Chevy El Camino Front Bushings, Shocks, Drop Coils & Sway Bar Upgrade - Surgical Joints
Our Elco Gets One Step Closer To Being Roadworthy
From the November, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Sean Haggai
Photography by Sean Haggai
There are many options when it comes to suspension. If you're looking for all-out race car performance, then it's only a matter of picking the manufacturer of your choice.
However, our Elco is destined to be a street cruiser, potentially a daily driver, and the occasional parts hauler. With that in mind, we set out to replace the worn-out factory pieces for a better-than-factory feel, all while keeping within a reasonable budget.
Our initial glance told us that most of the bushings on the El Camino were trashed. Not only were some completely missing, but some were hard as a rock. Not only that, the bushings would pop and grind as the A-arms articulated. As far as the shocks were concerned, they had seen their last rebound in 1983. While the coils were still sprung, the added weight of the big-block would not allow for correct ride height and potentially provide a mushy and, worse, very unresponsive ride.
To contend with the aging suspension components, we contacted Performance Suspension Technology for a complete weekend makeover. PST suggested a Polygraphite bushings kit for the frontend along with KYB shocks and a pair of big-block-specific springs that would also lower our stance by an inch. While we were at it, we tossed PST's 13/8-inch front sway bar into the mix, including all-new mounting hardware, zerk fittings, and ball joints.
The removal of the front suspension components is more or less a glorified brake job, requiring you to separate the ball joints in order to remove the spindle, with the old bushings being the most difficult portion. Next time, we'll finish up the rear suspension, but until then; follow along to see what to expect when performing a similar upgrade for yourself.
What We Did
Revived the frontend of our El Camino with an all-new PST front bushing kit, shocks, drop coils, and sway bar
When tubular A-arms and coilovers are out of your budget
In raw form, our undercarriage...
In raw form, our undercarriage had seen better days. It was worn, cracked, and missing bushings. Discoloration from rust had worked its way throughout. We needed to remove all the old components and start fresh. This included removing the entire front suspension and all steering components.
We began on the driver side...
We began on the driver side and used a 9/16-inch wrench to remove the tie rod and nut and then loosened both the upper and lower ball joints. Using a 7/8-inch wrench on the bottom, we loosened the ball joint and loosened the top ball joint with a 3/4-inch wrench. Once both were free, we could pop the joint with a separator tool. With a hydraulic jack supporting the lower arm, we released the upper A-arm and removed the entire spindle and brake assembly.
The sway bar was next and...
The sway bar was next and we started with the endlink (long bolt and spacer) connected to the lower A-arm. Using a 9/16-inch wrench on the bottom and a socket up top, we removed the bolt and assorted bushings. Next, using a 1/2-inch socket, we removed the two bolts from each side fastening the sway bar to the frame.
Hardware If there was ever...
If there was ever a time to replace aging hardware, now is it. Take for example the bolt we removed from the frame. This particular bolt fastens the sway bar to the underside of the frame. As you can see, rust has corroded nearly all the threads. These small instances can hamper any build, and it's important to take time to replace any worn-out fasteners.
With the spindle/brake assembly...
With the spindle/brake assembly and sway bar endlink out of the way, we could disconnect the shock. Unfortunately, the top nut on our shock was too rusted and could not be removed. We opted for an electric saw with a metal blade and cut the shock rod in half. We removed the last two bolts with a 1/2-inch wrench from the bottom. The control arms at this point were completely separated, and we pulled the coil out of the lower A-arm perch. We used a fair amount of elbow grease and pressure on the lower A-arm to free the old coil.
To remove the lower A-arms,...
To remove the lower A-arms, we used a 3/4-inch socket/wrench to loosen and remove the bolt. Note: We relied on a breaker bar and WD-40 sprayed on the threads to free the bolts.
We began to attack the upper...
We began to attack the upper control arm with a 5/8-inch wrench and an 11/16-inch socket. We took special note of how many shims were present at the time of removal. From there, we removed the upper arms and were off to the local suspension shop to get the old bushings pressed out and the new PST units pressed in. For reference, splined bolts may have to be knocked out after the nut is removed.
All of the bushings from PST...
All of the bushings from PST are direct press-in replacements. Our PST replacements feature polygraphite construction, which is a graphite-impregnated polyurethane bushing...
...This material offers a...
...This material offers a stiffer, near-zero deflection to significantly improve handling since they don't squish under extreme loads. This in turn means a more solid ride and positive feedback.
Paint To Protect We arrived...
Paint To Protect
We arrived at ACE Automotive Services in Northridge, CA, where Alex Hernandez pressed out all of the old bushings from the upper/lower control arms. Hernandez also removed the ball joints. We also had ACE press in the new PST bushings along with installing the new ball joints with zerk fittings. The whole job only set us back $70.
If you recall, our engine...
If you recall, our engine bay was prepped, primed, and painted in a weekend. Until this point we waited to smooth and paint the remainder of the frame since we would have better access with the fenderwells and front suspension removed...
...The better half of the...
...The better half of the weekend was spent with a wire wheel. We sanded down every nook and cranny of the rusty frame and control arms to prepare them for paint...
...We covered the front of...
...We covered the front of the car to guard against flying debris and paint overspray. Using a total of three cans of high-temp semigloss black engine paint, we sprayed the frame and upper/lower arms to bring the factory look back.
A little grease goes a long...
A little grease goes a long way. We applied a dab to each side of the PST bushing ends as well as to the insides of the frame that supports the arm.
We began to rebuild the passenger...
We began to rebuild the passenger side, and with some effort managed to wedge the lower control arm into position. Once the PST bushing lined up with the hole we slid in the factory bolt. We tightened each bolt on the lower arm with a 3/4-inch wrench/socket combination.
Next, we installed our freshly...
Next, we installed our freshly painted and PST-bushed upper control arm. We made sure to add the upper control arm shims and guided the bolt through. We tightened the combination with a 5/8- and 11/16-inch wrench/socket.
Dropped The obvious visual...
The obvious visual difference in springs is clear when compared to the standard issue. The new front springs are rated at 520 lb/in, which will support the weight of our big-block but also offer an additional inch of drop to the front end. While our springs pictured here are powdercoated gray, the production springs will arrive at your door powdercoated black.
Bumpstops Each PST frontend...
Each PST frontend kit comes complete with all the factory replacement ball joint covers and bumpstops, which will safeguard against bottoming out the suspension.
To get the new PST springs...
To get the new PST springs in, we seated the end of each coil into the bottom of the control arm with the level portion of the spring facing up. We lined up the bottom coils with the two holes punched through the bottom control arm and made sure to fit the top of the spring into the upper seat.
With the engine out, it's...
With the engine out, it's nearly impossible to install the brake/spindle assembly without a spring compressor. We didn't own one, but a quick trip to the local auto parts store resolved that. Next, we threw on the brake assembly and set the spindle through the lower ball joint. We tightened the lower with a 7/8-inch wrench and the top with a 3/4-inch wrench.
Our PST kit also included...
Our PST kit also included new KYB Gas-A-Just shocks for the front. To install them, you just have to tighten the 1/2-inch factory bolts on the bottom and the 1/2-inch rod nut up top.
When you put the sway bars...
When you put the sway bars next to one another, it's obvious that the new piece, at 13/8 inches, is no match for the factory toothpick. Our new bar from PST is a hollow unit that's mandrel-bent and comes with all the necessary bushings, bolts, spacers, and washers. All we needed was the factory hardware, which attaches the sway bar to the frame.
Following the supplied instructions,...
Following the supplied instructions, we made note not to overtighten the endlink hardware. It's important to realize that while the vehicle is suspended, there is no load on the sway bar. We only snugged the hardware enough to allow for the spacer to twist freely (9/16-inch wrench/socket). If the bushings are swollen and bulging, the hardware is too tight.
With the passenger side buttoned...
With the passenger side buttoned up and zerk fittings greased, we could move on to the driver side, following the same steps to complete our bushing upgrade. What is left to do? PST also has a steering rebuild kit that comes complete with new inner tie rod ends, solid adjustable powdercoated endlinks, and a centerlink bar. We'll be adding that along with a factory-style steering pump shortly, so stay tuned as we get our Elco back on the road in the months to come.
|THE SHOPPING CART |
|ITEM / DESCRIPTION ||COST |
|PST Polygraphite Super Kit for '64-88 A-body ||$419 |
|2 upper ball joints |
|4 polygraphite upper inner control arm bushings |
|2 lower ball joints |
|4 polygraphite lower inner control arm bushings |
|2 outer tie rod ends |
|2 polygraphite stabilizer links |
|2 polygraphite sway bar bushings |
|2 inner tie rod ends |
|2 tie rod adjusting sleeves |
|1 idler arm |
|2 upper inner shafts |
|KYB Gas-A-Just shocks (front/rear) PST G-Max ||$159 |
|Lightweight tubular front 13/8-inch sway bar ||$189 |
|1-inch lowering spring set (front/rear) ||$329 |
|TOTAL ||$1,096 |