Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild, 6th and Final Part

The last post on this topic was three weeks ago. What have I been doing? The remaining tasks seemed easy; they were easy. But they took time to do correctly. And several events occurred in the interim (like our first breakfast run of the year, and the Carlisle auction) which I refused to ignore in spite of the looming deadline – more about THAT below.

Remember that clicking on the photos enlarges them.

By sub-assembly:

BRAKES: Truth be told, I love working on brakes, especially disc brakes. Deceptively simple. Brakes were the first real mechanical job I did on my own, on my 1970 Fiat, while I was in college. On the Alfa, once both front hoses were bolted into place, the new pads were installed, and the two front calipers bled. I saw no need to bleed the rear brakes, even though the master cylinder reservoir had drained dry. My wife agreed to enter the garage just long enough to endure the oft-repeated litany of “press; hold; release”. She actually inquired this time as to “what exactly are you bleeding when you say you’re bleeding the brakes?”. I tried to explain. She left the garage. I went back to work.

FRONT SWAY BAR: Once the end links were pressed on, it was just nuts and bolts to get this bad boy back into its rightful location. Except the sway bar is heavy. And it’s balanced in such a way that it does not want to behave when you need to run the bolts up. Jack stands were enlisted to serve as an alternate set of hands. Which sort of worked. A pry bar was engaged too. Once the bolts were started, it went back on nicely.

CASTER ARMS: Perusing an online Alfa spare-parts catalog shocked me into the realization that I never had ordered the rubber bushings which fit in the junction between the caster arm and upper control arm. The real reason I had not ordered them at the same time I ordered everything else is that there were NO RUBBER BUSHINGS when I disassembled the parts. The rubber left the car long ago. The parts were inexpensive; fitting them involved another opportunity to use a BFH to bring everything in line. I also find that use of the BFH increases in direct proportion to the anxiety one feels as one nears the end of a project.

STEERING LINKS: In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that the 6 steering link tie rod ends were replaced as a “might as well do this while I’m here” job. It seemed simple enough, and if the front suspension were to be like new, the steering rods should be too. Six steering ends were duly ordered and threaded into the sleeves. The sleeves were then bolted back onto the Pitman arm, idler arm, and spindles.

Three steering sleeves, with all 6 new tie rod ends in place.
Three steering sleeves, with all 6 new tie rod ends in place.

In my haste, I reinstalled them without giving a thought to steering wheel location. This was a mistake. (Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do in a blog? Confess my sins?) I found that A) with front tires pointed straight ahead, the steering wheel was upside-down; B) I had a different number of turns to left lock compared to right lock; and C) the two front tires had toe-out of about 30 degrees (probably 5 degrees, but I was so frustrated that it may as well have been 90 degrees).

As I learned during the Isetta restoration, when you get to this point, get the largest BFH you have walk away from the car and return to it the next day. Not only did I do that, I consulted my more-knowledgeable friends (thanks, Mike and Larry), and the next day, was able to disconnect the Pitman arm linkage, center the wheel, rotate all the sleeves in the correct direction, reconnect everything, and perform an approximate front alignment. Hooray, as it was time to drive the car.

For the first time this year, all parts were back on the car, with no tools on the floor.
For the first time this year, all parts were back on the car, with no tools on the floor.

FIRST TEST DRIVE: This past Saturday, for the first time in five months, the Alfa left the garage, and was driven several miles. The steering felt great, ALL prior knocking and squeaking noises from the front end were gone, the car tracked straight, and the steering wheel was almost centered. Brakes worked too. Upon return, I performed a final torque, complete with insertion of cotter pins in all the ball joints. Ed at my corner garage does alignments, and I will endeavor to get that done this week.

THE UPCOMING RALLY: Two weeks from today, I leave in the Alfa to begin this year’s running of the New England 1000 old-car rally. Home base for the rally this year is Mohunk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, a scant two hours from my home. I would still like to put about 100 maintenance miles on the car, but I’m fully confident that the Alfa will get me there, run the rally, and get me home. My rally brother Steve Hansen is flying east AGAIN to co-drive with me. This marks the 7th time we will have shared a car in this event.

So I got it done just in time – isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

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


Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild Part 5

Part 5? How many “parts” are there going to be? Given the progress made this week, it is my fervent hope that there will be ONE more part. We’re that close. The end is near, er, a road test is imminent.

The week started with assistance from my step-son who worked with me to bolt the right side spindle/control arm assembly into place. Once that was hung, install of the backing plate and steering link was quite straightforward.

It was time to pay attention to the hub/brake disc assemblies, both of which have sat, ignored, since I removed them. In quick succession, the old bearings and seals were removed, the races knocked out, new races hammered in, the hub surfaces painted, new bearings packed and dropped in, and the bearing seals installed.

I used Valvoline full-synthetic wheel bearing grease for the first time. The stuff is black, and if possible, even nastier than the dino-based grease. It is supposed to tolerate higher temps (for those times when I’ll be driving the Death Valley 1000 old-car rally).

As an additional step, I used a 3M fine polishing disc in my trusty Black & Decker electric drill to remove the fine layer of rust on the rotor surfaces. Doing this removed no metal, and left the surface ready for the new brake pads.

The 3M fine polishing disc was used to clean up the rotor surface.
The 3M fine polishing disc was used to clean up the rotor surface.

The hub/disc assemblies were reinstalled on the spindles, and a preliminary seating of the new bearings was done by spinning the hub and tightening the spindle nut, then backing off and repeating that process two or three times. I had forgotten that the LEFT side spindle nut has LEFT-HANDED threads. Once I relearned that, we were good. The brake calipers were then bolted back on. On the left side, the new hose was connected, and new pads and hardware put into the caliper.

There are some jobs for which you need that second set of hands. My brother-in-law Kevin happened to be visiting this past weekend, and I pressed him into service to help me install the coil spring on the right side. Just like the left side, a series of threaded rods were used to join the lower control arm and the spring seat. By alternately tightening the nuts under the spring seat, we were able to safely compress the spring to the point where the proper bolts could be installed.

What’s left? The devil is in the details: right side brake hose and pads, bleeding of both front brakes, right front shock, sway bar, and steering links. Bolt the tires on. Torque the suspension with the vehicle’s weight on the ground. That’s it. I think. Then we drive.

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


Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild Part 4

Another productive week has gone by, and with most of the painting finished, some reassembly has begun. It certainly feels like huge progress has been made.

In our last installment (Part 3) just about all of our right side suspension components had been painted. I patiently waited the recommended 48 hours for the Chassis Black to dry, and then it was time to have some fun. First order of business was the installation of the new lower control arm bushings. “Bushings” is actually misleading, as I have attempted to describe before. These more closely resemble bearings, as there is a grease-filled spherical joint inside the casing. (The price reflected this too, as these were about $40 for the pair.) My Dremel tool was used with a sanding drum to clean up the inside of the control arm. A light coating of wheel bearing grease was applied to all surfaces, both to ease the installation and to also make it easy for the poor guy who will take these apart for the car’s restoration in 2067.

The bushings/bearings are not symmetrical; a foam ring fits on one side to help prevent the ingress of water and dirt, so I needed to pay attention when pressing these in. The hydraulic press did a beautiful job of driving them home into the control arms.

Next, the spindle was prepped for the upper and lower ball joints to be similarly pressed into place. I recalled from the left side work that one must press the lower ball joint in first, as the drift to do that needs to pass through the opening for the upper joint. The upper ball joint is actually integral with the upper control arm.

Using the bench-top press to drive home the upper control arm/ball joint into the spindle.
Using the bench-top press to drive the upper control arm/ball joint into the spindle.

Once these pieces were pressed into place, completion of the spindle/control arm subassembly was a simple matter of bolting the lower ball joint to the control arms, and control arms onto the dogbone. The bushings slide onto the dogbone, so no press-fitting was required. In the photo below, note the foam rings (in white) between the control arms and dogbone.

Spindle, upper and lower control arms, and caster arm all bolted together and ready to go back onto the car.
Spindle, upper and lower control arms, and caster arm all bolted together and ready to go back onto the car.

With this subassembly ready to be reinstalled, I needed to wash the inner wheel housing while everything was removed. Using Oil Eater and a cleaning brush, I did the best I could. At some point in the future, I’d like to do a more thorough job on the underside, probably when the car is outside and I can use a hose.

The final job for this week was the cleaning and painting of the right side coil spring. As on the left side, the factory paint marks were found and masked so that they would not be obliterated during the repaint. The spring was washed, dried, and given one coat of Chassis Black with a disposable foam brush. Earlier, I had built a spring holder from a 2×4, a couple of L-brackets, and a piece of plywood. It worked like a charm, keeping the spring upright while I dabbed on the paint. And to think it was less than two weeks ago that we took this spring out!

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




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.






Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild Part 2

Today was a big day: the first Sunday of spring, with temps in the low 40s (almost balmy!), and two good friends willing to travel a distance to come to my garage and help with the front suspension work.

Mike G. and Larry M., veteran car guys with collector cars of their own, gave up a good chunk of their Sunday to help me turn wrenches. No progress had been made on the Alfa in over two weeks, and the unofficial start of the 2015 driving season is four weeks away. Time to kick it into high gear.

The first order of business was to install the coil spring on the left side of the front suspension. As you may have read in Part 1 of this project, the left side was rebuilt first. Except for the spring and shock, it is complete. Following along with a forum entry on the Alfa BB, I had purchased some threaded rod and nuts. The concept was to connect the lower control arm and spring seat via the rods, and with spring in place, slowly and alternately tighten the nuts, thereby compressing the spring. Once the spring seat met up with the control arm, the rods could be removed one at a time, and the factory bolts could be installed. It took some time, but it worked like a charm.

With that under our belts, we moved to the right side and reversed the process. The factory spring seat bolts were removed one at a time, the threaded rod was installed and tightened with nuts, then the nuts were alternately loosened, lowering the spring seat until there was no tension on the spring. This seemed to go twice as fast as the spring install. And to be efficient, while Mike and I (mostly Mike) worked on the spring, Larry tackled removal of the steering tie rod ends and drag link, as I had just purchased six new tie rod ends to install.

A word here about our sponsor. I have almost exclusively been purchasing my spare parts from a UK vendor,  Classic Alfa. Their website is user-friendly, their prices are fair, their parts quality is very good, and their shipping speed is unbelievable. Most recent case in point: this past Wednesday night, at about 9pm EDT, I ordered the tie rod ends and wheel bearing kits from them online. Thursday morning, I received a confirmation email that my shipment was on its way to Heathrow Airport. Friday afternoon at 5:30pm, DHL had the package at my front door. That is less than 48 hours, from across the big pond! With service like that, they will continue to get my business.

Back to our front end. As Mike began removal of the first spring pan bolt, he said “Uh oh, Richard, we forgot to install the spacers on the other side”. I said “what spacers?” Mike then showed me that all 4 spring pan bolts had thick spacer washers between the pan and control arm. At first I thought I had made a mistake, but a check of my hardware bags showed that no spacers came off the left side. Mike and Larry almost didn’t believe me, and this is where photos are invaluable. A glance at the pictures I took late in 2014 confirmed that the left side did not use spacers while the right side did. Who can figure out those Italians?

With the spring and spring seat out, we had only the upper and lower control arms, spindle, and caster arm in place. The approach would be to unbolt these from the unibody and remove them as one assembly. Two bolts at the lower arm (impact gun), one at the upper (with tricky access from inside the engine compartment), and two at the caster arm-to-body, and we gave birth to all the remaining pieces.

Mike and Larry needed to move on, and after profusely thanking them, I continued a bit on my own. The 3-piece lower control arm was separated, and the arms with bushings as well as the caster arm were left soaking in penetrating fluid, so that the next steps in the disassembly could be accomplished. From here, it enters the phase I call “grunt work”: simple, almost mindless tasks that need to be done, and can be tackled an hour at a time after work during the week. Bushings need to be pressed out, threaded connections broken, then all components will be washed, prepped, and painted. Once that is done, it’s on to reassembly.


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

Alfa Romeo Front Suspension Rebuild Part 1

When I took the Alfa off the road at the end of the 2014 driving season last November, I decided that this year’s winter project would be a complete rebuild of the front suspension. Although the car drove and handled remarkably well, there were clunks and squeaks from the front which left me uncomfortable. A quick check with Pete, the previous owner, confirmed that he had not rebuilt the front end during his stewardship. Convinced that all bushings and ball joints were original to the car, I decided it was time.

Having done this kind of work on previously-owned collector cars, most recently my 1968 Mustang, the same approach was used: disassemble only ONE side of the suspension, so that in the worst-case scenario of “how the #$&% does this go back together again?”, I would always have the assembled OTHER side to use for reference. With the Alfa, there was also the admittedly minor concern that since  the shop manuals I owned did not describe the procedure in detail, some or most of the work might fall to “figuring it out as I go”.

Some technical words about the 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint front suspension: on the surface, this is a conventional suspension design, with upper and lower control arms, coil springs situated between the lower arm and crossmember, tube shocks, caster arms, and sway bar. The spindle rides on upper and lower ball joints connected to the respective control arms. In detail, there are some unique and fascinating design elements. The lower control “arm” is actually three pieces, joined by bushings and a ball joint. The bushings are not conventional rubber bushings, but are heim joints (like a ball and socket) enclosed in a steel casing and pressed into two of the arms. The lower spring seat bolts to the lower control arm and so can be removed and reinstalled separately. The caster arm serves as a fore-aft locating arm for the suspension, and is attached to the body of the car with a heim joint. The overall effect is a suspension which has an almost perfect combination of suppleness and control, with very little lean.

As I write this in March of 2015, let me explain that the first side I tackled (left side) is now almost completely done. That was the side to learn on – components were not always disassembled in the best order, I did not always give complete attention to the way things came apart, and so on. This is typical for old-car work that stretches out over a number of weeks. This blog entry, entitled “Part 1”, will pick up for the most part at the beginning of the second (right) side of the suspension. In this way I hope to better capture the logical order of performing the rebuild, now that I’m making my sophomore effort.

Early in the month of March, we finally had a winter day of temperatures reasonable enough to spend a few hours in the garage. One habit I’ve practiced with all my restorations is to take as many ‘before’, ‘during’, and ‘after’ photos as possible. In today’s digital world, it’s too easy to accomplish. So on Day One of this suspension rebuild, I dutifully took as many photos as I could of the pieces I was about to remove. I also decided it would be prudent to remove the brake caliper, disc, backing plate, and hub as a first step (I had left them in place when working on the first side, and they only got in the way).

The impact gun made short work of this effort. Once those were off, the front shock was unbolted, and I photographically documented the markings on it, as I believe these shocks are original to the car. At this point I had some components which could be cleaned and prepped for painting. The next step would be the somewhat tricky removal of the front spring. This would wait until one or two friends could join the party and provide some needed assistance.


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