Build Your '53-’62’s Suspension for Like-New (or Better) Handling

Steerable Straight Axle

Andy Bolig Oct 1, 2001 0 Comment(s)

Step By Step

There is no better time to paint and detail the suspension than with the parts disassembled. This will only make the process easier and the final product that much better. Since there are no rubber bushings, paint left in the threads of the control arms could make the tolerances too tight, and assembling the parts could be a nightmare. If you powdercoat the control arms, you may want to put tape in the threads before you powdercoat them.

A little trick that Dewey uses on the pre-’56 suspensions is to install the tapered shim that goes between the frame and crossmember (GM PN 3733477). This increases the positive caster of the front wheels and improves handling. The ’56 and later cars already have the tapered shim.

The cross-bolts for the lower control arms have grease seals that will need to be in place. Also, make sure you thread the bushings onto the cross-shaft evenly. It can be tricky, since there are threads on the outside of the bushing and threads on the inside of the bushing, and both must start evenly.

With the cross-shaft in place, you can install the lower control arms.

Next, install the upper cross-shaft. It’s tapered, so it will only go in one way, and it has to go in from the front. If you can’t get it to start, flip the shaft and try the other end first. When you install it, there should be approximately 1 1/16 inches of threads showing.

Put some chassis grease on the threads of the shaft and install the seals.

Just like the lower control arm, you’ll need to start the bushings evenly. Once they’re all installed, torque them to 85 lb-ft.

The lower knuckle bolt is next. Install the lower knuckle bushing, and torque it to 130 lb-ft. You don’t want this bushing to move when it’s installed. Put the seal onto the bushing and then, when the bolt is installed, you can slide the seal off the bushing and into position.

Before you proceed any further, be sure to install the bumpers under the control arms.

Grease the lower knuckle-bolt and install it.

Install the coil springs with the help of a spring compressor. Be careful at this stage because coil springs can be very dangerous.

The upper knuckle bolt has an eccentric that allows for camber adjustment. Install bushings and seals on the bolt so the spring compressor doesn’t hold the spring for a long time. Once again, “evenly” is the key. Also, the upper knuckle bolt has a female hex-head on one side. This should go to the back so you can remove the grease fitting and make adjustments if necessary.

We installed new bushings in the spindles before they were installed. Be careful installing new bushings; you don’t want to damage them. You can also see the new spindle bearing supplied by Corvette Central. We didn’t have to use any shims, but some are supplied in the kit if you need them.

The kingpin simply slips into place and is held by a bolt.

There are caps to protect the kingpins. A small washer is first, held in place by a snap ring. If the protective cap won’t stay in place, Dewey says that he puts just a little J-B Weld on the inside groove of the cap and that usually holds it. Just enough to hold it is best—you may have to remove it someday.

Installing the backing plates is straightforward. Attach the steering arm with the bottom bolts (with the castle nuts). The top (shorter) bolts use spacers between the backing plate and spindle.

The steering knuckle arm has a replaceable bearing in it and should be replaced when rebuilding the front end. Slide the bolt through the bearing before installing it and carefully tap the bearing into position. Install the snap ring and the seal for the bearing, and you’re ready to install the steering-knuckle arm.

We reinstalled the mount for the steering knuckle to the frame. Note that the knuckle bolt has two machined flat surfaces. Make sure to align them properly with the mount, or you could damage the bolt. Remember to put the seal between the steering knuckle and the mount, or the bearing could get damaged.

Install the new tie rods so the steering knuckle is straight and the backing plates are straight before you clamp them tight. Both tie rods should be the same length.

The sway bars on the straight-axles varied slightly, with the ’60 and later cars’ front sway bars being straight between the mounts. The front sway bar has two mounts and two long bolts that connect it to the lower control arms. Dewey uses some grease on the frame mounts to ease operation and prevent squeaks.

The rear springs have clamps that keep the leaves from sliding. Remove these clamps carefully since they are no longer available.

The clamps can be straightened with a hammer and painted to look like new again.

Use a C-clamp to hold the spring before you remove the center bolt. There can be a lot of pressure behind those springs, and it’s best to be safe.

The new spring liners are designed like the originals. They have a raised section that rides within the groove in the spring. Check your lengths because there is a short side and a long side to the liners.

The side of the main leaf spring with the larger hole will go to the front once it’s assembled. Also note that there are two leaves notched for clamps on the front and only one on the rear. Be sure to put the leaves back in correctly before you install and cut the bolt.

Install the clamps back onto the spring.

The front leaf-spring mount received new bushings and a new cross-bolt. Tap in the cross-bolt with a hammer to seat the knurled edges into the mount.

The reason for the knurling on the cross-bolt is so the cross-bolt will not spin when you tighten the nut. As you can see, you cannot get to the head of the bolt to hold it while you tighten the nut.

Position the rear over the nut that holds the leaf springs together. There is a small hole that the nut will fit into, allowing the pad on the rear to rest solidly on the springs. Install the U-bolts and the lower brackets for the shock mounts, and you have successfully built a straight-axle suspension!

Straight-axle Corvettes all utilized the same basic suspension with little variations to the design. By today’s standards, the technology that comprised that design may be dated, but that doesn’t take away from the thrill and exhilaration you feel when you drive one of these examples of Corvette heritage. While they may never be on a par with a new Corvette’s handling and performance, with many suppliers like Corvette Central providing all the necessary parts to rebuild these suspensions, there is no reason you can’t get a “like-new” ride from your straight-axle. Maybe better.

Follow along as Dewey Hendricks of Dewey’s Just Vettes in Longwood, Florida, shows us how to rebuild the suspension on a ’54 Corvette.

While it’s obvious that there is still some work to be done before Dewey takes this ’54 for NCRS judging, this shows the simplicity of the suspensions on the straight-axle Corvettes. If you take your time to restore the parts correctly and pay attention to detail, your straight-axle will look perform and as well as the day it rolled out of the plant in St. Louis. Maybe even better.

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