When it comes to tech upgrades on early (’62-63) Chevy IIs, one procedure is a must for serious performance enthusiasts: upgrading the factory four lugs to five lugs. Not only does this increase your options when it comes to tire and wheel choices, but it allows the use of bigger brakes for better stopping power. This month, we will write on doing this conversion.
Four-lug Wheels Limiting Your Options
All of the ’62-63 Novas came from the factory with four-lug wheels. This is a big problem when choosing an aftermarket wheel or rally rim (the ’63 Super Sport models had a four-lug 14-inch wheel, which made things a little easier when it came to adding late-model tires). Today, the market on four-lug wheels is very limited, and getting a hold of a vintage set of aftermarket rims is restricted to finding a good set of used rims, locating a collector willing to part with his, or searching on eBay.
The solution is to swap out those four-lug hubs with a five-lug setup from a ’64-67 Nova. All twodoors, four-doors, and wagons are acceptable donor cars. Another added gain here is the larger brakes on the five-lug cars. And with the performance levels that many Nova enthusiasts are attaining, there’s no better reason to upgrade.
Upgrading to Five-lug
When taking off the five-lug components from the donor car, you need to remove only the spindle and steering arm assembly. The spindles simply need to be unbolted at the upper and lower ball joints, while you should remove the tie rods and center drag link at the idler arm and Pitman arm. Removing the spindle doesn’t require compressing the coil spring or unbolting either the upper or lower A-arms. This is due to the fact that the A-arms are the same for both the four- and five-lug versions.
Use a ball joint removal tool, where possible, to separate the spindle from the A-arms. If you don’t have access to a removal tool, another way to break the taper loose is to loosen the ball joint nut, leaving it threaded part way, and with a heavy hammer, firmly hit the side of the spindle where the ball joint shaft goes through it. Use care and be sure to have the car planted on jackstands for safety. Providing that the parts haven’t rusted themselves together, this process should work. Repeat the procedure for all four ball joints.
Before removing the ball joint nuts to drop the brake drum/spindle combination, you will have to take off the flexible brake hoses and remove the tie rod ends from the steering knuckle. To remove the hoses, simply loosen the nut that holds the hard line in the flex hose, then pull the retaining clip holding the hose into its bracket. If you plan to retain the factory drum brakes, be sure to check the hoses for cracks and replace them if you find any. As for the tie rods, you can use the ball joint tool or perform the same procedure with the hammer to break the taper loose. Once you have the complete assembly apart, installation is basically the opposite of the removal process.
Five-lug Setup Allowing Additional Upgrades
Once you’ve upgraded to the five-lug setup, your wheel selection will be wide open, plus you’ll have the ability to upgrade to disc brakes (we’ll cover this in a later story).
With regard to the rear swap, there are two choices: pull the axles out and have them redrilled with the five-lug pattern or swap the entire rearend. Now, if your donor car that was used for the front components still has the 10-bolt rearend, swap the entire differential. These are a direct swap for the early cars; the only differences may be some minor changes in rear brake line fittings from year to year.
The distance from inside backing plate to inside backing plate of a Nova rearend is approximately 51 inches. If you do not want to ruin your wheel-and-tire clearance, you must stay with this width rearend. Camaro, Chevelle, Impala are all wider and will not allow you to accommodate decent tires and rims.
The other option, if you don’t have access to another housing, is to take the axles out and have the flanges machined with the five-bolt pattern. Most automotive machine shops should be able to provide this service. Of course, you will have to convert your four-lug drums to five lugs, too. Either way, upgrading to five lugs is well worth the effort when it comes to better wheel selection.
Before installing any of the used parts on the donor car, it would be wise to do maintenance on the five-lug parts. Do not forget to replace or rebuild wheel cylinders, brake shoes, springs, wheel bearings, hub seals, all rearend bearings, gaskets, seals, etc. And always remember to bleed the brakes!!! One other thing: use a torque wench when needed.