In the last three issues of SUPER CHEVY, we've been watching as our urban-battle-scarred (and slightly picked-apart) '68 Camaro has been hanging out at the Sacramento, California, headquarters of Chris Alston's Chassisworks, taking its first steps on the journey back to roadworthy respectability. This time, we'll follow the actual installation of a new Chassisworks bolt-on front subframe in our lucky little car.
The "NoFab" concept, which was introduced in these pages with our Saturday Night Special '63 Nova, is presented in its latest incarnation: the framerails seen here have been tailored for the First-Generation Camaro platform. It also utilizes the same dropped crossmember and exclusive Chassisworks stainless steel front-suspension components that were first produced for the early-Nova/Chevy II crowd. (And for fans of the later Novas, this particular frontend kit fits the '68-72 versions of that nameplate, as well.)
Although Mustang II-based parts have been widely used in suspension kits by Chassisworks and other chassis manufacturers for years, Chris Alston had never been particularly pleased with the compromises inherent in adapting this decades-old design to other uses. He had long desired to cure these problems, with the goal of developing trick stuff that would work in a huge variety of cars. Ease of installation, accuracy of fit, and integrity of suspension geometry were among Chris' criteria for this latest NoFab application.
While sharing suspension and steering with Chassisworks' popular early-Nova kit, this Camaro package differs in that all of the new suspension components are user-installed on the factory-welded subframe before it is grafted to the vehicle. Throughout the conversion process, the front fenders and radiator-core support get to stay right where the General put them. The stock steering column can also be retained. This all makes life a whole lot easier for the installer.
We have mentioned that stainless steel is the material used for the control arms and assorted other front-suspension hardware. When we asked Chris Alston about this choice, he laid the credit for the decision squarely on the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The appeal of nice, shiny parts cannot be underrated, and once upon a time, chrome was the way to go-but not anymore. "The biggest problem is that, in low volume, it's impossible to get good chrome anymore," Chris told us. "The chemicals used in the chroming process are carcinogenic, and the EPA is trying to phase out chrome. For years now, we have had horrible luck trying to chrome anything. It's just a phenomenally difficult process to control in low-volume production, which is anything under thousands of parts at a time.
"But chrome is chrome, and polished stainless is the only other thing that we have ever seen that has a really nice look, like really good chrome. But stainless steel has two problems. The material is tremendously expensive, and it's difficult to manufacture parts out of it because it's easy to gall. But if you want beautiful, shiny, cool parts, stainless is the way to go.
"Another factor is that it's impossible to get a nice, chrome finish in the first place unless the part is already buffed to a high luster. Stainless steel costs more than regular steel, but a huge amount of the expense goes into buffing it to make it shine. If you have to buff it all anyway, it makes more sense to bring the stainless steel components to a high luster and just put them in the box, rather than buffing parts and then sending them out to be chromed. Plus, the chrome will probably be horrible.
"That's why we went to stainless," Chris concluded. "There are just too many reasons not to, but pretty much the whole hot rod and street rod industry is going over to stainless for the exact same reasons. The material has real nice mechanical properties, and it also just happens to be corrosion resistant. If you get a few scratches, you can just polish them out. And it will never rust."
Before turning your attention over to the photographic portion of these proceedings, there are a few things we should mention. First of all, the Wilwood calipers used to wrestle the vented Chassisworks rotors and hubs to a stop require a minimum of a 15-inch wheel to provide the necessary clearances.
We also feel compelled to remind you that this '68 Camaro did not fall into our hands in pristine shape. Some of the original steering and braking components, along with other things like the front bumper and grille, had been liberated from their posts by the time we got the car. Therefore, we have taken the liberty of substituting some photos of a much-more-intact Camaro, to more accurately show what can be expected with a typical installation of this new front subframe.
As part of this interest in providing clear photos, we also cheated by putting the car up on the Chassisworks lift. While it is easier to work with the car substantially elevated, it is definitely possible to do all the assembly work with the car on jackstands.
Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that you don't have to plunk down big cash, only to find that your assembly skills aren't up to this task (although, after watching a couple of these installations, we can verify that it's actually relatively simple and straightforward). For those inclined to explore things further than this series takes you, the photo-illustrated Installation Guide can be purchased separately.
Now, on with the show! We can't wait to get our Camaro started toward the rest of the projects that will take it from pitiful derelict to full-on delight. But first, let's get the new front clip installed. Next month will see the end of the frontend stuff, as we deal with the steering linkage (designed to work with the stock steering column) and check out the public debut of the new bolt-on subframe connectors designed specifically for this application. Stay tuned for the rest of the story!