The front suspension on my car has seen some work over the years, probably new ball joints and new tie rod ends at some point in the past. Clearly, though, it was never fully reworked. Since I’ve had the car, it’s suffered from the dreaded Thunderbird front-end squeak, not to mention uneven braking and a lack of grace in the corners.
With the engine out and time available, I took on replacing most of the front suspension: bushings for both the upper and lower control arms, new ball joints, new tie rod ends and new bushings for the anti-sway bar.
This is heavy work, sometimes dangerous, involving spring removal, disassembly of pressed-together pieces and lots of big, greasy nuts and bolts. From a sheer exertion standpoint, this is one of the most difficult jobs I’ve attempted with this car.
Here’s how the disassembly went:
The first order of business was to remove the coil spring. I used a borrowed compressor from a local parts store, which made the job very difficult. The ends of this compressor don’t fit easily between the coils, and even when fully compressed as shown, it was difficult to remove from the car. Worse, once the spring was out, the compressor didn’t have the length to safely decompress it. I went out and purchased a vintage compressor for reinstallation to avoid having to do this again.
I used this tool to remove the ball joints. The manual shows a spreader set between the studs of both joints; this tool puts pressure on one at a time. The idea is to apply pressure, then tap the knuckle with a hammer to release the stud. That worked for the lower ball joint, but not the upper. When the top one finally popped out, under pressure alone, it was like a gunshot. (I used the same tool to remove the tie-rod end from the knuckle.)
With the knuckle removed,, I had access to remove both control arms.
Only two nuts keep the upper control arm attached to the subframe. Both were tight, but not difficult to remove. Once unscrewed, the arm just fell out.
I borrowed this ball joint press from a local auto parts store. It took a considerable amount of force to pop the old joint out.
I didn’t have a socket big enough for the nuts on the ends of the control arm shaft. This was also a little confusing, as the nuts have threads on the outside (to screw to the arm) and on the inside (where the shaft screws in). It took me a while to puzzle out how the shaft could be loose but the nuts immobile. And, yep, I needed every bit of that pipe to get these things moving.
A detailed photo of the shaft where it connects to the control arm. I thought this was missing some kind of rubber seal here, but the shiny spot is from metal to metal rubbing at the end of the shaft.
Old vs. new: This is no doubt the source of my front end squeak. The upper arm pivots on these threads and you can see that they are practically worn away on my original unit. Ford “permanently” lubricated these and didn’t provide any grease fittings. The new units include zerks on both ends of the shaft.
Lower arm removal is pretty straightforward. I started with the nut on the anti-sway bar link, then scored around the strut rod so I can get it close to its original position when reinstalling. Again, these nuts were tight, but not difficult to remove.
Only one big stud holds the lower control arm to the sub-frame. The bottom bolt secures a stack of shims, but it needs to be removed as well. Once these are off, the arm will fall to the ground with a klunk.
To get to the lower control arm bushing, simply unscrew the through bolt. The bushing is pressed in, and the manual implies that the entire arm should be replaced. It’s easy to crush the arm while pressing the bushing out, so I took this to a front end shop to get it swapped out.
Reassembly is fairly well documented in the manual, though I ran into a few quirks that didn’t get mentioned. The lower arm came out last, so I put it back in first. I farmed out the pivot bushing replacement to a local tire and brake shop, who needed almost an entire hour to do the job—and probably would have taken me 2 to 3 times longer.
With the new bushing pressed in, i only had to unbolt the old ball joints and bolt in new. The original ball joints were riveted in, so I was spared the task of drilling them out.
I put the arm and bracket back together only to find that it matters to install the pivot bolt with the threads facing the back of the car. This side didn’t interfere too badly, but the passenger side was impossible to install with the bolt in the wrong way. (And, yeah, I got them both wrong.)
The manual says to leave the lower arm a little loose on the pivot, which I can confirm makes for an easier job installing. With the arm in the car, I connected the strut rod and anti-sway bar link loosely, then went around and tightened everything up. I couldn’t see any way to get a socket on the pivot bolt, so a torque wrench was out of the question. I snugged it up with a couple of 3/4″ wrenches instead.
The upper ball joints are drawn into the arm with a nut, which is simple but takes a lot of force. The replacement upper control arm shaft I bought came with rubber seals (not present on the original) and was just a millimeter too long I ground down the lip of the shaft a tad to get it into place.
This is still a work in progress. I will update this page with the rest of the rebuilding process when it is complete.