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Old guy44

shocks

6 posts in this topic

I am working on a new to me 63 Catalina convertible. The engine is scattered all over the garage floor right now, the ravages of unleaded fuel, and while it is out  I will be rebuilding the front end. The car only has 43,000 miles on it so I am assuming that pretty much everything on it is factory. I can tell you that the control arm bushings are, those 54 year old bushings are looking pretty tired. It has been many moons since I did any of this stuff and things have changed dramatically since I actually did this for a living. Right now my question is shock absorbers. I did drive the car for about 15 miles when it came in and it is typical of the era. floats along like a boat on the water. Stiffer shock absorbers are definitely in order but what is the best thing going these days.?

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Depends on what you plan to do with the car. If you were racing type, then drag shocks would be in order. Also if you were going to lower the car for either autocross or the low-rider/get-the-car-in-the-weeds look, then perhaps air bagger shocks/suspension kit would be your selection. However, if you plan to essentially keep the car mostly stock appearing with minor upgrades to the stock suspension, I would recommend going with a good quality premium gas shock - either an AC/Delco, Monroe, K-Y-B, or Gabriel replacement for the fronts. You could spring for the multi-adjustable ones from the likes of QA1 but is that what you really want? Plus they are much more expensive.

Out back is a little more complicated. Do you plan to haul a lot of people and/or luggage/tents/car show chairs/coolers, etc, etc, etc. that could weigh down the back end? Again, I would probably start with a premium gas shock. If you think a lot of stuff or people will be needed to be lugged around that will weigh a ton, then perhaps a set of rear air shocks from Gabriel is the ticket. I had issues with my air shocks during a recent parade with my whole family in my Lemans convertible. Since my wife complained about the ride, I decided to try something new. I got a set of Gabriel "Rear Spring Assist Shocks" which is a gas shock with an added coil spring to help support the rear spring under heavier than normal rear loads and I don't have to rely on air pressure to keep them up. Everything is mechanical. 

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That's my two cents, I am sure others will chime with their opinions. Regardless, replacing the bushing all the way around with either rubber or polyurethane will help, along with replacing the front upper and lower ball joints, and perhaps the entire drag link assembly along with the idler and pitman arms.

Lastly, I've read somewhere that someone has come up with a rear sway bar kit for the big B-C cars, which they never had originally. This will make a huge difference in the handling of the car if you can find one and install it. The sway bar could be added at anytime. Getting the car running is the main priority.

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Frosty, I am mostly interested in getting the thing nailed to the ground a little better. The mileage is so low that I believe everything to be factory. Looking at the front bushings they are not really worn out but the exposed rubber is rotting away. My guess is that the shocks all around are factory, yes 54 years old. The ride height will remain stock and for the most part the only thing that will see the rear seat will be the dogs. As stated the few miles I put on it it reminded me of being in a boat just floating along. 

Back when I did this for a living, when we were still washing dinosaur poop off the tires, the go to shock was Monroe but there are so many shocks out there now all making different claims it gets a bit confusing. If I am correct that the shocks are the originals ANYTHING will be an improvement but what is best? Frankly I have not changed a shock or strut in the last 30 or so years except for the front end rebuild on the 500SL basket I resurrected. For better or worse the newer iron seems to last a lot longer. I may just go with a set of Monroes all around and see how they work. 

In digging around I do believe that I saw on a website a rear sway bar for the full size cars but have no idea what web site it was. It did state that the rear arms needed to be boxed but having been a structural steel fabricator at one point in my sordid past boxing the rear arms will not be a problem. I did keep one of the multi function welders when I got rid of the plant. I did not give it much thought at the time but I will need to go back and see if I can find it as sway bars can make a dramatic difference in handling and stability. I have not been under the rear of the car but if the rear bushings are as bad as the front ones I will need to take the rear arms off and change those bushings which would be the opportune time to box them and install the sway bar.

I have checked all the tie rod ends and they are surprisingly tight but we get back to the fact that in spite of the years they only have 43 thousand miles on them. And looking at all the grease on the tie rod ends and the ball joints the former owner had no problem keeping them greased. I will check the ball joints closely when I get the control arms off sometime this week and see how they are. 

The air conditioning has been eating up all my time trying to adapt a later unit to the car. I did find a complete 63 A/C unit for sale but it requires cutting a large section out of the firewall and welding in the same section from the A/C donor car. The condition of this car I am not willing to do that much cutting and welding on it. I have managed to work out everything to adapt a unit out of a 96 Crown Victoria mainly because it was in a friends garage and he wanted it out. Hopefully the Pontiac will not reject the transplant from a ford! The later R134 units are so much more efficient in their operation.

Maybe when i get this thing back on the ground I will make a three page post on what I did and how it worked.

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Posted (edited)

The Safari station wagon came with a rear swaybar standard in 1963. Should be a direct bolt on. Maybe you can find one that is rust free in one those SoCal junkyards out there. Just be sure to get all the mounting hardware with it. As far as boxing the rear control arms unless you're going racing (just my opinion) I would leave them alone. If you do box them be real carefull not to throw too much heat on them doesn't take much for them to twist and warp. Would suggest making a jig you could bolt them into so they can't move around while welding on them. Also don't weld them solid just stitch weld. And skip around to spread the heat around as evenly as possible. let them cool slowly. If you dunk or spray them with cold water it will make the welded areas brittle and prone to cracking. As far as shocks unless the springs are weak and sagging, would stay away from coil overs unless carrying heavy loads of moonshine and don't want to attract the attention of the revenuers.LOL They're people here in NC that still do that. As far as brand's go I've always had good luck with Monroe's...In stock applications.but like Frosty indicated there are lots of them out there...Still wondering what the code on the rear is.

Edited by TWO LANE BLACK TOP

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There is a Pontiac specific junk uh excuse me salvage yard abut two hours away from my house but what I have seen of his prices it probably is about the same price to go aftermarket with a complete kit. It is under $200.00 and considering what I am spending on all the other stuff I am doing what the heck. 

Looking at how the rear sway bar attaches and with my structural background having studied stress reactions to in this case torsional stress I think that there is probably a good reason that they suggest boxing. I used to be a certified structural welder and kept one of my machines which has a wire feed on it capable of handling 5/16 inch steel with innershield. Point being that It does concentrate the heat and moves fast so stitching about an inch at a time working from one end to the other I should not have any heat related problems. I did not however consider the idea of a jig, age related brain fade! At any rate as stated the rear bars will probably need to come off anyway to replace bushings if they look as bad as the front ones do so I would rather box them than wish I had.

As for moonshine I used up my lifetime supply by the time I had reached my mid 20's and had to quit, so that will not be a problem. Yes some of us Californian's had stills also. Never really found anything that had quite the kick of a screwdriver made with 160 proof moonshine.

Right now the front is up on jack stands and the rear is on the ground so there is limited room under it to get my aging frame under there to access the code but in the not too distant future I will get it to you.

I have been thinking lately that this stuff was a lot easier when I had access to my dads repair shop with hoists, a fully equipped machine shop, hot tank, steam cleaner etc. and also a lot less miles on my body.

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Sorry it took awhile for me to get back to you.

I suspect you are right that the bushing are the original. So I would recommend replacing them since time, UV, and road grime/chemical exposure are their natural enemies.

I checked online, and OPGI carries a rear sway bar kit for you '63 Catalina for $225 plus shipping and handling. Well worth the money in my opinion.

The reason they box the control arms is for strength. The stock lower control arms are mearly U-channel. So the control arms are boxed or gusseted for strength to handle the side to side the sway bar is trying to dampen.

Monroe is still a top quality gas shock. Nothing wrong with them.

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