If you've been following our '59 surprise package, you'll know that Rob Sutter's long-dormant C1 was spirited out of storage by friend and business partner Bob Yeoman who repaid a long-standing debt of gratitude by secretly having a GM crate engine installed in Rob's otherwise undriveable C1. The former dragster engine originally donated to this car was just never streetable and, as a result, Rob rarely took to the road in his '59.
You'll also recall that the project quickly escalated (as these things so often do) to many underhood upgrades and, ultimately, to new brake and suspension systems necessary to match the car's agility and safety levels to match the performance of the car's new powerplant. And so Rob's wife Bonnie secretly got suckered in (er, "volunteered") to pony up some piggy bank money to help fund the expanded budget needed to complete the project.
In our last installment we covered the installation of Independent Front Suspension (IFS) and rack-and-pinion steering courtesy of Jim Meyer Racing, as well as front disc brakes from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. This month we'll see how the creative guys at Gardner's Automotive in Easton, PA "massaged" the rear brakes and suspension to match the contemporary front underpinnings.
The key components in this phase of the project included:
* First-off-the-line fiberglass mono leaf springs from Vette Brakes & Products
* QA1 rear shocks
* Rear disc brake setup from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. to complement their front disc brake setup
* Rear sway bar from Jim Meyer Racing
The live axle leaf spring rear axle setup originally installed on C1's was functional, but was never up to the task of handling the horsepower of the 2x4 and F.I. engines that were optional in 1959. So it was certainly inadequate for the 290 ponies put out by the newly-installed GM crate engine, even with the traction bars, which GM called "radius rods," that became standard equipment on C1 Corvettes in 1959. And it was also incompatible with the high-tech new front end which included IFS, R&P, and beefy disc brakes.
Upgrade honors went to Gardner's Automotive in Easton, PA, which had performed the engine transplant along with the front end enhancements. Gary Gardner, along with his son Craig and grandson Kyle, have done much Corvette work over the years, and eagerly took on the task of bringing the '59's rear suspension into the 21st century.
The following photos and captions illustrate the key steps in the transition. The job proved fairly straightforward, thanks to very well engineered parts from the participating suppliers. And it also proved very rewarding, since the new configuration resulted in a car that handles and stops better than most of the C1's we've had the pleasure of piloting.
|Difficulty Index - 3 Wrenches|
|Anyone's Project: no tools required||1 Wrench|
|Beginner: basic tools||2 Wrenches|
|Experienced: special tools||3 Wrenches|
|Accomplished: special tools and outside help||4 Wrenches|
|Professionals Only: send this work out||5 Wrenches|
After disconnecting the parking brake cable and the hydraulic brake line, the backing plate can be removed complete with the brake shoes, wheel cylinder, star wheel adjuster, and hold-down hardware. The leaf spring simply unbolts, at the front eye bolt and the rear shackle, along with the U-bolts. The shock absorber must also be disconnected from the lower spring plate. If you're doing this kind of work, be sure to support the axle housing before disconnecting the shock, since it's the shock and fabric axle strap that limit housing travel. Here you can also see clearly the factory traction bar/radius rod that limits spring wind-up and wheel hop during hard-throttle launches.
Our new rear disc brake setup from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. comes with some serious mounting brackets and hardware to handle the torque that will be generated by our new binders. The backing plate acts as a shield against water, dust, dirt, and other contaminants that might compromise the stopping ability of our new brakes. Happily our new rear disc brake setup is engineered to use the original parking brake cable and linkage, so no other modifications are needed.
Our very trick single-leaf fiberglass rear leaf springs were among the first couple of pairs to come off the assembly line at Vette Brakes & Products. These springs are very strong and very light, and are of a particularly sophisticated design that provides a smooth ride, excellent bounce control, and integral features that manage torque and limit axle wind-up for improved launch characteristics. They're easy to work with, come from the factory with high performance polyurethane bushings, and the only caution needed is to assure that exhaust pipes are routed properly so the springs are not subjected to exhaust heat.
Once in place the new fiberglass leaf springs look almost factory. Note the taper in the thickness of the leaf both forward of, and behind, the axle. This taper is the result of many hours of engineering and development to provide the optimal combination of ride, handling, and durability.
Here's the complete rear disc brake setup as supplied by SSBC. All components are brand new and, happily, replacement parts are readily available from SSBC if seals or other parts are ever needed. That's one of the advantages of dealing with a company that's been supplying parts to the Corvette community for many years. And SSBC also has a very friendly tech support staff to answer any questions dealing with parts selection and installation.
Gary Gardner installs the new longer wheel studs that come with the disc brake setup. These longer studs are needed to accommodate the added thickness of the disc brake rotors.
Here's the beautiful new rear disc brake setup. Gary draws the splines of the new wheel studs into place using a lug nut turned backward so the flat surface of the nut bears against the rotor. Otherwise the tapered side of the lug nut would gall the rotor. You can also see the integral parking brake mechanism on the back side of the caliper, which connects directly to the original parking brake cable so there's no need to replace or re-engineer the parking brake mechanism. Note that the rotors are grooved in order to give brake dust a place to go rather than being trapped between the pads and the rotors. This reduces the chance of brake squeal, promotes cooling, and enhances brake performance.
Craig Gardner installs new steel brake lines for the rear calipers. New flexible hoses are included with the installation package to make for a safe and dependable installation.
The recently-introduced QA1 rear shocks for the C1 Corvette are beautifully made and very trick. These gas-filled shocks are adjustable with just the turn of a dial, so each driver can adjust them to get the ride, comfort, and performance desired. Since they're so easily adjusted, you can change the settings for a few runs down the drag strip, then change them back for the ride home.
Here on the driver's side you can see that the QA1 shocks are direct bolt-in replacements for the originals, so even if you're not going all the way to disc brakes and fiberglass springs, you can simply install a set of these adjustable shocks and enjoy the upgraded ride and performance they offer, along with the adjustability described above.
Gary Gardner finishes up installation of the new rear sway bar from Jim Meyer Racing, which is a straightforward bolt-installation. It's a perfect complement to the adjustable shocks, and the combination of the bar and shocks minimizes body roll and smooths out bumps for solid, secure cornering. The bar is supplied with all the necessary brackets and hardware, and installation is a snap.
The final step in this job was bleeding the brakes. Gary and his team prefer to use a pressure bleeder for complete purging of any air in the system. For Corvettes and other cars that may not see much use over extended periods of time (like those cold, snowy Pennsylvania winters), Gary recommends silicone brake fluid which helps prevent corrosion in the lines and calipers.