Refining the Ride

Suspension Upgrades for Them Ol’ Tri-Fives

By “Rotten” Rodney Bauman   –   Photography by the Author

Why is “Guardrail” Willie Martin smiling? Well, it likely has a lot to do with his high school ride’s suspension upgrade. Martin has owned this same ’55 Chevy 150 pretty much straight-through since 1970. In fact, in slightly earlier years it served as the loaner car for Martin’s family business: the original Ed Martin Garage.

001 Speedway Motors tubular control arms and the Aldan American coilovers
(Left to right) Here’s the Speedway Motors tubular control arms and the Aldan American coilovers and rear shocks for the ol’ flammable ’55. The spanner wrench, thrust bearings, and support plates are optional and not included in the kit.
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As a third-generation auto mechanic, Martin has enjoyed a long, successful run in the trade. That was back in Riverside, California. But back to his flammable ’55—following a crash, and an off-frame rebuild, it’s been together, on the road in its current configuration now for 22 years. During that time, it’s also been driven—a lot.

002 supercharger headers and lower radiator hose will be our obstacles
This car’s supercharger, headers, and lower radiator hose will be our obstacles. For Ferguson (left) and Martin, it’s all quite familiar.

Just recently Martin took notice that the ol’ Chevy’s OEM stock-type control arm bushings were exhibiting signs of wear. Back when the car was last built, we didn’t have the options that we have today. Tubular control arms, for example, weren’t considered. Neither were coilover shock absorbers.

003 centers of our front wheel openings are up to 25 inches
Expecting to end up somewhat lower, we’ll be keeping track as we go. To begin, the centers of our front wheel openings are up to 25 inches.

At the very least, it’s time to freshen up our frontend suspension. A worthwhile suspension upgrade might be a bit or two more rewarding than just replacing worn bushings. We might as well gain adjustability for whatever kind of ride and cornering we might desire, right?

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Read more: Part 1: Third-Gen Camaro Suspension and Brake Upgrade–The Front

004 Out back the centers of our wheel openings are up to 28 inches
Out back the centers of our wheel openings are up to 28 inches. At this end, we wouldn’t mind coming down an inch or so.

With a little help from Aldan American and Speedway Motors we’ll refine the ride and perhaps enhance the stance somewhat to boot. Apart from one leaky shock, the components we’ll retire might be useful to a restorer, but first things first. We’ve got ourselves a job to do.

005 two post lift
A job like this might best be done on a two-post lift. Martin’s four-post lift comes equipped with a roller jack, which will be enormously helpful along the way.

For starters, we’ll be steppin’ up to Speedway Motors tubular control arms (PN PB 91095557). With serviceable ball joints and pivot points, those arms come powdercoated black and ready to install. The kit’s lower arms are made to accept a sway bar and stock-type coil springs—for those who’d care to retain them.

006 pickle fork attachment to an air chisel
For disassembly, we could use a pickle fork, or a pickle fork attachment to an air chisel. Martin, however, possesses the prowess to properly place—a hammer smack!

By design the Speedway Motors tubular arms (with included polyurethane spring pads) will lower the frontend of a Tri-Five Chevy by an additional inch. For our own particular purposes, we’ll be ditchin’ the stock-type coil springs. Quite conveniently, the Speedway Motors kit allows us that option as well.

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007 ball joints now disjointed and tired shocks out of the way

This time around, for a whole new world of adjustability, we’ll be installing Aldan American “RCX” double-adjustable coilovers (PN 300227). Out back Martin’s ride will remain leaf sprung, but we’ll be replacing tired overloaded shocks with Aldan American “TruLine” series single-adjustable shocks (PN 100111). Like our chosen control arms, our Aldan American upgrades come in kit form—and we’ll talk more about all of this later as we go.

Doing the bulk of the work here will be car owner “Guardrail” Willie Martin, and his longtime coworker/friend, Mike “Spinner” Ferguson. Yes indeed, we all have distinctive monikers.

Check it out: A Clean Brake – Installing CPP Power Disc Brakes on a 1966 Chevy II

008 random chunks of lumber
It’s always good to have random chunks of lumber on hand and within reach. Here a little bit of that goes a long way to protect brake hoses.

As we begin, we’re not expecting the job at hand to take any longer than the weekend we’ve set aside. In fact, Martin has already scheduled a Monday morning appointment with the local wheel alignment shop.

009 pull the original lower arms
At this point we’re ready to pull the original lower arms for good. With pneumatic persuasion this should go fairly quickly.

Afterward we’ll conduct a thorough testdrive—from Chino Valley, Arizona, to Riverside, California. Winding mountain roads and the windy Whitewater stretch of Interstate 10 should add up to a satisfactorily sufficient shakedown run. As, or if necessary, we’ll make adjustments on the proverbial fly.

010 1955 chevy suspension upgrade

011 ultrasonic parts cleaner
With disassembly chores all tended to, we’ll let the reusable fasteners ride around in Martin’s ultrasonic parts cleaner and maybe take a lunch break while this goes on.
012 Aldans installation instructions
Now, before we commence with the installation of our shiny-new front suspension components, let’s just take a moment to become acquainted with them and review Aldan’s installation instructions.
013 Aldans lower T bar hardware PN 71006
To accept Aldan’s lower T-bar hardware (PN 71006), Speedway’s lower arms require one minor modification: Existing shock mount holes must be enlarged to 3/8 inch.
014 lower arms are ready to install
With that, the lower arms are ready to install. The upper arms are close. With a 13/16 open-end wrench their shafts are easily clocked as necessary.
015 original serrated bolts require repositioning
For reassembly, original serrated bolts require repositioning. Here, a brass drift and a few gentle hammer taps do the trick just fine.
016 slip the same shims into the same places
Not yet completely attached to the spindle, our left-side arms are loosely in position. As a pre-alignment starting point, we’ll slip the same shims into the same places.
017 Aldans coilover support plates PN AlD39
Down low in this photo is the last clear view we’ll have of Aldan’s coilover support plates (PN AlD39) uninstalled. These are optional but they’ll further strengthen the lower arms’ spring pockets.
018 ven coating of antiseize compound is applied to spring seat adjusting threads
As recommended by Aldan, a thin, even coating of antiseize compound is applied to spring seat adjusting threads.
019 PN ALD 50
Between spring retainers (PN ALD-50) and the lower ends of conical coil springs, we’re now installing the optional thrust bearings (PN ALD-26). For reference, big-block springs are PN 10USA55 and small-block are PN 10USA450.
020 new spring in its upper pocket
At times like these, it’s good to have three hands. Martin doesn’t really, but Ferguson lends an extra, which helps to loosely locate the new spring in its upper pocket.
021 Aldan components torque specifications are included in our installation instructions
For certain Aldan components, torque specifications are included in our installation instructions. Apart from that, Martin’s instinct is good enough for us.
022 preexisting sway bar attaches to the new Speedway tubular lower arms
Down to the short strokes, at least for the front end, the preexisting sway bar attaches to the new Speedway tubular lower arms just the same.
023 begin with a midpoint setting
With the front end reassembled it’s time to make adjustments. For rebound, we’ll begin with a midpoint setting. For this, deeper details are included in our instructions.
024 spanner wrench PN ALD 1
Using this optional spanner wrench (PN ALD-1) we’ll continue with pre-load and ride-height adjustments. It’s dark down here, but “RCX” compression adjustment knobs are located just below.

Bringin’ Down the Rear

Just short of wheel alignment, and perhaps on-the-fly testdrive adjustments, the frontend job is pretty much done. Now let’s turn our attention to this car’s other end.

Only a few days ago, Martin placed an online order (somewhere) for a brand-new pair of leaf springs. Once installed, they’d raised the end of the car a total of 3 unwanted inches. The new springs were promptly excused and the good, used originals reassumed their positions. Back in 1975, Martin had installed Teflon strips between their leaves—and really, that’s all still fine today.

So, the rearend upgrade should go fairly easily. On that note let’s install Aldan American  “TruLine” series single-adjustable shocks (PN 100111).

025 overload shocks
Out with the old, in with the new. It’s time to replace the overload shocks. They’ve done their jobs, but they never were much to look at. The new shocks, however, are pretty.
026 upper shock mounts are part of the trunk floor
. For stock Tri-Five Chevys, upper shock mounts are part of the trunk floor. Martin’s car has a custom-fabricated crossmember. Either way, holes must be enlarged to ½ inch.
027 Aldan shocks feature adjustable rebound
Our new Aldan shocks feature adjustable rebound. Here, the adjustment knob is just out of view, but right within reach as we’ll demonstrate soon.
028 upper holes properly enlarged the right side shock slipped right into place
With upper holes properly enlarged, the right-side shock slipped right into place. Here the left side will as well—with the dull thud of a non-marking mallet.
029ride height recheck
With our installation now complete, it’s time for a ride-height recheck. Without yet rolling down the road, our frontend is just an inch lower. This, to us, looks good.
030 original springs were stored without their familiar load
Out back, we’re still a little higher than we’d like. Off the car, the original springs were stored without their familiar load. By allowing a little drive time, settling will likely occur.

Testdrivin’

Of course, results may vary, but in Martin’s new home-based shop we’ve invested only 8 1/2 hours. At this stage our work here is pretty much finished, and frontend wheel alignment chores have also been tended to.

Last, but not least, all new Zerk fittings have been greased—and greased again. Now it’s time to take a drive. According to our newfangled phones, Chino Valley, Arizona, to Riverside, California, is roughly 347 miles. As a new suspension shakedown run, this should be good.

031 55 is riding and cornering much nicer than ever before
With nothing more than suggested mid-point (starting point) adjustments, the ’55 is riding and cornering much nicer than ever before.
032 1955 chevy suspension upgrade
What a difference a drive makes. For rearend ride height, this is what we’ve had in mind. At our final destination we’ll adjust rearend rebound a click or two.
033 1955 chevy suspension upgrade newfound adjustability
Why is “Guardrail” Willie Martin smiling? Well, it likely has a lot to do with our newfound adjustability, for whatever kind of ride and cornering we might desire.

Aldan American
(310) 834-7478
aldanamerican.com

Speedway Motors
(855) 313-9173
speedwaymotors.com/allchevyperformance

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