Making a ‘69 Nova Handle

December 26th, 2011

Text and Photos by Matt Emery

Knowledge comes from experience, and Jim Sleeper has been designing, engineering and just plain working on high-performance, race-oriented suspension systems for more than 25 years. He’s a master of choosing just the right combination of “off the shelf items,” along with building a few pieces of his own design and manufacture to go along in customers builds.

Sleeper has worked with many of the big name builders, both on custom hot rods as well as race vehicles, and has been crew chief for SCCA’s racing DJ, “Uncle Joe” Benson, for as many years as we can remember. Lately, he’s been working out of Pomona Valley Customs in Montclair, California.

It was here that the owner of this ‘69 Nova, which Sleeper had worked on a few years before, came in with a request. He really wanted to compete in autocross, so he really wanted this Nova to handle. He didn’t have huge money to spend, so specialized clips and such were out of the question. He wanted Sleeper to make the stock Nova suspension, front and rear, the absolute best that it could be.

Sleeper chose to use a Global West upper shaft kit, which uses Del-A-Lum bushings, along with lower Del-A-Lum bushings. The shaft has 1-degree offset built in. That 1 degree will give better alignment adjustability, which will be necessary to get the most out of the various mods that will be done to the Nova.

Another piece is the Guldstrand A-arm relocation kit. It’s a template that shows precisely where to drill to lower the upper A-arm mounting point. Having that arm just an inch or so down makes a lot of difference in how the car can be set up to corner. A set of Global West 1-inch lowered springs is on the parts list, as are Koni shocks. We’ve used them, and we feel that Koni shocks are about as good a shock as you can get. Cheap? No. Good for getting cars around twisty courses quickly? Oh, yeah. A Global West quick-ratio steering box nearly completes the job.

Koni shocks will be going on out back, too, but again, the lack of serious racing funds (did you hear the one about how to make a small fortune in racing you need to start with a large one?) made it necessary for Sleeper to work with the Chevy’s stock leaf springs. He chose to use Global West’s innovative Cat 5 rear leaf springs which have their spherical bearing in the eyes of the leafs. The spherical bearings allow the spring to roll during a corner, unlike rubber, which can allow the rearend to move laterally slightly under hard cornering Gs. The spherical design keeps the rear suspension system from binding in any way, which greatly improves handling. Also improving the handling are the Herb Adams front and rear anti-sway bars. The front unit comes with adjustable end links, and Sleeper fabbed some onto the rear one, too. He also installed a Herb Adams subframe bushing kit to keep everything in one place.

After testing designs and kits from other manufacturers, Sleeper decided to build his own, so the PVC front structure kit was born. It’s made from 1 1/2-inch DOM mild steel tubing, connects and strengthens the front end by tying in the frame and firewall, and features custom subframe connectors that go all the way through the floor and to the frame.

We were on hand (mostly) as Sleeper went about transforming the Nova from a turd to a turner. The owner can now take his Nova onto the course with confidence, and not only have a chance to place, but to have a lot more fun with his car too. After all, cheap fun is what we’re all looking for, right?


Global West

877.470.2975 (http://www NULL.Globalwest

Guldstrand Motorsports

818.558.1499 (http://www NULL.Guldstrand


859.586.4100 (http://www NULL.Koni-na

Pomona Valley Customs

4081 W. Holt Blvd.

Montclair, CA 91763

909.621.3570 (http://www NULL.Pomonavalleycustoms

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