Do you ever feel like you’ll never be able to afford world-class handling and braking components? When you’re on a beer and pretzel budget and can’t afford a down payment on a free meal, it’s impossible to even think about the purchase of a high-tech suspension system for your Chevelle, Camaro, Nova, or fullsize Bowtanker. But what if we told you that an affordable suspension system is as close as Performance Online (POL)?
POL offers great quality tubular control arms, springs, shocks, and steering components for classic Chevys, including fullsize, Camaro, Chevelle, and Nova. These components are powdercoated, bushed, and ready to install. They will change the way you feel about driving a classic Chevy.
It is important to note the POL control arms will not fit Chevys with factory drum brakes. When you order the control arms, your plan must include disc brakes. In fact, POL suggests you order both disc brakes and front drop spindles for best results.
We’ve opted to go with the POL Stage 3 front suspension kit for 1968-’72 Chevelle and El Camino with tubular control arms, three-way adjustable shocks, coil springs, and adjustable stabilizer bar endlinks. You have a choice of stock ride height springs or 1.5-inch drop springs. Big-block coil springs run $10 more. You also have a choice of stock-style shocks all the way up to high-end, fully adjustable versions.
The POL Tubular Control Arms Include:
• Deluxe control arms with Delrin bushings fitted with grease fittings
• Heavy-duty ball joints
• Offset billet cross-shafts
POL Tubular Control Arm Dimensions:
Lower arms are 1.500-inch OD, 0.156-inch wall DOM tubing
Upper arms are 1.125-inch OD, 0.125-inch wall DOM tubing
Special offset billet cross-shafts allow for more finite camber and caster adjustment, giving you more high-speed stability for just about any kind of driving imaginable.
We’re starting out with a box stock 1971 El Camino sporting factory underpinnings and manual drum brakes. It’s time to turn this worn-out, dated stuff into scrap iron.
We like these tubular upper and lower control arms for the 1964-’72 Chevy intermediates, which are made of thick tubular 0.156-inch thick wall (lower) and 0.125-inch thick (upper) tubing for extraordinary strength. The urethane bushings are fitted with zerk fittings for good preventative maintenance. These control arms will last the life of your Chevy.
You’re going to like this 1 1/8-inch thick front sway bar sporting polyurethane bushings and adjustable endlinks. Because this piece is so darned thick, it greatly reduces body roll. Adjustable endlinks (not shown here) enable full spectrum tuning. Crank it up tight for autocross and road course driving. Loosen it up for the morning commute.
While we’re in the neighborhood, we’re going to replace the steering linkage, including the centerlink, tie-rod ends, idler, and Pitman arm. POL offers complete steering linkage packages for these rugged GM intermediates, including billet aluminum adjustment sleeves, which makes dialing-in the alignment a lot easier.
The first order of business is shock absorber removal, which begins on top using a 9/16-inch deep well socket. On some applications you can expect 5/8-inch. On the lower control arm, you will have two bolts, which will call for a 9/16-inch socket. Remove these bolts and pull the shock out through the bottom. New POL shocks will install the same way through the new lower control arm.
After disconnecting the sway bar from the control arms we started removing the old steering linkage. The steering linkage is disconnected first at the tie-rod ends, then at the idler and Pitman arms. When you’re replacing the steering linkage, take the tie-rod end measurements and apply them to the new POL tie-rod ends to get the toe close to what you had. You will have to look to the talents of a good front-end alignment professional to get it spot on.
Before you begin disassembling the control arms and spindle, keep in mind those front coil springs pack a lot of pressure. The coil spring’s stored energy can maim and kill. You will want the vehicle secured to where you can remove the coil springs without risk of them coming out violently and inflicting injury. Ball joints can be disconnected from the spindle using a splitter or split fork. If you can’t separate the ball joint and spindle with a fork, gently heat the spindle at the ball joint with a torch, then, try again with the fork. Do not overdo the heat.
Coil spring removal begins by supporting the lower control arm as shown, disconnecting the lower control arm and spindle, and slowly backing the hydraulic jack down from the arm. It is a good idea to use a coil spring compressor to limit spring pressure. You will need to stand out of the way while doing this should the spring pop from the control arm.
With the drum brake assembly removed we could start removing the stock control arms. The upper control arm is secured at this pivot point at the chassis and adjusted via these shims, which adjust both caster and camber. These locknuts are removed along with the upper control arm. For the lower arm we just needed to remove the two bolts securing it to the frame.
Marlon Mitchell of Marlo’s Frame & Alignment in Chatsworth, California, installs the POL lower control arm, first applying plenty of lubricant to the bushings and bolts. We’re using the original chassis hardware to secure both the upper and lower control arms. If you are faced with badly damaged or corroded fasteners, opt for new Grade 8 cad-plated fasteners in these locations.
The POL upper control arm bolts directly in place of the factory arm with no modifications. Lubricate the polyurethane bushings on both arms before going any further.
Use the same number of shims on the new POL upper control arms as you had on the old arms. This will get your front-end alignment close to what it originally was. Then, seek a front-end alignment professional for a precision alignment. The good news about these POL control arms is their ability to hold alignment. It takes one heck of a pothole or curb to disturb alignment.
Marlon takes the new POL coil springs and compresses them with his own retainers for installation. Once they’re seated in the control arms and compressed by vehicle weight the retainers are removed.
We’re installing the POL coil springs at this time, which will afford us a 1.5-inch drop in ride height. Marlon works the bottle jack beneath the lower control arm, gradually compressing the coil spring into position. If you’re installing these springs with the engine and transmission removed, you will have to find a way to strap the vehicle down to the lift.
We’re installing a complete power front disc brake system from POL to complement the suspension upgrade. This is not a high-end disc brake package. However, it is very effective thanks to slotted and vented brake rotors and heavy-duty single-piston iron calipers. It certainly beats the pants off of those factory drum binders.
The POL disc brake installation begins with the drop spindle, backing plate, and caliper mount. Included is the bolt-on steering arm, which is mandatory when you convert to front disc brakes.
Our new POL drop spindle is tied to the upper and lower ball joints as shown. It’s a good idea to apply a thin film of wheel bearing grease or antiseize to the ball joint stud for easy removal in the future.
We’ve seen our share of cotter pinned front end components, including those who have used nails as cotter pins. This is how you safely secure a cotter pin in a ball joint, tie-rod end, and idler arm. Seat the cotter pin, bend the leg over as shown, and cut the excess with diagonal cutting pliers. You don’t want sloppy cotter pin installation to endanger anyone’s life or cause injury because someone got cut by a ragged tip.
Marlon has this cool bearing packer, which makes light work of bearing packing. Most of us, though, only have the palm of our hands to pack grease. Grab a set of Latex gloves, fill your palm with high-temperature wheel bearing grease, and work the bearing deep into the grease until grease comes out of all of the nooks and crannies. You can never over-lube a wheel bearing. Make sure the bearing-to-spindle surfaces are free of grease because you want the internal bearing race stationary on the spindle.
Here’s the castle nut as it should be installed on the spindle. It is appropriate to spin the rotor while you’re tightening the castle nut and seating the bearings. Tighten the nut, then, back it off to the next cotter pin slot. The rotor should roll smoothly without binding or dragging. Install the cotter pin as shown. Make sure the cotter pin will clear the cap.
Never beat on a bearing cap with a hammer. Marlon uses specially sized sleeves like this to seat bearing caps around their perimeter. You can do this with a large socket or pipe.
Caliper installation is next, as shown, with the brake pads in place. Use a thread locker on the bolt threads and torque the fasteners per your POL instructions. Check pad-to-rotor clearances. We like these affordable slotted and drilled rotors, which are very effective during hard braking and extreme temperatures. You want rotor and pad surfaces to be hospital clean.
Brake line connections at the calipers call for two copper compression washers, which provide the seal. Only one compression washer at the fitting head is shown here.
It’s hard to believe this El Camino has come this far with manual drum brakes. We’re going to toss this dual master cylinder and replace it with the POL power disc brake booster. You will have to fabricate new custom brake lines to tie this package into your existing brake hydraulic system. We suggest the installation of all new brake lines and hoses when you’re doing an upgrade like this.
The POL power disc brake booster package is a simple bolt-on affair, which mounts directly to existing firewall fastener locations. Getting to the brake pedal connection underneath the dashboard is challenging. Completely flush and bleed the brake hydraulic system before hitting the road.
Here’s the POL single-piston caliper disc brake with slotted and drilled rotor for good heat dissipation and fade resistance. This is a nice package you can afford on even the tightest of budgets. And it surely beats the cost of the accident you can avoid.
Last thing we need to do is install the POL 1 1/8-inch anti-roll bar. Marlon suggests using Teflon tape on the bar at the urethane bushings for quiet operation.
Marlon installs the front sway bar using new Grade 8 fasteners. Bracket bolts should be installed with the head on top. The stabilizer endlinks are fully adjustable for roll control.
Photography by Jim Smart