It absolutely boggles my mind to think what we (and our parents) had to put up with during the '60s. Next time you wax nostalgic for the good ol' days, just remember the black and white TV set that you had to get off the couch to change channels for, the land-line telephone with that slow rotary dial (and a cord!), that typewriter you used to write real letters with, or the crappy suspension in the family truckster.
Your TV remote control would only have to malfunction once, and in a split second you'd be on your way to Best Buy for the newest 60-inch flat screen plasma set. Yet somehow it's "cool" to suffer through an ill-handling antique suspension on a 40-year-old car? Not only is it not cool, it's downright dangerous. At some point, a healthy, properly handling suspension stops being a luxury, and starts being a necessity. Back in the day, we put up with lots of body roll, poor grip, bad brakes, positive camber gain, sloppy steering, and snap oversteer-and we actually became pretty good at it. Every driver on the road had to manage the same set of problems, making the playing field more or less flat. Someone making a panic stop in front of you, for instance, would have the same slow mechanical reaction time as you. But cars are far better these days. Even the lowliest Toyota can outstop, outturn, and outmaneuver a car like our stock 1968 Chevy Nova. Ugh. So not the plan.
It doesn't matter how good...
It doesn't matter how good the suspension is, the 195/75R14 tires and 14x6 steel rims have to be replaced with rolling stock up to the challenge. I've got a weakness for Vintage Wheel Works V40 wheels, so they got the nod, along with Nitto NT01 DOT-legal R-compounds. Trust me-we will clean house with these tires!
I started researching the suspension options in earnest while putting together the May '10 issue when we did our Camaro/Nova suspension guide. And while all 44 suspensions profiled in Christopher Campbell's epic story would be a vast improvement over stock, we decided to take one of the simpler routes. We chose to go with Classic Performance Products for a couple of reasons: It would be minimally invasive (read: bolt-on), thus better reflecting what the average guy could easily accomplish in his driveway, and CPP's à la carte system would allow someone to duplicate our results at their own pace while keeping the car on the road.
The cool thing about CPP's suspension components for the '68 Nova is that they are compatible with all '68-74 GM X-bodies, which includes the Nova, Pontiac Ventura II ('71-74), Buick Apollo ('73-74), and Olds Omega ('73-74). X-bodies built after 1974 had a slightly different suspension design, so you'll want to consult with CPP before purchasing anything for X-bodies built from 1975 to 1979. All the CPP parts we plan to use on our '68 Nova are also fully compatible with the '67-69 Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, so F-body guys can follow along too. (And as a heads-up to '64-72 A-body owners, the drop spindle and front brake system is also a direct bolt-on for you guys too, so stay tuned.)
Part 1 of our Classic Performance...
Part 1 of our Classic Performance Products suspension upgrade consists of their Tubular Control Arm Kit, a Coil Spring Drop kit, a pair of KYB shocks, and the all-important 11/8-inch solid front sway bar (not shown).
The logical step before moving on to our suspension parts was to select a wheel and tire combination that is compatible with our planned use on the street and the track. Before jumping in, we spent a good amount of time pouring over the wheel and tire posts at StevesNovaSite.com and Novas.net. (The Wheels & Tires section at Novas.net was especially helpful!) Both sites have a lot to offer the hard-core Nova guy, and if you haven't visited either, we suggest you book on over there soon. Thankfully, a lot of other folks have done the tire/wheel heavy lifting, and we were able to lock onto the right wheel size, offset, and tire size with little drama. Since the end objective is to equal the grip, handling, and braking performance of today's best factory performers (such as the C6 Corvette) we selected a fairly aggressive tire in Nitto's NT01 DOT-legal summer performance tire. We paired this with a set of classic-looking Vintage Wheel Works V40 hoops. For more on the sizes and backspacing, check out the accompanying sidebar, "Getting A Grip."