Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Camping Table

Years ago, I bought the interior from a '79 westy to replace the interior of my '72. The old interior was shot, and it wasn't nearly as ergonomic as the later westy or the Riviera. Today's post covers how I finally figured out how to make use of the table that came with the interior.

How I Got Here
The '79 Westy came with a table which rode on a swing-out arm. The arm attaches to the sink/stove unit where it meets the little Dometic fridge. There have been numerous reports about the usefulness of that tiny fridge. A few years ago, I switched mine out into dry storage instead (See From Fridge to Storage). Later, in fact just about a year ago, I finally gave up on the old sink/stove unit and sold it to a car club here in Portland. It should give refreshed life to many westy's with broken bits in their kitchens. I sold off the headbanger cabinet then too, since the later westy depended upon a full-length cut-out roof (that the '72 didn't have), so it didn't fit my bus. This left me with the rock'n'roll bed, the closet, the storage fridge and the table. I had been using all the other parts, but the table just moved around the garage.

Table Top
The table has a large round metal bowl attached to it's bottom, applied with screws so the underside of the table acts like an oversized lid on the bowl. From the center of the bowl is a short (~4" long) 1" diameter post. This post is supposed to fit in the swing arm, making for a nice table in the camper, but without a use outside the vehicle without custom brackets from BusDepot.

Without the kitchen, and without the brackets, the table had no purpose. So, I hit Home Depot and bought some galvanized steel pipe from the plumbing section: 2 10" long 1" diameter pipes, 1 1" coupler, 1 1" to 1-1/2" adapter, a 3" long 1-1/2" diameter pipe and a 1" pipe wall mount. These bits form the leg. Combining all of the parts together (mount | 10" pipe | coupler | 10" pipe | adapter | 3" pipe) net a leg that's over 2 feet long, making for a nice counter height when the base is added. By removing one 10" pipe and the coupler, the table is cocktail / coffee table height when the base is added. So, all this is great, and it's been the plan from the beginning, but a 1" leg holding a 2-foot by 3-foot table in the air won't work without something at the other end of the leg to hold it upright. This is where the pipe wall mount comes in.

Love That Bass
Pretty much every car comes with a spare tire. From when I first started thinking about this little project, I figured that the spare tire that sits on the bus' nose would be the base somehow. I intended to use an old rotor, but in digging through the garage, I didn't find one. Instead, I found a wheel spacer / adapter for 5x100 to 5x112 (so a Subaru can run VW rims). This has 5x112 lugs already, making it all the easier. To form the base, I set the 1" wall mount under the spare rim, and put the adapter underneath that, with the lugs pointing up. With extra lug nuts I had lying around, I torque the rim to the adapter, squeezing the wall mount between. The 1" threaded opening is available through the centerbore.

Top to Leg
The last piece is getting the post coming out of the table to stay put in the 1-1/2" pipe. I drilled a hole just below the upper (nearest table) threads larger enough to fit a 1/2" head bolt. Within the 3" pipe, opposite the hole, I JB-Weld'd a nut. It took a couple of tries to get the nut to weld well, but now it holds the table.

Pudding Proof
I tested the assembly in the driveway with increasing amounts of weight, starting with a cup of coffee. Held firm. Tried the Coleman stove and it held. Tried a tire from the MG and it held. I decided it was ready for some real-world testing, so we made it central to the camping at 4Peaks. All weekend it held the stove, supported our cooking and other activities. It had stuff on it all the time.

The leg parts break down and fit under the rock-n-roll bed. The wheel adapter with lug nuts fits under the rock-n-roll bed too. The spare tire goes back on the nose, and the table slides onto the rear deck with the rest of the gear. Ultimately, it takes up very little space, and makes use of a table top I've been carrying around for years.

That's it for today. As always, thanks for following along. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

MGB - Steering Rack Install

I realized that I didn't post about the install of the steering rack, so today I'm going to have a quick post about that. For reference, I removed, cleaned and re-assembled the rack in this post.

steering arm seated in clamp
Before you start putting the three-armed monster in (what's that? See MGB - Steering Rack), check that it's centered left-to-right by turning the steering arm. Next, check that the steering wheel is straight, the center spokes level with the bottom of the car. On the other side of the firewall, you should be able to spot the steering column butting out. There is a clamp on the end for the three-armed monster to fit in. The clamp has a bolt/nut combination which needs to be removed from the clamp before assembling the three-armed monster. That bolt needs to align with a cut-away on the three-armed monster steering arm. So, look at the two ends, and recognize that if the steering rack is centered within itself, but not centered once the cutout aligns, your steering wheel won't sit nicely level. Fixing this could be as easy as a minor adjustment during alignment, or more complex like removing and re-installing that clamp or doing something to the steering rack. In my case, I was putting the old rack back in, and the wheel was close to level before.

In She Goes
If you're doing this alone, like I was, getting the monster in can be a juggling act. The column arm fits around the right engine mount bracket. Get the unit in the right general location, and use a rubber tarp strap to hold it there. Believe me, holding the monster in the right general location while also trying to do the fine motor work of getting the arm into the clamp is simply impossible by yourself. Once successfully suspended, set the steering arm into the clamp. If the clamp is not amenable, it has a split down one side where you can coax it open with a wedge. Once you have it in the right alignment, slide under the front of the car and drive it into the clamp with a rubber mallet driving against the housing. It should slide in with only a few light strikes. Remember, that's a $250 part, so rap on it gingerly.

The rack is held to the frame with 4 bolts and 4 nuts with some washers. Get replacements. The bolts closest to the firewall drive into nuts which are part of the mount. They thread in pretty easily. Just do enough to get the threading started. The bolts closest to the front use a pair of nuts each. Yes, I said that right. The order of the fasteners from the top: bolt head - washer - steering rack - nut - frame bracket - washer - nut. The nut between the frame bracket and the steering rack is absolutely necessary to not bind the steering action. Yes, I tried it without the nut to see what would happen.

Tie-Rod Ends
I blasted The Roadster Factory for their return policy and continued sale of junk tie rod ends. Get the sealed OEM ones, and use a different vendor if you can. There are a few out there. Assuming your new ends are the same size as the ones you removed, you should be able to thread the new ends to the marks you made earlier. I determined during my "Rough Alignment" that my new ends had more housing to them, knocking my measurements off. Had I to do it again, I would measure from the edge of the steering rack housing to the outer edge of the tie rod end instead. Regardless, thread on the tie-rod ends and set the wheel-end into the arm on the swivel, and finger the washer and nut on. Don't tighten yet. There's rough alignment to do first.

Rough Alignment
There are a few ways to get the alignment roughed-in. By roughed-in I mean close enough to drive it to a shop to have someone with a machine do it. It's possible that you could do it as well with one of the methods, but I encourage having it verified. The easiest method is simply looking down the line of your car and matching the front wheels front/back along the body line. I did this first, once I discovered how toed-out my front wheels were.

Changing your alignment is pretty easy: pull the tie-rod end out of the steering knuckle and rotate it on the tie-rod clock- or counter-clock-wise to move the end in or out relative to it's prior position. There is an alignment lock-nut just to the inside of the tie-rod end that will need to be loosened before you play with the adjustment.

After the body-line rough-in, I would encourage the measuring tape method to rough-in your alignment. Measure the distance between the inner edges of your tires both behind and in front of the swivels. If they aren't the same, you may have adjusting to do. Ideally, the front is slightly narrower than the rear for better handling and stability. This measurement should happen with the wheels on the ground after wiggling the steering a little bit and then centering as best as you can. It will take a few tries to get it right. Once you think you have it, tighten the lock-nut and test it in your driveway. I still need to complete this on my MG, but the steering is close enough now for me to move the car around my driveway / garage.

Regardless of which rough-in you try (and there are probably others), don't assume it's right. The idea is simply getting it close enough to take to a shop. If you aren't confident with your rough-in, have it towed. If your car is anything like my bus, it's getting used to riding on a flatbed.

That's it for today's brief posting on getting the steering rack back in. More to come soon, and, as always, thanks for following along,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

MGB - Front Suspension Refresh (Part 4)

This post finishes up the front end rebuild I started in Parts 1 (See MGB - Front Suspension Refresh Part 1), 2 (See MGB - Front Suspension Refresh Part 2) and 3 (See MGB - Front Suspension Refresh Part 3). At this point, the front beam is back in the car. The front shocks (and upper control arms) and lower control arms are installed with the spring pans. Today we will get the springs in, the swivels mounted and the front sway bar attached to the lower arms. By the end, the car could go back on the ground. The how-to for the springs I lightly touch on because it is pretty well documented around the internet. Not so much with the sway bar, so that's a little long.

Spring Thing
Back in Part 1, I described the concerns about how the springs were under load when the lower control arm was to be removed and that some level of care was needed to prevent it from launching across the garage. That concern returns as we approach the install. I followed the exact same routine: zip-tie the upper end of the spring to the top of the beam. Getting the zip-ties in the right spot may take a few tries with the jack (during the Jack Be Nimble step), but for now, just get the spring all the way up in the beam pocket and zip tie them so they are mostly in the right spot. Once the springs are suspended from the beam, we move on to the swivels. I did one side at a time, but I don't think there's a compelling reason to other than I confuse easily.

Swivels, bottom mount
The swivels are really nicely balanced lumps of steel, when they are mounted to the suspension. When you are holding them in your hands, or trying to attach them, however, they feel unwieldy. So, to protect yourself from, uh, yourself, put something soft under the end of the beam to catch the swivel when it inevitably topples over. It will topple. Since I had a bunch of things shipped, I took a larger flat box and filled it with the crumpled newspaper and air-filled bags that arrived with the parts. I highly recommend it. The alternative is a damaged swivel. Anyway, take the swivel for the side you're working on (caliper is on the rear), and fit the lower mount into the lower control arm. Thread the bolt from the kit from the front to the rear, minding the order of the washers (nut - washer - rear arm/bushing - swivel - front arm/bushing - washer - bolt head). Once you thread the castle nut on, you may feel driven to crank it on tight. Don't do that yet. Get is on pretty well, though; finger tight.

Jack Be Nimble
With the swivel attached at the bottom, it will want to fall over, especially when you start lifting the lower control arm with your jack. To prevent that, I looped a stretch of bailing wire around the top of the swivel and then around the shock absorber. This loosely held it upright, but didn't restrict movement. Now the fun part begins. Lift the lower control arm under the spring and set the inner edge of the spring inside the spring cup. Now, set your jack as we did in Part 1, on the outer edge of the underside of the spring cup. Slowly start raising the jack. I did it in spurts and then wiggled or rubber-mallet'd the bottom of the spring so it would shift in the spring cup. My thinking was that the cup was rotating 90* so the spring would be under weird tension as is was set into place, putting more pressure on the inner edge than the outer edge of the spring. I don't think it did much other than create more danger of the spring flying out, so consider that optional.

As I got closer to fully-installed, I found that the spring tension was greater than the weight of the car. I mean that the car started lifting off the jackstand before the top of the swivel was within an inch of the holes lining up. If you have a friend, not even a very heavy friend, have him or her sit on the wing over the wheel well. I was flying solo, so I stacked tires on the wing instead. Yes, that actually worked.

Swivels, top mount
As I alluded to in Jack Be Nimble, most of the top mount work is getting the jack positioned right, and raising the swivel while keeping the car solid on the stands. Once the holes in the upper control arm / shock absorber align with the hole in the top of the swivel, it's easy. I found that getting the top of the swivel to sit in the arms wasn't simple though. I needed to loosen the bolts that hold the top arms together a little bit so the swivel top could fit. You may need to do that same, just don't forget to torque them back down when you're firming up all of your fasteners.

Now do that again for the other side. I found that the first one took at least twice as long as the second side. Ironically, I had more spring slippage on the second side, but that didn't slow me down as much of the fear of that happening on the first side slowed me. Interesting.

Anti-Sway Bar
With the rest of the suspension put together, all that's left is the front (anti-) sway bar. In my searches around the internet, all of the articles I found about replacing the sway bar had the classic "install is the reverse". That is not helpful, so I'm documenting what I did that worked. If you're using your original bar, clean it up and paint where it's been chipped when you're doing your other parts. It is so much nicer, and the bushings go on much easier. We start with those bushings. The graphite-poly bushings are a solid trapezoid, so you will need to cut along the seam so it will wrap around the arm. I tried sliding it on from either end, including removing an arm-end, but that doesn't work. You have to cut it parallel to the path the arm would take through it.

Get the bushing onto the bar. This can be hard, but with some window cleaner (or plain water) as a lubricant, and a little force, it pops on. Use the little locks on the bar as a guide for where they should be located (just to the outside of the lock/clamp). Now test fit the bar with the new brackets. For the MG, there are 2 small black pieces of steel that hold an air deflector that need to fit between the bracket and the frame. Just test fit that it will roughly fit and that the bar is pointing the right way (ends pointing rearward).

With the brackets now removed you're ready to start the install for real. Hold the bar in the rough spot where it was during the test fit and wiggle one end of the bar into the lower control arm. Since nothing is preventing complete movement, this should be relatively easy. If the sway bar end is not making it through the hole no matter what you do, you could be experiencing a manufacturing defect in the arm. I had this happen: the rearward hole was too small for the sway rm end to pass through. I had to widen it with a drill.

Once the first one is through both holes so a bunch of threading can be seen/felt on the rear side of the control arm, switch to the other side. You may need to work kind of hard to get the second side in. I did. Lots of pulling and pushing before the bolt passed through both holes. Set the ends all the way in with a couple of whacks with a hammer. Place on the lack-washer and the 3/4" nut, but don't tighten it all the way down. Now shift to the brackets, the metal thing, and the bushings. Thread in the 2 pairs of 1/2" bolts, but again, don't tighten. Now, push/pull on the bar left and right to makes sure it is centered and there isn't any torque holding it out of center. Now, tighten the bolts and nuts down. Again, I recommend new fasteners.

Now, we can lower the car. I set the jack under the rear edge of the front beam, lift the car just enough to get the stands out and set the car down. After so many months of the front being in the air, it really looks kind of weird. Really low. For fun, I jumped up and down on the front bumper. Where there used to be considerable bouncing both on the initial jump, but in aftershocks as well... the MG barely responded to my jump and didn't bounce. It just returned to it's ride height. So tight. Once I get back on the road, it is going to hold the road like a brand new (or better) MGB.

That's it for today. This has been an incredible marathon, but feeling the difference bouncing on the front bumper tells what it will be worth. The front end should be in solid operating shape for another 40 years. Thanks, as always, for following along. I will get the festival review, the bus improvements, another road story, etc. posted as I can get to finishing the stories.

Friday, June 30, 2017

4Peaks 2017 Road Report

So I understand that this blog is supposed to be about my bus and my travels in him. And I realize that the last bunch of posts have had nothing to do with the bus. I'm taking a break from the MGB front end rebuild set of posts to hit a couple bus-related ones (pause for applause). For starters, I'm starting with a classic road report, detailing our annual trip to Bend for the 4Peaks music festival with our good friend Grateful Ed in his trusty '73 VW Riviera Poptop, Belle.

Not Really Prepped
In prior years, I've used a local music festival as a way to knock the kinks out of the systems before taking the 4-hour drive to Bend for 4Peaks. Since the Hootenanny isn't held anymore, I don't have that built-in system. So, my road-ready testing isn't quite as, uh.. exhaustive. I made sure Hapy could start, he was clean and empty of not-camping stuff. I verified his oil and coolant levels were right. He was ready enough to drive around town, I figured. I did replace the front door seals, though. I remembered from the year before how cold the bus was on the drive because the seals were gone. I bought the really nice grey ones through CIP1, replacing the black Brasil-sourced ones I had been wrestling with for years.

Tank Fill
About a week before we were supposed to leave, I fired up Hapy and drove to the corner fueling station to fill it up. I took Boo and K2 with me, and thought I'd show off just how much better Hapy's off-the-line acceleration is. Well... he wasn't as snappy as he was before I ran him out of fuel, but he left the stop line pretty quickly. We got to the gas station, and got the diesel flowing while I washed the windshield a couple of times. Once filled, I turned the key... and nothing. I figured I did something electrical, so we pushed the bus into a parking space. Boo and K2 walked home for another car to give me a jump while I started diagnosing things. I was fully stymied until Boo got back and we started with her at the wheel trying the key while I wiggled wires and re-set relays. I went to the battery and was messing with the thick cables and Hapy started acting like he had the right voltages. During my efforts, I moved the battery ever-so-slightly forward, and then Hapy fired right up like nothing happened. I remembered that the battery sliding back into the rear tail light housing causes this problem for some reason. Grr.. I really need to solve that permanently.

After that, Hapy drove great the rest of the week. I didn't try to show off his acceleration again, nor did I really stress him, but I got him up to temperature, and puttered around town.

Drive There
The night before we left, Boo accepted a new job. In order to keep things moving forward, she needed to fill out a bunch of paperwork and take a pee test before we left town. So, we fit all that around our exit. We had initially intended to meet Ed at his place south of Portland around 10AM, but we ended up leaving closer to 11:30. We were still well out of heavy traffic periods and headed south on I-5 towards Salem. With Belle leading, Hapy drove great. His temps stayed down, and it wasn't long before we had turned onto OR-22 heading east off the plain and into the forest. Belle was driving without windshield wipers, but the Rain-X was pushing the sprinkles out of Ed's line of sight. We visited the Maples Rest Area in Gates, checked Belle's oil and took a brief break. It was after we passed through Idanha that Hapy started to have speed issues. I wasn't able to get the throttle to respond on hills. While it wasn't a huge deal, it started to weigh on me as we worked our way up and down and up and down through the Cascades and over the Santiam Pass on US20. Still, the drive was beautiful and the new front door seals really held out the cold draft and rain. The little heater produced a little heat, so while Boo had a blanket on her lap, I was perfectly comfortable in little more than a jerga.

We hit Sisters before 3, and we were feeling really good about our progress. For the first time I can remember, we made it from end-to-end through Sisters without coming to a complete stop.

The venue for 4Peaks was moved this year. Until this year, it was held in Tumalo, NorthWest of Bend at the Rockin A Ranch. This year, it was held South and East of Bend at Stevenson's Ranch so we had an extra 10 miles or so to travel, but through the city. We stopped at a gas station near the ranch for Ed to fill Belle with petrol and I got ice.

I'll have a separate post about the festival entry, the location, the scene, the people, the music, etc. Suffice to say, it was awesome. We drew the conclusion that the sluggish accelerator pedal was because of gunk getting into the fuel filter when I ran the bus out of fuel. Not having a spare fuel filter (bad bus owner), nor access to a parts store meant I was driving home with a restrictor in my fuel system.

Getting Home
We didn't really want to leave, but Ed had to be at work on Monday, and the festival, though open longer than past years, still closed at 4. And, of course, we had a 4 hour drive home to do. While the weather on the way out was a test of our buses against wind and rain, the drive home was a test against a summer solstice sun and desert heat. We left the festival around noon and hit a filling station before doing anything else. Since we had traveled over 200 miles since the no-start fill a week before, I concluded I would need fuel before leaving civilization and entering the central Oregon desert. I bought just over 6-1/2 gallons, recording 32mpg on the drive out plus the around-town driving the week before. Ed joked about how you can't burn too much fuel if you can't get it to your engine. Good one, Ed.

We had decided before we left for the festival that we would drive home a different way to change the scenery. After the sluggish hills on the way out, we thought that driving US26 through Government Camp might not have as many ups and downs as US20. We hadn't considered that the US26 route left us in the desert for far longer, and that the temperatures were in the 90's compared to the 50's on the way out. This created a different stress... on the cooling system.

Hot Stop Hot Again
The drive north on US97 was steady going. Redmond had some traffic, but Metolius and Madras were mostly unpopulated. Actually, when I consider how large an event is coming to Madras for the total eclipse in August, the town appeared largely for sale. Many store fronts and undeveloped lots had for sale signs on them. That's not a very positive statement for the health of Madras. It is in Madras that we left the US97 for the US26 and our flat uneventful drive changed. The road out of Madras starts with a long uphill pull. Hapy didn't have that lack of acceleration, but his temperatures started to climb. When he reached 195* I pulled over and let him cool back down. More hills, more desert heat and more altitude meant that his temps would rise again, and again. I started letting his temps run up to 202* before pulling over to cool him down. Each time, Ed would pull over with us, or somewhere ahead of us so we could continue our carabus. That is, until finally, we had to let Ed go while we let Hapy cool way down. Boo and I had a roadside picnic in the middle of the Warm Springs Reservation and Hapy's temperature dropped down into the low 170's. Still, it didn't take long before we were climbing again, and his temps were high again. All told, we stopped 6 or 7 times including the picnic stop between Madras and Government Camp.

I've mentioned SkiBowl a number of times. I love playing in the snow there. After such a hard climb up the east side of Mt. Hood, Boo and I decided Hapy needed a longer rest, and we could use a beer so we stopped at SkiBowl West. The bar (Beer Stube) isn't open during non-ski season, but the cafe is, and they sell beer in cans, so we split a tallboy on the back porch. As we sat, we could see that there is still snow at the top of upper bowl, even though it was over 85* at the lodge. SkiBowl is in the process of switching over from winter to summer sports, where they leverage their ski lifts to enable mountain bikers the ultimate: a lift to the top so you only have to ride downhill. Although it was Sunday, we only saw 2 cyclists the entire time we were there. We will be back, with as many boys as we can muster, to play on that hill. That's just too fun.

Home At Last
The drive from SkiBowl on home was completely non-eventful. The accelerator was responsive and the engine temp never climbed above 192*. I don't know if it was the desert, the higher altitudes or what, but once back on the west side of the Cascades, Hapy drove like a champ. We drove US26 to OR212 through Boring and then connected with I-205 around to I-5 and finally onto OR217 home. He even handled the interstate traffic easily. Still, I need to look at the coolant. I think the coolant / distilled water mixture is off, and that caused the radiator to be unable to manage the engine heat.

I haven't filled up since we got home, and I know I need to soon. Overall, Hapy was great. As a camping vessel, he was a pleasure. I'll get into that in another post, but simply as transportation I know I need to do a better job of getting him ready before taking him out of round-town puttering or he'll leave me stranded. And it will be completely my fault.

That's it for this time. Thanks, as always, for following along. I'll post about the festival, and a new bus-change I did to improve the camping experience soon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

MGB - Front Suspension Refresh (Part 3)

I'm continuing the front end rebuild I started in Parts 1 (See MGB - Front Suspension Refresh Part 1) and 2 (See MGB - Front Suspension Refresh Part 2). At this point, the front beam is stripped and removed from the car. We've evaluated the parts, and made determinations about which to keep and which to replace. Today starts the work of putting it all back together again. WooHoo!

Pivot on the Swivels
There some things really are best left to a shop. I want to do as much as I possibly can myself, but it's not a religion. It's just a strong preference because I want to learn and because I find it fun. I read through the process for removing and replacing the king pins and bushings within the swivels (wheel assemblies). This requires a shop press, which I don't have nor do I have the space for, and a trained eye for determining the viability of the wheel assembly as a whole. So, I contracted the fine folks at British Auto Works to do it. Like so many things, I expanded the job from just swapping the king pins and bushings to also include replacing and grease-packing the wheel bearings. Doing the wheel bearings didn't really increase the cost, and it gave me the peace of mind that the entire front end had been updated. British Auto Works completely strips, and then chem-tanks all of the wheel assembly. after testing and measuring everything, they assemble the wheel and finishes the job with fresh paint. All told, it took them three days, and most of that was because they wanted extra time in the chem-tank. The finished product looks fantastic and delivered that piece-of-mind that they were properly done.

While the swivels were at British Auto Works, I started working on the beam. For being exposed to the elements, and road debris for almost 40 years, I would have expected more damage or rust. In truth, it was in pretty good shape. So, I cleaned it up, first with a power washer, then by hand with Simple Green. Once cleaned, I could see a few scratches, but it was in really fine shape. I threaded the rusty old bolts which held the front shocks back in. I did that so paint wouldn't gum up the threads. Then I sanded it, wiped it down with mineral spirits and shot it with high-gloss black paint. Since I had the time, I let the paint cure for a week, light sanded it, wiped it down and shot another coat. At this point, I removed the old shock bolts so the paint would cure without them. While I had the materials out, I cleaned up the spring pans and springs, sanded and painted them too. Truth be told, I had lots of other parts around that I intend to re-install, so I cleaned them up, sanded, wiped and shot them too. I'll share some of the tear-down and re-assembly of those things in other posts. Everything got high-gloss black except the springs. Those I shot burnt orange which from afar looks like the vermilion on the body, but its not an exact match. I decided it wasn't a deal-breaker so I also sanded, wiped and shot the underside of the frame where the front beam mounts to it. I figured I wouldn't have that exposed again any time soon so why not?

Beam Me Up
Once the paint has been shot and cured, I was able to start assembling things. First, was the re-install of the bare beam. Since I was working on this by myself, this was a great deal harder than the removal. Why? The beam is held on with 4 bolts. Each bolt has a nut on both ends, and it passes through 2 poly/graphite (or rubber of simply poly) bushings, one on either side of the beam. The drawing on the side, here, with parts labelled 1 through 7 show the front bolt. The rear is similar. Note the orientation of the bolt in the drawing: the lump is on the bottom. This is important since the thinner stretch of the bolt runs up into the frame. If you try to send the lump up, it will not make it through the frame. Yes, I did try it that way. If you're doing this on your own, I fumbled my way into a process that works:

Get the beam onto your jack, and roll it under your front bumper. Looking from above, roughly align the rear of the beam with the rear frame holes, but still a few inches below it.
Pick a side. It doesn't matter which. Take the shorter, rear bolt, and load the bolt, stacking from the bottom: nut, plate, bushing. twist the nut onto the bolt a few turns. Slide the bolt up through the rear hole from the bottom of the beam, placing the top bushing onto the bolt. I found that these bushings sort of held the bolt in place.

With the bolt held in with friction, get more precise with your alignment, but just worry about that one hole and bolt. Raise the jack and re-check. Repeat until you have the bolt and hole lined up. Then, while holding the bolt to the beam, raise the jack, pressing the bolt into the frame. Once the bolt peers through the top of the frame, put the top nut on. Again, thread the nut on just a few turns so the bolt can hold the beam, but there is still a couple of inches between the top of the beam and the bottom of the frame.
The one bolt creates a pivot point so you can align another hole. I did the other rear bolt, following the same routine. With the rear bolts loosely in, the fronts are much easier. Stack the front bolts again from the bottom: nut, plate and bushing. Set the upper bushing, and set the bolt through the frame hole. Thread on the top bolt.
Now you can start tightening the nuts. On all 8 nuts you want some threads to peek out from the nut. If you don't see threads, you may not have enough bite on the nut to withstand the pressures during intense driving. Then, torque to spec (54 to 56 ft/lbs).

Shock Me
Once I had the beam in, I shifted to installing the front shocks. If you remember, the removal was only difficult for the rear bolts because of how close they are to the wheel well. The install is also challenged by this. If you painted your beam, did you paint with the bolts out? I accidentally left one out: the one I took to the hardware store. That bolt hole was a real pain to get a bolt into at this stage. The others just took a little windex on the bolt, and it threaded right in. Once finger tight, it doesn't take much to torque it down... except getting a torque wrench in there is impossible. You'll need to feel it, as you're aiming for 43 to 45 ft/lbs. I actually came back and torqued after I did the lower control arms because the torque settings are so close, I got a good feel for what 45ft/lbs is supposed to feel like.

Lower Control Arm
Now for the fun part. Whether you bought new arms or cleaned up your originals, there are two different arm shapes: one for the rear and one for the front. The "front" has a hole specifically for the sway bar that's reinforced. Pick a side. Grab a spring pan, three sets of spring pan fasteners (1/2" nut-washer-bolt combinations) and your lower control arm bushings. If you got the fender washers like I did, grab them too. You don't need the lower trunnion kit nor the spring yet. On each arm, press in the bushing. If you got the poly bushings, this may require a press. The rubber and poly/graphite fit in without much difficulty.

Slide a fender washer onto each front-back side of the pivot (the thing on the beam that the lower arms attach to). Then fit the rear and front arms on that same side, making sure to have them pointing towards each other and making sure you're using a front and a rear arm in the right spots (rear on rear, front on front). Yeah, that sounds obvious and all, but once you get on the ground all those arms start to look the same. Consider that the flat side on the arm faces the pan (see the picture).

Let the arms hang down and grab the spring pan and one set of fasteners. Holding the pan with the dish facing towards you, lightly thread the bolt through from the outside of the arm through to the pan. Set a washer on the bolt and then finger a nut onto the bolt. Do not tighten yet. Do the other 2 fastener set the same way: 2 on the rear, one on the front. With the spring pan loosely held to the arms, slide the other fender washers on and follow with the castle nuts. Once everything is on, but loose, start tightening things, moving from castle nuts to spring pan fasteners so no bolt gets hung up because it has been left untouched for too long. When everything is snug, torque to spec: 22 ft/lbs for the spring pan fasteners and 45 ft/lbs for the castle nuts.

For the castle nuts, align the castle with the cotter-pin hole and put in the cotter pin (or bailing wire, if you're like me). Better to torque a little too much than not enough, IMHO, but you shouldn't need to go higher than 50 ft/lbs. If you do, re-check your work. Maybe something is hanging up.

That's it for this time. I should be able to finish this up in just one more post. I'll get the swivels and springs on, and then the major efforts are completed. Thanks for following along. This has been an incredibly rewarding effort.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

MGB - Front Suspension Refresh (Part 2)

Continuing from my last post, I'm focusing this group of posts on the rebuild of the MGB front end. Today, we get down to the beam, and get it removed from the car. I'll evaluate parts, and talk about replacement bushing options. Part I can be found here.

While the beam is in, and you have access to your front shocks is the best time to evaluate them. On the right side, the shock responded relatively well to my efforts to move the arm up and down. It resisted in both directions, but not as much as I would have liked. Still, I probably could have left it alone. The shock on the left (driver) side, however, offered virtually no resistance to my attempts to move it. In fact, I could push it to the top of it's motion and it would slowly drop down. That shock is shot. Suspension shops usually recommend replacing both fronts and/or both rears at the same time. For a front-end like this one, where the shock absorber is also playing the part of the upper control arm, it is all the more important. These are held in place by 4 bolts. The two against the inner wheel well can be difficult to get to, but you can address them with the most basic spanners and ratchet/sockets. Similar to the engine mount replacement (see MGB - engine mounts), a good supply patience is welcomed here.

Set the shocks aside with the lower arms and pans. To protect the threaded holes, finger the old bolts back into the holes. I took one with me to Orchards and found replacement grade 8 stainless steel ones for the reassembly. I strongly recommend replacing fasteners with stainless steel or zinc coated to reduce the rusted-on effect.

Beam Down
image swiped from 'net,
but that's a stock beam
Now, the front beam should only be connected to the car by 4 bolts. Nothing else should be tying them together. No brake lines, steering bits, etc. but it never hurts to stupid-check (so-called for those moments when you don't check, something bad happens and call yourself stupid for not checking).

I used an ATV / transmission jack, but a more standard wheeled floor jack should work; it will just take more patience with balance. The ATV / transmission jack is nice in that it has two long arms to spread the weight, and improve the balance. Still, with the front end way in the air, and the rear on the ground, the bottom of the beam is not parallel to the floor. So, I slid a 2x4 under the front of the beam when the ATV / transmission jack reached the underside of the beam to make uniform contact. Raise the jack until it is holding some weight, but not much. You want the car stable on it's jack stands.

Relieve the torque on the 4 bolts by cracking the 4 bolts on top. you shouldn't need to hold the bottom nuts at all for this. I used the breaker bar with an assortment of extensions. Once cracked, do the same on the bottom nuts, just so they are not rusted in place. Whether you remove the nuts on top or the bottom or a mixture doesn't really matter. In the end, all 4 bolts need to be un-nutted on both ends. You would think that once the nuts have been removed from the bolts, they would just fall out. Fat chance. How about lowering the jack a little bit? Nope. To free the bolts, the top nut needs to be removed. Then, using a socket extension so you can address the bolt, rap the bolt from above with a rubber mallet. When this doesn't work, use a framing hammer, but be very careful with those bolts. They are not normal and if the threads are damaged, you'll need to order new ones.

Once the bolts fall out, either through banging or playing with your jack or maybe you got lucky and they just fell out... you'll see that these bolts are 2 different lengths and that the longer bolts (that fell out of the front) have a lump in the middle like a poorly rolled spliff. I retained all of this hardware, choosing to not try to find replacements, though I thought about it. Simply lower the jack, and the beam will lower with it. Pull out the front under the radiator and bumper.

Parts and More Parts
At this point, I was pretty spent. From the start of the prior posting to the beam on the ground was at least 2 days. Now that I've done it once, though, I could do it again in 1/3 of the time or faster. As I set with a beer, I looked at the pile of parts and the zip-lock baggies of fasteners. The fasteners were all bare steel, and they had plenty of rust on them. I chose to replace all of them except the beam-to-frame nuts and bolts. I added 4 fender washers to fit between the beam and the lower control arms. I felt this would help the bushings last longer. The fasteners probably put me back $50. Then, I turned to the pile of parts:

front shock absorber /
upper control arm
Front Shock Absorbers (2) New, these are crazy expensive. Moss has them for over $330 each. Instead, I found World Wide Auto Parts in Madison, WI who rebuilds originals. After some research I bought a pair from them at $99 each plus core which was returned when I sent my old ones back to them. They really look great, and if they work as well as they look, I just may go back for replacements of the rears instead of doing the swap-out for non-MGB rear shocks that so many folks do. The paint chips off without much effort, so if you're going for a show-car experience, I'd recommend repainting them.

Lower Control Arms (4) These looked okay, but without tight tolerance measuring tools, I couldn't tell if any of the important holes on the ends were out of round. Replacements for all 4 was $70 with OEM British steel, and the originals could have been worn from the bad seals, so I coughed up the $70.

lower control arms
Spring Pans (2) Like the arms, I couldn't tell for sure if the mounting holes were out of round, but on very close examination none of the holes looked oval. Since no pivoting happens with these pan holes, even a little out of round probably wouldn't matter so I chose to keep the spring pans, and just clean them up instead. New-steel replacements are $32 each at Moss, so they're a little steep cost-wise compared to some of the other bits. Still, if the spring pan won't firmly attach to the arms, your suspension won't be safe, so spend the $64. In the end, there was 0 play after everything was put back together, so my assessment was correct.

Front End Rebuild Kit (1) This was the whole point of this work. I found a few different suppliers for this kit, and resolved to buy from British Parts Northwest for $120. While their return policy is crap, their price is $35 less than Moss. These kits include:
- king-pin set and bushings. These run vertically between the arms and through your swivels
- upper control arm nut/bolts. They call them "fulcrum pin and hardware" and they attach the top of the swivel to the control arm / front shock absorber.
- upper control arm bushings (rubber or all-poly). These pair with the upper control arm nut/bolts to complete the set. I ended up swapping out the kit-supplied ones with some Poly/Graphite bushings I got from a new friend, Basil, in California ($6)

- lower control arm to swivel bolt/nut and bushings. They call these "Lower Trunnion Kits".
- lower control arm to beam ("A-Arm") bushings and bolts (rubber or all-poly). Again, I went with Poly/Graphite ($20) from Basil instead of the kit-supplied ones.

To do the front end rebuild, that's really all you need. I decided, though, that as long as its open, replace the beam-to-frame bushings.... and the sway bar bushings. Again, I sourced these from my friend in California. frame bushings ran $23 and the sway bar bushes were $10. When I consider there was no extra labor for the beam bushings, and very little on the sway bars, this was a very low cost to get the front end as rock-solid stable as possible.

Rubber, Poly and Poly/Graphite
Just for an aside, I wanted to touch on the differences between these three types of bushing. As a general rule, it's best that you pick one and stick with it through the front end. Since they behave a little differently from each other, the front end could be less predictable if your lowers and uppers are not the same material and respond to stresses differently.

Rubber - this is what you had originally. When squeezed between two pieces of steel which want to twist, the rubber twists with it. This smooths out the twisting motion, giving an easy, forgiving ride. For a cruiser, this is great material.

beam to frame bushings
Poly - this is the more common "upgraded" bushing. Unlike the rubber, the poly does not twist with the steel; it resists the twisting motion. This resistance reduces the degree of the twist, allowing more of the force through to the ride. This is a much less forgiving ride, but gives you a much stronger "sense of the road". Installing these bushings can be very difficult, requiring water-based lube or other tricks, maybe the use of a shop press. Once installed, most owners report loving them.

Poly/Graphite - this is in-between the Poly and Rubber in terms of road feel and difficulty of install. Basil described this far better than I could, so I will quote: They look like black plastic that has some give to them. You can put one between your thumb and forefinger and feel it give a little. The polyurethane matrix has a slippery substance called "graphite" (a crystalline form of carbon) in the polymer matrix so a slippery bit is always exposed and thus self-lubricating the bushing. No special install efforts needed.

This post got long again, so I'll continue in another post. At this point, we have the front beam completely torn down, our parts are ordered, and fasteners sourced at the local hardware store. We'll start next time with some painting and then assembly. Thanks, as always, for following along...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MGB - Front Suspension Refresh (Part 1)

Before I took the little British car to a shop for review, I did the brakes on all 4 corners (See MGB - Brake Job). While I had the front end on jack stands, I noticed some weirdness with the front end suspension. Today's post starts the documenting of that work.

Well, That's Not Right
weather stripping?
So, I had the front end in the air and the front wheels off, trying to get after the bolts which hold the calipers onto the front swivels. On my back, lying under the front right (passenger) fender, or wing in British car parlance, I noticed that the front of lower control arm was attached to the front beam, but it looked like the bushing had been replaced with a strip of window insulation. Huh? I pushed and pulled up and down on the arm and it wiggled. Yikes. I looked at the point where the front shock attached to the top of the swivel, and that bushing looked old and tired: brittle and cracked. The top connection didn't wiggle, but something that brittle was at end-of-life. I slid around to the left (driver) side. There, I found more dust and more surface rust, but both the top and bottom bushes on the swivels looked like the top of the passenger side: old, brittle and tired. This front end needed a complete re-bushing before being driven very hard.

Getting Down to the Beam
I had a few weeks between jobs around the holidays, so I thought it was a perfect window of opportunity to do the front end. I did spend some focused time during those weeks, but I also took advantage of an amazing snow season by hitting the mountain a few times, I visited with family, etc, so I didn't exactly get this done within the window. As usual, this took me longer than it would probably take most folks to do.

Since we're working on the front end, we start with loosening the lug nuts and then putting the front end on jack stands. This time, get the front end as high as you can get it without getting nervous about how high it is. The key here is having it high enough so the lower control arms can hang straight down once disconnected. Figure, that's at least 16 inches at the rear of the lower control arm. Once on the stands, remove the wheels and stow them out of your way.

Disconnect the brakes. Start with loosening and then removing the calipers. You may need to pull the pads before the calipers will come free. I was able to remove everything as a unit but I just did these pads. I ultimately needed to disconnect the front brake lines so I'd suggest you completely remove the calipers from the car now. Once the calipers are free, disconnect the brake hard-line from the front beam. Remember that brake fluid is corrosive, so wear gloves, use a catch-pan and dispose of safely. Its nasty stuff on your paint too, so basically, have it avoid everything but the pan.
get it way up in the air

Remove the steering rack. I already had mine off (See MGB - Steering Rack), which was one reason why I jumped into this over the winter.

Disconnect the front sway bar from the control arms. In the picture above, you can see them still connected to the lower control arms out near the wheels. Once the nut is removed on each end, coax the threaded end out the front. Sounds easy, and the second side is. The first side can be a bear.

Orienting on the Lower Control Arms
If you have ideas about doing more than just replacing the beam-to-frame mounting rubber, there's more to do. If not, I get to dropping the beam in my next post. Since I aim to refresh the whole front end, I kept going.

First, pick a side. If you are space-constrained like I usually am, pick the side where you have more room first so you get a feel for the work and don't lose your patience as quickly. If you consider the lower control arm is a capital "V" lying on its face, there are 2 bolts holding it on: one at the bottom and one across the top. The one at the bottom attaches the arms to the wheel assembly (often referred to as the swivel). The one at the top attaches them to the front beam. Extending our capital letter metaphor, the spring comes from above and lands into the middle of that "V", making it more of an "A". Where the spring reaches the arm there is a round cup for the spring to sit in. It is not held in place by any fasteners; this last bit is an important safety consideration during removal.

Pop Goes the Front Spring
bottom of the "V"
Start with putting your floor jack under the spring cup in the lower control arm. Set it far enough to the outside where it will grab the cup edge but not so far out that you can't get a spanner or socket onto the bolt/nut because the jack is in the way. Raise the jack just enough to take some of the energy out of the springs. There is a debate on the internet about how pressurized these springs are and whether there is reason for concern for them launching when the arm is removed. They are under reasonable pressure and there is reason for concern. Take a couple of zip-ties and zip-tie the top of the spring to the beam. If you don't, it will take off in an unpredictable direction when the lower arm is lowered.

Back to the removal... there is a cotter pin running through the castle nut, so remove that. Take note that replacement cotter pins are NOT included in any of the rebuild kits available out there, so either get some independently or do like I did and use bailing wire at install-time. Crack, loosen and then remove the nut/bolt that runs across the bottom of the "V" I described above in Orienting on the Lower Control Arms. The bolt can be hard to remove. Unlike the cotter pins, replacement castle nuts are included in the kit so you can use your old castle nut on the end of the bolt as a target for your hammer. The castle nut doesn't take punishment as well as a standard nut, so you still need to be careful: once the bolt breaks free, you still need to be able to thread the castle nut off the bolt to get it completely out. With the bolt out, the jack is all that is holding the spring under pressure. Make sure the top is zip-tied to the front beam! Slowly lower the arm until the spring pops out of the cup. If you raised the car high enough, you will be able to completely lower the jack and the arm will hang straight down. Sometimes the swivel gets hung up in the arm, so you may need to coax the 2 pieces apart. If you find this necessary, be mindful of how much spring tension is supported by the jack. It will unload quickly if not contained by the jack.

Once the arm is hanging free, cut the zip-ties and move the spring out of the way. You may choose to paint or powder coat them as long a they're out. I shot mine with paint, thinking I didn't have time (nor money, the paint was free leftover in my cabinet) to powder coat.

Spring Pan
Removing the rest of the arm assembly isn't terribly difficult, even for me. The spring pan is held to the arm with 3 nut:bolt combinations. If I remember correctly, they are all 1/2" drive. There are two on the rear and one facing front. The front one was paired with a threaded end of the sway bar which we removed earlier. With the bolt:nut combinations removed, the arms and spring pan should fall to pieces. Set the spring pan aside.

Remove the Lower Control Arms
The inner end of the control arms are held to the front beam with large castle nuts. The nuts are held in place with cotter pins. Like the pins at the other end of the arm, these do NOT appear in any of the kits available out there, so either acquire some elsewhere (local hardware store) or use bailing wire like I did for install. So, remove the cotter pins that hold the castle nuts, then remove the nuts. There are replacement nuts and washers in the kit. Set the arms with the spring pan for inspection.

Upper Control Arm... Er.. Shocks
left swivel top
Unlike lots of other cars, these little British cars don't have a traditional upper control arm and piston-style shock absorber. Instead, the shock and upper control are are one kinda weird unit, but it works. They are oil-filled, and for space purposes, it makes the most of what's available. The top of the swivel is attached in a similar way to all of the others in this job: castle nut, cotter pin,
long-ish bolt that needs to get banged out with a hammer. The rebuild kits also provide parts the same way: all bolts, washers and nuts are provided. NO cotter pins. The swivel is kind of heavy, so put something kind of soft to catch it when you get the bolt removed. If your experience is like mine, you'll be banging away on the bolt and then without any real sign it will suddenly pop out and the swivel will topple. Without something to cushion it's fall, a drop onto the concrete of your garage could damage something.

Now, do the other side. Whee!

At this point, your lower control arms are removed, and your front swivels are as well. Your front shocks are still on the beam, and the beam is still in the car. This is when I will pick it up next time where I'll cover removing the front shocks, evaluating them, the spring pan, and control arms for re-use, buying parts and of course, lowering the front beam.

Thanks for following along. This series of posts represents one of the longest, biggest things I've done since I rebuilt the front end on the bus: the post that launched this blog.