There’s no denying the coolness of those Chevrolet Chevy II/Nova body lines. That unmistakable GM styling has remained timeless over the decades. But sadly, the suspension on which the car rides, hasn’t. When GM’s marketing pros were targeting the “tightwad” market (their word, not ours) in its ads for their new compact car, it goes without saying that handling and performance were not key features.
Prior to that, economy ruled-the-day with Chevy’s practical little grocery-getter, and putting any miles on the odometer in angst was the furthest from anyone’s mind. Times change, and the little X-body car came into favor with an engine-swapping, power-hungry youth. Unlike the car’s original intended market, they’d live paycheck-to-paycheck, waiting for the next wad of to upgrade their beloved rides.
Folks are still working on many of those first- and second-generation Chevy II/Novas. Thanks to companies like Church Boys Racing (CBR), they can build their cars to support more power and handle better than GM’s engineers ever envisioned. CBR’s new modular subframe system means they can also do it in “steps” while still driving the car.
Church Boys Racing is no stranger to early Nova performance. Chuck Church Sr. has been driving and racing Chevy’s compact-car since 1971, when he purchased a used 1963 Chevy II. His son, Chuck Jr.’s love affair started with a ’67 Nova when he was 10 years old. They worked on the second car in preparation for Chuck Jr. to use it while in high school. The two started drag racing Jr.’s Nova in the ‘90s, and soon, Sr.’s ’63 was back out of moth balls and put into drag racing duty too.
Both cars have evolved over the years, and currently serve as test mules for prototype components. theyare currently using CBR’s modular subframes, as well as rear suspension upgrades in an attempt to gain the most traction possible.
Our subframe is compatible with all of our other components, and takes their potential even further, thanks to the modified geometry available with the new subframe.” – Chuck Church Sr., Church Boys Racing
The transition from add-on components to a full-on subframe was a gradual one, necessitated by the need to harness more under-hood potential. In stock form, the Chevy II/Nova suspension was never designed to withstand the abuse even a box-stock crate engine can delve out. As Jr. and Sr.’s cars evolved, they sought out solutions for many of the shortcomings the factory suspension never knew it needed to address. In time, their ruthless pursuit of bringing modern performance to Chevy IIs and Novas led to the foundation of Church Boys Racing.
Over the years, CBR has sold untold numbers of components designed to harness the little X-car’s performance. Finally, when the duo felt they had reached the performance ceiling of the car’s original subframe, they set out to create their own, utilizing much of the new technology that has been learned since engineers first put pen to paper.
Chuck Sr. puts it best, “Our modular system works with the stock chassis, but we take it to the next level with our subframe. Fabricating our own front subframe opens up a lot of options for optimal handling. We can adjust the location of mount points to increase performance and eliminate unwanted characteristics like bumpsteer.”
Other benefits of the CBR subframe are, it gets rid of the OEM steering box and excessive linkage in lieu of a modern rack-and-pinion steering assembly. Available individually or as part of the subframe kit, CBR’s tubular control arms and sway bars help keep the front end pointed in the right direction, and with the inclusion of the subframe kit, a set of coilovers will help keep it at proper ride-height.
A major consideration when designing the subframe was it needed to be compatible with CBR’s current offerings. Chuck Sr. explains, “We have a lot of customers using our control arms and other components. We wanted them to be able to upgrade to our bolt-on subframe without having to re-purchase many of the components that they already own. Our subframe is compatible with all of our other components, and takes their potential even further, thanks to the modified geometry available with the new subframe.”
A benefit to new customers is that they don’t need to plunk down cash for the entire system to start reaping the benefits. Chuck suggests that if someone wants to continue to drive their car regularly through the upgrade, or their budget only allows limited funds, they should consider upgrading through the CBR system, incrementally. Starting at the CBR lower control arms, they could then upgrade through the upper control arms, CBR sway bar, coilover shocks, and CBR’s subframe system that would convert their steering to rack-and-pinion.
We asked Chuck Sr. about what type of driving this system was designed to incorporate. He replied that since it was an evolutionary path to engineering the subframe, it has taken into account the various driving styles that CBR’s customers may encounter with their cars. Surely, the street manners are brought up to more modern standards, but what about focusing on one particular style of driving?
With the adjustability designed into the mounting points of the subframe, the ride and handling of the car in question can be tailored to the specific needs of drag-racing, auto-crossing, open-road racing, or high-speed track duty. CBR also offers power and non-power-assisted racks so customers have the option of running manual or power steering in their cars. Chuck Sr. mentions they speak with their customers to understand how they intend to use their car, and then select the components and settings to meet the need precisely.
While a major consideration was to ensure compliance with all other CBR components, there are other choices to be made by the end-user. CBR’s system works with the original Chevy II/Nova spindle, but it also has designed a billet drop spindle that lowers the car’s stance and moves the vehicle’s track inboard ½-inch per side. This allows for wider tires and wheels than the stock unit. The new spindle also allows the use of six-piston calipers for the utmost in serious braking power.
Customers can also choose between single- or double-adjustable coilover shocks from both RideTech or Viking, should the customer have a preference. A benefit of using the RideTech shocks would be if a customer wanted to use air-ride technology to adjust the altitude of their ride.
CBR also offers several options for customers to upgrade the rear suspensions of their cars as well. Chuck suggests that if the mono-leaf springs are still good, upgrading to double-adjustable shocks out back will contribute greatly to balancing out the car’s handling.
From there, if the customer wishes to update the rear suspension as well, CBR offers a “5 1/2 spring” coupled with double-adjustable shocks. The 5 1/2 spring is actually five and one half-leaves stacked up. There is also a half-leaf in the forward section of the leaf pack that acts as a hidden traction bar. For those who want the ultimate setup, CBR also has a triangulated four-bar system that positions the rear diff with authority. This removes the need for leaf springs entirely, and brings the additional tuning of coilover shocks to the rear of the car.
Built To Be Driven
No matter how someone chooses to drive their car, the Church Boys Racing system is designed to bring new levels of safety, performance, and drivability to any 1962 through 1968 Chevy II/Nova. By removing unwanted characteristics such as bumpsteer and that mushy feeling as the car turns, an updated suspension can make driving these vintage rides a whole new experience. It’s much more like driving a modern car but with all the styling and feel that makes these cars so great. Perhaps, you could say it makes them greater!