Installing a Street Rod Engineering front end stub kit
The independent front suspension that was in my Shoebox Ford was adequate back in '49, but the truth was it had become outdated & uncomfortable. After one too many Honda drivers had pulled out in front of me, including one that resulted in a trip on the sidewalk to avoid running into the back of a Civic, I realized I had to upgrade. I thought about installing a disk brake conversion kit, one of those bolt on ones that would have stopped me better than the drum brakes ever could have. I also thought about having my king pin style spindles converted over to ball joints. I even thought about changing out that manual steering box, with its 1/2 round of play, for a Volvo truck power steering box. These would have all been valid upgrades, but they would never have solved the basic problem. That problem is that I was trying to force 68 year old equipment & design to do something it was never intended to do. I wanted, needed, to add some reliability & dependability to my Shoebox & the only way to do that safely & correctly was to install a front end stub kit. That's just what I did, let's take a quick glance:
Remember to follow all cautions & safety protocols when working on literally ANYTHING! Yes, I'm talking to you!
Yes... My car has red fuzzy dice...
My first step was to strip everything off of the front of the car. I then drained all fluids & removed the engine & transmission. The first critical step was to make sure I had the car supported well & that it was level, both side to side and front to back.
I found it was very important to get down to bare metal when I made my marks. This is the passenger's side. Notice the two holes to the left of the marked line. Those are where the old idler arm bolted.
The instructions that came with my kit were very detailed & easy to understand. I started the planning by measuring back 17 inches from the front of the frame rails & marking them on both sides. To make sure I had a good square cut, I marked all the way around the frame rail.
This is the drivers side. Notice the two holes just to the right of the black mark. These are the old holes where the steering box bolted.
Out with the old!
Once I measured, squared, leveled & thought out my cuts about 10 times I was ready to cut. It's important to support the old front end, for obvious reasons. Also, I started my cuts on the bottom of the frame rail & then went up.
In with the new.
This is the passenger's side, pre welding. Note the two location bolts that are using the old idler arm holes.
This is the drivers side, pre welding. Note the two location bolts that are using the old steering box holes.
Once the old front end was separated & the new stub was in place & bolted in with the location bolts I rechecked my the frame for square & made sure it was still level. I then began leveling the new stub.
This is the inside of the passenger's side frame rail.
This is the inside of the driver's side frame rail.
Once I measured & leveled a few hundred times, I started to weld the new stub in.
This is the outside frame rail on the passenger's side after welding, but before grinding. (Ignore the engine, turns out I didn't take any photos of this step with the engine out, I was in a hurry to get the engine back in & out from under foot)
This is the outside frame rail on the driver's side, after welding but before grinding. (I just want to take a moment here & point out those aluminum heads... Pretty sweet, huh?)
This is the passenger's side outside frame rail, after grinding. It's important to do this because it let me see if I had achieved good penetration with my welds.
This is the driver's side outside frame rail after welding. Grinding not only showed me if I had good weld penetration, but it made it look about a hundred times better.
You'll see in both the above pictures that I've left the location bolts in place, even after welding and grinding. Using the welder I tacked the bolts to the frame rail on the inside & tacked the nuts to the bolts & the nuts to the frame on the outside. I left them in place & by tacking them they are permanent. I'm 100% sure they provide no structural support, but I think leaving them in has got to be better than just leaving 4 holes in the frame rail. What you won't see are any pictures of the inside of the frame rails after welding or after grinding, cause I forgot to take any. Sorry about that.
The passenger's side engine mount...
... & the driver's side engine mount.
The next step was fabricating new engine mounts. I used some 2.5 inch, thick walled, rectangular tubing & a piece of the old steering shaft from the cars old steering box. I've found the easiest way to measure for mounts is to slide the engine, with its attached transmission, into the car. That way you can set the assembly pretty much wherever you want it to go, where it will go and / or where it has to go. With this type of front end (Mustang 2 type) I was able to bring my Small Block Chevrolet engine forward (to increase distributor / firewall clearance) and lower it down further in the frame rails. The lower the engine is in the frame rails, the more stable the car becomes. I placed it as low as I could but always kept oil pan ground clearance & final ride height in mind.
Once I had welded & ground to my heart's content it was time to prep & prime.
It's hard to believe all this beautiful work will be covered up with sheet metal soon.
Back on the ground.
This new set up gets rid of the bad drum brakes & frankly dangerous old steering box. I went with the manual rack & since I kept the old large steering wheel the car is easy to steer even when stopped. This single upgrade totally changed the way the car rides, handles & stops for the better. I'm not going to say it's like driving a new car, because it's not, but it is like driving a safe car, because it is. If you have ever considered doing this upgrade & you are fairly mechanically inclined then, dollar for dollar, it is the best upgrade you can make to a Shoebox!
With the old front end...
With the new front end...
No there's not any noticeable ride height difference with the new suspension, it has about the same stance as before. The difference is in how the new front suspension achieves its low stance. Before the car got its stance from aluminum lower A-arm lowering blocks and 60+ year old spring sag. The new stance is achieved with dropped spindles & springs made to the correct length. Final ride height was in mind when those spring lengths & rates were chosen at the beginning. That means the geometry of the front suspension is unchanged & that is the ultimate contributing factor to final ride quality. Instead of altering what was there, new components were brought in to acheive the correct look, without sacrificing suspension travel or steering geometry & it was worth every penny & all the work. In fact, I've still not made new inner fender panels because I like to see the new front suspension. I'll get around to making them soon!
Keep on Cruisin'!
Art by: Chris Breeden
About the Author:
"Chris Breeden is a Social Media content creator for Custom & Hot Rod Life on DRIVETRIBE, YouTube and Facebook. After spending 5 years in Southern California, a.k.a. Hot Rod Heaven, while serving as a jet engine mechanic in the United States Marine Corps, he moved back home to Tennessee with an even greater love for Hot Rodded Vintage Tin. Since then he has worked in retail sales and the transportation and logistics industry. In 2018, seeing a gap in Hot Rod and Custom Car coverage on DRIVETRIBE, Chris began advocating for their inclusion on the platform. During the summer months, he can be found all over the Tennessee region covering car shows, meets, and cruise-ins. During the winter months, he can be found in the garage working on his custom 1949 Ford two-door sedan and 1954 F100 truck."