If you’ve been following along with each update as Larry Dixon prepares his noble steed for battle at Drag Week, you know that he is a man on a mission. He’s set out to rebuild his ’66 Chevy Nova with the help of modern parts to deliver quarter-mile times in the nine-second range. In this installment, Larry is making the car safe with the help of suspension parts from Classic Industries, Jegs, and Moroso.
Walt’s Hot Rod Shop is just a stone’s throw from Larry’s place, and having worked with him in the past, they welcomed the Nova into one of their work stations.
If you read the introduction, you know that Larry has owned this car since 1989. You also know that it served as his street and occasional drag car for most of that time. That is, until faster and much more powerful cars took the lion’s share of his attention. During those active years, the little white Nova would consistently churn out 12-second e.t.’s on motor, and dipping into the elevens when he fed it the juice. Back then, 60-foot times were 1.79 seconds.
Nine-second quarter-mile times are nothing to sneeze at. But it doesn’t take uber-trick suspension components to make it happen. Here are some Classic Industries upgrades to Larry’s ride. A quality suspension is the goal, with no compromises to ride quality.
Larry is assigning his Nova a much quicker mission, but the overall dual-usability of the car is non-negotiable. While “throwing the book at it” would surely make any desired e.t. attainable, the nagging fact that he still wants to be able to make ice-cream runs with the wife and kids keeps the project in street-worthy check. Larry explained, “I don’t want to make this car into a top fuel dragster. I’ve already got one of those!”
Components like the control arms and steering linkage were rebuilt, but new drop spindles and disc brakes were added. Also, a new dual-reservoir master cylinder replaced the factory single-circuit unit.
Shopping for parts can often follow the same path of a misguided camshaft purchase. Many times, folks find the catalog page listing the parts for their car or engine, and go straight to the bottom, where the biggest and baddest components reside. The fact is, if you’re looking for usable performance, many times the items that you really want, reside somewhere in the middle.
Such is the case with Larry’s little Nova. In fact, you might be surprised at how little is needed in regards to suspension upgrades to reach the performance level that Larry has chosen. What’s more, when conservatively choosing parts, drivability and reliability can still be part of the equation. Follow along and we’ll show you the suspension side of making this Nova a stout street performer with serious dragstrip cred.
Braking It All Down
Remember, this car was last driven in the ’80s, and back then, Larry’s Nova was not unlike many other cars of this ilk that were still running factory-configured brakes, even after engine performance increased significantly. Larry’s Nova has carried four-wheel drum brakes and a single-circuit, push-and-pray master cylinder for decades. He was well aware of how they worked, and what would be needed to bring this car back from the intended hyper-speed jaunts. That began with a new master cylinder that now separately fed the fluid to a new set of disc brakes up front and the rebuilt drums in the rear.
I don’t want to make this car into a top-fuel dragster. I’ve already got one of those! – Larry Dixon
As part of the complete drop spindle/brake assembly from Classic Industries, a set of new Moroso, factory-height racing springs were included. These new springs are made from a smaller-than-stock diameter wire, and are designed to store a greater amount of energy to provide excellent weight transfer to the rear wheels when the car launches. Coupled with the set of Lakewood 90/10 shocks, the setup allows the front end of the car to rise, thereby putting more weight on the rear wheels for better traction.
To make use of that added traction, the rear suspension was also updated with a set of Calvert Racing split-leaf mono-leaf springs and CalTracs bars. These springs are considerably lighter than factory leaf springs, and not only reduce unsprung weight, but they are specifically-designed to work with the CalTracs bars.
The CalTracs bars keep the axle from rotating, thereby maintaining proper pinion angle, and the springs merely support the weight of the car. The CalTracs bars also allow suspension-preload adjustability. By swapping out the tired multi-leaf units and old-school slapper bars, and installing the new springs, CalTracs bars, and Calvert Racing shocks, wheel hop will virtually be eliminated, and solid 60-foot times can be attained.
The trusty 10-bolt survived numerous nitrous shots and quarter-mile runs in the elevens. Larry filled the unit with good parts years ago when it was built, and it’s still going strong.
The rearend Larry’s Nova is using is still the trusty 10-bolt unit that was installed in the car back in the day. Initially, Larry had concerns whether the differential would handle the horsepower delivered by the supercharged LT4, but (spoiler alert), it has proven to be a team player with the new powertrain. As mentioned in the first article, the rearend was upgraded with a T/A Performance rearend cover to give support to the bearing caps. Inside the rearend is a set of 3.70 gears wrapped around a US Gear posi unit, and C-clip eliminators to help keep the axles where they belong.
Other than this modest list of go-fast goodies, the rebuilt suspension under Larry’s Nova is comprised of mostly stock-style parts, but the intended brutal assaults that would be inflicted by launching at the drag strip, required at least a suspension reconditioning with ball-joints, bushings, and tie-rod ends to help eliminate slack at the track, and wandering on the highway. The work was completed at Walt’s Hot Rod Shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, and when Larry wasn’t taking the images for this story, he was busy installing the parts to make the story worthwhile.
The rear drum brakes were refurbished and retained. Classic Industries also supplied the new split-leaf rear springs and CalTracs bars.
Once all of the components were installed, it was time to begin the setup process. When it comes to initially setting the CalTracs on the rear springs, Larry reports that Walt has a procedure he uses to get them close to the required preload. With the car sitting on all four tires and a half-tank of gas in the car, he had Larry sit in the driver’s seat. Walt then adjusted the CalTracs by tightening the force-transfer bar until the spring stop-pin made contact on the top of the spring.
Walt then turns the force transfer bar two “flats” of the wrenching area on the force transfer bar to set the preload on the spring at ride height. Making sure all lock nuts were tight at this point, Larry was ready to make some passes at the track. If the car launched straight, he was good to go. If the car went one way or the other, he would increase the preload on the force transfer bar on that side of the car.
You can see how the CalTracs work to help preload the spring to prevent it from wrapping under hard acceleration.
With the suspension installed and a fresh engine and transmission resting on the mounts, Larry and the group at Walt’s found themselves tying up loose ends right up until the Friday before Drag Week. This gave them little time to tweak the tune of the engine or to set up the suspension before heading out on their week-long adventure of speed.
BK07 – 62-67 Disc Brake Kit, Drop Spindle
N45334 – 1963-67 Front End Rebuild Kit
MC81033 – 1962-74 Master Cyl. w/Prop. Valve
14466 – 1962-67 Caltracs Traction Bars
144701 – 1962-67 Split-Leaf Spring 1″ Lowered
40104 – 90/10 Shock ’62-67 Nova/Chevy II
Moroso Performance Products
47230– Trick Front Springs, Pair
Drag Week is designed to test both car and competitor, and Larry reports, “Drag Week is not about the drag strip, but about the drive between the actual racing! After we registered at Columbus, we grabbed lunch. Then we had water pump issues on one of the cars we were travelling with. After it was all said and done, we finally got to the hotel at around 2:30 a.m.”
Once the guys made it to the track for the first day of racing, they began tuning the suspension and getting the vehicle setup just right for the track. Larry’s first runs netted high-11s, a far cry from his nine-second goal, but under the heat of the pressure cooker called Drag Week, the track time served to sort out some issues. Firstly, the 4L85 transmission is mated to those 650 horses through, as Larry describes it, “a dump-truck torque converter.” This “tight,” stock converter was not a great match for Larry’s combination. By swapping in a looser converter, Larry is planning to cut 60-foot times considerably. Another plan is to increase the cooling capacity of the intercooler. When they could super-cool the supercharger, those 10.5-inch bias-ply drag tires had a hard time biting the asphalt. While at the Indy portion of the event, they were swapped for a set of 9.5-inch drag radials. The combination was good for 11.02 seconds at 124-mph, and a best of 1.57-second 60-foot times.
Drag Week is not about the drag strip, but about the drive between the drag racing! – Larry Dixon
Larry is confident that the car does have nine-second runs in it once they get the car sorted. Larry feels that most of the e.t. improvement will come from some simple tuning of the engine and transmission, and the addition of the higher-stall torque converter. So far as the chassis is concerned, Larry seems satisfied. He told us, “I’m happy with the suspension. It’s got good weight transfer, and if the tires stick, it’ll pull on the tires pretty good. The car hooks!”
On The Street
Overall, the combination is not bad for a street-driven Nova that idles like a stocker. In fact, Larry laughed as he described how docile the engine is, stating that while driving during Drag Week, this was the first time that he’s ever heard the turn-signal flasher clicking. Not bad for a soon-to-be nine-second grocery-getter after an 1,100-mile drive, fresh out of the garage! Check back with us as we let you know how the work progresses on Larry’s little white Nova, and how some tuning improves the e.t.’s for this once-overlooked hot rod.
Larry’s Nova was a survivor of Drag Week, but the story is far from over for this little Deuce. Stay tuned.