May 6th, 2021 - 14th Front Suspension, Control Arms Etc.
Seeing the state of the bushings and such on this rig, I knew without a doubt that the control arms would need new bushings also. I actually have all of the bushings I need in the energy suspension kit, but I do not have a press. Yes I could have taken the control arms to someone who had a press and probably paid them a few dollars to put in new ones but I wanted to splurge a little and invest into some control arms that were a little trick, a little lighter and might improve on steering and alignment, after all the existing control arms are 49+ year old technology and could probably be improved upon.
I ended up going with the following components:
-QA1 Street Performance Upper & Lower Control Arms for 67-69 GM F-Body and 68-74 X-Body
-QA1 Front Sway Bar for 1967-69 Camaro/Firebird & 1968-74 X-Body
-QA1 GS401 Pro Coilover Single Adjustable shocks with thrust bearings
-New tie rod sleeves
I've served as the mechanic for my family's fleet of vehicles for over 20 years. I've done brake jobs, replaced blown out airbags with coils, pulled motors, installed motors, replaced various mounts, timing chains, seals, brake lines, fuel lines, gas tanks, etc. I even have a little experience with sheetmetal and bodywork. I've NEVER undertaken a job like this but I figured it shouldn't be outside of the scope of my abilities with a little patience. No special tools are required except maybe snap-ring pliers, oh and a ball joint separator of some sort.
I started the tear down. Loosen the wheel lugs, jack her up and put her on jackstands. Remove the wheels. I could have tried juggling the spindle between the control arms by doing one at a time but I figured it would probably be easier to just tear it completely down. Remove the calipers and brake lines. Remove the rotor, backing plate and the doo-bob that attaches to the back of the backing plate to connect the spindle to the steering linkage.
It's worth remarking that I was a little appalled at the shape of the ball joints. It seriously looks to me like the previous owner prioritized putting disk brakes on this car and separated the joints using a pickle fork. Yes, I drove this car a long way with it like this. The good news? Upgraded front brakes. I guess it's a Pirate Jack kit and I just got a response from them this morning about what components they use: 72 Chevelle. Now I know what I'll need for pads and rotors when I need to replace them. Continuing with the inspection of the existing components:
She's looking pretty ratty and unloved. I guess I'm not the first person to hate this car. Onward and upward. How do you separate a ball joint and is the spring pressure on a coil over comparable to a full coil spring where I need to worry about it shooting my eye out? The instructions state that I am to remove the welcome-back cotter pins from the spindles, back off the castle nuts and then use a ball joint separator to make this happen. At this point, I was really wishing that I paid more attention in auto class. Fortunately for me, the internet has kind of blown up since the days I was in high school and I can look on YouTube and Steves Nova Site for help. I put the separator on the balljoint and started cranking...BOOOM! It sounded like a gun went off. I checked myself for holes in my body and despite the unexpected sound, I figured I was on the right track. I separated the other balljoint, disconnected the shock from the upper mount and questioned whether after removing the lower mounts if the spring was going to fly out from the pocket like diarrhea flies out of my hindquarters after consuming fast food. I figured I didn't want to live forever anyways, I reasoned that the control arm was hanging down at full extension and it didn't look like the existing coilovers could be adjusted. I removed the two bolts, removed the shock, breathed a sigh of relief and moved onto the next task of removing the control arms.
Not a huge deal to remove the first, forward-most bolt. The second one was another story. I was able to get the nut off without incident but couldn't drive the bolt through the control arm and crossmember. I realized it was seized inside of the bushing in the control arm. Heat would be my friend here but my torch is still at my ex-wife's house. Fun, fun, fun. Out came the sawzall and I put the blade between the frame and the control arm, cutting into and through the bushing. This actually took a little longer than I expected it to take, probably grade 8 hardware or something. Passenger side control arm had definitely seen better days. It looks like she was holding onto water for quite some time and the lower shock mount had started rotting out. Drivers side removal went about the same. I ended up using the sawzall once I realized the bolts were seized in the bushings and weren't going to come out.
Now we move onto the upper control arms, where I managed to complicate the removal. For anyone who is considering this job, do NOT start your morning by eating lead paint chips. The instructions clearly state "do not turn the cross shaft bolts or you will strip them out." Guess what I did? I got ahead of myself, seen a bolt head and a nut on the other side and figured these had to come out the same way that the lowers did. DON'T DO IT!
Here's the thread where I ask for help on this SNAFU (do you know what SNAFU means?) I did a stupid thing. Upper control arm cross shaft bolts.
So I ordered new cross shaft bolts with the hope that there was still enough meat left in the hole that new bolts could grab onto. I wasn't so lucky. The new bolt spun. I haven't decided what to do about this if anything. I guess it's not a huge deal it just irritates the living crap out of me when I break something and then it's less than perfect. I'm halfway tempted to just throw a tack-weld on the drivers side cross shaft bolts so they don't spin. If it's 10 years down the line and someone else has this car, I doubt they'll ever want to remove the cross shaft bolts and if they do, cutting through a tack wouldn't be that big of a deal. A tack wouldn't put a ton of heat into the bolt either where it might tweak it or anything. I guess there might be a concern about it screwing with the strength of the bolt. I wish I wasn't so stupid some times. Let me rephrase that, all the time I wish that I wasn't as stupid as I am sometimes.
Oh, one small problem on the passenger side with removing the upper control arm. I couldn't get it out with the header in place. I unbolted the collector and fought with the stupid allen head bolts. Some of the tubes interfered with a regular allen key and a socket-allen wasn't fitting on them either. A pair of vice grips did the trick and for the one I couldn't reach with vice grips, I gently shaped and massaged the tube in an elegant way to allow me to fit the key into the allen bolt enough to back it out. Again, I don't care too much about this motor because it's coming out at some point in the fairly near future.
The next part of the adventure involved removing the T-BARS from the shocks and putting bearings in instead. This took me much longer than I would like to admit, profanities and vulgarities were a plenty, especially since I made the mistake of coating the shocks down in anti-seize per the manufacturers instructions and being absolutely covered in this silver goop. I had a few thoughts about how it looked like I had an inappropriate relationship with the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz. The procedure involved removing two snap rings, pressing out the t-bar, cutting out the bushing, inserting a snap ring and the bearing and then another snap ring. I actually almost called it a day at this point but after a little breather I got back to it.
Now it was time to toss the sway bar in. I need to double check the placement of this but if memory serves, it sits just below the crank pulley but over the cross member. Easy. Upper control arms go in easy, except for the drivers side where I stripped out the holes for the bolts. Shocks get mounted to the lower control arms BEFORE attaching to the subframe. So far so good. I figured that the new lower control arms would slide right up into place, align the holes and push the bolts through. NOPE, these things needed muscled in. I had the jack out there with a 2x4 kicking on this darn thing and trying to apply force to get it where it needed to be. I finally got it aligned and QA1 instructions have the bolts coming outside in with the nuts on the inside. I initially did this and realized it wasn't going to work for me because getting a washer and a nut onto the rear-most bolt which is INSIDE of the crossmember just wasn't going to happen, I was most certainly going to drop a bolt into the crossmember and my neighbors would soon be calling the police for the frequency and amplitude of vulgarities that would be coming out of my face...so I removed this bolt, forgetting that I had the washer on it and I dropped it inside of the crossmember. Now I need one of those magnetic things to try to fish it out. I just used a washer from the drivers side. Passengers side upper and lower installed, all that is left to do is drop the thrust bearing onto the shock, drop the coilover on, bolt up the shock and re-attach the spindle. Drivers side I got partially aligned and one bolt partially in before darkness struck and I decided to call it a night.