(Quick link to SoCal TT.)
This page will incrementally document changes to my 63 "breadbox" American to make it handle well (OK better). It's off to a good start just from reasonable chassis design, luckily.
First off, the front suspension of this car is mechanically perfect (with a few exceptions, below). Clearly, no car will handle or behave well with excess wear and bad parts. Unfortunately, the suspension has inherent problems, but they're totally dealable. No worn-out car will handle well.
When I ran the 2009 SoCal TT the car was essentially dead stock, with the exception of oversized and drilled drum brakes and big fat tires (BFG Radial T/As, 400 wear rated), both twice the original size.
Drilled drum brakes are as good as small discs. Emphasis on small. I can say that with good authority now. I don't engine-brake this car; with low compression and the spectacularly slow (and weak...) T-96 transmission it's a waste of time. The drums did all the work. If I did nothing else, I worked the hell out of these brakes. Zero fade. They work.
The biggest inherent limitations are horsepower and the transmission. It's never in the right gear, a good trans will help on the street and maybe even mileage, and more power behind this old T-96 is asking for failure. The Borg Warner T-5 transmission is the swap of choice and though this chassis is fraught with potential problems that's what I am/was persuing here. However, it's a deeply invasive hack job, and I just can't bring myself to remove the Twin Stick feature of this car, so for the near term the powertrain will remain stock other than the fuel injection.Chassis setup for handling
Conventional wisdom for American "performance" car setup generally states: heavy fron sway bar, stiff springs, stiff shocks, and a host of other "no-brainer" decisions. But I suspect this unquestioned wisdom is utterly wrong for spirited driving on severely twisty canyon roads with rough surfaces. Actual mountain roads are not a smooth road-race track and this sure isn't a drag-stip car. This chassis is not set up with 60's/70's brutal "safety' understeer and it sure isn't a long and heavy tuna boat. The things that seemed like liabilities on this car turned out to be assets. They just need improvement.
100" wheelbase, true double-wishbone front suspension, 2500 lb. curb weight, large (6" or more) suspension travel. Decently low unsprung front weight. True unibody construction. These are assets indeed!
What follows is The Plan, and will change randomly with time. These are essentially notes to myself.
from C&D tire review: only Hankook Ventus R-S2 (205/50-15), Toyo Proxes 4 (205/55-15) from that in 15".
www.tirerack.com, tire search tool, advanced boxes on left
225/60-15 optimum size for choices
A more practical plan: swap wheels with the '63 Classic. The Classic has 28" (!) tires on the American Racing 15x6" wheels; the American's 26" tires are a little short here (need new speedo gear). But that gains the wagon five perfect wheels and tires (it's never had a spare!) and frees up the slightly lighter four Torque Thrust D's for the American to get Toyo Proxes 4's or equiv. Then one 205/70-15 on a 15x5" skinny wheel to fit in the 7" wide spare tire well in the American. The tires are directional anyways and five-tire rotation doesn't make sense.