Front end rebuild and upgrade

Skaal-tel 79

Veteran Member
Jun 20, 2004
3,417
CFB Petawawa, Ontario
Alright, I figure in my own small way I'll do my part to repay the board.

On any camaro, tackling a front end rebuild is a daunting proposition. With an A arm suspension and steering linkage with no fewer than 8 separate parts, I figure a camaro is actually more complicated to rebuild than a few newer cars where everything is sub-assemblies.

We've all seen the tiny black and white haynes manual pictures and the one line removal instructions... now here's how to do it the right way - and the way I did it.

To begin with, you need to choose your parts. There is a massive selection for our cars and it ranges from bone stock to completely custom aftermarket tubular aluminum pieces.

Control arms -
scuff and repaint your originals (cheap - what I did)
Buy new stock style (don't bother unless you can't find any in a junk yard)
buy new aftermarket tubular adjustable (pricey but make installation and alignment a snap- more for racing or high dollar cars- if anyone wants to mention positive experiences with a brand and a link, I'll put that here. Global West is a well known provider.)

Control arm bushings
rubber- what GM chose and what I chose- I wanted to err on the side of caution, and not end up with too harsh a ride in my daily driver.
Polyurethane or "polygraphite" control arm bushings are a middle of the road option and lots of members here have them but I heard too many horror stories about squeaks, unwanted deflection and binding to justify the added price. They are said to reduce a lot of the flex of rubber without completely eliminating it like -
aluminum solid bushings. Essentially a solid pivot point. Completely eliminates deflection- probably better for your track or drag car than a street car. Most aftermarket tubular A arms come with these pre-installed. A great way to improve handling - so long as everything else on the suspension can back them up.

Springs
Stock replacement- available from a massive array of retailers. Internetautomart is a board member selling them and I've only heard good things about his business. Also available from Eaton. In my opinion stock springs are a touch too soft for a "sports" car and provide a rolling boat feel to the car.
Stiffer springs- also available from a wide array of people.
I personally chose the hotchkis springs to complement the rear leafs I added. They, like most others, advertise a 2" drop but that's only if you still have all the original front end weight on the car, I think. Aluminum heads, manifold, radiator, removing AC will all serve to raise the nose and make the advertised 2" drop meaningless.
If you order from a moog parts list you can choose springs that will seriously drop the nose of the car. I'm going to crib from another board member's website here - http://home.cfl.rr.com/todd80z28/project_pages/front_springs.htm
thanks for the tables todd!
Lots of board members swear by these parts and it's definetely an economical way to get the job done.
Once again, internetautomart can probably also help you pick up a set of springs tailored to your car's front end weight.
Coil overs- I don't know anything about these. QA1s. If anyone wants to fill me in, just post it up and I'll edit it in.

Shocks
Probably one of the most posted about topics in the suspension forum.
Here's the forum sticky on shocks - http://www.nastyz28.com/forum/showthread.php?t=49990
I chose kyb gas a justs. They're a bit like stone pillars.. but CHEAP. So I'll survive.

Steering linkage and ball joints
Not a lot of complication here. There are companies offering poly dust boots, but if you ask me that's just expensive frippery! No offense to anyone using them :)
Also available are billet tie rod adjusters. If you can't handle loosening two bolts to adjust toe once every 30000 km.. go for it!
Front end rebuild kits complete with tie rods, centerlink, idler arm sleeves and hardware are available from everywhere you usually shop. Napa, NPD, Classic, PST, they're high wear parts and common to a lot of different vehicles, I think. Good on yer, GM.

miscellaneous
Bump stops! I've seen a few posts on these. Stock bump stops may be a bit too tall for a lowered ride and will just impede handling. You want full suspension travel (without exceeding designed geometry) and tall bump stops won't help. The Hotchkis drop springs come with short poly bump stops, complete with hardware. Most front end rebuild kits will have bump stops as well.

I think that pretty much covers everything. Feel free to add any info!
 

Skaal-tel 79

Veteran Member
Jun 20, 2004
3,417
CFB Petawawa, Ontario
Getting down to business - Actually getting all them shiny parts put on your car.

You can pay a shop.. but unless you know where the owner and his family lives, I wouldn't go this route. Not only will it cost you an arm and a leg.. how many shops know how to work on old cars these days?

You can do all the hard work yourself renting tools and paying a shop only to do the really tool and experience intensive stuff.
We're all gearheads ( aka crazy ) around here so of course I put the car up on jackstands and got to work.

Required tools you might not have -
Pickle forks
Coil spring compressor
grease gun
ball joint press
big hammer
either a 1" wrench or an adjustable wrench
sawzall

supplies to budget for-
$20 in sawzall blades
chassis grease
2 hours shop time, give or take
cool refreshments
$15-40 in new grade 8 bolts and hardware

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Removing parts -
start by jacking up the car to a pretty good height. You want to be able to swing a lower control pretty well freely through an arc under the car, so 2 or 3 feet. 6 jack stands or a lot of cinder blocks would be best. Support the car under the frame rails, with a pair under the nose if you can manage it.
First thing to do is remove the little extraneous parts. Remove the swaybar end links, detach the tie rods from the control arms, the idler arm from the frame, and the centerlink from the pitman arm and the entire steering linkage will drop out of the car. Pickle forks and an air hammer turn this job into a 20 minute non-hassle. If you have to use a regular hammer... I pity you.
remove the shock absorbers but keep the lower bolts so you have something to compare the new ones you'll buy to.

There are a couple ways to remove the coil springs.
I'll crib from a recent thread here:
Well first jack up the car securely on the center. Then remove the shock, then chain the spring to the lower control arm and lock it. Loop the chain through the spring then through the shock hole and then bolt or lock it. Make sure it is secure. Then put a floor jack under the spring pocket and put a slight load on it. Then remove the two lower control arm bolts. Then very slowly and carefully lower the control arm. The spring will come down with the lower control arm since they are chained together. Springs are a dangerous deal, be careful.
or
smoke wrench or sawzall to coil as it sits between lower control arm and upper frame cup. once cut in half disassemble car. very easy. be sure to leave spindle connected to upper and lower ball joints
OR
what I did, a little different than most. I don't have a lot of faith in sawzalls and don't have an oxy cutter, or I'd have gone that route.
Most coil removal instructions don't take into account that you're tearing everything off the car anyway.
Install coil spring compressor into spring. Place jack under the lower control arm and support it. Separate spindle from upper ball joint, remove upper control arm, hang spindle from the frame with hangars, separate spindle from lower ball joint, lower the jack and use a prybar to pop the spring out of the control arm.

Removing the upper control arm is not as easy as saying "remove the upper control arm." The idle shaft bolts are generally seized quite well into the frame, and sliding the A arm back off the bolts you'll contact exhaust pipes, headers or manifolds makes no difference, or steering linkage. Soak the bolts as best you can, and try to hammer them first on the one side, then the other. If you're lucky they'll loosen and can then be driven out. If you're like me.. slide the arm as far back as you can, and really reef on it upwards - for me it levered 3 bolts out of the holes and they could then be driven out with a hammer. The last remaining bolt required the sacrifice of 5 or 6 sawzall blades. They're all rusty and will need to be replaced. Unfortunately you cannot buy new bolts in Canada, so I had to upgrade to Grade 8 cap screws.

Something I would do differently if I had more time or if I were YOU - instead of tying up the spindle and caliper to the frame, remove them all from the car and do a little "might as well" work here. Clean and paint the spindles, repack or replace the wheel bearings if you have to, inspect your brakes, fit some braided steel brake line and clean / paint the caliper as well. Easy stuff to do in the garage while it rains, and keeps the darn spindle from getting in the way.

Removing the lower control arms is a snap if you're lucky. If you're me, the bolts may rust into the sleeves within the bushings. If so, you're pooched. Use a cut off disc to remove the tail of the bolt, then use a sawzall to cut off the head of the bolt between the frame pocket and the bushing. (I have a picture of what I'm talking about to put up here) With this done you can pry the arm out of the frame.

Now your car is naked!
 
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Skaal-tel 79

Veteran Member
Jun 20, 2004
3,417
CFB Petawawa, Ontario
Re assembly

If you have tubular A arms ( you lucky dog you ) slap em back on and ignore this part.
Get yourself a lot of spare time and go about cleaning up and painting the control arms as best you can before taking them into the shop.
If you have done this before, and have a balljoint press and an oxy cutter, remove the balljoints and bushings from the A arms. I know the guys at the shop I went to and I was able to help out. The bushings were very well seized in place. We pressed out the rubber and inner sleeve from the lower arms and then used an oxy cutter to halve the outer shells and chisel them out of the arms. When pressing the bushings out, have a spacer between the sides of the a arm, or you risk squishing it. Pressing the new bushings in is the same in reverse. Clean up the holes with a little sandpaper first. I couldn't stick around for the upper arm bushings, but cutting the idle shaft in half is a quick way to get it done. My rebuild kit (from PST) had a new idle shaft complete with bushings attached. Be very careful pressing in the balljoints that you don't off center the press or you risk screwing up the A arm. (this is why shop time is good)
The upper balljoints require extra work. Place the A arm in a vice, drill out the rivets and you can replace with a new balljoint. On the plus side, you'll never have to drill those things again! That's the only plus side. hheheheh.

Before you put these back on the car, take the time to grease the balljoints. I used synthetic valvoline stuff but who cares, it's all the same.

Start with the upper arms. You'll probably need to install new bumpstops into these. It's not easy. I used a wide bladed long screwdriver to chisel them into place and then locking pliers to pull them through. Grease doesn't help. Make sure the (oh jeez signature material) shaft nuts are loose so you can rotate the shaft by hand.. makes it easier to install the A arm.
Place your new bolts into the frame partway loose. If you have knurled bolts, DON'T drive them in, or you'll have no easy way to install the control arms. Once the arms and shims are on the bolts, draw them through the frame with the nuts or just go at it with a ratchet and a wrench. Taping the shims in place makes this a less aggravating task. If you use cap screws, tack the head of the bolt onto the frame- or don't, but have the shop you take it to for an alignment do it. $$$, but I don't have a welder. :(

Start the spindle onto the upper balljoint and just hand tighten the castellated nut. use a socket or a wrench or something to lift the arm and spindle up out of your way so you can re install the lower arm. Don't torque the bushings down til the car is on the ground.

At this point I took the board advice and compressed the spring with an arc in it. Try to curve the spring so that it makes a C shape with the ends of the C pointing to the other side of the car with the end of coil lined up between the two holes in the lower arm.
Place the top of the coil into the spring pocket in the frame, and then using a jack, lift the A arm up into the spring. If you're lucky it will go chunk CHUNK and drop into place. If you're me, it won't. A little judicious use of the prybar with minimum pressure on the spring will help slip things into their proper place. Get the spindle started on the lower ball joint, remove the jack, disassemble the compressor and admire your handiwork. Torque tighten the balljoints and install the pins- then do it all again on the other side.
Installing shock absorbers is also kinda tricky. Start the upper end into the frame, remove your front end jacks, and lower the nose of the car with one jack placed just under the bottom of the shock absorber. It will lift the shock to the bolt holes and let you get the bolts in there. (for replacement purposes, I used 1.5" long 5/16" body bolts with a built in washer.)

Swaybar endlinks, rubber bumpers, re attach the wheels, place the car on the ground, bounce it up and down a couple times, and with it still on the ground, torque the control arm bushing nuts and bolts to their respective values. DONT do this after you put the linkage on... makes it tough to get at the two forward lower arm bolts.
 
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Skaal-tel 79

Veteran Member
Jun 20, 2004
3,417
CFB Petawawa, Ontario
Steering linkage

Start by making sure you have everything you need, and that the steering wheel is centered in the car. Mock up the parts on the ground so you have a rough idea where everything goes, and grease every fitting you can find. They are pre lubed, but basically only to avoid rust.


Courtesy of Autozone - (without permission, oops)
0900823d801a2b0e.gif


Start with the idler arm. It sets on the frame with the curve in the bolted section towards the center of the car. I replaced these bolts with grade 8 and washers, and lock nuts were provided in my kit.

Next is the centerlink. It will only fit one way with the ball joints facing up and the curve dodging the subframe, so no worries.

start on the tie rods off the car. A little engine oil or wd40 on the threads will make this tiring job a little easier. Thread two different tie rods into a sleeve until there's about 1 or 2" of space between their ends - that's a good place to start. Don't forget the sleeve clamps. The straight bar attaches to a spindle, and the curved bar should curve UP to the centerlink. With all these bits n pieces in place, torque them all down and set the car on the ground.

Choose a grove in the tire and measure the distance between it and its twin on the other side and on both front and back of the wheel. If you have to work partway down the tire from center ( likely with a lowered camaro ) just increase the spread when you do your math. You're aiming for a small toe in - 1/8" or 1/16" should (I'm told) keep your tires in good shape as you head to an alignment shop.
There's really no way around it.. you need to get it aligned after this work.
When you do, a good performance alignment (at least according to board members) could be between 0 and 1/8" toe in, 0 and -1* camber, and as much positive caster as possible. Stock A arms are limited in this regard and adjustable tubulars shine here. Plus they're so stinking easy to adjust, people who own these should be shot and forced to will them to me. NBL!

if your ride height is still a little high in the nose, DRIVE THE CAR first. The springs may and probably will settle a little. If you're still not happy, loosen the bushing bolts, bounce it.. double check and then, point of no return, chop a half coil off with a cut off disc, since a torch can totally gimp the spring.

Don't forget to torque your wheel lugs and have a frosty beverage.

I think that pretty much covers the job! I hope so, because it took me an hour and a half to write it up :)

In less than a week I'll be driving 250km on the new suspension so if you never hear from me again.. it broke and I died! Don't follow my advice!

Keep the shiny side up.
Skaal-tel
 
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Sammy C

Veteran Member
Nov 30, 2001
190
Cardiff, Wales, UK
Skaal-tel... great piece of work. Someone add this to the main site!

I recently did my front suspension and saw similar things to you. My wagon is still too high on the front - good tip about loosening the bushes and bouncing it. Another way of doing it that is as dangerous as it is amusing, drive the car about on private property or v. quiet roads with no front sway bar attached for even more boat-like handling. Ahoy there, ship mates!

Just as a final point to any other viewers of this post I found it cheaper in hindsight to buy new control arms. After I bought the paint & spare parts and paid someone to remove the bushes I should have bitten the bullet and just got new ones. I also got a serious case of facial dermatitis from all the brake dust, grease and paint floating around during the refurbishment. Use barrier cream, kids. :(
 

John Wright

Veteran Member
Lifetime Gold Member
Aug 9, 2002
15,400
Rustburg, Va
WOW, Great job!

I haven't read it in it's intirety yet, but I can tell by the word count that you put plenty of time and thought into this.....it should help those who travel this road in the future....Great job!;)
 

Marks71BB

Veteran Member
Lifetime Gold Member
Skaal-tel,
During the steering assembly you should note that the inner tie-rod ends are not the same length. One is longer than the other, I think its the passenger side but I am too lazy to go out and measure..
I'll leave that up to you if you want to add the detail to your write-up.
Again,
good job!
Need to combine the several posts into a article for the front page of the site. Maybee a mod will look into it.
Mark
 

31

Veteran Member
Lifetime Gold Member
Oct 9, 2005
628
Las Vegas, NV., USA
thanks skaal! This thread saves me from having to ask later on. :eek: You're going to come do my front end when I get all the parts right? :innocent:
 




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