Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild Part 3

Grunt work. That’s what I call what I’ve been doing with the car the last seven days. It’s the degreasing, cleaning, sanding, and painting of all the various components while they’re apart, to prepare them for reassembly. It’s mindless, repetitious work. However, it’s not difficult, it moves along quickly, and it has a beginning, middle, and end which are quite close together, so there is large sense of satisfaction for me in its accomplishment.

In Suspension Rebuild Part 2, we left off with just about all the right front pieces broken down to their individual elements. Just about, but not quite. There remained the task of driving out the two large bushings from the lower control arms. Just like the left side, these bushings were shot, perhaps worse than the others. The only way these were coming out was with that specialty tool, the BFH (Big Frank’s Hammer). The shape of the control arm dictated building up support under it, with a metal cup large enough for the bushing to be able to be driven down into it. An appropriate sized socket and short extension bar were used. It took many dozens of blows with the BFH before the bushings would begin to move. The sound changed: at first, it was a high-pitched clang; once the bushing was on the move, the sound shifted to a lower-pitched thud. Finally, both were out, but not before I mushroomed the head of the 1/2″ extension!

Lower Control Arm In Position for Bushing Removal
Lower Control Arm In Position for Bushing Removal

Now all the parts were ready for the grunt work. As I have no running water in the garage, and the garden hoses have yet to come out from winter slumber, the various components were washed in the kitchen sink. I did this in front of my spouse, and somehow got away with it. Perhaps she understands the sense of urgency under which I’m working. Here are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ cleaning shots of the spring seat, control arm cross bar, and steering linkage. BTW, Dawn brand dish detergent, a powerful degreaser, is one of the best solutions I’ve used to clean car parts.

Although a vehicle’s steering system is, strictly speaking, separate from the suspension, the two are closely linked. Since I had both tie rod ends off anyway, I decided to replace all 6 steering ball joints. The Alfa uses a conventional recirculating-ball steering system, with a Pitman arm off the steering box, and an idler arm on the passenger side. The center drag link has a ball joint at each end, and so do both tie rod ends. Each of the 3 tubes has one right-hand-thread ball joint and one left-hand-thread ball joint. In this way, toe can be set, with each tie rod acting like a turnbuckle, either increasing or decreasing in length as it’s rotated.

Before removing all these ball joints, I took macro photos so that I can count the threads on reassembly and approximate the alignment setting before taking the car to Eddie, my front end guy, for a proper alignment.

Aside from the locknuts being tight, I needed to be mindful that half of them would loosen when turned to the RIGHT. Having a table-mounted vise with a pipe clamp (my trusty Wilton bench vise) was handy. Once everything was apart, it was back to the sink.

See the ball joints in the above right-side photo, each with 3 nuts threaded onto them? These are the old, to-be-discarded ball joints. By doing this, I can paint the nuts without getting paint on their threads, and have no worries about the threads on the ball joint. A large part of the fun this week was devising ways to suspend the parts for painting.

When it came time to paint the tubes, I decided that long wood screws could support the 3 shorter ones upright. The longest tube had a dowel passed through it, which was then attached to two scraps of wood. All the tubes could be spun while painted.

Another nice element about grunt work is that I can do 30-60 minutes in the evening, such as put a coat of paint on several parts, and progress is made. Below you can see the table set-up in my basement, with various parts arrayed. I will typically paint one side of a component, wait a day, then flip it to paint the other side.

Alfa suspension pieces in various stages of paint
Alfa suspension pieces in various stages of paint

The Eastwood Chassis Black is being brushed on with disposable brushes, either foam or ‘acid’. They’re cheap, and lots of time is saved by skipping brush clean-up. As my friend Larry says, “this is not being done for Pebble Beach, these cars are drivers!”. Yet the Chassis Black, even brushed on, does have a smooth, high-gloss finish. Look at this spring seat.

Spring seat after brush painting with Eastwood Chassis Black.
Spring seat after brush painting with Eastwood Chassis Black.

Two more words from our sponsors (kidding, there’s nothing in it for me by mentioning products I’m pleased with): when parts are particularly dirty, before I bring them inside (or for parts which will not be washed in the sink), I like this Oil Eater cleaner-degreaser. Easy to use, safe, biodegradable, and water-soluable.

Oil Eater Cleaner Degreaser
Oil Eater Cleaner Degreaser

As I reassemble parts, threads get a light coating of “Kopr-Kote” by Jet Lube. If this can looks old to you, it’s because it is old. My dad gave me this stuff 35 years ago, and I thought the can was old then! I looked them up on the Internet; Jet Lube is still around, and they still make this stuff among other things. However, the formula has changed. If you look at the bottom right of the label below, you’ll see “metallic lead” listed as one of the ingredients. For some reason, they’re dropped that from the current formulation. It’s true, they don’t make ’em like they used to.

 

Jet Lube Kopr-Kote, with metallic lead.
Jet Lube Kopr-Kote, with metallic lead.

Eastwood states that Chassis Black fully dries in 48 hours. Once all the paint is dry, reassembly begins.

 

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

 

 

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