"Rebuilding A Front End"
Happy New Year! I hope the Holidays went well for you. Ours were great, as we spent them with the family here in Georgia. We got two unexpected Christmas presents: A front page article in our local paper "The Messenger", and a video feature on Newschannel 9, WTVC, an ABC affiliate, showing all of the cars and restorations in progress. It was fun to meet people who appreciate what we are all doing, "Keeping the dream of the old cars alive and sharing them with others".
With all of the cars out for display, it was a good excuse to drive them. Our daily driver is with Continental kit. We had just had this car on the lift and inspected it front to back since I was planning to drive it to Knoxville, TN to see our good friends the Coopers (of the Corvette Expo). However, I decided no to go after all, at the last minute, as I needed to take care of some business here regarding our Christmas issue. I was in town driving the Buick, just pulling up to a stoplight, when the front of the car on the passenger side dropped! I couldn't steer the car! I got out and looked under to see the lower control arm-bushing rod had broken and the lower control arm was on the ground. I got the car to the side of the road and had it towed home with a rollback. Being an automatic and having a continental kit, it can't be towed from the front or the back. Once the car was back at the shop, the lower control arm had to be pulled back up to its original position using a come-a-long and held in place before I could even steer it to get it onto the lift. Once it was up in the air, we could see the lower control arm-bushing rod had broken. I had not hit anything, and since it was original, it must have been caused by metal fatigue. There is no way we could have anticipated this. It makes you wonder whether rebuilding the complete front end might be the only way to go when rebuilding our cars, because of age, if not wear. Metal fatigue doesn't usually show up under normal testing. After receiving our new front end parts from Buick Specialists (253-852-0584), who were nice enough to get them out in the middle of the busy Holiday Season, we replaced both lower control arm bushing rods and both lower ball joints. All other parts had been replaced previously. Here is how we did it:
1. Raise car and remove front wheels
2. Disconnect stabilizer link and shock absorber at lower end
3. Remove cotter pins and loosen nut on lower ball joint
4. Compress spring by placing a floor jack under outer edge of spring seat, wrapping a chain around jack to compress spring. (This can be very dangerous! The spring is compressed to half it size, so we made sure it could not come loose!)
5. Separate steering knuckle from stud
6. Lower jack, carefully releasing tension, and remove spring (mark which way goes up)
7. Remove lower control arm. If the factory rivets are still in, an air chisel can be used to remove them. Never use a torch, or it could weaken the metal on the control arm.
8. With the control arm on the bench, remove the lower ball joint (4 bolts)
9. Remove the bushings & rod by removing the nuts on each end and removing the rod. If the rod won't clear the control arm ends, they can be spread with a jack using extreme care not to break the control arm.
10. Put in the new rod & bushing, locking down the nut with an air gun and putting new grease fittings in them.
11. Install the new ball joints using 4 new hardened steel bolts and lock nuts that come with them (never use regular bolts-they could break)
12. Re-install the control arm, reversing the removal procedure. On our Buick, the ball joint nut is hard to install. We slipped the bolt about halfway down through the break backing plate, finger-tightened it, and then torqued it down.
13. Put the spring back in (top side up), again using the jack and chain to compress the control arm
14. Bolt up the control arm assembly
15. Reattach torsion bar & shock
16. Re-check and tighten all nuts & bolts
17. Put on front tires
18. Grease and align the front end
Our test drive was successful and the Buick is back on the road. You're only as strong as your weakest link! We will repair a Corvette door latch next month, plus have more on panel fabrication. Keep 'em driving!