I spent most of the winter tearing apart the front end. I wanted to find a way to lower the car and put disc brakes in the front like modern cars. I didn’t really have any money, I was determined to find a way to do it without spending a few hundred dollars on an aftermarket brake upgrade kit and dropped spindles.
I got on the Internet and dug around some of the message boards like hotrodders.com, chevytalk.com and the HAMB looking for clues on how to get this all to work. I looked through old service manuals, scrutinized all of the aftermarket stuff, called the manufacturers and asked questions, went out to the garage and measured, and drew up some plans.
The Chevy sat way too high in it’s stock configuration. I had to try and get it as close to the dirt as posible. I found out that in ’53 Chevy moved the spindle mounts up .625″. I found some 53 uprights on the internet for cheap. I figured that the combination of swapping out the uprights and cutting the coil springs in the front would drop the car 3 inches. For the rear, I had heard that guys would take out every-other leaf to drop it down.
Through calling around, I also found out that mid-70s full size Chevy rotors were what the aftermarket kits used. While snooping around at the Northend Junkyard for the rotors and calipers I thought would work, I met one of the owners. Jeffro, as he introduced himself, had built a ’48 Chevy Pro-Street truck once upon a time, and happened to have a couple of fabbed plate steel mounts for the calipers left over. This was a huge bonus because I was going to make them myself. I had to redrill and tap a hole to make it work, but I was on my way with these freebies, and 35 bucks worth of ’76 Chevelle brake parts. The tap and die set cost me 70. Money well spent because they have come in handy dozens of times.
The outer wheel bearings from the Chevelle rotors fit perfectly on the ’50, but the inner bearings were much larger. Also, the spindles are a little too long. I needed a sleeve to take up the difference. There are about a muhjullion machins shops in the greater Metro area, but none wanted to touch a project as small as this. I went from shop to shop getting rejected until eventually someone recommended Mark Meek. He runs a shop that does major threading projects. He makes giant screws, like the size of drainage pipe!
He got out his micrometer as I explained my idea, and whittled me two identical sleeves. I will never forget what he said to me when I asked him how much I owed him. He said “Well, the way I see it, you’re a hot rodder, I’m a hot rodder, I’ll just see you on Woodward.” That, my friends, is what you call a righteous dude. I finally got him to accept some Thai food and a Coke.
Another thing I learned was from a guy that had a company called Buffalo Engineering. He informed me that the aftermarket kits actually increase your track width by .75″ on each side. They’ll look funny because they don’t sit in the wheel wells right, and I didn’t want that. He had developed a system that didn’t. I’m not sure how he does it, but to get it to work for me I had to notch the steering arm a tiny bit and grind down the inner lip of the rotor for clearance. The brake lines were too short, so I tried a trick I heard that the monster truck guys use. You find two different lengths of flexible front brake line and hook them together (I have the part numbers if you want ’em). Then came a bunch of miscelaneous grade 8 bolts, some swaybar bushings, shorter shocks, and other stuff. I spent a lot of time looking through parts catalogs.
The old master cylinder was seized, plus they’re not as safe as a modern dual-cylinder design, so it had to go. With an adapter kit from RB’s, I replaced the old juice jar master cylinder with one from a ’68 Mustang and plumbed the whole thing up. After all was said and done, what with the time spent and finding all of the pieces, I could have saved up and bought the kit and put it on in a weekend. But I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t. I figured it out, it’s safe and well-engineered, and I didn’t have to pay someone else to do it. That’s the price of an education, right? I’m glad I didn’t because I’m proud of what I put together.
The maiden voyage was a 15 mile round trip to my buddy Mikey Dressler’s house. It took me 20 minutes to get there, and then the car died in his driveway. Mikey is a crack mechanic, and he swore we could tune it up and get it going, but in a couple of days I would strike a deal that would irreversibly change the course of this project.
Next Week: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men