For years automotive aftermarket companies have been engineeringperformance suspension kits for classic cars, and they show no signs ofslowing down any time soon. Most of the musclecar focus has been on themost popular models, such as first- and second-gen Camaros, Chevelles,Tri-Fives ('55-57 Chevys), and Mustangs. And it's no secret thesecompanies are making some serious bank--and rightfully so. The quality ofavailable product and technical advancements provide us with better thanstock suspension components in terms of functionality, performance,safety, and looks. It's a big win for the parts makers and the consumer.
Now that the most popular models of the classic car genre have productdeveloped for them, we're beginning to see some of the slightly lessdesirable models get their day in the sun within the aftermarket world.
Take, for example, '68-74 Novas--get 'em while you can. These arebecoming rare, and some consider them to be the last affordablemusclecar. In today's market a first-gen Camaro, especially '69s, andmost any Chevelle will take your wallet for a major hit, so a '68-74Nova might be the way to go if you want to get into some vintageAmerican muscle at a reasonable price. Recently, we've seen a number ofaftermarket companies introduce restoration and upgrade parts for this"classic." Suspension companies are getting in the groove, and HotchkisSport Suspension is right in the mix developing new high-performancesuspension upgrade packages.
John Hotchkis of Hotchkis Performance (www.hotchkis.net) recently introduced us to a fairly typical'72 Nova purchased by a young, ambitious high schooler who took hisdaily driver, added some performance upgrades, and did some weekend dragracing. The car has a few bolt-on mods like headers, intake manifold,carburetor, and some dated slapper bars. This thing was the absolutedefinition of old school.
Now that the owner has outgrown his drag phase and his driving palatehas somewhat matured, he wanted to take his quarter-miler and buildsomething with a little more functionality--a great street driver orweekend cruiser that could give new sports cars trouble on the twistybits of PCH if he so desired. That's more his style.
We here at Nova magazine are always up for some track day fun, so wetook the mainly stock "hot rod" out for some before and after tracktesting. We figured it would be a great way to show the performancedifference between a Nova with a stock, used-up suspension like the onemany of you readers drive and bolt on some quality engineered suspensioncomponents from Hotchkis Sport Suspension.
When building a car with performance suspension components, you'll stillwant the vehicle to be street-worthy. Oftentimes car guys tend tooverlook the driveability aspect of a suspension upgrade package. Sure,you can build a car that kicks ass at the track, but you'll want thatsame suspension to be accommodating in everyday driving situations aswell. That's where spring rates, suspension geometry, alignmentspecifications, and shock valving are so important. The pros at Hotchkistake pride in their performance suspension packages being both tracksteady and street ready.
For this suspension upgrade, we started with the Hotchkis TVS (Total Vehicle System) for '68-74 Novas. Thekit includes front and rear hollow sway bars (all hardware and dogboneend links included), 2-inch lowering front sport coil springs, 2-inchdrop rear sport leaf springs, tie rod sleeves, and all the necessarymounting hardware and spring pads. Since this car was going for thefull-tilt suspension upgrade, we added in upper and lower A-arms, tierods, steering, pitman arms, Hotchkis/Bilstein shocks, and Hotchkissubframe connectors for good measure. We also converted the car from theoriginal show-reacting manual steering to power steering with a steeringbox and accessories from Flaming River.
At The Track
Our "before" and "after" suspension testing consists of slalom, skidpad,and braking. For slalom testing we use a 420-foot course consisting ofcones set 70 feet apart. Average speed is measured with timers placed atthe beginning and end of the course. The skidpad measures lateralg-forces by way of a 200-foot-diameter circle. Total time taken tocomplete the skidpad circumference is measured, and a mathematicalformula indicates the average lateral g-force capabilities of the car.
As you would guess, the classic Nova, sporting thirty-year-old stock suspension components, and tires designed for straight-line racing didn't fare very well in the "before" testing.
I took the Nova through the slalom course a number of times in an effortto get keyed in on the response (or lack of) and handlingcharacteristics of the tired suspension. After about 10 or so passes, Iwas able to get the car to navigate the course in a best time of 7.35seconds. That translates to 39.2 mph. Not ground breaking by any means,but a good baseline number for comparison testing. We'll give the car alittle break and take into consideration it's got some "skinnies" upfront--definitely not a huge help in this situation.
On the skidpad, we take the counterclockwise and the clockwise times,add them together, and divide by two. This gives us the average time thecar took to make its way around the circle. Due to the weight of thedriver and other considerations, times vary depending on the directionthe car is traveling. With the car whipping around the course in anaverage time of 13.13 seconds, the measured lateral g-force came to .71g's. Again, not lighting up the course, but nevertheless we have ourbaseline numbers of what a basically stock '72 Nova will do underperformance driving situations.
Once the suspension upgrades were performed on our freshened-up '72Nova, we again hit the track and performed the same exercises at thesame location under similar conditions as with the stock suspensioncomponents.
The rejuvenated Nova, now upgraded with the Hotchkis performance suspension goodies and super grippyHoosier A6 autocross tires (treadwear rating of 40), literally camealive on the slalom and skidpad course with newfound vigor andaggression.
The first thing I noticed when getting into the car with the suspensionupgrades and track-purpose tires was the insane attitude the car hadacquired. The car revealed an instant improvement over the stockcomponents. After a few warm-up runs to get reacquainted with the car, Iwas able to drive aggressively and managed to make a best pass of 5.72seconds in the 420-foot slalom course. That translates to an averagespeed of 50.6 mph!
On the skidpad the car managed an 11.47-second run. That numbertranslates to .94 g's--a vast improvement over the stock suspensioncomponents.
The car's new and improved track behavior made it a blast to drive in atest situation, but I was anxious to see how the car would feel on cityroads. So I took it out on the street to check the comfort level in aneveryday driving situation. I was pleasantly surprised how thesuspension felt while on the surrounding roads. The ride was nicer thanI had expected, and I would have no problem taking this car out for along drive.
Front End Suspension Upgrades
Front end upgrades are quite possibly the most important aspect toimproved handling, especially in a classic car. By using the HotchkisTVS Nova kit, the ride height is brought down due to the 2-inch loweringsprings. This gives the car a lower center of gravity for increasedcornering response. The 1 5/8-inch sway bar also plays an important roleby reducing body roll and improving cornering. The Hotchkis tubularupper and lower A-arms offer superior strength over stock increasinghandling and control. Smooth operation and free articulation is achievedwith Delrin bushings, and the properly tuned Hotchkis/Bilstein HPS 100shocks offer optimum performance.
Rear Suspension Upgrades
The sport leaf springs offer increased handling and performance, and the2 inch lower ride height ensures better handling than stock springs.Incorporating the rear sway bar reduces body roll and increases rollstiffness, also adding to cornering capabilities.
Subframe connectors do just what they suggest--connect the front subframeto the rear. This conjoined effort reduces chassis flex during corneringand acceleration, and makes the front and rear suspension componentswork together for better quality and performance.
Hotchkis Sport Suspension