Autoblog Maintenance 301: Part II of our front suspension/steering refresh
With Part I out of the way and the front end of our Buick Roadmaster in pieces, the next logic step is to start putting things back together. In this installment, we'll get the control arms buttoned up, and pay some loving attention to the steering gear. Click through for more grease-under-the-fingernails goodness.
Our control arms - now sporting new bushings, ball joints, and paint - get bolted back up to the frame. Don't bother tightening the pivot bolts yet - we'll handle that at a later point.
Our attention now turns to removing the old suspension components, and we find the pickle fork and sledge hammer yet again useful. Here, we're removing the center link from the Pitman arm; as the link contains the worn joint, we don't have to remove the Pitman arm from the steering box. This is not the case with all vehicles, so adjust your procedure accordingly.
The old idler arm - one of the most obviously worn components on this car (it damn near rattled) - was removed from the frame, and a new part installed in its place. For fasteners like these that thread into "weld nuts" in the frame, we recommend using a light touch, a clean-up with a tap, and plenty of penetrating oil and anti-seize - it's much too easy to strip out the threads, and that's not a fun repair to make at 10PM on a Sunday night.
Here's our new center link, bolted up to the idler arm and Pitman arm. While the original link included provisions for a steering stabilizer (a damper that had long ago worn out), our new one required eliminated the stabilizer. We won't miss it - those things are for trucks with high-offset wheels and wide tires, and just don't contribute anything on a vehicle like this (as evidenced by its lack of inclusion on other vehicles built on the same platform).
As new parts are installed, don't forget to screw in the Zerk fitting.
The aforementioned shorter and stiffer Impala SS springs are installed with the aid of our spring compressor, and a floor jack is used to raise the lower control arm into place.
Secure the fresh lower ball joint with the included new nut and cotter pin. Torque specs can be found either in the instructions for the new part, or in the vehicle's service manual. Undertightening these parts can be disastrous, so make sure to get this right!
In place of the worn-out low-end replacement shocks (probably selected by the previous owner preciously because of their lack of damping), we used Monroe Severe Service shocks. These reasonably-priced heavy-duty dampers - intended for use on police-spec Caprices - provide good performance for the money. Admittedly, they're a bit stiffer than one would normally find on a Roadmaster, but no one will accuse them of rattling loose any fillings, either.
New tie-rod ends and sleeves are lubed up with anti-seize, and assembled to the same approximate length as the old parts. That'll get the toe adjustment close enough to get the car to the local alignment shop.
The tie rod assemblies are secured to the center link and spindles using new hardware, and torqued to spec before installing the cotter pins.
Not shown here was the process of grabbing a larger 30mm sway bar (the stock size is 27mm), bushings, and end links from our used-parts stockpile.
The combination of fresh parts with the stiffer springs, shocks, and sway bar really improved the ride and handling of this car - after, of course, it received a proper alignment at a knowledgeable shop. A bit of research might yield alignment specs that are more appropriate or held to tighter tolerances than those found in "the book", so do your homework and find a shop that's willing to work with you. And if your car has any special characteristics - like, oh, a set of non-removable fender skirts - you might need to visit a few shops before finding one that will fit your needs. Doing your own alignments can be the solution, but that's a topic for future post.