Like many Nova readers, I finally picked up my first project car, a fairly solid one-owner '67 Nova. Being a one-owner car, it's pretty much unmolested. It's equipped with a six backed by a three-speed, and it runs relatively well for something that likely has flipped its odometer more than once. But-there's always a but-the suspension and steering are so worn out that even on short around-town low-speed jaunts it's scary.
Since I planned on driving it for a while in its stock form while I figure out my future plan of attack, I just had to, for safety's sake, go through the stock suspension and steering. Now, I could have made a trip to my local parts store with a shopping list in hand and picked up the individual components I thought I would need for a thorough rebuild. But after a bit of careful consideration, I realized it'd be prudent to check out the aftermarket to see if anyone sold a complete OEM-style replacement parts package. Getting my hands on all the pieces needed at one time would beat the heck out of multiple trips to the parts store to get what I'd overlooked in the first trip (I never seem to get everything I need for a project on the first try), plus a single source for quality parts sure beats the mishmash of assorted imported components one would end up with from the local "Auto Farm" chain store and their crack troop of 17-year-old parts "experts."
With this in mind, I began my search and was soon directed by a co-worker to Just Suspension. The Mooresville, North Carolina-based company specializes in complete suspension packages for a wide array of early domestic cars, and they had exactly what the old Nova required. Even better, the OEM-style components they offer are much higher quality than the originals. Plus, a complete rebuild package from Just Suspension was substantially less expensive than purchasing each component separately from a parts store-a win-win situation I welcomed.
The company's Web site is simple and displays their wares in a straightforward manner that's more business than "glam"-a pleasant surprise in my eyes, anyway. Since I was planning on doing both the front and rear suspension, I was again pleasantly surprised to note they had it all-and in stock, no less!
The perfect package for my situation was the Real Deal kit, which consists of a virtual laundry list of pertinent components, including upper and lower ball joints, inner and outer tie rod ends and sleeves, stabilizer bar bushings, upper and lower control arm bushings, upper and lower rebound bumpers, strut rod bushings, a pitman arm, an idler arm assembly, a pair of coil springs, and new shocks. The rear portion of the Real Deal kit consists of a pair of three-leaf springs, leaf-spring insulators, spring bushings, hanger bushings, and shocks. Note that when it comes to bushings, you have a choice of rubber or graphite polyurethane material.
Just Suspension's ball joints and tie rod ends are not the run-of-the-mill items you'd end up with from the local parts house, either. These components are much higher quality. The thing that makes 'em superior to even high-line replacements is that they are manufactured to specific Just Suspension standards. The joint and end cases are fully machined both externally as well as internally (not just the wear surfaces). The ball studs have twice the grease journals as the parts store versions. The joints use high-quality steel preload springs and washers versus the rubber and plastic found in standard replacements. Only the wear surfaces of Just Suspension joints and ends are heat-treated; others heat-treat the complete assembly ('cause it's cheaper). The benefit of selective heat-treating is that the mounting areas remain malleable so they're less prone to cracking. The Just Suspension ball-stud seats are machined rather than stamped, and finally, the cases are O-ring-sealed rather than crimped like most-an impressive list of upgrades, don't you think?
The decision was a no-brainer for me, so I placed my order. It arrived in a couple of days (with no back-orders) and I set aside a weekend to perform the task. Now, an upgrade like this is fairly straightforward. Let's face it, it's pretty much an R&R job-in fact, it was harder cleaning up the control arms' greasy ball joint areas and breaking loose the 38-year-old nuts and bolts than it was to do the installation. That said, follow along and check out how I spent last weekend-it was well worth the small investment in both effort and cash!
Here's what we started with, an extremely worn (and extremely rusted) suspension system. The front ball joints and tie rods were completely worn out, and the rear leaves had lost their arch. If there ever was a vehicle in need of a suspension overhaul, this was it.
Disassembly was by far the worst part of the chore, even though I talked my pal Javier into giving me a hand-hey, somebody had to work the camera.
Forty years had taken its toll. I honestly believe the Nova sported its original ball joints and tie rod ends, and they didn't want to budge-hit it harder, Javier!
The Real Deal kit components are much higher quality than parts store replacements, as Just Suspension has them manufactured to meet its strict specifications. Not only are they better than most replacements, they're also manufactured to higher standards than OE components.
Luckily, the pitman arm popped off without too much of a fight. The correct tool also helped.
With the tie rods, center link, and spindles removed, it was time to dismantle the control arms.
A bit of Liquid Wrench-actually, a lot-helped with the frozen mounting bolts. We were aided a bit by the narrow six in the engine compartment-it made it easier to get at and free up the upper control arm nuts a bit.
Here's the pile of parts from the driver-side front. The control arms took a long while to scrape and degrease-since I was calling in a favor from a friend (to press out the old and put in the new bushings), I wanted them to be cleaned up before I brought 'em over.
The Real Deal kit includes all the needed bushings for the job, and this poor old Nova was in dire need of every one of 'em, believe me.
This shot shows the sorry old ball joints next to the new Just Suspension items. The joint and end cases are fully machined externally and internally (not just the wear surfaces). The ball studs have twice the grease journals as the parts store versions. The joints use high-quality steel pre-load springs and washers versus the rubber and plastic found in standard replacements, and the Just Suspension ball-stud seats are machined rather than stamped.
Here are two of the control arms after a good cleaning, a fresh coat of rattle-can black, and fresh bushings and ball joints-they look just like new, only now they're better than new.
While I was at it, I threw the alignment adjusters into the blast cabinet and cleaned 'em up a bit. When I reinstalled 'em, I set them at the center point-the front end shop will make the fine adjustments during the alignment.
With new coil springs, ball joints, bushings, shocks, and a fresh coat of paint, the front suspension looks as good as new but is actually better.
The R&R of the rear suspension components (aside from the now expected frozen nuts and bolts) was a heck of a lot easier. I started by removing the shocks. After a few minutes searching around in the trunk, I finally realized the upper shock mounts don't protrude through the trunk floor like I'm used to seeing-hey, ya learn something new everyday.
The leaf springs mount to the underside of the rearend housing via large mounting plates that incorporate lower shock mounts. Just Suspension includes a set of U-bolts to replace the factory studs if necessary.
The rear shackles took a fair amount of Liquid Wrench and some elbow grease to break free. Watch those knuckles.
The front-mount bolts were equally frozen, but they finally capitulated. The large cup-type washer allows the spring bushing to be removed/inserted through the side while/after the spring is in place, making removal and installation much easier.
Here's a shot of the OE single-leaf spring and the three-leaf Just Suspension replacement. The new spring is engineered for a smoother ride andbetter handling.
Here you can see how the outboard front spring bushing slips through the large-diameter hole in the outer mount bracket and is expanded by the cup washer that partially protrudes through the hole-I thought that was pretty ingenious, but hey, what do I know?
The Real Deal kit also contains replacement spring insulators. Here you can see one in place on the lower spring retainer.
With the rearend buttoned up...
...and the front tie rods and sleeves installed and adjusted (by eye, anyway), it was time to check all the nuts' and bolts' tightness-a ritual I now do after every install (believe me, there's a story behind this ritual that I'll get into someday).
Once the job was completed, it was time for a break and a cold beverage. This was followed by the reinstallation of the wheels and tires and a testdrive around town. The Nova handled like a new car even though the frontend was only eyeballed-I can't imagine how well it'll ride and handle after a good alignment job! So, with actual experience under my belt, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Just Suspension kits to anyone considering an OEM-style suspension upgrade-the parts sure worked great for me.