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."
You got to love the beefy...
You got to love the beefy construction on the CPP arms; they're made of 11/4-inch diameter, .120-inch thick DOM mild steel that's MIG-welded and powdercoated. (You get a choice of black or silver.) The cross-shafts are chrome-moly steel, and are fitted to the arms via quiet, self-lubricated bushings.
I brought our Project Nova over to Classic Performance Products in Anaheim, California, for the series of installations, and was met by CPP's Craig Chaffers. Using a four-post lift, we finished Part 1 in about three hours. This consisted of the upper and lower front control arms, front lowering springs, KYB shocks, and a front sway bar. Since we plan on upgrading to CPP's Big Brake disc package, we swapped out the drum spindles for CPP's 2-inch lowering spindles, but those will be covered with the brake install later. Our tally for these items (minus the spindles) was $1,050; this is way less than a complete front subframe swap, yet should give us 90 percent of the benefit of systems costing five times as much.
As cool as a classic Nova or Camaro is, one thing is certain: all the joy of ownership evaporates the moment you take a corner hard. Originally built as a six-pot, drum-brake car, our Nova is especially disobedient in traffic. With CPP on the job training our Nova, we predict a well-behaved performer capable of taking a bite out of the competition!
Getting A Grip
Another close-up of CPP's...
Another close-up of CPP's control arms showing the beefy MIG-welded construction and heavy-duty ball joint. There are no surprises here-just stuff that fits perfectly to the stock chassis and suspension.
There's a long road ahead for our '68 Nova project car, and it starts with the right tire/wheel combo. No suspension system is worth a hoot without a grippy set of tires. Moreover, you won't want to even think about ordering good brakes without choosing your wheels first, so we were forced to deal with the cosmetic aspect of the wheels before addressing the rest of the performance.
To rectify the situation, we reached for two of our favorite companies: Vintage Wheel Works and Nitto. First, the rolling stock. Nitto makes more super sticky tires than just about anybody, and their NT01 is our favorite all-around street/track tire. They're on our '68 Chevelle and '65 Olds, and they were on our '76 Camaro. They flat-out work when pushing a car at 10/10ths on the track, and they are quiet and unobtrusive on the highway. With a 100 treadwear, they also have a decent life expectancy, and we fully expect to go 15k on them while tracking them regularly. (That's like, what, seven dog years?)
The four-post lift made the...
The four-post lift made the swap from old to new a cinch; Novas are really simple to work on given their small proportions and simple design-it's the perfect starter hot rod. Here, Craig Chaffers hit the nuts on the upper arms with an 11/16-inch wrench. We reused the factory studs attached to the stock front stub.
For wheels, we ordered a set of Vintage Wheel Works V40s, the same hoops that are on our '68 Chevelle. We researched wheels for the '68-72 Nova, and settled on 17x7 for the front (4 7/8-inch backspace, 5x4.75-inch bolt circle), and 17x9 for the rear (5 3/4-inch backspace, same bolt circle). We also optioned a set of VWW's flat block-off caps for that sinister track-ready look. When mounted with the Nitto NT01s (235/40R17s front and 255/40R17s rear), we carefully observed the clearance, and found no rubbing issues-even with no front sway bar and lots of body roll.
|WHERE THE MONEY WENT
|Vintage Wheel Works V40 wheels
||17x7 (47/8-inch BS)
|Vintage Wheel Works V40 wheels
||17x9 (53/4-inch BS)
|Block-off plates (VWW)
|Nitto NT01 R-compound (100AA)
|Nitto NT01 R-compound (100AA)
|CPP tubular control arm kit
|CPP front coil springs, drop
|CPP (KYB) front shocks
|CPP 11/8-inch front sway bay kit
The lower arms use through-bolts...
The lower arms use through-bolts instead of studs. The best procedure is to get one side in, and then locate the second bushing with a rubber mallet, followed by the second through-bolt. A 3/4-inch ratchet and box wrench finishes the job.
Springs can be tricky, especially...
Springs can be tricky, especially high-rate springs like these. Make sure the pigtail is in the upper pocket, and then guide the lower part into the control arm pocket as you raise the lower arm on a jack. A little prying persuasion may be needed to keep it in place. Most likely, we will need to pull the springs out for fine-tuning the ride height at a later date-but it's worth the effort to get the stance right.
CPP makes their own 2-inch...
CPP makes their own 2-inch drop spindles from forged steel, and they fit all GM X-bodies from '68 to '74, F-bodies from '67 to '69, and all A-bodies from '64 to '72. The primary difference between these is in the bolt-on steering arms, which are specific to the car. The spindles are designed to work on either side of the car and have identical mounting provisions for brake brackets and steering arms on both sides.
The KYB nitrogen-filled shocks...
The KYB nitrogen-filled shocks we'll be using are inexpensive, and valved properly for the stiffer springs. The key idea is to have a shock that is capable of controlling the spring, otherwise the spring will oscillate uncontrollably.
At this point, the DIY guy...
At this point, the DIY guy could reuse the stock spindle, reconnect the stock steering components and sway bar (if any), and get an alignment. G'head and drive it until you want to make the next set of CPP upgrades. (We actually continued on with the Big Brake upgrade from here.)
Here's a sneak peek of the...
Here's a sneak peek of the CPP Big Brake upgrade (13-inch rotors, dual-piston calipers). The thing to note here is the beefy 11/8-inch sway bar, which was sorely lacking on the factory setup. Without one, we were listing around corners like the Yamoto hit by a half dozen Mark 13 torpedoes. On a Nova, the bar needs to be worked gradually between the crossmember and radiator core support-it's a bear to snake through, but it does fit ... eventually.