Reducing the Wallow of a Wagon

Brake and Suspension Upgrades Make a Handier Handyman

By Ryan Manson   –   Photography by the Author

When Bruce Valley originally dropped off his ’57 Chevy Handyman wagon to the Clampdown Competition headquarters, he had a short list of upgrades in mind—power steering, air conditioning, and an overdrive transmission. As these projects often do, three things led to another and another and another. Pretty soon, that short list took up much of the workshop’s whiteboard. The addition of an A/C compressor and power steering pump meant that a pulley swap and some bracketry was needed at the least. The transmission swap would be simple enough but as the build plan progressed, it became clear that what Bruce really wanted wasn’t simply a couple creature comforts, he wanted a turnkey hot rod that would be reliable and capable of pulling some serious highway miles around the Phoenix area without overheating or overworking itself, or overburdening the owner.

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002 1957 chevy wagon original front suspension was without fault but didn't conform to 21st century driving desires
The original front suspension was without fault but didn’t conform to 21st century driving desires. Bigger, better brakes and updated components will change that.

While we were discussing the best course of action to make said upgrades, Valley brought up the fact that the current disc brake kit that was installed some years back pushed the wheels out farther than he preferred and that, if possible, perhaps we could find a more modern kit that would bring the wheels back into spec, allowing the front of the wagon to be lowered slightly without any tire-to-fender clearance issues. As we mentioned earlier, one thing leads to another …

003 1957 chevy wagon suspension and steering upgrade
One of the driving factors for Bruce wanting to upgrade the brakes was to utilize a kit that would bring the wheel/tire combo back inside to their stock spec. As is, the car is as low as it can go up front without causing tire rub when turning.

Upgrading the front brakes took a simple phone call to our buddy Mike Hamrick at Wilwood Engineering. Wanting to retain the existing 15-inch wheels, Hamrick set us up with their Classic Series Dynalite kit that includes four-piston calipers, 11.5-inch rotors, and Wilwood’s new Tri-Five ProSpindles. This kit alone would accomplish Valley’s request by bringing the wheel width back to OE spec while also providing the 2-inch drop he desired. But simply adding the brake kit to the existing suspension components would be a bit of a sin, so we decided to give the wagon’s front end a couple more much-needed upgrades.

004 1957 chevy wagon entire front suspension was removed
The entire front suspension was removed in anticipation of the coming upgrades. We then used a bit of elbow grease getting the inner fender area cleaned up before shooting a couple coats of undercoating and satin black paint.

Clutch Basics: The Fusible Friction Link Between Your Engine and the Road

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First up, a new pair of tubular control arms from Classic Performance Products (CPP). Designed to provide full wheel travel with minimal friction, the upper control arms are made from 1 1/4×0.120-inch DOM tubing and allow for 5 degrees of caster. The lower control arms are even beefier, using 1 1/2-inch DOM tubing with similarly sized pivot barrels and are designed for increased ground clearance. The zinc-plated chromoly cross shafts and sleeves feature an interlocking design that prevents the hardware from working loose under the most stressful conditions. Made from self-lubricating, non-squeak patented plastic, the bushings will outlast and outperform any rubber or urethane bushing. A 1-inch sway bar courtesy of CPP will also be added to the frontend appointments to help reduce body roll and give the big wagon a sportier feel.

005 1957 chevy wagon bolting up a CPP lower control arm
We’ll begin the installation by bolting up a CPP lower control arm. These are designed as stock replacements, so the original coil spring and shock can be used. Note the sway bar mounting tab that comes as standard fare.

Cutting the coils on an older IFS car was pretty standard fare to reduce the altitude an inch or so, with Valley’s Tri-Five being a victim of such modification. The shocks were in need of replacement as well, so it was decided to replace said components but not with stock replacement items. A better option was to keep with the upgrade theme by installing a pair of Aldan American coilover shocks from Summit Racing. Designed as a bolt-in alternative, the Aldan coilover kit works with both stock and aftermarket control arms, like the CPP items we’re using, and replaces both the coil spring and shock with zero chassis modifications. This results in a smoother ride, better handling, and total, tunable control thanks to the single adjustability of the shock itself.

006 1957 chevy wagon CPP lower control arm bolts in the stock location using provided Grade 8 hardware
The CPP lower control arm bolts in the stock location using provided Grade 8 hardware.

Gauging Interest: Upgrading the Dash and Gauges in Our Early Chevelle

With the LS swap and other upgrades looming, the fact that we took the time to upgrade the front suspension as a whole as opposed to simply upgrading the brakes, instills confidence that the ride, handling, and performance of the brake and suspension system will equal that of the coming powertrain. Four hundred horsepower under the hood is no good if the rest of the components can’t keep up. A car with inadequate braking or one that body rolls and oversteers around every corner is not fun to drive and, besides, performance is in our title!

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007 1957 chevy wagon Aldan American's coilover conversion kit
Upgrading to a coilover shock is easy whether you’re using stock control arms or aftermarket items like we are thanks to Aldan American’s coilover conversion kit, courtesy of Summit Racing. Pictured here is the Phantom Series single-adjustable shock body and powdercoated cold-wound, high-tensile coil spring that comprises of the front coilover shock as well as a complementary TruLine shock absorber for the rear that we’ll be installing a little later in the build.
008 1957 chevy wagon coilover upgrade using stock or stock replacement control arms is the need to drill the lower control arm shock mount
The one caveat to the coilover upgrade using stock or stock-replacement control arms is the need to drill the lower control arm shock mount boltholes out to 3/8 inch. Other than that, no other modifications are necessary, and the conversion is a true bolt-in.
009 1957 chevy wagon assembly can be raised into the spring pocket section of the frame and the upper shock stud fastened in its perch
With the coilover bolted to the lower control arm, the assembly can be raised into the spring pocket section of the frame and the upper shock stud fastened in its perch.
010 1957 chevy wagon CPP upper control arm also bolts in the stock location with no modifications necessary
The CPP upper control arm also bolts in the stock location with no modifications necessary.

011 1957 chevy wagon suspension and steering upgrade

012 1957 chevy wagon ProSpindles for Tri Five Chevys
Our Wilwood disc brake kit comes with a set of their new ProSpindles for Tri-Five Chevys. The built-in 2-inch drop uses OE ball joints and steering arms and will ensure our wagon sits right without altering the suspension or steering geometry.
013 1957 chevy wagon ProSpindle is attached first to the lower CPP control arm
The ProSpindle is attached first to the lower CPP control arm, then the upper control arm is rotated into place and fastened to the spindle as well.
014 1957 chevy wagon 11 5 inch Wilwood rotors
Iron, 11.5-inch Wilwood rotors, and aluminum four-piston calipers will no doubt be a huge improvement over the previous single-piston items all while clearing a typical 15-inch wheel.
015 iron rotors the entire surface is susceptible to rust
With iron rotors, the entire surface is susceptible to rust, save for the contact patch of the rotor itself. These areas should be painted before installation to save the headache of having to do it later.
016 1957 chevy wagon Wilwood's ProSpindle features built in caliper mounting locations
The design of Wilwood’s ProSpindle features built-in caliper mounting locations, no brackets necessary!
017 1957 chevy wagon provided hardware from Wilwood gets a dab of blue threadlocking fluid
The provided hardware from Wilwood gets a dab of blue threadlocking fluid …
018 1957 chevy wagon suspension torqued to spec
… before being installed and torqued to spec.
019 1957 chevy wagon suspension time to move onto the sway bar installation
With our brake and suspension components installed, it’s time to move onto the sway bar installation.
020 1957 chevy wagon suspension 1 inch CPP sway bar
For that, we’ll be using a 1-inch CPP sway bar, sourced from Summit Racing. The addition of a sway bar is a drastic improvement for vehicles like Valley’s ’57 that didn’t come with one originally.
021 1957 chevy wagon CPP's sway bar kit comes with a tube of lube to keep the bar from squeaking
CPP’s sway bar kit comes with a tube of lube to keep the bar from squeaking in the urethane bushings and to allow for proper articulation. A thin layer is applied to each bushing before installation.
022 1957 chevy wagon suspension sway bar endlinks are then assembled on the control arms and the sway bar lifted toward the chassis
The sway bar endlinks are then assembled on the control arms and the sway bar lifted toward the chassis.
023 1957 chevy wagon suspension bushings and frame mounting brackets are centered under each framerail
Next, the bushings and frame mounting brackets are centered under each framerail, and the sway bar itself spaced evenly with the brackets.
024 1957 chevy wagon suspension pair of holes are then drilled for each bracket's mounting U bolt
A pair of holes are then drilled for each bracket’s mounting U-bolt.
025 1957 chevy wagon suspension mounting bracket is left loose until the car is on the ground
The mounting bracket is left loose until the car is on the ground to avoid putting too much tension on the bushings. Tightened at ride height, the bushings are left in a relaxed, zero-tension state, which helps to minimize any binding that might occur.
026 1957 chevy wagon suspension sway bar in place our front end is ready to rock
With the sway bar in place, our front end is ready to rock! We’ll trim that extra length of the endlink a little later.
027 1957 chevy wagon suspension gained an inch of fender to tire clearance
The result of all that work? Not only did we improve all aspects of the Chevy’s brake and suspension system, but we gained an inch of fender-to-tire clearance—the original intent that started us down this slippery slope.

Sources

Aldan American
(310) 834-7478
aldanamerican.com

Clampdown Competition
clampdowncomp.com

Classic Performance Products
(866) 517-0273
classicperform.com

Summit Racing
(800) 230-3030
summitracing.com

Wilwood Engineering
(805) 388-1188
wilwood.com

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