Hellwig Products is a company that has been on their small slice of property next to the freeway in Visalia, California, for more than 65 years. While their original products have been about sway control and handling, their latest venture into the motorsports arena is about stiffening the chassis of a musclecar.
Hellwig already offers a huge line of front and rear sway bars for classic and modern musclecars.
Hellwig Motorsports has a full line of sway bars for musclecars from the 1950s through many of today’s modern machines, but even a great set of sway bars is only as good as the chassis they’re installed on. When that chassis isn’t firm enough, the twisting and body roll will still exist until the chassis is firmed up. David Wheeler is one of the Engineers at Hellwig Products, and he’s recently taken up the task to firm up the chassis on early and late A-body GM vehicles.
The frame in GM’s A-body suffers a bit when it comes to torsional strength, and Wheeler sought out a way to strengthen the frame on his own 1968 Chevelle. Typically, when a shop aims to stiffen a chassis, a popular method is to box the frame in, and that usually does the job. Wheeler felt that there was a better way to accomplish this; he sought a way to box in the frame rails and add to the torsional strength at the same time.
The Frame FX chassis stiffening kit for early and late A-body GM vehicles is available now.
A weak frame will be stronger when it’s boxed in, but Wheeler decided it was better to add more material to the weakest part of the chassis and to make it all fit without making major modifications to the car, especially the body. This is where Frame FX came about, and they introduced it to a very receptive crowd at the SEMA Show in 2013.
While there were some components available to upgrade the A-body GM’s suspension, the problem was that you could only get so far before you had to deal with the chassis if you wanted to be competitive with the handling. Autocross is no longer limited to the sleek body sports cars, like the Corvettes, GM F-bodies, and Mustangs. Each year we start to see more and more unique vehicles hitting the track, but many of those cars are high-dollar builds with a lot of work put into them – sometimes this means a completely new chassis from another vehicle modified to fit the body.
For the average Joe who wants to spend a little at a time to get their A-body out on the track and to be competitive, Frame FX is an affordable way to stiffen the chassis. When taking advantage of other components for the car like the sway bars available from Helwig, or other performance components like adjustable control arms and shocks, Frame FX completes the package. As he tore into the car and designed the kit around it, Wheeler’s Chevelle became the guinea pig for Frame FX,
The Frame FX kit includes all components needed to stiffen your A-body chassis, plus an additional body mount in the center.
Removing the body isn’t required, but if you’re restoring or rebuilding your Chevelle this is the perfect time to stiffen up that chassis.
Frame FX Design
The design for Frame FX was not to simply add metal to the frame, but to add metal to the frame and make it simple. Instead of designing the additional material to be butt-welded to the frame, Wheeler designed them to overlap, allowing for less grinding on the finish weld. He also designed them to box in the frame by extending the frame inward with a triangular shape, which doubles the width of the frame rail and allows much more torsional rigidity to the frame.
Here you can see the frame nearly doubles in width, and an additional body mount is part of the kit.
In addition to the extra width added to the frame rail, another body mount was also added to the center to make it a little more rigid. The ends have also been profiled to better fit the chassis without having to do any cutting on the original frame rails.
Another feature built into the Frame FX kit is that it doesn’t require all new, custom-bent brake and fuel lines. Wheeler designed the kit to utilize factory tubes, and all that is required to use them is to create some slight bends at the front and rear of the chassis for clearance of the extended frame.
We especially like the idea added in for the transmission crossmember. The Frame FX kit allows the possibility to install various transmissions without the need for fabricating new crossmember mounts on the frame. Where the crossmember bolts in is adjustable to meet the owner’s specifications, allowing it to be moved forward or backwards.
Top: The adjustable crossmember mounts allow you to mount the trans crossmember in multiple locations to accommodate varying engine/transmission choices.
Bottom: Wheeler points out the areas where the factory tubing needs to be altered to clear the extended frame rail.
Wheeler said that the kit can be installed without removing the engine or transmission from the vehicle. The body can be lifted eight to twelve inches from the chassis and the kit can be installed with the drivetrain supported, however, he does recommend removing the body completely for easier access to the chassis.
The additional body mount welds to the extended frame rail for added stability.
The skill level for welding, Wheeler states, would be intermediate to advanced, and it should take approximately 16-20 hours to install the entire kit for an experienced fabricator. This, of course, depends on whether the body is removed entirely, or merely raised up for access.
The kit includes 18 new pieces of steel to weld to the existing chassis, plus the two additional body mounts and hardware. There are two kits currently available for the GM A-body: 1968-1972 (part #11100) and 1964-1967 (part #11102), and the kits can be purchased through Summit Racing and Jegs for about $330-340 per kit.
They are available in bare steel and include a complete set of detailed instructions to help with installation. Hellwig always does a great job with their instructions, and for Frame FX their attention to detail has remained.
Butt welds require the original chassis to be flawless. The overlapping welds allow for slight variations in the 40 year old chassis.
Currently, Frame FX is for GM A-body only, Hellwig has received a tremendous response after introducing the kit last year, and has already had numerous requests for additional vehicle coverage. While we were there visiting, we noticed another car being taken apart, and a couple of extra rolling chassis in the shop. Hellwig plans on releasing the 1978-1987 G-body Frame FX kit (part #11104) this October, with some 1988 vehicle coverage, as well as GM B-body coverage in the future.
In our travels and coverage of autocross and Pro-Touring events, we’ve seen a few Chevelles and other cars that were typically considered non-sports cars entering autocross events, and giving the sports cars a run for their money. Frame FX aims to give those car owners a little more ammunition for the cone zone, and to help make other cars in the GM lineup a little more competitive out on the track.
Whether using the original tubing or ordering new tubes for fuel and brake lines, the factory parts can be used, with some slight re-bending of the tubes.
When it comes to Pro-Touring, Hellwig is not so new to the market. They’ve been providing sway bars for years, and as the sport grows it’s become something that Hellwig Vice President, Melanie White, says is something they felt they needed to expand into. “We wanted to get involved where we know we do can do it well,” White said.
White is a fourth generation Hellwig, and is fully involved in the operation of the business. She talked to us about the company’s early years when her great grandfather and grandfather went door to door selling helper springs and installing them for just $7.00.
White, along with her father Mark, who is the President of Hellwig, truly follow along in the family’s enduring philosophy when it comes to Hellwig Products. “My great grandfather saw there was a problem in the industry,” she said, “we want to offer solutions that don’t exist in the market.” Frame FX continues that trend for Hellwig Products.
Wheeler has been with Hellwig for about ten years now as an engineer, and he is very well familiar with their products. He is always available to assist customers, and offer solutions for specific handling needs for custom applications.
There was a need for torsional stiffness in the frame, and that’s why we developed Frame FX. -David Wheeler
“We saw that the early Chevelle had a need,” Wheeler said, “there was nothing in the market for the early A-body. There was a need for torsional stiffness in the frame, and that’s why we developed Frame FX.”
Wheeler felt that the best way to stiffen the chassis was to make it as big as possible. For this expansion into the Pro-Touring market, adding to their full line of front and rear sway bars, it truly brings them deeper into the cone zone.
It looks like they’re not slowing down; with more vehicles on the drawing board and the A-body covered, Hellwig might one day send Wheeler out with his own Chevelle to see how well he can compete.
The rolling display will be used at trade shows for now, but eventually the 1968 Chevelle will be lowered back onto the frame and hitting the autocross.
For now, though, Wheeler’s chassis, complete with performance products from several companies, is a rolling showpiece that makes its way to SEMA and other industry shows where they can show off Frame FX. He’s anxious to get his Chevelle back on the road, but is equally as anxious to expand the line and help get some of the other unsung heroes out of the driveway and onto the autocross course.
There’s no guesswork involved, these kits are designed by taking a chassis from a complete car and developing the Frame FX kit.
There’s a big challenge ahead and Hellwig is expanding to help facilitate production. Wheeler showed us their new equipment, a CNC laser cutter, that helps cut production time on many of the components that were previously cut by hand. We’ve been running a set of Hellwig sway bars on our own musclecars and can say, without a doubt, Hellwig helps to keep things in control.
To find out more about Hellwig Motorsports’ products for your classic musclecar, be sure to visit the Hellwig Motorsports website. If you’re interested in what they might have coming down the pipeline for you car, be sure to contact them. For general questions or for any of your own swaybar applications, Hellwig offers solutions to address your handling needs.
New equipment in the shop will help production times with laser precision for Frame FX kits.