Volume III, Issue 7, Page 29

In 1964, when this car was new, neither cornering nor stopping capabilities were anywhere near the equal of the power the engines could produce. Testament to that is this 1st-Gen SS Chevelle that came with an A-arm independent front suspension and a meager, manual four-wheel drum-brake system. Brake shoes measuring 8x2 inches and a single-outlet master cylinder were the OE components of choice.

While this trash may have been state-of-art forty years ago, now it’s as about as tolerable as an ox cart with one wheel. With the horsepower available today, suspension and brake systems have become a priority on any high-performance vehicle. Installing new-tech suspension components and disc brakes at all four corners greatly increases roadability, active handling avoidance, and driving fun. If you have basic mechanical skills, you can do this at home. We approached both portions of the project separately while also making sure that each would work in complete harmony with the other to deliver a well-tuned overall package.

Brake System

For the brake upgrade, we contacted Baer about a bolt-on system. We added a challenge to their recommendation in that the assembly was bound to 15-inch diameter wheels. The Serious Street Baer Claw brake package (11-inch front, 11.35-inch rear) fits within any stock or aftermarket 15-inch wheels and can be used whether the car was originally equipped with an all-drum or a disc-and-drum brake system.  We matched the rear brakes to the front with the installation of a direct bolt-on kit.

This brake system also required the installation of a dual-reservoir master cylinder, which Baer provided with their kit. The dual-reservoir master cylinder is a more efficient and safer design, as well as being hydraulically matched to the Serious Street system. As long as we were in this deep, we added a power booster to the community as well. 

Our friends at Original Parts Group (OPG) had all the pre-bent hydraulic lines we needed. They fit perfectly and saved us tons of time and effort. The cross front, front-to-rear, and rear-axle line sets were all changed out in this installation. Some additional pieces that made the installation a little easier included a power brake booster fitting for the intake manifold, a brake booster hose kit, and we simply had to have a new pedal pad, too.

Suspension System

Doug Nordin at Global West Suspension supplied some very exciting components. At the front we installed upper (PN CTA-47A) and lower (PN CTA-42L) tubular control arms. Both units are built with 5½ degrees of positive caster, which provides better straight-line stability and enhances corner entry. The A-arms come complete with Del-a-lum bushings, a billet cross shaft, ball joints, and poly snubbers installed. The lower A-arms are supplied complete as well and include rotating spring cushions and Heim-joint sway bar connectors. To complete our front suspension system, we added 1-inch drop coil springs (PN S-13).

To compliment this system, we installed a complete Global control arm conversion and new springs. Unique to their offering is a combination of Del-a-lum bushings and spherical bearings at the frame ends for smooth controlled performance and suspension travel without bind or deflection. The end result is a superior handling car without a harsh ride. Both upper and lower rear arms incorporate this technology and are further tied together into a comprehensive package with control arm mounting braces.

We chose Edelbrock’s Classic Series IAS shock absorbers to take advantage of their variable valve technology that automatically adjusts to road and driving conditions. They are gas-charged units complete with polyurethane bushings and piston shaft dust covers.

Installation

Each part that was removed was cataloged and boxed for future reference. While we used a lift and some special tools, the actual installation is a relatively easy process that requires basic hand tools to complete. As a one-man job, allow at least a full weekend to complete this trick, though. Most important is that home-builders always read the directions carefully, follow factory torque settings where not specified by performance parts makers, and use quality jack stands to support the vehicle. Also have on hand a quality tubing bender, double flaring tools, floor jack, sockets and hand tools to do the job right.


The stock front suspension system as delivered in 1964. Drum brakes and a lot of road wear were soon to disappear.

Once completed, the driving experience is something like the difference between trying to walk on ice and running in custom jogging shoes. The suspension that was once as substantial as a marshmallow, now responded to steering input with tight, crisp reactions. The old brakes took an average of 277 feet to haul the ragtop from 60-to-0, Now, stopping distance has dropped to just under 198 feet—a more than a 25 percent improvement. The pedal doesn’t bounce off the floorboard anymore and telegraphs a reassuring feel.

This isn’t a cheap deal. The brakes and accessories retail for about $2,190 and the complete suspension conversion goes for approximately $2,225, but the results more than justify the cost. If you have a punk brake/suspension A-body in your garage, put serious consideration to the performance enhancements we gave this Chevelle. We think you will be happy with your investment in overall driving pleasure.