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1996 Chevy C1500. Back to Basics

Lowering the C1500 That Started it All

Marcel Venable
Oct 5, 2017
Photographers: Marcel Venable
If you wait long enough, truck trends come back in style. So if you’re lucky enough to own (or are looking for) a clean ’88 to ’98 Chevy truck these days, they’re again rising in popularity. Nicknamed OBS, for Old Body Style, which is downright confusing to us, these trucks rightfully should be appreciated. As this was really the first design any of the truck manufacturers tried to make nice. Check out old advertisements for the then-brand-new ’88 C/K 1/2-ton truck that talked about aerodynamic styling, a futuristic interior design, and car-like body panel fitment. That made the ’88 C/K a runaway hit right from the get-go. Many of the restylers of the day put their spin on these trucks right away, catapulting them to superstardom. The trend started in Southern California when shops like Hot Rods By Boyd and Trader’s Trucks made this body style the in thing. People responded to these new-look trucks with a firestorm of interest, and Chevy and GMC truck dealerships couldn’t keep them in stock.
To get the look, a few standout companies were manufacturing the correct components. Just as the restylers for So Cal needed these parts to outfit their new trucks. A few companies leaned on their engineers to make the right parts work well on these trendy trucks. Most of these companies were from the valley of Central California. One in particular had figured out a way to correctly alter the factory geometry to lower the stance set by the factory, while retaining the factory ride characteristics. Western Chassis (WC), a small metal foundry out of Fresno, California, had figured out how to raise the front spindle’s link pin to lift the tire into the wheelwell, while retaining the factory geometry years before the C/K was even offered. For the first seven to eight years, WC’s idea really wasn’t a big hit. Most of the trucks in their area were farm trucks and not used for cruising low to the pavement. It really wasn’t until the ’88 C/K came out that the lowered spindle came to light, and the rest is history.
Photo 2/38   |   The 4/6 lowering kit from Western Chassis is a complete replacement kit, including a new set of spindles that lower the stance of the truck 2 inches lower than stock. It also has a set of coilsprings that allow the truck to sit another 2 inches lower, bringing the ride height down 4 inches overall in the front. For the rear, Western’s kit features an axle flip kit, which changes the configuration from spring over axle to spring under axle. Performing this modification to the rear suspension lowers the rear stance 6 inches from stock, allowing the truck to sit at the perfect rake that made these trucks so popular. To give the truck a smooth ride once it sits right, a C-notch kit allows the rear axle to travel up into the frame. Rounding out the kit from Western is a set of gas-charged performance shocks that incorporate the proper travel.
Well, the times have changed a bit since the heyday of the C/K, but this is still a hard body style to pass by. As time passes, they have become harder to find in any condition. While some things change, others stay the same, if they’re designed well, build to last, and remain relevant. That’s just what we discovered with a ’96 Standard Cab we recently found. It was bone stock, never modified, and hiding in plain sight in Southern California. In an attempt to preserve the past, while improving the future, we decided to take a stab at assembling a modest daily driver that any red-blooded truck enthusiast would love to roll.
Photo 3/38   |   Beginning with the truck set properly on a lift (or a set of jackstands, if you’re doing this at home), we pulled off all four tires. We started in the front by pulling off the front brakes.
Photo 4/38   |   With the front brakes out, we removed the front shocks, too.
Photo 5/38   |   Next, we removed the front spindles by cutting the cotter pins out from the castle nuts that hold the spindles to the ball joints. By striking the spindles with a hammer at the ball joints, it freed the tension of the ball joints, allowing us to remove the spindles.
Photo 6/38   |   The sway bar end link was the next item to be pulled. Ours looked pretty worn, so we’ll use a replacement during the re-assembly.
Photo 7/38   |   We used a large pry-bar for an extra bit of leverage when removing the stock coilsprings.
Photo 8/38   |   Speaking of coilsprings, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the 2-inch-lower-than-stock coilspring from Western Chassis and the factory coilspring.
Photo 9/38   |   After cleaning the factory suspension and inspecting the ball joints, we repurposed the rubber factory coilspring isolator to the top of the Western coilspring. This isolator keeps the top portion of the spring set into the frame pocket, and kills the friction between the frame and the coilspring. Without it, the truck would squeak like crazy as it traveled down the road. The lower side of the coilspring is cut off halfway through its wind, which helps set the coilspring into the lower A-arm pocket and prevent it from moving. Because the Western coilsprings are shorter than the factory ones, we had to support the lower control arm with a piece of wood between a floor jack to keep it from falling out until we install the new spindles.
Photo 10/38   |   Now that we have the coilsprings set into place, we took a good look at the spindles. You can clearly see the pin is positioned 2 inches higher than the factory spindle’s pin.
Photo 11/38   |   Western Chassis machined spindles fit just like stock over our factory ball joints.
Photo 12/38   |   They turned the castle nuts down until the spindles sat properly onto the ball joints, and installed new cotter pins for safety.
Photo 13/38   |   With an altered suspension geometry, we had to add a shorter length shock. Western Chassis has had plenty of practice figuring out the proper shock travel for this application. Included in this kit was a set of their DS-2 Gas Charged shocks to replace our worn factory shocks.
Photo 14/38   |   Our factory antisway bar links had seen better days. We added this sway bar bushing and end link kit from Energy Suspension instead. Its polyurethane bushings help deflect negative lateral force during high-speed cornering and allowing for a more positive response from the suspension to the driver. Simply put, it allows you to dive into those corners and feel good about doing it.
Photo 15/38   |   The upper pillow-block bushings and mounts were the first replaced. Energy has even gone the extra step by installing a zerk fitting to the pillow block, allowing you to service the bushing during its lifespan. By checking the bushing periodically, you’ll insure a long service life out of these babies.
Photo 16/38   |   The lower end links were installed finger tight until we could set the truck back on its own weight. Most people make the mistake of tightening the end links while the truck’s weight or tension is off the bar. This will accelerate wear on the bushings, while it limits the anti sway bar’s travel. Another common mistakes is to over tighten the end links, even with the weight of the vehicle on the ground. They should be snugly tight to allow the polyurethane to do its job, and not smashed with a tire gun.
Photo 17/38   |   After we finished installing all the new parts, we checked and re-installed the brakes. Time to move to the back.
Photo 18/38   |   To make this easier, we removed the bed allowing a better look to do this kit from Western Chassis. It’s not required, but it does help. The first step was to remove the factory bumpstops. Two bolts hold them to the frame and were intruding on the axle’s path through the frame.
Photo 19/38   |   We needed to find the axle centerline to map out where we’ll need to cut the frame and install the C-notch kit. Using a plumb bob and a string, we held the tool over the axle until we found the center and made a mark on the frame. We repeated the process on both sides before moving onto the next step.
Photo 20/38   |   Using a square ruler as a straightedge, we drew a line down the side of the frame to help map out our cut lines.
Photo 21/38   |   We made a quick template of the C-notch by setting the part atop a piece of cardboard and drawing its centerline on the template. We transferred our template outline to the frame.
Photo 22/38   |   Before cutting anything, we double checked all our measurements and checked the template using the C-notch. We made our cuts to the frame using a cutoff wheel. If you don’t have a cutoff wheel, a reciprocating saw will be fine. We like to avoid a gas torch or even a Plasma cutter on these frames, as the unnecessary heat can damage the framerails.
Photo 23/38   |   Here’s the result after we cut out the portion of the frame that was preventing the axle from traveling through it once we flip the axle over the leaf springs.
Photo 24/38   |   Cutting that much away from the frame would be a disaster if left alone, so Western Chassis has developed this boxed C-notched frame sleeve. The C-notch slides over the three points of the frame—the top, face, and bottom—ensuring that the frame can’t flex. The notch is fully welded to the sleeve, preventing any side-to-side flex at the opening. We set the C-notch sleeve over the frame at our cutout, and clamped it into place, so we can drill out holes for the fasteners.
Photo 25/38   |   Rather than welding the C-notch to the frame, causing undesirable excessive heat, we drilled out pilot holes for the supplied fasteners that will hold the C-notch in place for good.
Photo 26/38   |   With all of the C-notch’s fasteners holes drilled out to size, we installed the fasteners with a 1/2-drive impact gun. Western Chassis includes heavy-duty Grade 8 fasteners with Stoval-style lock nuts, ensuring that our install will be solid for decades.
Photo 27/38   |   After we finished both C-notches, we freed up the stock rear suspension parts, starting with the shocks.
Photo 28/38   |   As with the front suspension geometry, the factory shocks are too long to go with this kit. Western took that into account and figured out the proper length shocks for the modified stance on this OBS.
Photo 29/38   |   We supported the axle and removed the U-bolts that hold the axle to the spring. You can see where the leaf springs sit over the axle, as most trucks come equipped. To bring the truck’s sheetmetal nearer the ground, we had to place the leaf springs under the axle, as you see on most leaf-spring-equipped passenger cars.
Photo 30/38   |   We removed the front bolt that holds the leaf spring to the spring hanger on the frame.
Photo 31/38   |   The last step in removing the leaf spring was to remove the bolt holding the shackle to the rear spring hanger.
Photo 32/38   |   Now, we lifted out the leaf spring to move it under the axle, using the same procedure had used to remove the leaf spring in reverse to re-install it back onto the frame. The only drawback is that the axle’s geometry is out of whack. Don’t worry, the guys at Western Chassis are pretty smart and have engineered this correction block that cradles the axle tubes in proper alignment with the driveline.
Photo 33/38   |   The supplied U-bolts and alignment plates make it a breeze to mount the axle back into the proper place.
Photo 34/38   |   Shocks are the last thing we installed on this kit. To make it easier, we left the nylon limit strap on the shocks until they were installed. After, we cut the straps off the shock to allow them to move freely.
Photo 35/38   |   For our tire selection, we looked to Yokohama for the right size rubber to match our new measurements. In the front, 255/40R20s will fit perfectly, and in the rear fenderwells, 275/40R20s will fit correctly.
Photo 36/38   |   We went with the classic look of Rocket Racing’s Boosters. The timeless five-spoke design won’t date the truck, and the powdercoated centers and machined lips look great and are easy to clean.
Photo 37/38   |   We had the tires mounted at Cook’s Tire & Tune, and asked them to rack the truck for a four-wheel alignment. After we got the call from them, the only thing left was to start enjoying our drive time with our brand-new-feeling 21-year-old truck.
Photo 38/38   |   Lowering The C1500

Sources

Energy Suspension
San Clemente, 92673
949-361-3935
http://www.energysuspension.com
Rocket Racing Wheels
Chattanooga, TN 37406
888-307-7525
RocketRacingWheels.com
Yokohama Tire
800-722-9888
http://www.yokohamatire.com
Western Chassis
Fresno, CA
888-999-9139
westernchassisinc.com
Cooks Tire and Tune
Fullerton, CA 92833
714-870-0100
www.cookstireandtune.com

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