numbers on a few other Camaros have crested 0.95gs, and with the right driver behind the wheel are within the magic 1.00g.
Can this get any better you ask? Yes it can, because all this trick suspension stuff from Vette Brakes really won't drain your pocketbook like buying a new F-car would. All included the Vette Brakes suspension pieces we installed cost under $2,000. Not low buck in anyone's bank account, but worth every cent if you want a Camaro that can comfortably walk in its big brother's shoes.