When you think of classic Chevys that can handle your mind probably leans towards the Camaro, then the Chevelle, and then possibly the Nova. The Impala\Bel Air\Biscayne, or B-body line, is probably the last of the classics you would consider a handling car. They're just too heavy, and the designers created the suspension more for a smooth ride and less about whipping it around corners. Even though B-bodies are at a total disadvantage when it comes to cornering, the styling can't be discounted. I think we can all admit Impalas are pretty good-looking cars, but they tend to be built with a stock or Lowrider style of suspension. We think most of the reasoning behind that was due to the lack of high performance aftermarket suspension parts offered.
Well fellow gear heads, that is a problem of the past. John Hotchkis and his team of engineers at Hotchkis Sport Suspension took on the task of creating a complete suspension system for the '59-64 B-body platform. The company offers upper and lower tubular control arms that have been geometry corrected to increase caster by plus-7 degrees, to improve high-speed stability and induce negative camber gain. Those arms are paired with a burly, hollow sway bar that cuts down on body roll a ton without adding excess weight.
The rear suspension was not overlooked either. Hotchkis built all new upper and lower trailing arms that are a much stiffer design and construction, with polyurethane bushings to reduce deflection while maintaining good joint articulation. Also, the upper trailing arm is adjustable, so the pinion angle can be changed to alleviate any driveline vibration. The last piece in the rear suspension puzzle is an adjustable panhard rod that allows you to easily center the rearend, maximizing straight-line performance and tire clearance, no matter what static ride height is. At the time of our test the shocks and springs were still in the R&D phase, but by the end of 2012 a specifically-valved set of shocks and properly rated springs will be added to the product line.
Great suspension can only do so much unless you add a performance set of wheels and tires. We ditched the factory 14-inch skinnies and 215/75R14 radials for a set of Streeter 17-inch five-spokes from Show Wheels, wrapped in Invo rubber from Nitto. This new set of rollers will let the suspension do its job, and the classic styling of the rims will look right at home on the car. What's nice about the rims from Show Wheels had classic cars in mind when casting them, and offer the right back spacing for most A, B, X, and F-Body cars. The Invo tires from Nitto are designed to provide a blend of performance and ride comfort. Nitto has said state-of-the-art computer engineering and specialized digital testing equipment were used to produce this tire, in an attempt to reduce perceived road noise, provide a comfortable ride, and deliver increased traction in both dry and wet conditions.
For the actual installation and track testing, we took a mostly stock '64 Impala to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California. We say mostly because the car had a power steering conversion from Classic Performance Products (CPP) that uses a more traditional power steering box, instead of the ram assist the factory used. Other than that, the car is a really nice stocker with a well worn 327 and Powerglide. The car was before and after tested on a 600-foot slalom and 200-foot diameter skid pad, with Chief Engineer Aaron Ogowa from Hotchkis behind the wheel. Since we were going to do the install at the track, we needed an expert wrench on hand. That came in the form of Corey Bedortha. The author helped when not manning the camera, but Corey did pretty much everything at the track with simple tools.
We did this to not only give you the numerical benefits of the suspension on the same track conditions, but also to show that if one guy with a helper can install this stuff with minimal tools at the track, you can do it at home. We have to say the results are pretty dramatic, as the Impala looked like a tugboat going though the cones. At one point, we thought the bumper was going to drag the ground. After the new stuff was on, the car was flat and much more controllable. We actually reached the limits of the engine before we could reach the limits of the new suspension and rolling stock package.