April 2008

Building A Better ’71El Camino From The Frame Up.


It was a rust bucket when it was first purchased. Years of neglect and sitting under a rain gutter turned this once proud ’71 El Camino into a rotting, zombielike corpse. Harrison Ortis purchased it for $1,200; it was a 454 big-block high school hot rod at the time. Finally, years later the pieces of the puzzle have come together and the El Camino is ready to become a complete car again.

In the February 2007 Issue of Super Chevy, the El Camino received a proper coat of paint, and it was recently on the cover of our last issue (March 2007). After the paint job, Harrison pulled the frame out from under the car and sent it off to Corsair Powder Coating in Ontario, California. The frame came back to his shop in a beautiful gloss black, and it was at this point the El Camino crossed our camera’s path yet again. While the El Camino may look like a million bucks, it’s not a gaudy, bank-breaking vehicle, and it was never meant to be such. For all intents and purposes this ’71 Elco is meant to be driven. In the interest of page space, we will jump straight into the process of rebuilding this frame.

1. When it came time to select and install the El Camino suspension, we chose the basic non-bank-busting Performance Online tubular upper and lower A-arms, as well as its front and rear springs (which lower the vehicle an inch) and front and rear sway bars. The springs retain their OE rates. The sway bars measure 1 1/8-inch in the front and 1-inch in the rear.


2. Along with the Performance Online suspension, a Moog steering linkage (centerlink, idler arm, etc.) was chosen along with PST bushings and Performance Online tie rods.


3. Before the upper A-arms are installed, the OE cross shaft has to be reused. In order to reuse it, it has to be ground down a bit on the belt sander. This was done because the cross-shaft would not be able to fit into the bushing’s housing otherwise.


4. The lower A-arms bolt right in with no problems. Yes, all the bushings are lubed prior to installation.


5. Once the cross-shaft is reshaped, the bushings can be pressed in, and the upper A-arm is bolted right into place.


6. When installing the upper A-arms, place two 1/8-inch shims on either side. This is a good starting point for future wheel alignment.


7. Now that both A-arms are in place, the spring comes next. It helped to have a few extra guys at the shop stand on the frame when the springs were compressed and installed.


8. Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the Master Power brakes. For the front we used PN DB1780PHP, which comes with the following: 12-inch vented, cross-drilled/ slotted rotors, dual-piston aluminum calipers and pads, caliper brackets, 7-inch dual-diaphragm power booster, master cylinder, combination valve kit, spindles, stainless steel brake hoses and brackets, bearings/seals/ dust caps, hardware dust shields, and multi-pattern aluminum hubs. The rear brake kit (PN DB1746BHPR) includes the following: 12-inch multi-pattern cross-drilled/slotted vented rotors, aluminum calipers with pads, caliper brackets, brake hoses, parking brake cables, and hardware.


9. With the front suspension completely in place, the brakes are the next item on our “To Do” list. We didn’t use drop spindles in this particular application, just good old Master Power OE-style spindles.


10. The Master Power brake kit came with dust shields, so we used them.


11. Afterward, the 12-inch rotor’s aluminum hub and bearings are installed. If you’ve done disc brakes more than once, the procedure is rather straight forward, and this brake kit is no exception.


12. On the rotor’s backside there’s a bracket that bolts onto the spindle, and that bracket is what holds the calipers in place. In this photo both the bracket and calipers are being installed.


13. The dual piston aluminum calipers are completely installed along with the braided brake lines, which are also supplied in the kit.


14. The disc/disc proportioning valve also provided by Master Power fits beautifully with the Classic Tube brake lines that we had already installed. I must say it was nice having all the lines pre-bent and shipped to us from Classic Tube; installing the brake and fuel lines was not a problem.


15. Once we finished with the front brakes, we moved to the back to finish up the rear by installing the Performance Online springs.


16. After the springs the performance online sway bar is next


17. We are using the OE rear control arms, and Performance Online has sway bars specifically for use with them. A mounting plate installs in the control arms, and the sway bar bolts right to it.


18. Finishing up the last of the suspension pieces, we used these heavy-duty Performance Online tie rods and sleeves in the front.


19. The Performance Online tie rods, combined with the Moog center link and steering arm, should just about take care of everything in the front of the El Camino frame.


20. When we read the instructions for the rear brake kit, we found that we had to modify the OE axles and hub a bit. Depending on what type of 12-bolt rear end and axles each car is equipped with, the outer hub might need to be machined down in order to fit into the disc brake hub. Not all 12-bolts are exactly the same. Luckily, we had a lathe handy. While we were at it, we replaced the studs with newer, longer wheel studs. No matter what, the axles will have to be removed in order to install the new rear rotors.


21. After the axles have been shaved, locked, and loaded, the brackets that hold the calipers are bolted to the axle housing.


22. The rotors will fit with no problem now. All that’s left is to bolt on the rear calipers and attach the e-brake cable. You may have noticed that we have no pictures of shocks. For the time being we’re using the lowest-priced Gabriel gas shocks, something around $12 a pair. When we take the car out to the track and test it, we will further tune it with new high-performance shocks.


23. The tires we used in this frame build are Nitto NTSSS Extreme ZRs. The NTSSS has one of the largest contact patches available, and is made of a specially formulated compound that not only gives amazing traction in dry weather conditions, but also has an extended tread life when compared to some of the other softer-compound tires on the market. The tire size on the back is 255/45ZR18, and the front is 255/5OZR17. Why the wider/taller tire size in front? Nitto assured us that would be the best way to go, but truthfully, we can’t see much of a visual difference when compared side by side.


24. In order to get the Elco frame rolling and looking good, we went to Coy’s Wheels and ordered their C-57 Grey wheels. We got 17x7s in the front and 18x7s for the back. Coy’s has some of the best prices for wheels on the market, and they look great on this El Camino.


25. The final rolling product. Once we freshen up the 454 Rat and put a performance exhaust on it, we guarantee this car will make it out on the track for quarter mile, slalom, skid-pad, and brake testing. We’re anxious to see just how well our upgrades will perform. Stay tuned.