Once you leave the realm of a nut and bolt, numbers-matching, full-on restoration your options are many. Our ’68 Corvette falls into that category. A high-mileage, non–numbers-matching car, it is still well worth saving, but probably not worthy of a matching-numbers restoration. Plus, this car will be a driver, not a garage queen. With that thought in mind we opted for relatively mild upgrades to the car.
We decided to keep the original factory colors, and since the chassis was completely rust-free we will keep the car attached to the factory frame as opposed to purchasing a brand-new, upgraded frame. Editor Brennan and I are old enough to remember driving these cars when they were brand new. Because of that, we know the C3 Corvette is a very capable car in relatively stock form. Do they measure up to a C7? Of course not, but they do have enough capability to be an enjoyable car with reasonably good stopping, steering and acceleration. And with just a bit of upgrading, our C3 will handle even better.
With that thought in mind we decided to completely refurbish the original control arms and disc brakes. However, we also know that few things can improve the ride and handling of a vintage Corvette more than high-quality adjustable shock absorbers. In this case we opted to remove the clunky old coil springs and replace them with a set of QA1 coilover shocks. This will give us a true adjustable front suspension. By using QA1 adjustable coilovers units we can adjust the ride height, spring rate, and dial in proper shock valving. This will also enable us to more easily corner balance the car. The coilover swap brings a whole lot of advantages with minimal effort.
And so it was time for the team at Hot Rods by Dean to upgrade the front suspension. By the time we arrived, Team Dean had already removed the front suspension, tossed the coil springs in the recycle barrel and were preparing to begin the rebuild process. It should be mentioned that disassembling the original coil spring suspension is a potentially dangerous job. Be sure to use the proper safety precautions and a quality spring compressor.
The control arms (aka A-arms) were sandblasted to bare metal so we had a “clean slate” to begin our rebuilding process. We had purchased the deluxe front suspension rebuild kit from Paragon Corvette and with the kit spread out on the workbench we were ready to get to work. The kit consists of one idler arm, two tie-rod sleeves with clamps, four ball joints, eight A-arm rubber bushings, four tie-rod ends and one stabilizer link. Replacing these parts will provide a nice tight suspension, which will make steering and handling more responsive and wheel alignment more precise.
After speaking with the experts at QA1, we ordered a set of coilover shocks with 9HTSP550 springs. The first number in the spring part number refers to the free length (non-compressed) while the last three numbers are the spring rate in pounds, in our case we have 9-inch springs with a 550-pound spring rate. The middle letters refer to the specifics of the wind. Our springs are constant rate (linear) springs. (If the spring were variable rate you would see a 550/750 spring rate designation.)
After the front suspension was completely refurbished we also needed new brakes. Once again there are myriad options for disc brakes on the 1963-’82 Corvette spindles and once again we remember these cars stopping quite well with OEM brakes. To that end we measured the rotors we removed from the car. We were pleased to find they were practically new and after a few minutes on the Hot Rods by Dean rotor turning machine we had resurfaced the rotors. The same could not be said of the calipers, they were in poor condition. However, the cure for aged calipers and rotors is a simple call to The Right Stuff. We ordered up a brand-new set of OEM cast iron calipers, pads and flex hoses. While the brake calipers look exactly like a factory unit, they have been upgraded substantially with the pistons traveling in stainless steel liners. Just like that we had factory fresh braking.
The actual refurbishing of the A-arms and associated front suspension is really a fun project. Removing the original A-arm bushings is simplified by have an A-arm bushing removal and installation tool, if you don’t have one they are available from a variety of sources, we got our from Summit Racing. Likewise, ball joint replacement is a bench top job. After the A-arms were completely refurbished we gave them several coats of Summit Racing chassis black for that factory appearance. If for some reason your control arms are damaged, heavily rusted or modified, Paragon Corvette can also supply new control arms complete with new ball joints and bushings.
This is a task that is well within the range of the backyard restorer, and like all projects, for best results work slowly and carefully. Our step-by-step photos should help you during the refurbishing process and so will any instruction sheets included with the parts or the tools required for the job. In the end you will have a C3 Corvette that handles and stops like a brand-new ’68 Corvette, and that my friends is pretty darn good. Vette
1. Thanks to the team at Hot Rods by Dean we are making serious progress on our ’68 Corvette. Paul Taylor recently tackled the job of rebuilding and upgrading our front suspension with QA1 coilovers.
2. After cleaning and sandblasting the original A-arms we used an X-Acto-knife to cut away the old, hardened and expanded rubber bushing material. A few drops of your favorite lubricant on the steel sleeve portion of the bushing will help disassembly, too.
3. The final preparation before extracting the old bushing is removing the bolt and washer threaded into the control arm shaft.
4. Hot Rods by Dean has the right tools for the job. This tool will extract the old bushings from the A-arm and also install the new bushings. If it’s lacking from your toolbox, the control arm bushing tool kit is available from Summit Racing.
5. After checking for any wear or damage we reused the original A-arm shaft. A light coat of assembly grease will help the bushing slide over the shaft and help prevent squeaking when the A-arms articulate.
6. By changing the fitting on the A-arm bushing tool we can now use it to install the new bushings. Be sure the bushing is started straight before applying pressure. We opted for original style rubber bushings for our suspension rebuild.
7. Using the proper tool, press the bushing all the way into the A-arm and over the A-arm shaft until the lip on the bushing is flush with the raised portion of the A-arm.
8. With the bushings installed we turned our attention to replacing the ball joints. The original ball joints were riveted in place and after all these miles they were quite sloppy. First, we ground the heads off the rivets.
9. After center punching the center of each rivet we used a drill to drill down the thickness of the ball joint flange. We did not drill into the actual A-arm.
10. Here you can see the depth of our hole, just to the bottom of the ball joint flange. We did not want to risk being slightly off-center and elongating the hole in the A-arm by drilling all the way through.
11. One good smack with a hammer and punch will knock the remaining portion of the rivet out of the A-arm.
12. After knocking all three rivets out of the A-arm we have a clean, flat flange to receive the new ball joint.
13. Before installing the new ball joints we took all of the cleaned and sandblasted suspension components and treated them to several coats of Summit Racing semi-gloss chassis black. The pieces look factory fresh.
14. Our “looking better than new” upper A-arm is now ready for a new ball joint sourced from Paragon Corvette, as part of their front suspension rebuild kit.
15. Installation is as simple as bolting the ball joint in place. Install all three bolts finger tight first, then tighten in a cross pattern being certain the ball joint flange is seated on the A-arm surface.
16. The lower control arm ball joints are also a part of the Paragon Corvette suspension rebuild kit. The beefy lower ball joint bolts in through the vertical faces of the lower A-arm.
17. The large stud on the lower ball joint protrudes through the top of the A-arm. Slide the ball joint in place and tighten the nut finger tight.
18. Next, install the two bolts, one in each side of the control arm and through the ball joint. Tighten the three fasteners in a cross sequence to ensure the new ball joint is properly seated in the A-arm.
19. Looking from the bottom you can see the two side bolts. Since these bolts do not have lock washers, a drop of blue Loctite is a good idea.
20. With the new ball joint in the lower control arm it was time to bolt the A-arm to the suspension crossmember.
21. When we disassembled the car we bagged and labeled the shims that went between the frame and the A-arm shaft. Upon reassembly we installed the same shims back in place. While the car will still require a wheel alignment, this should get us pretty close.
22. Here we can see the upper control arm is in place, awaiting the springs to be installed. We opted to upgrade from original coil springs to a set of QA1 adjustable coilover shocks. This will make a huge difference in the overall handling and stance of the car.
23. Before installing the coilovers some assembly is required. Run the lock nut, adjuster nut and washers down on the shock body and then coat the threads of the shock body with a quality antiseize compound. This is very important.
24. Next, we slipped the QA1 9HTSP550 springs in place over the shock body, and then installed the top spring retainer. These springs have a 550-pound linear spring rate, as recommended by QA1 for a good street spring.
25. We passed the top QA1 shock stud up through the original shock absorber mounting hole and threaded the nut onto the stud to hold the coilover shock absorber in place. Do not tighten the top nut just yet.
26. The two-bolt tie bar in the bottom of the QA1 shock bolts in place using the original shock absorber holes. Remember to rotate the shock so the adjuster knob is pointing toward the ball joint so you can easily dial in the shocks later. Now tighten the two lower mounting bolts and the nut on top of the shock absorber.
27. With the coilovers in place, Paul Taylor bolts the spindle to the upper A-arm. Then, using a simple scissor jack the lower A-arm is raised up into position to connect the spindle to the lower A-arm. Whenever you are compressing a spring be extra careful.
28. Both the upper and lower ball joints are tightened and the cotter pins are installed. At this point the suspension is completely tightened and the new tie-rod ends from the Paragon Corvette kit can be installed to the spindles.
29. New rubber snubber spring stops are also a part of the Paragon Corvette front suspension rebuild kit. The new bolts and snubbers go a long way to giving the suspension that factory fresh appearance.
30. The original dust shields were treated to several coats of Summit Racing semi-gloss chassis paint and attached using new fasteners. Note the felt washer has also been installed over the spindle.
31. After measuring the rotor thickness it was determined the rotors on the car were still thick enough to be used. Hot Rods by Dean resurfaced the rotors on their brake lathe.
32. We installed all-new wheel bearings (also sourced through Paragon Corvette) and then installed the spindle nut, and finally the cotter pin and dust cap.
33. While there are many good disc brake kits on the market we decided to stay with the original cast-iron calipers. We purchased these brand-new units from The Right Stuff. The calipers bolt right in place on the factory spindle.
34. After the caliper was bolted in place we installed the new brake pads and the retaining pin. The factory brakes are plenty big enough and the new calipers from The Right Stuff feature stainless steel sleeves in the piston bores.
35. And there it is, fresh control arms, new ball joints and brand-new brakes for our C3 project. By working carefully and using the proper tools this job is well within the reach of a good backyard mechanic.
Photos by Brian Brennan