The design of the A-body suspension found in the '66 Chevelle SS is structurally sound--so much so that that General kept the design right up until the late '80s. The four-link design out back offered stability both up and down and side to side upon mashing the throttle. Ultimately, after some 45 years of service, it's time for a technological upgrade, compliments of Detroit Speed & Engineering.
Some of the downfalls of the A-body suspension, and all muscle cars suspensions for that matter, are their driveability and handling. Joe Juliano bought his Chevelle SS from California a few years back and absolutely drives the wheels off it. He takes the family to dinner, piles the friends in and heads for the mountains, and blasts up and down Route 10 in northern New Jersey.
Like most of us, his first modification was in the power department, as he went to Steve Ficacci Racing Engines for a full-roller big-block making over 500 lb-ft of torque. He soon realized his efforts were for naught as 75 mph brought about a serious speed wobble and steering around corners required more effort and calculation than it ever should.
We couldn't let Joe go on like this, as all of his fillings were ready to fall out from the beating and banging of Jersey roads. Luckily, Detroit Speed was eager to serve up its new front suspension Speed Kit for the the '64-72 A-body, complete with tubular control arms, 2-inch drop spindles, Koni shocks, coils prings, and tubular sway bar. To this, we added its Speed Kit rear suspension to match. It included swivel-link control arms, a tubular sway bar, chassis brace kit, and adjustable Koni shock absorbers.
We also upgraded Joe's drum brakes to vacuum discs all the way around, courtesy of ABS Power Brake. To make life easier for us, we installed both suspension kits now and will be diving into the brake installation next month.
When we were done, Joe's '66 drove like a dream and handled absolutely every thing we threw at it, including the road course at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. Sewer grates, speed bumps, and the slalom could not hold us back from having some great fun. The overhaul was like night and day from when we started but we expected nothing less from Detroit Speed & Engineering. Follow along as we painlessly install our speed kits.
We installed the lower control arms first. The factory arms loosened with a little persuasion. A few hits of the hammer and we were ready to go. For a base setup, we simple measured the factory control arm from center to center of the bolt holes and set the DSE arms to match.
These control arms are easily adjusted out of the car and can be changed to adjust pinion angle. The swivel-link technology in both the upper and lower read control arms allows them to articulate fully, eliminating bind and unwanted noise often caused by heim joints.
With the car on a lift, we supported the rear end with a set of six-foot jackstands, one for each side of the housing. This is the optimal setup for installing the control arms, shocks, and springs. Once we started unbolting control arms, the geometry of the rear suspension was lost and we were easily able to change the position of the rear this way.
We greased the mounts, control arms, and bolts and slid the lower control arm in place. This took some "massaging" as we had lost the geometry of the rear end as we started disassembling. The pinion had dropped and we needed to support it with a jackstand. Once we started realigning the pinion back into place, the control arm slid right into place.
The kit comes with a replacement bushing that we greased and slid into place. We installed the upper much like we did the lower. We first measured the stock upper control arm, transferred it to the new DSE arm, greased, and installed. Once we had all four links in place, we verified that our pinion angle had not changed and tightened everything in place.
Often overlooked in this four-link suspension design are the chassis braces connecting the front mounting locations of the upper and lower control arms. Some A-bodies came with a set of chassis braces, while others did not. The Detroit Speed & Engineering chassis braces triangulate the crossmember, framerails, and upper control arm mount, and have been proven to improve handling. These are easily installed whether your A-body came with them from the factory or not.
We then got to work on the sway bar. From the factory, the '66 Chevelle did not come with a rear sway bar. Following the directions, we installed the supplied U-bolts on the housing, then rested the sway bar approximately where it will sit.
Two 3/8-inch holes need to be drilled in the frame for the forward mounting location of the sway bar. Supplied pictures help to orientate the position of these holes, but it is always in your favor to do you own measuring. We centered the sway bar off the housing and cut our holes. Measuring 1 1/8-inch in diameter, the sway bar mounts to the frame using swivel-links and minimizes deflection through corners.
We then set the Koni adjustable shocks to the mid-setting and placed both them and the springs in the rear. The Koni shock absorbers provide a comfortable ride while also maximizing performance. Also, DSE's 2-inch drop and standard height rear springs have a tighter coil to work in parallel with the shocks.
Here is a good look at the finished product.
Up front, the DSE kit replaces everything for the front suspension. We scrapped the factory sway bar, control arms, springs, shocks, and spindles and replaced them when Speed Kit 1 for the A-body consisting of tubular control arms, Koni shocks, springs, 2-inch drop spindles, and sway bar.
We began by disconnecting the sway bar, cutting the old brake lines, and unbolting the spindles. Rather than fight with the old springs, we simply cut them apart with a cut-off wheel.
Check out the difference between the DSE lower control arm and the one from General Motors circa '66. These arms provide much more strength than stock and positive caster assisting in the handling of the vehicle. Both the upper and lower control arms are gusseted to add strength to an already design.
The upper and lower control arms slid in without much of a fight. We greased the mounting locations for the lower control arms and slid the bolts in place. Luckily we were able to work around the headers. It is possible that you will have to remove one, if not both of the headers to get the lower control arm bolts in and out. This is easier said than done, especially if you take the hood off. Our owner loves to stare at his Rat and hasn't had the hood on yet.
The tighter-bound coil spring for the front suspension is shorter than stock and also went in without much of a fight. Once in place, we lowered the car to the point where we could a jack under the lower control arm. We needed to compress the spring just enough to get the spindle bolted on both the top and bottom. Check out that positive caster! Coming from a drag racing background, this was neat to see. It was even cooler when the car performed like a champ.
We then installed the sway bar using the factory locations. The DSE sway bar differs from stock in both design and thickness (1 1/8-inch), and will help keep the Chevelle level going through the corners by increasing roll stiffness.
Trying not to give too much away, we then assembled both the front and rear brakes courtesy of ABS Power Brake, and put them on the car.
It was then over to the alignment rack, where we made quick work of the Chevelle. Here, we were ensuring that the car will run and drive straight down the road. We were able to adjust both camber and caster using factory shims behind the upper control arm. We were not looking for a performance setup as this car is a street driver but we have the ability to change the setup at will.
Our "before and after" testing showed drastic improvement in every way possible. "I could not have been more pleased with the install of the Detroit Speed & Engineering front and rear suspension. My main purpose for the car is as a driver. I take it everywhere and the improvements in handling and ride quality is absolutely amazing. I no longer have to avoid sewer grates nor grunt when I hit pot holes," said owner Joe Juliano.
Road CourseOur results were much the same as the slalom, but we also have to take braking into consideration here. Body roll was held to a minimum and the tires were holding well. We were using BFG Radial TA's so we didn't expect the car to hold in every corner. The trick was finding the happy medium between sliding the back end around and acceleration out of the corner. To pick up an average of almost 6.4-seconds a lap on this short of a road course is basically revolutionary. Imagine if it had serious tires!
|ROAD COURSE RESULTS |
Slalom ResultsDriving the Chevelle through the slalom, I could feel the body roll so much that I was having trouble changing direction opposite the movement of my body. After our installation, body roll was all but eliminated and I was able to maintain a much faster speed. Now all we have to do it swap out the factory steering box and I'll be in heaven.