Video: The Project Swinger Build Wrap Up For Our ’71 Nova Part II

Project Swinger has been one of our longest project cars, and from where it started to where it is today is nothing short of awesome. We already shared Part I of our build wrap up, and for the final piece we bring you Part II, with steering, suspension, rearend, brakes, wheels and tires. For good measure we also took the air bags out and installed some springs. All of these upgrades turn this restoration into a true Pro-Touring contender.

Steer us Right

Steeroids kit for rear steer X-Body Novas solves an age old problem.

Like many of the classic muscle car steering systems from the ’70s, our Nova came equipped with an old Saginaw steering box. A steering box is an archaic system that features a gear box that turns the wheels mechanically with steering rods.

The pitman arm from the box connects to a drag link and one side of the tie rod. On the other side, the drag link connects to an idler arm that holds the drag link stable to the frame, as well as the other wheel’s tie rod. In between all this is a mess of ball joints that were completely worn out.

Steeroids brought our Nova's steering into the new millennium.

We decided to change it all out for a modern steering system that was more appropriate for a Pro-Touring car. Finding a system that was designed to fit a rear steer X-body chassis was the difficult part. Fortunately for us we found Steeroids, a company that makes rack conversions for muscle cars. We were set with Steeroids Rack Conversion kit for 1968-1974 Novas. You can see the entire upgrade in this article: Nova Power Rack Conversion with Steeroids.

Stopping the Madness

Stainless Steel Brake Corporation (SSBC) was chosen for stopping power.

One of the biggest concerns that we had was getting this beast stopped once we had the drivetrain upgrades in place. Putting the binders to this more-metal-than-plastic machine might have been easy for a set of drums on all four corners with a smog-restricted SBC 350 under the hood. However, stripping off some weight, putting in an LS engine, a Currie rear end, and a much stouter transmission would require far greater stopping power than the stock OEM brakes. We went with Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation (SSBC) for the stopping power that we needed. The rotors for our Nova brake upgrade are 13-inch discs with directionally curved vane venting for cooling. The rotors carry SSBC’s Xtra Life plating to inhibit rust on the unswept surfaces, and are slotted for cleaning and off-gassing properties. We chose the optional drilled finish with our rotors and a 5 X 4.75-inch bolt pattern on the hubs.

An easy to install and great looking brake system, front and rear, for a complete Pro-Touring/Autocrossing beast.

The FX3 Disc Brake Kit features calipers with three 38mm pistons in an aluminum housing with the standard polished clear anodized finish. The piston bores in all of SSBC’s aluminum billet calipers are hard-coated to prevent chafing and corrosion. You can read about our complete SSBC brake upgrade here: Installing SSBC Brakes on the Swinger Nova.

SSBC’s aluminum billet calipers are a sturdy but lightweight unit.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling. Keep Them Doggies Rolling.

Pro-Touring machines pride themselves on their handling prowess, and our project Swinger Nova was no different. Wanting to get as much meat to the asphalt as we could, we went to Forgeline to conjure up some lightweight and tough-as-nails forged wheels.

Forgeline makes their wheels as tough as nails... exactly what our Nova was begging for.

We ended up with Forgeline’s SP3P Gun Metal Gray wheels with their Diamond Edge and brushed outer rings with clear coating. Since we were using SSBC brakes and rotors, we were able to keep our standard Chevy 5 x 4.75-inch bolt pattern, making life a little easier.

You can read the full details on our wheel upgrade here: Project Swinger Rolling on New Forgelines.

We wrapped our Forgelines with B.F. Goodrich tires.

Silence!

After we picked up those really cool Forgeline SP3P Gun Metal Gray rims, we found the perfect rubber to wrap them with. We selected BF Goodrich’s G-Force 235/40/ZR18 T/As up front and 295/35/ZR18 T/As in the rear. These big ol’ slabs of trick-grooved rubber do a great job of keeping our big Nova glued to the road. The company’s “unidirectional” tread patterning, which was designed for maximum traction in wet or dry conditions, has the additional benefit of being quiet because of the minimal road noise generated by the tread pattern.

You can read the full story on our tire choice along with our selection of McLeod Racing‘s RXT/RST racing clutch package here: Project Swinger Rockin’ New Rubber and Trick Clutch.

We pulled out the stock rear end in favor of something a little bit more “spicy.”

Spiced Up The Rearend with Currie

With the steering, front brakes, and air ride suspension having taken care of the front end, it was time to beef up the rear of Swinger. Going with a bulletproof Ford 9-inch rearend is a no-brainer for Pro-Touring and autocross cars. When it comes to building a Ford 9-inch, your choices come down to either finding a used rear end from the wrecking yard and having it rebuilt, or getting a custom-built, completely new Ford 9 inch from an aftermarket manufacturer. Back when junkyard nines were plentiful and cheap, most of the time a rebuild was the least expensive choice, but now just finding a core to start with is getting more and more difficult.

Currie's 9+ rearend provided the right amount of spice for our purposes.

After costing it out, a new complete rear end from Currie Enterprises was the smart choice for our project car. When you see the parts that are going in, and learn the history behind Currie, you’ll understand why. See all the details on our Currie 9-inch rearend upgrade here: Currie’s 9-Plus for the Project Swinger Nova.

Our crew got on the job and in record time had the swap completed.

Switching To Coilovers

Our project car was upgraded to an air ride suspension as soon as we could pull off the stock suspension. Ridetech’s Challenger kit proved to be everything that you would want in a luxury-style suspension featuring a quality ride. We were completely satisfied with the system for a Pro-Touring car. When we decided to take on the autocross courses, and do it seriously, we investigated switching the air suspension out for Ridetech’s coilover system for a comparison.

Switching to Ridetech's coilover spring suspension meant that we would have to change out the front air springs, rear air shocks and remove the air compressor and air tank.

There are so many different options when using an air suspension system. Drivers can select a cushy ride if they’re on a rough road or a harsh ride if they want to improve handling. Obviously, air is going to be superior in adjustability options when it comes to suspension. An air setup can be the perfect solution for those wanting comfort and ride height adjustability; but a higher initial price tag and minor trunk space loss that coilover systems do not have, can be the air suspension’s downside.

Ridetech does a great job at minimizing the space that the air system takes in the truck but we were glad to have the room back after the coilover conversion. We were looking forward to bringing our golf clubs on the next tour.

When it comes to performance, many of the parts are the same. “I can take the coil spring off of the coilover and put it on the Shockwave and vice versa. The shocks are the same,” explained Ridetech’s Bret Voelkel. “We spent a lot of time working that out so we didn’t have a whole wall full of Shockwave shocks and another wall full of coilover shocks. It’s all modular and universal.”

Standard shock and spring combinations are the most popular choice for many car owners today, largely due to the cost. Taking the time to tune your setup with a mated spring and shock with rebound dampening adjustability can give you the same features as a coilover system, just without the ride height adjustability or ease of adjustments. The downside of the standard spring and shock suspension is determining the right drop for your driving preference and what springs to use. It boils down to how low and how soft do you want to go. Then accepting that the adjustments from that setup are limited to the adjustments that your shocks provide.

Voelkel explains how RideTech added coilover kits to their product line. “We still do a huge amount of air suspension systems. When we began with our roots as Air Ride Technologies, that’s all we did. About five years ago we expanded beyond that into coilovers. That has become a huge part of our business. That has been the exciting part. Finding all of these new parts, new markets, new customers and new products to develop. That has been a big part of what we have been doing these past four to five years.”

A coilover spring setup is serious suspension.

A coilover system is a serious setup. They are not much different than the spring and shock combo except the coilover systems offer the ability to adjust ride height and rebound dampening at each corner. This allows you to dial in the weight transfer from side to side and front to back as the car navigates through the corners. For our Pro-Touring and autocross needs, a coilover suspension system makes more sense and we decided to swap out the ride quality of an air suspension system for a tunable race suspension of a coilover suspension system.

With RideTech’s coilover system, there were a couple of things that Voelkel wants potential customers to understand. “First, we use Hyperco springs. A very nice high tensile, cold wound spring which is a very consistent and high quality spring. Also, we use bearings in our loaded shocks instead of bushings. This allows for articulation. We put a high quality kevlar lined bearing that doesn’t get noisy, it doesn’t get loose, doesn’t rattle or do anything like that. It lives forever.”

If they’ve got enough sack, they can hang with a new Z06.                 – Bret Voelkel

Making the Change

Ridetech makes ordering coilover systems an easy proposition. You can order by vehicle application or by coil shock options. Because the company tests all the products for the applications that they list on their website, we felt very comfortable selecting our system by vehicle application.

Removing the front and rear air shocks and replacing them with the coilover shock and spring combination is all that is required as far as the parts exchange goes.

Our conversion included a single adjustable front coilover kit (Part #11263510) designed specifically for the 1968-1974 Nova chassis. The kit includes two coilover shocks and two springs in the proper spring rate for the vehicle. Because we already had the Ridetech four link cradle installed in the rear, we only needed the rear coilover kit (part #11266510) four link coilover system. The kit includes two coilover shocks and two springs in the proper spring rate specifically for Ridetech Bolt-on four-link systems.

Finally, you set your ride height and corner weights and you are ready to run.

To enhance the cornering performance of our Nova in the coilover race trim, Ridetech recommended their front and rear sway bar (part #11239100 & part #11229102). These sway bars were designed to be used in lowered vehicles to enhance cornering performance.

“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that these old musclecars can handle,” said Voelkel. “I kind of use the Z06 as a benchmark. If I can make an old musclecar hang with a Z06, I’ve done my job. I can put a customer in one of our cars and if they’ve got enough sack, they can hang with a C6.”

Driver’s Impressions

It all came down to how the car feels on the road.

Once the suspension changes were completed, we sent our very own Jason Snyder, out on a Pro-Touring type drive to get his impressions on our project car’s drivability. Snyder put the car through its paces, going on the surface streets in an industrial park area, backroads of Temecula, and the Southern California freeways known for expansion gaps that can make for an uncomfortable ride.  The destination for the commute down the I-15 to the I-5 was the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association event in Del Mar, California, where the Nova would take a couple of laps on the autocross track. “Overall the car drives very great,” said Snyder. “Bear in mind that the car makes over 500 hp to the rear tires and I would have liked to have had time to do some more testing and tuning of the suspension for my driving style, which is what it takes to really perform well with this type of adjustable suspension.”

In regards to the change to coilover suspension, Snyder said,”The ride quality of the car is outstanding and it handles extremely well.” A lot of suspension set-ups offer a trade off between comfort and handling, which makes it difficult to split duty between the street and track. Ridetech, however, has designed and engineered a coilover systems that delivers on both fronts; the Nova provided a smooth, comfortable commute on the SoCal freeways and it handled the expansion gaps without compromise.

Their single adjustable coilover shocks complement every suspension component in the package, eliminating any body roll common on classic musclecars. “On the track I did experience a push in the corners with our basic setup, but I am far from a professional driver, the course was extremely tight for 515 horsepower, and I’m confident this probably could have been adjusted with a slightly softer setting on the front shocks and a tire pressure adjustment – we just didn’t have the time and laps to really dial the car in,” Snyder added. “I do believe that the Ridetech coilover system would be amazing on a larger open track that would allow us to really get a feel for the cornering of the Nova at higher speeds.”

As far as the other upgrades, “The Tremec transmission is smooth and precise, the ProCar seat is a huge improvement over the factory bench, and there is plenty of bite from the clutch with minimal chatter. The brakes are well balanced and stop the car with ease. A few changes I would make to the car would be a slightly larger steering wheel, a harness bar with a real seat belt (lap belts suck!) and I prefer a classic Hurst round shift knob as opposed the pistol grip.”

By performing dual duties on both street and track use, these tests prove this a super nice and reliable daily driver. The only area that Snyder had any issue with was the fact that he only got to drive the car for a day. “I want more seat time in this car – It’s truly a fun car to drive!,” he said.

The car rides super smooth and corners well.

Last Word

Our Nova has come a long way from the day that it appeared in the shop for the first time. We began with a plan to make it a real Pro-Touring machine and kept marching toward that goal until we were happy with the results. Our last step was to take the Swinger Nova to that local Goodguys show, to enter the car show and autocross events. While our own VP took the car out on the course and managed to get through the cones with ease, we know that riding on coilovers and adjustable shocks is going to take more than a single run before we can dial it in properly.

Our initial run was to christen Swinger to the world of autocross, and that happened without any issues or problems. Now that we know Swinger is ready and able for the autocross, that means perhaps a few more runs, some adjustments, and maybe we’ll be back again with a dialed in suspension that gets the most of what it was designed for. We put a lot of hard work and effort in over the years, and at the Goodguys show we got a lot of praise and compliments – even a few Nova owners who commented, “That’s what I want mine to look like.”

There’s no telling where Swinger will show up next, so if you happen to be cruising on the Southern California highways and see a dark gray pearl Nova with gray Forgelines, give us a honk and wave. As for the project part of this car… we are writing the last chapter and closing the book on this beast. There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears spilled on this vehicle and we have a feeling of loss as the project drives off into the sunset.

Here’s a final photo gallery of our project car for you to enjoy!

Photo gallery

VIEW FULL GALLERY >

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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