One Man’s Corvette Battle

Corvette Front Suspension
All This stuff

When I test-drove the car, I knew I’d have to undertake some front-end work, but I bought a project particularly to help clear my mind after sitting at a desk all day.

In the front end, there was a lot of slop. When I rotated the wheel, one wheel wanted to travel left while the other wanted to go right. Following the test drive, I immediately saw that the rag joint was completely worn out, with the metal safety pegs slamming against their safety stops. The idler arm was burned as well, with roughly 1 inch of vertical play. One of the sway bar end links was missing, which I noticed. The complete link, not just the bushings. Simply changing the shocks, idler arm, rag joint, and sway bar links transformed the car.

In addition to the rag joint and idler arm, I discovered that the p/s cylinder bushings at the frame rail bracket were deteriorating, and that two of the four mounting bolts on the frame support bracket were missing.

It wasn’t quite right.

I spent a year driving it and taking notes after finishing numerous other projects and finally putting it on the road. There was still work to be done on the suspension. I compared the Corvette to a Porsche 944 that I drove to get a sense of the differences. The Porsche 944 handled like it was on rails, and I expected the Corvette to do the same. Even while everything was good on the straight and level, any bumps were frightening.

I knew the lower control arm bushings were shot; if not metal-to-metal, they were dangerously close. So, as I was replacing those, I figured I’d replace some other things as well, such as the ball joints. I also noted that the right side was 1/2″ lower than the left, so I chose to replace the springs. I didn’t replace the tie-rod ends since they all appeared to be quite tight, and I figured that if I needed to re-do them later, I wouldn’t have to take out the entire front end.

I started by removing the wheels and everything brake-related components, such as the caliper support, dust shield, and so on, once I was up on robust jack stands and wheel chocks. I left the calipers hooked to the hydraulic lines and suspended them from the frame with bungee cords. The steering knuckles were also removed from the spindle, but they remained attached to the tie-rod ends. After removing the shocks (of course), I used a pickle fork to separate the spindle from the upper ball joint by positioning my stout 3-ton floor jack beneath the lower control arm spring pocket and tightening but not removing the upper ball joint stud nut. I slowly removed pressure after removing the ball joint stud nut, and the arm came down smoothly with the spring, with no pops or signs of impending danger.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, take the necessary precautions to guarantee that the spring does not escape. Hundreds of pounds of pressure are exerted on the spring as it is compressed. If you get in its way when it breaks out, it can easily maim or kill you. In addition to the jack, some people propose utilizing a spring compressor. Others advise using a strong chain wrapped around the spring and linked to the frame to keep the spring captive. I didn’t stand near the suspension – the jack’s handle was pointing toward the front of the car. It was a simple matter of pushing the lower arm the rest of the way and removing the spring after the tension was released.

The left lower arm was fairly easy to remove. The right side, on the other hand, was a little more difficult. Because of the “channel” design of the frame at the time, the transmission cooler lines went straight over the head of the rear attachment bolt, making it hard to get a wrench on it. The cooler lines were still linked to the radiator at this stage. I was able to unscrew the bolt holding the cooler line support bracket from the frame and bend the lines out of the way long enough to get a wrench on the head, but it was a hassle because the lines still had a lot of tension trying to return to their previous position.

The condition of the uppers can usually indicate how well the car has been used and maintained. Your car may have been raced or driven hard if the tires are torn up. If they’re highly oily or rusted out, make sure you consider additional maintenance duties while you’re taking things apart for easier access.

I observed on my car that the right front bushing retainer was completely missing. The bushing, on the other hand, appeared to be brand new.

In terms of removing the upper arms, the radiator shroud on my 1980 is a massive, one-piece monster. With the shroud in place, you can remove the cross shaft-to-frame bolts, but you won’t be able to slide the control arm off the end of the frame bolts. Either pound the bolts out or begin removing items. By removing the shroud retaining bolts and sliding the shroud slightly, I was able to remove the left upper arm. However, there was still insufficient space on the right side. I had to remove the radiator to give the shroud enough room to move around and allow the arm to be removed. I also had to relocate the a/c compressor.

After you’ve removed everything from the car, double-check the PS hoses, as the lower control arms obstruct some of the viewing angles. My hoses were saturated and buried under a quarter-inch of muck. If you’re going to replace them, once the left lower control arm is removed, you’ll have a lot more room to see and work. Degrease the PS control valve region and check again in a day or two to see if there is any new seepage.

Mine had great valve-to-cylinder hoses, but the pump-to-valve hoses were both shot. Due to a visible split in the outer hose, I initially assumed I just required one pressure hose. After cleaning up the PS area, I saw that the return hose was leaking as well, but I assumed it was just a loose hose clamp at the pump. Only after removing the pressure hose and tightening the hose clamp on the return pipe did I realize that the upper half of the hose was hard and brittle, with hairline cracks, requiring replacement.

It was a royal pain in the buttocks to remove the rivets from the lower control arms. I’ve already drilled out the rivets that hold the back hub to the rotors, which was a breeze compared to the lower ball joints. Because the heads are spherical, drilling them out is difficult. The two most common ways for rivet removal, according to forum users, are to grind off the heads and then drive out the rivets, or to chisel off the heads and then drive out the rivets. I began pounding after grinding off the heads. They refused to budge. I got a chisel and realized I hadn’t ground far enough, but I didn’t want to risk destroying the arms by going any further. I managed to get a little more off, but I couldn’t get the rivet studs out. The studs were center punched and the rivets were drilled out.

They still refused to pound out. Drilled some more, and eventually got them to move in far enough that I could pry them out with my trusty 2′ x 1/2″crowbar. The higher rivets, on the other hand, were a joy to install, taking only 20 minutes for all six. The heads were chiseled off, and a drift punch knocked them out.

After that, I had to decide whether to remove the bushings myself or get someone to do it for me. I rapidly learned that only a few places will do it correctly. A local parts/machine company that does more than just resurface rotors offered $12.50 per arm, but they would have to be shipped to their centralized location.

I located a place with a press that claimed to do these on a regular basis. However, as I picked up the arms, I discovered that they were extracted using an air-chisel. That was something I could have done myself. If only I’d known it from the start!

If you go with poly bushings, I recommend torquing all of them before putting weight on the wheels, just for convenience. Unlike rubber bushings, which are physically attached to the shells, poly bushings are free to spin in the outer shells. To avoid losing a bushing retainer, a drop of blue Loctite (the kind that can be removed with hand tools) should be applied to the threads. Before reinstalling the arms in the automobile, it’s also a good idea to torque the upper bushings. With the a/c compressor (the lines are in the way even if the compressor is unbolted), A.I.R. pipework at the manifold, and other ancillary items on my 80, it’s nearly impossible to get to the right rear bushing retainer. You can turn it, but there’s no room for swing radius, not even one click’s worth. I ended up rigging a bunch of extensions, reducers, and other gizmos and torquing that one bushing from under the car.

Another adventure was reinstalling the coil springs. There are two options here: a spring compressor or a floor jack. I figured installation would be easier because I chose shorter 7 coil springs vs 10 coil springs. The center of the spring would bind on the lower lip of the upper spring pocket during the first trial runs without the jack, indicating that there might be a problem. I made the decision to come to a halt right there and be safe. Even though I was able to get a free loaner spring compressor, it didn’t alleviate my problems. I attached the compressor to the spring with the hex end pointed down so I could release it after everything was in place. Unfortunately, I had the compressor too far up the spring, and it would not fit into the upper pocket because there was too much threaded rod protruding above the upper coil of the spring.

I remembered that installing the compressor from the engine compartment, through the top shock mounting hole, worked perfectly. To do so, remove the threaded compressor arm, then remove and reverse the free-spinning arm such that the bigger flat spot of the arm sits on the top shock mount. The coil spring is next attached and the threaded arm is replaced onto the rod from beneath. The lower section of the spring, however, slipped out over the top of the lower control arm ball joint once I tightened the compressor. I couldn’t seem to get the spring into place without fear of it popping loose and causing physical harm. I loosened the compressor somewhat, allowing me to push safely.

It’ll elevate the jack if it’s pushed in far enough. Looking back, I think I had the spring excessively tight, causing the drift to be exaggerated. The spring looked to bind on the lower lip of the upper spring pocket when I slowly raised the jack, but as I continued jacking, it slowly slid back into place.

The rest of the installation should take an hour to an hour and a half once the springs are placed and the ball joints are torqued properly. The dust shields, steering knuckles, and calipers would all need to be replaced. I also took use of the opportunity to clean and repack the front wheel bearings, as well as replace the grease seals.

That’s all there is to it. I’ve worked on the front suspension for roughly 40 hours. A significant amount of time was spent cleaning and re-cleaning, blasting, painting, and so on. Within an hour and a half of starting, I had the lower arms, sway bar, and springs out.