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1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Project - Leaf Spring and Brake Swap

Rear Suspension Revamp - A Sturdier Grip for GM's Classic

Jake Amatisto Jun 20, 2014
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The stock rear suspension of our 1957 Bel Air project wasn’t doing us any favors in the handling department, that’s for sure. The old, small-crown radial tires were crumbly and cracked and the air shocks made the car sit uneven, awkward almost. Couple that with some unadjusted, worn brakes and you have a hot rod most would rather not drive.

Weak drum brakes, loose steering, and noticeable body roll were all prevalent when we took it for a spin last year, so in an effort to make our newest project a safer and better-handling driver, we began looking for replacement parts that were affordable and easy to install.

We contacted Performance Online out of Fullerton, California, for a complete list of front and rear suspension pieces, including their disc brake conversion kit, sway bars, and dropped spindles. We not only wanted to help the performance of the ’57, the stance needed to be straightened out as well. In last month’s issue we covered the frontend rebuild process; this time, we’re moving to the backside and our Tri-Five’s rear suspension and brake setup.

While there are only a handful of parts needed to redo the Tri-Five’s original rear suspension, it can severely improve how the hefty hot rod handles. We went with Performance Online’s lowered multi-leaf springs (2-inch drop), new replacement shock absorbers, fresh hardware, an add-on sway bar to help improve body roll, and disc brakes. Being that this car is exactly 57 years old we couldn’t expect it to behave like a nimble sports car, but we did want it to feel a bit more stable. Fortunately, Performance Online had all the components needed to accomplish this. If you’re curious about what’s involved in upgrading a Tri-Five’s old bones, Source Interlink Media Tech Center manager Jason Scudellari shows how it’s done.


Tri-Five Rear Suspension & Brakes
Description Part Number
1955-57 multi-leaf springs RLS5557
Polyurethane leaf spring bushing kit 7-1020
Bel Air shackle kit SHK0000
Leaf spring tie plate with shock stud TP5557
Disc brakes for ’55-57 OEM rearend RWBK5570
Rear sway bar for Bel Air PO253U
3-way adjustable shock absorbers DT1105


The rebuild started with the removal of the lower shock nut. An impact easily zapped these off, but little did we know that the removal of the rest of the hardware wasn’t going to be so easy.


The tie plate was the next piece to get removed. Note the alignment pin at the center of the plate; this needs to be in place in order to keep the plate from moving around.


The rear shackles of ’55-57 Chevys don’t hang down like on Novas or Camaros, they sit up against the top of the frame, and their removal can be tricky if the fuel tank is bolted in place. It took some finagling, but Scudellari eventually managed to remove it.


Unlike the rear of the leaf spring, where the gas tank is in the way, the front eyebolt of the leaf spring has easier access and can be removed using an impact ratchet and breaker bar. Since our ‘57 still had the original hardware it was a bit tough to remove, even with the impact; for those doing this install with only hand tools, beware.


The new shackles from Performance Online are zinc-plated and noticeably thicker than the factory pieces. The thicker shackle reduces side-to-side flex, which we imagine will lessen some of the body roll. The new rear sway bar should lessen it even more.


This shot of Jason tightening the new shackle shows just how close the fuel tank is to the top shackle bolt on the driver-side. We wanted to avoid a potential fuel mess—and some time—by not having to remove the gas tank. It was not easy, however. Have a friend hold the fuel tank away from the frame while you or another friend slides the new bolt in.


We opted for Performance Online’s new multi-leaf springs for our project. They are available in stock and 2-inch lowered ride heights. Performance Online offers a mono-leaf for Tri-Fives as well.


We upgraded to all-new hardware under the rear of the ’57, including the tie plates that the shocks attach to and align the U-bolts over the axletubes. The tie plates come powdercoated and are way nicer than the rusty stockers.


Next, Scudellari tackled the removal of the stock brakes. At this point we suspected that none of the parts under our Tri-Five had ever been removed, judging by the ample amount of grease and grime that thickly coated the entire underside.


Even though you can’t see it in this photo, the amount of frustration in the air at this point in the build was as thick as birthday cake. The stock wheel bearings were thoroughly rusted into place and were not letting the stock axles free from the housing. After several attempts with the slide hammer, we finally got it to budge.


This photo represents one man’s victory over a seemingly immovable object. With the axle freed, we could move on to the brakes.


The stock brake shoes gave way to 11-inch, zinc-plated rotors. Although drum brakes can be made to work well, disc brakes don’t hold onto heat and fade like the drums notoriously do.


To attach the new brake calipers, Scudellari first installed the zinc-plated caliper brackets, which bolt to the back of the rearend housing ends. To align the caliper over the rotor, different length spacers were fitted before being permanently bolted on.


The rotors are drilled and slotted to reduce heat buildup and to keep brake dust in check, as well. They simply slide over the stock axle flange before the caliper can be positioned.


Once the brake pads were inserted into the caliper, Jason positioned it over the rotor and bolted it to the caliper bracket. The rear disc conversion kit (PN RWBK5570) also comes with a parking brake fixture.


The ’55-57 Chevys never came with a rear sway bar, yet these cars are fairly heavy, so we imagine that this upgrade can really reduce body roll.


With the ’57’s suspension and brakes upgraded front and rear, we now feel much more comfortable driving on public roads. Now if we have to make a hasty maneuver, we feel confident our hot rod will respond. And gone is the uncertainty we had when approaching a stoplight with tired drum brakes; we can now confidently halt our ’50’s cruiser with room to spare.



Performance Online
Fullerton, CA 92831



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