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Stage IV

Stage IV – Performance Improvements - Phase 1 

As we get into Stage IV, we are talking about jobs that aren’t necessarily essential to complete on an immediate basis but certainly add to the pleasure of driving/owning the vehicle. 

The basic four jobs (Suspension, Bushings, Brakes and Steering) while somewhat "optional" were going to have to happen eventually as all the parts in these systems were pretty much well past their service life.  Yes, the brakes still worked and the car steered and the ride wasn't all that bad, but if you are going to attempt to bring a car back to "like new" status, you can't do it on wore out parts.  The four jobs are presented below in no particular order.

The Suspension


As anyone might suspect, the suspension felt “dead”.  That being the case, I changed the rear shocks.  I can’t say it for certain, but I wouldn’t bet against that I removed the original shocks.  When I removed them they collapsed into the cylinder.  I replaced them with Gabriel Ultra Shocks (Part Number 69676).  The new shocks set me back 24.99 each.  There are certainly more expensive “performance” shocks available, but at this time I didn’t see any need to go beyond OEM stock type shocks.  Unless you plan on racing the vehicle more than driving it on the street, stock shocks will greatly improve the ride over racing shocks (which are designed for weight transfer, not comfort!).  Gabriel was running a rebate of 20% off so the final cost was 20.00 per shock.  Replacing the shocks is a fairly simple job but you do have to remove some interior trim to reach the upper mount. 

I wish I could say the same about replacing the front struts (being easy that is).  I replaced them with Gabriel Ultra Struts (Part Number G56700).  They were 43.99 each but also part of the 20% rebate so the final cost was 35.00 each.  I am almost 100% certain I took off the original struts.  It was a very difficult job as the bolts were very tight.  I used a substantial amount of penetrating oil as well as breaker bar with an extension.  I estimate I needed close to 200 ft-lb of torque to remove a couple of the bolts!

The entire shock/strut job cost me 110.00.  The job took me the better part of an afternoon and at times, particularly with the front struts, it was extremely frustrating.  Of course, like I said in the introduction, overcoming these little problems can be a source of great satisfaction.  This is a perfect example of the idea that if you really can’t handle these little setbacks, this is not a project to undertake unless you want to “checkbook” the whole thing.

Suspension Bushings/Mounts

Since every bushing looked (was) old and worenout, I purchased an Energy Suspension Kit from Summit Racing (PN ENS-3-18131G – 109.95) as well as additional parts for the 34 mm front anti-sway bar (PN ENS-3-5131G – 12.50) and 24 mm rear anti sway bar (PN ENS-5147G – 30.25 – the price is higher because it also came with anti-sway bar links – they were included in the main kit for the front anti-sway bar).  Did I have to get the higher priced Energy Suspension kit?  Of course not; I could have went with stock type rubber bushings.  The thing is that if you are going to go through the trouble of replacing these parts, why not replace them with something that is better than original?  It's not like they are giving these parts away at the parts store.  I have used Energy Suspension stuff in all my racing projects and have never been let down.

To say that the removal of the suspension parts was a challenge would be a huge understatement.  I had a particularly difficult time removing the rear track bar.  What had happened was that most of the bolts had rusted to the metal tube in the center of the stock rubber bushings.  I actually sheared off one bolt.  The sound was similar to a .22 caliber rifle shot!  Once I had actually gotten the track bar and rear control arms off, removing the bushings was also a bit of a challenge.  I actually drilled them out.  Fortunately putting the new stuff in was actually quite easy.  I replaced most of the hardware with new Grade 8 bolts, nuts and washers purchased at Lowe’s although they should be available at most any retailer of that sort.

I had to actually cut the left front sway bar end link off using a grinder as the nuts were rusted so bad that they wouldn’t even budge with a ton of penetrating oil and an impact wrench.

I finally changed the transmission mount (Performance Suspension ENS-3-1008G – 22.95 from Summit) in April 2012.  It was a disaster.  Two of the four bolts that hold the transmission rear cross member sheared off.  I had to drill the bolts out and tap the holes to install the new bolts.  Additionally, I had to modify the cross member to fit the larger bolt.

I still have a Torque Arm Bushing (ENS-3-1111G – 12.95) from a previous project that I am considering installing and will do so the first time I have to remove the transmission.

Putting on the Binders

Considering that the right front wheel had a broken stud that needed to be replaced, I decided that I might as well just replace the entire front brake system with new rotors and pads.  I headed to my local Auto Zone and got the parts I needed.

I purchased new rotors (Duralast PN 5547 – 38.99 each) and pads (Duralast PN D154 – 17.99) at Auto Zone at got to work.  Replacing the rotors was a messy but simple job.  The hardest part of the job was actually pushing the brake caliper back into the housing after installing the new pads.  I ended up using a C-Clamp to get the job done.  I did need to bleed the brakes afterwards.  I am purposely not going into too much detail on the brake job since this type of work is extremely well documented in any service manual.

Getting on the Straight (and Narrow)

As I alluded to a bit earlier, the tie rods were completely rusted into the adjusting sleeves.  They were basically one piece instead of three.   The car came with a bit of front end vibration.  At some point the alignment got knocked out of whack.  Replacing the two tie rods and adjusting sleeves is an easy job.  The parts were 110.00 at my local Auto Zone.

 Here’s a summary of my Stage IV costs:

Shocks/Struts                          133.00
Suspension Bushings              210.00
Brakes                                       96.00
Steering                                   110.00

Total                                       539.00

Ready to Roll

This pretty much concludes the refurbishment necessary to get the car safely on the road. 

Cost summary:

Stage I through III                  1362.00
Stage IV                                    539.00
Total                                        1901.00

So, for basically less than 2K I have a decent running, safe car that I can enjoy.  With this being the case, it was time to get to some "fun" jobs in Stage V.


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