A major trend for the last five years or so of transforming '53-'62 Corvettes into something fun and safe to drive with modern disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, and current suspension components is becoming an ever-increasing option for many Corvette owners. A lot of owners have now seen the light and are choosing to buy a 21st century chassis with more and more performance components for their favorite C1. One of the major problems today in modifying any original '53-'62 Corvette is the '49 Chevy front suspension bolted to the frame by GM. The '40s suspension just can't compete with today's highway performance level. It was adapted from regular passenger cars to what looked like a sports car. However, history shows, by 1954 they almost discontinued the Corvette due to lack of interest. At the time, the Corvette was just a competitive body-style look that was created to compete against the T-Bird to get a portion of the market, with a regular old passenger car suspension. Continuing to drive a Corvette that way today leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the steering and braking departments.
To find out just what kind of new suspension components are available and how they are constructed into this new platform, we recently checked out the oldest Corvette chassis manufacturer: Jim Meyer Racing Products in Lincoln City, Oregon. They've been building first-generation Corvette chassis for 10-plus years. The 12,500 square-foot facility on four acres is home for the "leaders of Bolt-In IFS Technology," as well as mandrel-bent chassis, rearend kits, and lots of other options.
Today you can bring any first-gen Corvette into the 21st century with a brand-new 2x4 box-tube chassis with just about any options available in the marketplace. It is compatible with any GM or aftermarket bodies requiring an original direct replacement chassis. If you ever wanted to build an early high-performance Corvette, the industry is ripe with all the aftermarket components with bodies from Corvette Central, I-did-it steering columns, Flaming River and Borgeson steering linkage parts, narrowed rearends, fuel-injected or carbureted crate engines, and loads of other accessories to build a custom or original replica the way you want it.
The standard Jim Meyer chassis offers the same adjustable features he has built into all his other IFS and chassis. The IFS has a multi-hole, upper coilover shock mount that offers about 3 inches of stance adjustment. At the rear, you'll also notice a three-position lower coilover mount to give you the stance you like best. These front and rear features are totally compatible with the Air Ride Technologies optional ShockWave air-bag system for an even lower stance.
The jig-built and mandrel-bent, totally pulse tig-welded '53-'62 Corvette chassis features any engine and transmission mounts, core support, body mounts, bumper bracket mounts-all in their stock locations. For maximum strength, Jim uses tubular crossmembers with a removable transmission mount. This exhaust-friendly chassis is designed for up to a 3-inch-diameter exhaust system and is also available with any track width, front or rear, in case big rubber is your preference. In fact, he also offers the chassis tubbed for ultra-serious rubber out back.
The popular, bolt-in, adjustable Jim Meyer IFS (that can be purchased separately) is also incorporated into this chassis. It features all GM components, including standard 10.5-inch front GM disc brakes, calipers, spindles, and ball joints. The rack-and-pinion steering features a "Quick-Turn" three-turn, lock-to-lock manual rack. The 2x4 x.188-inch wall box tube front crossmember holds urethane bushed lower tubular A-arms (1-inch diameter by .156-inch wall seamless D.O.M. tube) and 71/48-inch diameter by .156-inch wall D.O.M. seamless tube upper A-arms.
Out back, the chassis features a very stout 9-inch rearend housing, available at any width or wheel-bolt pattern, with Dutchman Motorsports alloy axles, housing flanges, and most disc brake packages such as Wilwood, Baer, or Explorer. Any gear ratio, including posi-traction or standard third members, is also optionally available. As you'll notice in the photos, the standard four-link is mounted outboard for more efficient exhaust routing over the rearend. These urethane-bushed, adjustable control arms and adjustable Panhard bars feature 1-inch OD seamless D.O.M. tube with a .156-inch wall. The front-and-rear coilover shocks are QA1 aluminum adjustable units with powdercoated springs (optional spring rates are available). Jim Meyer Racing also offers a separate '53-'62 Corvette rearend kit that features identical components. This kit uses the stock driveshaft and stock wheel-bolt pattern for a totally stock outward appearance, while giving you industry-standard, over-the-counter, 9-inch axle components available everywhere.
Since the new chassis comes with a new rack-and-pinion unit, splined U-joints and a double-D shaft will be required to connect to either a new I-Did-It or a Flaming River steering column. If you are using your old stock column, some modifications will need to be made to connect to the new steering linkage, so Jim Meyer Racing offers a stock column-modification kit and steering-linkage kit designed specifically for this application.
Additional options include 1-inch diameter sway bars front-and-rear, 11-inch Camaro or 12-inch Impala/Caprice disc brakes (spindle, rotor and caliper) with the same front ball joints. Jim Meyer Racing also offers an optional dual-chamber master-cylinder kit with proportioning valve, plug and "T" to splice into your stock brake-line system or Jim can plumb your new chassis with stainless steel lines. He also offers a custom power-brake unit with a 7-inch-diameter booster that fits in the stock firewall location without modifications.
The biggest single improvement you could make to your '53-'62 Corvette is installing the bolt-in IFS, which installs with basic hand tools (at home), using the same original factory holes. Complete installation of any of the Jim Meyer Racing products mentioned in this story, including the chassis, is available at Jim's shop in Lincoln City, Oregon.
The customers that have had either a new chassis or a bolt-in IFS installed in their first-gen Corvette will talk your leg off about how well their old Corvette now handles, stops, and steers over the old Chevy front suspension and brakes. Jim says, "Go to the web site and download the '53-62 Corvette IFS instructions and see if this is something you could install at home." You can call them direct or download a catalog or any installation instructions at no charge by visiting, www.jimmeyerracing.com.