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1965 Chevrolet Bel Air Suspension - Big Car Canyon Carver

Nailing it Down

By Arvid Svendsen, Photography by Arvid Svendsen

Two years ago, Mark Webster, restoration manager at Brent Jarvis' Performance Restorations in Mundelein, Ilinois, (www.performancerestorations.com) owned arguably one of the nicest '65 numbers-matching 396/425-horse L78 Biscaynes in the country. With approximately 13,000 original documented miles, the car was immaculate. The bright red paint and matching red interior combination made the four-speed, bench-seat car stunning. However, for the sake of preservation, driving the rare Biscayne had to be restricted to shows and magazine shoots. Pedal to the mat, bangin' gears driving was limited in light of the value of the completely numbers-matching drivetrain. Restraint behind the wheel of a big-block musclecar was particularly frustrating, because in Webster's words, "I'm a hot rodder." The logical choice was to sell the L78 car, and replace it with a hot rod that he could enjoy, modify, and beat on.

Prior to selling the L78 car, this '65 Bel Air post car had been located. Originally powered by a six cylinder, a healthy 396 big-block with Muncie four-speed had been transplanted under the hood. For that reason, originality was a non-issue, and high-performance modifications and driving could take place with a clear conscience.


When the L78 sold, Webster proceeded to tear the "new" car apart and suit it to his liking. The 396 was benched in place of a healthy 454 motor. Anticipating long, extended cruises, the Muncie four-speed was replaced by a Richmond five-speed and 3.08 posi. Disc brakes and factory big-block sway bars were installed to bring the stopping and turning levels up to a tolerable level. Wider than stock, body-colored steelies gave the car the bare-bones musclecar look. It was better, but still lacking in the handling department. Body lean and powerboat handling finally made the case to do perform a first class suspension upgrade. Enter Hotchkis Performance, which has recently come to the rescue of B-Body car owners.

On the Bel Air, the stock front sway bar passes through the frame supports. The bigger sway bar fits without any modification to the frame supports.

The stock front sway bar is removed with front wheels on the ground, turning the wheels to work the stock bar out (detailed instructions on the entire installation, including stock sway bar removal are included with the kit). With the front sway bar removed, the Hotchkis sway bar is positioned in order to attach to sway bar end links.

Still with the wheels on the ground, the bar must be centered and located for attachment to end links.

The new sway bar end links are provided by Hotchkis, and line up exactly for attaching to the sway bar.

The front sway bar Polygraphite bushings are far superior to the rubber factory units. Insides of the bushings receive a healthy dose of grease that is supplied by Hotchkis for lubrication.

Brackets for the Hotchkis sway bar require the existing front factory hole to be enlarged, and one new hole to be drilled. Bushing slips around the bar and the bushing bracket is bolted in place.

Moving to the rear suspension, the stock rear factory sway bar is removed, leaving the stock upper and lower trailing arms ready for removal. Notice the aftermarket air bags in the coils for "load leveling purposes" (read "Test and Tune" nights).

The stock upper trailing arm is unbolted and removed.

The Hotchkis upper trailing arm comes with zerk fittings. Dealing with cars that have altered ride height, the trailing arms are double adjustable to change the pinion angle.

For initial installation, the upper trailing arm is length-ened to the exact size of the stock upper trailing arm.

The Hotchkis upper trailing arm is bolted in place using the supplied hardware.

With upper trailing arms in place, the stock lower trailing arms are removed. All mating surfaces receive a thin coat of Hotchkis supplied grease.

The Hotchkis lower trailing arms are boxed and feature a welded spring seat for easier spring installations. The use of the Polygraphite bushings are a huge improvement over the rubber bushings that beat apart after only two years of driving, about 15,000 miles.

The new lower trailing arms are installed, again using mounting hardware supplied.

After the lower trailing arms are replaced, the stock Panhard rod is removed, and the Hotchkis adjustable Panhard rod is bolted into place.

The Panhard rod adjustability enables centering the rear end in the car when altering ride height. The fit of the much "beefier" Hotchkis Panhard rod is outstanding.

Moving to the new rear sway bar, new Hotchkis U-bolts are installed loosely on the housing inboard of the lower trailing brackets.

Antiseize lubricant is supplied for the stainless U-bolts.

With both U-bolts in place, the rear sway bar is fit into position and centered under the differential.

The Hotchkis sway bar is assembled with the supplied "dog bone" end links. Assembly involves first attaching the "dog bone" end links to the sway bar, and then the mounting brackets to the "dog bone" end links. The sway bar is rotated upward so the brackets are resting on the frame. The brackets holes are marked to the frame, and then drilled (two holes per side).

The mounting brackets must then be detached from the "dog bone" end links. Mounting bolts are dropped down through the frame to mate to the mounting brackets. The "dog bone" end links are then bolted to the mounting bracket on the frame.

Car is down on the ground, and is currently having the drivetrain tweaked. With parts in hand, Webster proceeded to install the suspension kit with the help of his son, Keith, in his two-car garage. Caprice, Impala, Bel Air, and Biscayne owners can now make their cars handle, in the owner's words, "like a good Camaro". Total time for two guys taking their time, including a trip to the tool store for a wrench, came to nine hours. Though the steelies look great on the Bel Air, better suspension only reaches its greatest potential with a modern wheel/tire combination. Boyd Coddington Junk Yard Dogs got the nod, 17x7s in the front, 17x8s in the rear. To nail the stance, the big-block front springs were removed and one full coil cut, effectively dropping the front of the car about 2 inches.

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By Arvid Svendsen
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