Making Great Cars Better

Brake and Suspension Upgrade for GM A-Bodies

By Ron Ceridono   –   Photography By Rob Fortier

The ’60s were interesting times. The average new house was around $20,000, gas was roughly 30¢ gallon, miniskirts were popular, and the Rolling Stones were touring the U.S. Of course, for many gearheads, the high point of the decade was the introduction of General Motors’ A-body lineup in 1964. It included the new Chevelle Malibu (and El Camino) as well as the Oldsmobile 4-4-2, Pontiac GTO, and Buick Skylark. A V-8 Malibu carried a window sticker of around $2,600, and the others were similarly priced.

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Although GM’s A-bodies were great cars and well received in their day, by today’s standards they have some shortcomings when it comes to stopping power and handling. GM began installing disc brakes on 1965 Corvettes, but the rest of GM’s offerings had to wait until 1967 for a disc brake option. There were some notable A-bodies with lots of go and very little whoa. And while the performance versions of these cars had impressive straight-line performance, thanks to their spongy suspension, bending them around corners at speed often resulted in white-knuckled drivers, while the tires squealed loudly in protest.

Read more: The Sound of Silence and Keeping Your Cool

002 convert from drum to power disc brakes
Everything needed to convert from drum to power disc brakes is available in one coordinated package from POL. Note the vacuum booster bracket is at an angle and the pushrod is attached.

Recently, we had the opportunity to follow along as a number of brake and suspension improvements were made to a typical A-body by the team at Performance Online (POL). POL has been in business building and restoring custom and classic cars as well as selling performance products for over 30 years.

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Disc Brake Conversion

One of the biggest improvements that can be made to any drum brake–equipped A-body is the installation of a POL disc brake kit, as stopping power is dramatically increased. While the example shown here is a 1965 Chevelle, the parts and procedures for this brake conversion (and all the other updates shown) are similar for all 1964-72 GM A-bodies (check with POL for specific applications).

For 1964-72 Chevelles, POL offers complete kits to convert from drum to disc brakes that include:
OEM forged spindles for disc brakes
OEM caliper brackets
OEM dust shields
POL’s forged disc brake steering arms

These kits use single-piston OEM or Wilwood dual-piston calipers—they
will not work with OEM four-piston calipers

003 POL’s disc brake upgrade kit for GM A-body
A substantial increase in stopping power can be had with POL’s disc brake upgrade kit for GM A-body lineup. This is the best way to make the whoa match the go.
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Master Cylinder and Booster

When updating to disc brakes, a power brake conversion should be part of the package. The brake system’s hydraulic pressure is increased for more stopping power, while the driver’s effort to stop the car, even in a panic situation, is reduced.

POL’s master cylinder and booster kit includes:
9-inch-diameter power booster (8-inch, dual diaphragm is optional)
1-inch bore master cylinder
Proportioning valve with bracket and lines

It should be noted that when installing a vacuum booster the angled mounting bracket will result in the integral pushrod connecting to the brake pedal at a lower point than the manual master cylinder push rod did (see photo 17). If the lower hole isn’t there, one will have to be drilled.

Climate Change: Installing Vintage Air on an All-Original ’66 Chevy II

004 drum brake and spindle assemblies removed
With the drum brake and spindle assemblies removed, the stock springs were given the heave-ho and joined the rest of the antiquated parts in the scrap metal bin.

Steering

Unfortunately, no matter how cool the car was, time and mileage will make mechanical parts deteriorate—and our Chevelle was no exception. To cure the ravages from years of regular use the critical front suspension components of our 57-year-old car were replaced with a performance tie rod end and idler arm kit that included:

Inner and outer tie-rod ends

High-performance tie-rod adjusting sleeves

Idler arm (GM used 13/16- and 7/8-inch-diameter idler arms on A-bodies—check with POL for your application)

To completely rejuvenate the steering system we also installed a new centerlink.

005 POL’s replacement front springs are made from 5160 alloy steel and are powdercoated black.
POL’s replacement front springs are made from 5160 alloy steel and are powdercoated black.

Springs

To replace sagging original springs, POL offers a wide variety of replacement A-body front coils that maintain the factory spring rate. They are available in stock height or 1½-inch drop.

Rear springs are available in stock, 2- or 3-inch drop. Stock height spring rate is 138 lb/in, lowered have a slightly stiffer 152 lb/in spring rate.

Shocks

The POL team advises that shock absorbers are among the most overlooked items when upgrading or rebuilding the suspension. POL’s shock absorbers offer the advantage of dialing in damping ratios with three-way adjustments.

To adjust the shocks, they are fully collapsed, then the shafts are rotated to the desired setting:

Valving ratios are:
Front: 90/10, 80/20, and 60/40
Rear: 70/30, 50/50, and 40/60

006 POL disc brake kit came with new bearings, seals, and retaining hardware
Our POL disc brake kit came with new bearings, seals, and retaining hardware. All you must do is grease the bearings and put everything together.

Sway Bars

POL’s sway bar kits are designed to minimize body roll, understeer, and oversteer when cornering, resulting in improved vehicle handling and control.

Kit includes:

1 1/8-inch-diameter front antisway bar

1-inch-diameter rear antisway bar

Polyurethane bushings

Making Great Cars Better

GM’s 1964-72 A-body cars, like our Chevelle, were truly great cars. And with suspension and brake upgrades, they can be made better than new. Now if gas would go back to 30¢ a gallon …

007 period-perfect Cragar SS wheels
Our Chevelle was equipped with period-perfect Cragar S/S wheels and they had to stay, which isn’t always possible with aftermarket disc brake swaps.
008 OEM-style kit will work with 15-inch aftermarket and even 14-inch Rallye sport wheels
POL offers several disc brake upgrade kits. The OEM-style kit will work with 15-inch aftermarket and even 14-inch Rallye sport wheels.
009 POL’s forged disc brake replacement
Steering arms are different for drum and disc brake applications, compare the stock drum brake version on the left to POL’s forged disc brake replacement on the right.
010 Some spindles use ½-inch bolts, so the holes in the arms must be drilled larger.
POL’s A-body forged steel steering arms are designed to fit most 1964-72 models with 7/16-inch mounting holes. Some spindles use ½-inch bolts, so the holes in the arms must be drilled larger.
011 new POL dropped spindles used the larger ½-inch bolts
Our new POL dropped spindles used the larger ½-inch bolts. After drilling the steering arms, they were attached with Grade 8 bolts and lock nuts.
012 POL’s adjustable shock absorbers
We opted to install POL’s adjustable shock absorbers that offer three extension-to-damping ratios.
013 POL disc brake kit
The POL disc brake kit we used to replace the original drums came with GM single-piston calipers and new vented rotors.
014 drum brake master cylinder removed
With the original drum brake master cylinder removed, the push rod from the brake pedal can be seen. It must be removed to install the power brake assembly.
015 dual master cylinder
Not only does the new brake system include a vacuum booster, but the car is now updated with a much safer dual master cylinder to replace the original single-reservoir style.
016 POL’s new disc brake master cylinder comes with an AC Delco-type proportioning valve
POL’s new disc brake master cylinder comes with an AC Delco-type proportioning valve that includes low-pressure warning light wire and plug.
017 upper is for manual brakes the lower for power brakes
Most brake pedals have two 3/8-inch pushrod holes 1 inch apart. The upper is for manual brakes the lower for power brakes.
018 POL brake kit are new rubber brake hoses
Included in the POL brake kit are new rubber brake hoses. Also available is a hardline kit for converting a single-reservoir master cylinder to a dual.
019-acp-1965-chevelle-suspension-brake-upgrade
To replace the worn original tie-rod ends we installed replacements from POL along with solid adjusters rather than using the stock split sleeves and clamps.
020 POL’s 1 1.8th -inch front sway bar
POL’s 1 1/8-inch front sway bar will improve cornering dramatically without compromising ride quality (we did not add a rear sway bar).
021 replacement endlinks equipped with polyurethane bushings.
The new sway bar comes with replacement endlinks equipped with polyurethane bushings.
022 polyurethane bushings
Also included with the sway bar were polyurethane bushings. Note the flats for a wrench and the lock nuts on the tie-rod connectors that make alignment easier and more secure.
023 POL’s disc brake spindles are available in stock ride height, or with a 2-inch drop
POL’s disc brake spindles are available in stock ride height, or with a 2-inch drop. The new rotor splash shield is also part of the brake kit.
024 and added new shocks and springs
With the front suspension updated, we turned our attention to the rear and added new shocks and springs.
025-acp POL’s rear springs are powdercoated black
POL’s rear springs are powdercoated black and come in stock and lowered heights. At the bottom of the coils are small loops, or “pigtails,” for attaching the springs to the axle housing.
026 three-way adjustable to alter compression and damping performance
Like the front shocks, the rears are three-way adjustable to alter compression and damping performance.
027 fill the master cylinder and bleed the brakes.
The last step in the update process was to fill the master cylinder and bleed the brakes.

Source
Performance Online
(888) 216-7478
performanceonline.com

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