Horsepower is so easy to come by these days that you darn near pick up 10 ponies simply by throwing a parts catalog in your backseat. The stuff's everywhere. With this incessant proliferation of horsepower, however, comes an increased risk of making impromptu off-road excursions. Fortunately, suspension and brake manufacturers like Classic Performance Parts are up to the challenge. Since 1991, CPP has been addressing the inherent handling and braking deficiencies of musclecars with cutting-edge aftermarket components. We recently dropped by CPP's shop to see what hot new hardware is on the horizon. In our talk with owner Jim Ries, we picked up a few general tips on how to set up your suspension, brake, and steering systems for maximum performance.
Origins Of CPP
Classic Performance Products was started in 1991 as a part-time business by Jim Ries, who worked weekends and evenings from a small shop in Buena Park, California. At the time, CPP had a small but growing list of dealers. "We recognized that there was a demand for many types of brake, steering, and suspension products specifically designed for the classic truck and musclecar market, so we began designing and manufacturing our own brakes and lowering kits," Jim explains. In 1996, the company had grown enough that it became a full-time endeavor for Jim. "The biggest obstacles we face are always ensuring that we produce and market the highest-quality products, and the effort we put into our engineering and development of new and innovative products," Jim says. "We recently doubled our warehouse and manufacturing capability and are approaching 50 full-time employees."
With so much of the manufacturing and assembly process taking place onsite at CPP's Anaheim, California, headquarters, the company has acquired larger warehouse facilities to house the numerous parts that it manufactures. "With an additional 10,000 square feet of space that was just added, CPP now occupies over 35,000 square feet which includes a beautiful 3,000-square-foot showroom, plus sales and business offices, and shipping and receiving departments," elaborates Jim. "Our new building will be home to our expanded manufacturing facilities, including our CNC equipment and new machines we will be acquiring later this year."
"Our position within the industry has been earned and recognized because of the emphasis we put into our in-house engineering and development program before our products reach the market," says Jim. "Our greatest strength is quality control. We were honored by SEMA in 2005 with its Best Engineered New Product award for our MCPV-1 master cylinder, the first all-in-one product on the market that integrates a master cylinder, proportioning valve, metering valve, and stoplight actuator into a single assembly. The introduction of our new Totally Tubular suspension line, which includes our upper- and lower- control arms and mini subframe kits, has earned us much respect and admiration in the industry."
Easy Disc Brakes
It wasn't too long ago that installing a disc brake conversion kit was a complicated affair. Thanks to companies like CPP, now the most difficult part of a typical installation is finding a vacuum source and bleeding the lines. Its kits include not just the brake hardware, but also new spindles and prebent hardlines to dramatically simplify the installation. Furthermore, all parts are preassembled prior to shipment to ensure proper fitment. "The performance gains of our brake kits are dramatic, even on factory disc brake cars," Jim opines. "We replaced the factory disc brakes on a Chevelle with a set of our 13-inch rotors and twin 52mm piston PBR calipers, and reduced 60-0 braking distance by 30 feet. Needless to say, it's not just for show."
With the restoration market changing each year, CPP's team of engineers and fabricators is constantly adding new products and innovative technology to meet customer demand. "We are currently finishing up development on our new 500-series steering box for Tri-Fives and '58-64 fullsize Chevys that features a quick 12:1 ratio," says Jim. "Also, there are lots of guys that don't necessarily want to build a Pro Touring musclecar, but still want to run bigger 12-inch brakes inside their 15-inch rally wheels. To meet this need, we are designing a new spindle with additional clearance that allows fitting bigger brakes with smaller wheels for Tri-Fives, first-gen Camaros, and '64-72 Chevelles. We plan to offer them as both drop spindles and stock replacement spindles."
Brakes & Wheel Clearance
"One of the most common mistakes we see customers make is picking out their wheels before deciding on a brake system for their car," Jim says. "What you want to avoid is being forced to modify your wheels, or having to run spacers and longer wheel studs in order to create the necessary caliper clearance. By selecting your brake system first, you know exactly how much clearance you'll need beforehand, and can tailor the offset of the wheels accordingly. Another thing to keep in mind is that the amount of clearance required can depend on the style of caliper you'd like to run. For instance, six-piston fixed calipers require much more clearance than a traditional floating caliper because they have pistons positioned on each side of the rotor."
Ditch The Drums
With the increasing availability of high-performance suspension hardware and skyrocketing horsepower figures, CPP says that the popularity of brake upgrades has grown substantially. "It's not just that disc brake upgrades are getting cheaper, but people also realize that as power increases, braking performance becomes more important," says Jim. "As drums heat up, since they dissipate heat far less effectively than discs, that heat causes the drum itself to expand, which means the shoes have to travel farther, resulting in fade. In wet conditions, water can become trapped inside the drum and act as a lubricant. Additionally, drums are heavier and more difficult to service."
Build All At Once
When a restoration project enters the final assembly stage, Jim suggests tackling the little things at the same time. "Work on your suspension, brakes, and all plumbing while the motor is out of the car," he advises. "Not only will you have better access to all parts of the car, but you'll end up with cleaner results. It's understandable that you might be very excited to drop your motor in and get back on the road, but when you're routing brake lines or working on installing a new steering box, for instance, you'll save lots of time. Simply having better access to the areas you're working on will reduce the likelihood of making installation errors as well."
Since no one likes a cluttered-up engine bay, CPP spearheaded the development of the MCPV-1, which integrates a master cylinder, a double-adjustable proportioning valve, a removable metering valve, and a stoplight control all into a single compact assembly. "In addition to looking ugly, every additional fitting you have on a brake system is another potential for a leak," explains Jim. "By incorporating everything into one package, not only does it look better, it works much better as well. With the MCPV-1, you have the ability to adjust maximum brake line pressure, the threshold of rear-wheel lockup, and the transition of pressure from the front to the rear."
"Probably the fastest-growing part of our product line is our HydroBoost kit, which is a power brake system that runs off of the power steering pump," Jim reveals. "They have an accumulator that stores the energy produced by the power steering pump, and can provide 1,300 psi of brake line pressure at the wheels. This is great for cars that have big cams that otherwise wouldn't be able to run power brakes since HydroBoost systems don't rely on engine vacuum. This also means that you don't need to worry about tuning your motor to produce maximum manifold vacuum. People are always concerned about what would happen if their motor shuts down or throws a belt, but even if that happens the system stores enough energy that you'd still be able to make six to seven power-assisted brake applications. These systems have been around since the '70s on industrial applications, so they're very safe, and all use new Bosch hardware instead of remanufactured components. We offer universal HydroBoost kits in addition to systems with preplumbed proportioning valves for Camaros, Novas, Chevy IIs, El Caminos, Monte Carlos, Tri-Fives, and Impalas."
They may all look the same to the undiscerning eye, but CPP says that its control arms have several features that distinguish them from the pack. They're built from thick 0.120-inch DOM tubing with chromoly cross-shafts, and allow for up to 5 degrees of caster. That said, according to CPP, it's the little things that really matter. "Instead of welding the coil spring buckets to the arms, ours are stamped," says Jim. "Like an OE control arm, that reduces binding by allowing the spring to rotate in the bucket. Also, our cross-shafts hold all four sides of the bushings simultaneously, which distributes stress more evenly."
Springs Or Drop Spindles?
Although it's a topic of much debate, CPP prefers lowering a car with drop spindles rather than with lower springs. "With lowering springs, a drop of as little as 1.5 inches will adversely affect the inner and outer tie rods and the bumpsteer characteristics of a car," explains Jim. "With drop spindles, you can achieve as much as a two-inch drop without affecting the steering geometry at all and having to deal with a stiffer spring rate. One thing to keep in mind is that if you decide to install new replacement springs, your car may sit higher because the 40-year-old springs that were on the car had worn out and settled."
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