Project Shoestring – Part 2

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Well, as I previously mentioned interruptions happen and they just can’t be helped, or either I have finally given up worrying about them.

Other than trying to keep the car covered up with a car cover that kept getting blown off during the normal windy part of the Spring season, there hasn’t been very much done. We sold just about all of the front end sheet metal, the spindles and old disc brake setup plus a handful of other parts that came with the car that we are not going to use. We also had some leftover stuff that went to the recycler and I basically found out that I spent more in diesel fuel than what the metal was worth. Lesson learned.

I also came up with a novel idea of saving most of the repair panels that came with the car. As most of you know, vinegar is a really good rust remover – it just takes time. I measured the largest piece of sheet metal I had and then using some 2x4s and a piece of leftover 1/2″ plywood constructed a rectangle box that the sheet metal would fit in. I then took some heavy plastic and cut it so that it was larger than the box and doubled it. Using the plastic as a liner for the box, then putting the sheet metal in along with a few gallons of vinegar and then covering it with the second piece of plastic, I had a low-buck de-rusting facility. I let the sheet metal soak for about 3 days, then flipped it over and let it soak a few more days. At that point, I took it out and hosed it off. I wish I had taken photos of it but the sheet metal came out almost perfectly clean. I dried if off with compressed air, then used a can of spray rust reformer (Rustoleum Brand) and coated both sides of the sheet metal. I had 5 pieces to do, so I just kept repeating the process. These panels are going to save me a lot of money as a lot of the sheet metal around the rear wheel area is shot.

My next trick was to figure out how to get the chassis out from under the car. I admit I stewed on this problem for a number of weeks before I stumbled across another hot rodder online that is working on a Nissan 280 Z. He had constructed legs with dolly wheels and then bolted them to the Z allowing him to move the body of the car around his shop. With that inspiration I took an old piece of rectangular metal tubing I had and cut two legs that would fit at the outer parts of the firewall. I already had some very heavy duty rubber caster wheels and mounting plates. I welded the mounting plates to the tubing and put the wheels in place. I was hesitant to bolt these to the firewall as I think there might be too much flexing, so I decided to weld them in place. I am going to cut out a great deal of the firewall so a little extra grinding later on is not an issue. That took care of the front part of the car, but the rear was still a question mark. After looking things over, I decided that due to the weakness of the remaining floor that it might be a good idea to keep some of the frame under the car as additional support for the body.

Roller Leg

I have a set of car roller trays – the type that have four casters and you put them underneath the tires of a car, then you can push the car around the garage. I took two of them and two more pieces of the tubing and tack welded the tubing to them with the idea that I can cut the frame just in front of the leaf spring shackle to remove the rear frame section and set the remaining center frame on these modified rollers. One problem is that they are a bit too short in height. I am going to have find some additional metal and add to this set of rollers before this part of the plan can be executed.

Next was moving the car to a suitable working area – which I am sure my neighbors are not totally thrilled about but I do keep the car covered up when I am not working on it. I decided that the front end of the driveway was flat and safe enough to continue. We used the remaining set of rollers and put them under the rear tires, then with the front leg rollers on the ground we were able to move the entire car by simply pushing it. It’s amazing what the power of a wheel can do for you! With it moved into place, we then supported the frame with jackstands right behind the original transmission mount. Our next move was to get out the plasma cutter and start cutting through everything that was holding the front clip to the rest of the car. It took a bit but after cutting through support pieces and then slicing through the frame just in front of the transmission mounts, we were able to separate the clip from the car. Mission accomplished! And just so you know, the “we” in my statements here is my son Phil and myself.

With the front clip off the car, it sure does look a lot shorter. The main reason for doing this is that I already have a number of parts that fit the front end clip. Tubular A-Arms, replacement bushings, ball joints, racing shocks and springs, 2″ dropped spindles, new steering arms, disc brake kit and a new manual rack and pinion from a SN95 Mustang. Switching to some other aftermarket front end would not only cost additional funds but I doubt if I could recover 50% of the money in the parts I now have on hand. Weight wise, this clip is heavier than a Mustang II replacement and certainly more than a strut front end. But again, the Mustang II front end would be in the area of a $1000 and the strut version would run about $2000 or more. I believe I can trim quite a bit of weight out of the clip and actually make it stronger than it is in factory stock form. Looking at a stock ’55 Chevy front end one has to realize that the engineers of the time had several things to deal with in the design. Starting at the front of the clip, they were providing a place for the heavy front bumper to attach to and supporting it in such a way that it could survive at least a low speed crash and protect the occupants of the car. They also provided a mounting for the heavy radiator, the radiator horse collar and the front roll pan. Moving back from there, we encounter the front crossmember which was designed to provide mounting for the a-arms, shocks, springs and front half of the engine/transmission combination. In 1955 the engine/transmission assembly was supported at the front of the engine with a mount on each side and just at the front of the transmission where it mounted to the engine – again with a mount on each side. This put quite a load on the front crossmember. Moving back again, we have the frame rail area supporting the steering box on one side and providing a mounting point for the idler on the other. We also have a mount for the cross shaft to operate the clutch.

Clipped

No matter how you shake it that’s a lot of heavy lifting for the front clip of the car. My plan calls for cutting back a lot of that starting with the front rails that support the bumper and modifying a good portion of the center of the crossmember to now support the rack and pinion. The bottom of the crossmember has a very heavy plate surface that I assume was to handle any minor collisions with the road surface back in those days too. I will also be removing side mounts for rubber jounce pieces that are no longer needed, removing the radiator support piece, cutting out the support of the clutch cross shaft and then rewelding the upper a-arm supports and the frame rail where needed. I may also cut down the height of the rear part of the frame rail to match up with 2×3 tubing of the main chassis beams. A rough estimate is that I can remove about 10-15% of the weight currently in the front clip. There are also a number of areas in the front clip where pieces were hot riveted together and then some additional welding performed. I assume that on the assembly line that the rivets were intended to hold the pieces together in alignment prior to the welding operation.

The front clip is next on the carving block.