Our restoration of Pontiac's world-famous '68 Firebird Grand Marque VIII factory show car is speeding along at full-throttle. To recap, in Part 1, Classic Pontiac Rescue (CPR) in Honea Path, South Carolina, removed the Firebird's front clip and diagnosed misaligned sheetmetal gaps as subframe shifting. In Part 2, the crew removed the Firebird 400's code-YT Pure-Pontiac engine from the subframe, examined its internals for damage, and prepped the block for a trip to the machine shop. Last month in Part 3, they removed the rearend assembly.
This month, CPR owner Joe Jackson and his team take their tools to the Firebird's subframe and begin disassembly. What is usually a no-obstacle job turns into extra work as the men confront a stubborn, bent outer tie-rod and a menacing memento of a sloppy tow-chain hook-up at some time in Firebird's distant past.
Let's jump right into the action.
1. Even with the 400 removed, stripping an F-body subframe can be a knuckle-busting experience. Classic Pontiac Rescue's Joe Jackson says if you're taking on this project at home, leave the subframe anchored to the body so you can safely remove the front springs. Joe and his crew start by removing the front swaybar end-links. "Simply use a box-end wrench on one end and a ratcheting socket on the other," Joe says. "Once the nut is removed from the link, it will pretty much fall apart and out of the lower A-arm."
2. Joe extracts the sway bar brackets and bushings, and slides the factory sway bar to either side to have less hardware in his way during the work. He will remove it later.
3. The outer tie rods are next to come off. First, Joe applies a heavy dose of penetrating oil to the castle nuts. "Leverage is the key when removing these," he says. "I use a long breaker bar to help get these stubborn nuts loose. If you're lucky, they will break loose and spin freely. If the tie-rod stud spins with the castle nut, you can wedge a tie-rod separator under the A-arm to add some pressure. On the driver-side of the subframe, this was not needed. We removed the castle nut easily, and the tie rod dropped on the first hit of the hammer on the separator.
4. The passenger-side suspension was a tougher story. "The outer tie rod on this side fought us every step of the way," Joe says. "No amount of penetrating oil would persuade it to loosen up. We cut it with a reciprocating saw, and then resorted to a cutoff wheel. Mission accomplished."
5. Joe turns the wrenches to the upper A arms and extracts the worn-out shocks. "These come out in most cases; luckily in this case, they came out very easily," he says. "Use the appropriate size wrenches—one to keep the shock stem from spinning and the other to remove the nut. Use a heavy dose of lubricant to make the nut spin off without a fight. Then use a ratchet with the appropriate socket to remove the two lower bolts (not shown) and the shock drops out of the lower A-arm."
6. Separating the ball joints from the spindles requires caution—lots of it. Joe says to make sure you have a quality hydraulic jack placed under the spring pocket, as shown here. He raises the jack until it makes contact with the pockets. This is a safety precaution to keep the spring in its upper and lower pockets and the A-arm from violently dropping from spring tension.
7. With the A-arms supported, Joe prepares the ball joints to release the spring tension. First, he loosens the castle nuts. "The trick here is to leave the castle nut threaded on the ball-joint stud so that when the spring tension is released it will stop the travel of the spindle and not totally release the spring. You want the spring to come out on your terms, not on its terms," Joe says.
8. Therapy time. Joe swings a sledgehammer onto the end of a tie-rod separator and knocks the ball joints loose. "Don't be scared or gentle," he says. "Some heavy swings might be needed. Be careful and don't hit anything that you don't want to hit, like the car or your fingers." When the pressure of the spring releases, you'll see the suspension drop slightly.
9. With the tension released far enough and the jack under the lower A-arm keeping the spring at bay, Joe unscrews the nuts off of both ball joints and removes the spindles from the A-arms.
10. Joe lowers the jack very slowly to control the rate at which the spring's tension is released. Note that when the lower A-arm is at full travel, the spring usually still has a small amount of tension remaining. Care must be taken while prying it out from its upper and lower pockets. Spring compressors can be used to compress the springs prior to dropping the lower A-arms, but Joe determined it was safe to remove them, as shown here. "Keep yourself out of the way of travel in case the spring jumps all the way out of the pockets," Joe advises.
11. Removing the upper A-arm is easy. Joe removes the two nuts, and then simply slides off the A-arm.
12. Removing the lower A-arm on the driver side proved to be another challenge for the crew. After separating the nut and bolt, Joe observed that someone used the driver-side lower A-arm mounting point to tow or pull the Firebird. The lip is folded over and blocks the front lower bolt from sliding out. Next month, Joe will demonstrate how he uses heat and a hammer to flatten the lip.