In the Fall of 2005, with our first child on the way, I figured out that I had better make progress on my hot rod. Wrench now or forever be in pieces…
I started collecting parts and unpacking boxes that had not seen daylight since I left Pearl Harbor. Back in 1994, I purchased the Hotchkis 1LE/B-Body 12″ brake conversion upper control arms. I hunted the junkyards in Oahu, and found a set of spindles from a 1982 Caprice that had the 12″ brakes for severe duty on taxi and police cars.
Starting with Dirty Parts
At the time, I also purchased the Hotchkis boxed rear control arms and frame braces. These I had installed on the blue wagon and enjoyed them at the track. When I junked the wagon, I also boxed these parts for reuse later. All told, this was about $850 in hardware that sat in boxes for 10 years. I decided that it was time I made these parts useful.
Here is the shopping list provided by Hotchkis:
12" Brake Parts List from Hotchkis
I started collecting the remaining pieces I needed to make the conversion from Summit Racing. Moog ball joints, inner and outer tie rod ends, idler arm, Energy Suspension control arm bushings (only plan to use the lowers). Plus, planning ahead, I ordered a new harmonic balancer and MSD HEI distributor rebuild parts.
Merry Christmas from Summit Racing
Unlike the suspension parts, the 1LE rotors, on the other hand, were much harder to find. Searching online led me to discover RockAuto.com, the only place I could find the 1LE rotors. I sprung the extra $100 to get the fancy slotted and drilled performance version.
Why go to 12″ brakes? First, a lot more braking surface to grip and radiate the heat of hard use than the factory 10-1/2″ brakes. On the left is the factory G-body 10.5″ brake rotor. On the right is a 1LE Camaro ‘Brute-Stop’ 12″ rotor from Wagner. Unlike the B-body, which uses a 5X5″ bolt pattern, the 1LE rotor has the same 5×4.75″ lug pattern used on the G-body. Since it was only used on 1987 and later Camaros, it has the metric 12×1.50 studs. The 1980 Malibu uses 7/16-20 studs. More on this later.
Second, the conversion conversion upper control arms offer more negative camber. Simply put, the wheels tilt inwards at the top. When the car dives into a hard corner, and the outer wheel is pressed upwards, it tilts to vertical, not beyond like the factory setup does. That means the contact patch where the tire grips the road stays almost flat and maintains the greatest traction (right column of images below). The factory setup (left column of images below) ends up rolling over onto the sidewall, reducing the contact patch dramatically.
Later, I heard an enchilada calling. I decided that I should also go for tubular lower control arms and performance lowering springs as well. At Christmas, 2005, Global West Suspension Systems was the only source for the G-body, at almost $600 for the pair. (Since then, Ebay has a dozen competing vendors, including Summit Racing.) I was pleased that they came with polyurethane spring isolators and spherical sway bar end links.
I cleaned up the Impala control arms and painted them to be worthy of the fancy control arm hardware. On the left is Hotchkis upper control arm that allows use of the Caprice / Impala (B-body) spindle with the 12″ brake rotor. In the center is spindle assembly from a 1982 Caprice that had the heavy-duty police / taxi brake option. On the right is the Global West lower control arm.
Fast forward to April, 2006.
Step one: remove the old beaten parts.
Here is the original right front brake assembly on the car. After lifting the control arm with the floor jack, the upper ball joint was broken loose with a ‘pickle fork’, and then lowered until the spring is mostly released from supporting the car. If you are working next to your wife’s $20,000 new car, I recommend restraining the springs with a rope or strap tied to the frame rail. I once shot one across the yard when I was younger and dumber. Fortunately, nothing got in its way…
Breaking Apart GM's Handiwork
Here’s a comparison of the old and new:
On the left is a factory G-body V8 front coil spring. On the right is the Hotchkis performance spring that will lower the car 1-2″. Note the thicker wire and the higher number of coils per inch. This is how the same or higher spring rate is achieved with a reduced ride height. Cutting coils from the factory spring also lowers the car, but adversely impacts the strength of the suspension and might cause the car to bottom out on those bigger bumps.
Factory GM V8 vs. Hotchkis G-Body Springs
Here is a view you’ll never see on your Malibu. With the entire left front suspension removed, here is a view looking up into the pocket in which the front coil spring is located. There is a rubber noise isolator that sits between the coil and the ‘fingers’ in the spring pocket, viewed from below. Replace this to avoid rattles later. Moog part number K160044, find it on RockAuto.com
Looking Up into the Coil Spring Pocket
The front lower control arms are asymmetric. The shorter leg is towards the front of the car. The factory G-body lower control arm is on the left, and the Global West tubular arm is on the right. The coil sits in thick polyurethane pad contoured to fit the spring exactly, and the shock mount is retained in the same location as the factory arm. If it appears to you that the GW arm has a shorter distance from the bushing axis to the ball joint centerline, you’re right. This caused me headaches later…
Factory vs. Global West Arms
Not only are the rotors bigger, the B-body/1LE capliers use larger pistons and brake pads. On the left is the factory G-body caliper. On the right is the 12″ brake B-body caliper. The bigger piston exerts much more force. The new brake hose in the foreground fits a 1980 Malibu, but bolts up to the new caliper just like it belonged there. Don’t forget to install the two copper crush washers between the caliper, hose end and bolt head to provide a tight seal.
10-1/2" vs. 12" Calipers
GM changed to metric fasteners starting in 1981. Since this is a 1980 Malibu, it was necessary to use a 1980 B-body master cylinder to use the factory metal brake lines that use SAE threads. Sadly this means 20 lbs of cast-iron. But, this is an easier sacrifice than replacing the entire set of brake lines with metric parts used on the later plastic master cyclinder. Note that the B-body cylinder has a larger bore diameter, increasing the pedal effort, but providing better pressure to the bigger B-body calipers. Note also that the smaller reservoir used with the drum brakes is at the rear of the B-body cylinder, whereas it’s at the front of the G-body master cylinder. The brake lines simply need a little bending to exchange where the thread in. Don’t forget to ‘bench bleed’ the new dry cylinder before trying to bleed the brakes. Otherwise it will take days to get the fluid down into the lines.
Master Cylinder Comparison
Skip forward to June, 2006.
Step two: install the shiny new parts.
After cleaning, the frame is most worthy of new toys. I put the car up on my trailer to raise the work zone, but it also helped when I took the car to the car wash to blast off the worst of the mung. Scrub out the nooks and crannies with a wire brush and prep for paint using brake cleaner which leaves no residue.
The Hotchkis upper arm comes completely assembled with the ball joint and special offset shaft that helps enable that negative camber and accomdate the 1″ taller B-body spindle without excessive alignment shims or running into the frame. Note the factory fuel line just inside the control arm mount.
When installing the new springs, use a wood block to protect your ugly jack from that shiny powder coat. Insert the lower ball joint into the spindle, thread on the castle nut, and slowly raise it until you can take hands off the spring and it will stay in place. On factory lower control arms, there are two holes in the coil pocket. The spring end (tang) should be aligned between the two holes.
Keep jacking, swinging the upper arm and spindle until you can insert the upper ball joint. Note that with high performance springs, If you try to do this job without the motor in place, you may start lifting the car before you can assemble the ball joints. In this case, use a spring compressor to squish the spring.
Here is a view of the final assembly. It is helpful to align the ball joints so that the cotter pins are fore/aft, so that they may be easily inserted into the castle nuts.
Rotor and Spindle
Here you can see all the parts together. Shiny, brand-y new.
Driver's Side Assembly
The driver’s side is assembled in the same fashion as the right front wheel. I painted the non-friction surfaces of the rotor since rusty binders look bad through open rims.
'Blue' Painters Tape Comes Off Easily
Yes, doing this before installation might have been easier, but this way, nothing was scratched up during the install. Hi-temp cast iron engine paint will probably stay put during brake operation. Note friction surface was fully masked from paint spray.
Here is the massive 12″ heavy-duty caliper installed in the 1LE rotor. A 15″x7″ wheel just barely clears the caliper. Unless you mount some wheels and tires, it’s hard to see that the hubs are now an inch farther out on each side. Plan for this when you make your wheel selection. It may be necessary to use wheel spacers on the factory rear axle to make the wheels look right forward and aft.
Now it’s time to install the steering parts.
Approximating the Alignment Settings
All-new Moog ‘Problem-Solver’ inner and outer tie rod ends, centerlink and idler arm, cleaned, primed and shot with Krylon semi-gloss black. Also note Hotchkis tie rod sleeves. Not as likely to slip out of adjustment during hard use. Note the rusty factory parts in front, used to set up approximate alignment. I figured out later that the wider hub spacing also resulted in an increased distance between the tie rod ends on the spindles.
Next, I cleaned up the suspension stiffeners.
Sway Bars and Front Frame Braces
At the top is a factory 7/8″ G-body ‘F41 suspension package’ rear sway bar, from a station wagon. In the middle is a factory 32mm F-body ‘F41 suspension package’ front sway bar from an IROC Camaro (45 lbs of steel!). At the bottom are a pair of frame braces that connect the front frame ends to the skid pad under the front of the crossmember, sourced from a junkyard Monte Carlo. Hard to believe these are all interchangeable, but GM used G-body parts on Camaros, S-10 trucks and Astro vans.
Here are the parts sanded, primed and shot with semi-gloss black Krylon.
Here is the Malibu with the new suspension parts and tires installed. The ‘wheelie’ stance will go away when the engine is installed soon. The puddle under the car is when I drained the rear brake fluid and missed the pan….The Zebra truck is hiding in the background. That’s a whole other story unto itself!
Next: swapping in the new motor.