A long time ago, when our now classic Chevys were new, folks didn't know any better when it came to handling. The cars wallowed through the curves, but most cars handled poorly, so there was nothing to compare them to. Thus the term, "ignorance is bliss."
Today we climb out of our newer daily driver and into our classic Chevy, and we become immediately and painfully aware of how badly the old cars find their way around corners. To make matters worse, many of the old musclecars suffer from worn out parts that only magnify the problem.
Our idea was to find a tired Chevy-in this case a '69 Nova-baseline the car with stock junk, and then bolt on the new gear and test it again. Simple. To make this a true suspension test, and not a tire test, we were sure to do the before and after runs on the same Nitto tires and Vintage Wheel Works rollers.
We also wanted to use parts that the average guy could afford and be able to bolt in place. The front would get some tubular control arms, new springs, and a beefier sway bar while the back would get a shiny new set of leaf springs. We had a plan, a car, and for parts we cruised over to Classic Performance Products (CPP) for some suspension TLC.
Time To Thrash At The TrackSure, the new parts look a ton better, but the real question was, how much would they improve the handling of our '69 Nova? As stated earlier, we did the before testing of the old suspension on the same 17-inch Vintage Wheel Works wheels wrapped in Nitto 555 rubber, just to keep everything fair. This way it would be a suspension test and not a tire test, since we already know that any car's handling is improved with a good set of tires mounted up.
During the before testing, our Nova laid over when pushed though the cones-to the point where the front tires dug into the inner fenders. This caused the car to lurch and made maneuvering though the cones that much harder. It also suffered from too much understeer.
After many runs we ended up with a best average speed through the 420 feet of cones of 41.7 mph. With the new CPP goodies installed, we had another go at dodging cones and were rewarded with a best run of 45.1 mph! That's a huge improvement over the previous number, but more important, the car just felt better. The Nova stayed much flatter and it transitioned through the cones much more smoothly.
The main players in our front rebuild are these tubular control arms (PN 6774TCA-ULK-S, $733). The arms are designed to provide full wheel travel and minimal friction. The upper control arms are made from 1-1/4-inch x .120-inch wall and the lower is 1-1/2-inch x .120 wall D.O.M. tubing. The pivot barrels are thick 1-1/2-inch .188-inch wall D.O.M. tubing to eliminate distortion from welding and hard use. The geometry has been approved as well, since the upper control arms allow for 5 degrees of caster.
Besides the improved geometry, the new control arms are stronger and look a ton better than the tired GM parts. The CPP control arms come with new ball joints installed as well as new bushings. The bushings are made from self-lubricating non-squeak patented plastic that CPP claims will outlast any rubber or urethane. They will keep working even at temperatures in excess of 400 degrees F.
We then put the upper control arms in place. One nice thing about these control arms is that the chrome-moly cross shafts and sleeves are zinc plated for corrosion resistance. The sleeves also have an interlocking design that prevents the hardware from ever working loose, and the pivots carry both forward and back loads (the original cross shaft pivot was designed to only carry a forward or back load, but not both).
The new 1-inch sway bar (PN CP136U, $149) is much more stout compared to the stock one we removed, and it should help tame the Nova's tendency to roll over during hard turns.
Included with the sway bar are all the end links and bushings needed for the installation. Here's what it looked like fully bolted in place.
The only thing left for us to do up front was to slide in the new front KYB gas shocks (PN KY-1000, $39 each). Shocks are one of those things you can spend a ton of money on, but these should be a big improvement over our worn-out stockers and they only set us back around 160 bucks for all four corners.
Behold the finished front suspension. If only the rest of the car looked this good!
The rear multileaf springs (PN RL12, $282) had a stock height and would do a much better job of keeping the Nova planted to the ground. We also used CPP's installation kit (PN R361, $112), which included all the hardware including the shackles and U-bolts.
With the new multileaf springs installed, we finished up by bolting in the KYB gas shocks (PN KY-1107, $39 each). After a trip down to the alignment shop we were ready to head over to California Speedway to test our new hardware.
There's two ways to go from monoleaf to multileaf springs. The first way is to weld the correct pads onto your axle tubes. If you're building a new rear then this is the best way to go since you need to weld on pads anyway. The deeper multileaf pads (PN E3478, $70) can be seen next to the shorter monoleaf pads (PN E3477, $70). In our case we didn't want to cut and weld, so we used short half-inch pads from CPP that let us run the multileaf springs with the monoleaf pads.