Being low on cash sucks. But you can still work on your car even with a tight budget. It just takes a little more time, skill, and ingenuity. While some people can just open a catalog and place an order for cool suspension parts, the truth is that most of us cannot. Here's a secret, though: The factory parts are pretty good, and there are inexpensive ways to make them even better.
We are playing with the control arms from our '86 Caprice, but you can strengthen any suspension parts without spending a lot of money. That includes boxing rear control arms, frames, crossmembers, or whatever. We used less than $20 in materials and tools that most people would have access to either in their own homes or through friends or networking. Keep in mind that you don't need to use a $2,200 Miller TIG welder like we did. An inexpensive 110V MIG would have accomplished the same thing.
There are several companies that make tubular arms for our donk (Chevy Caprice) that are both stronger and engineered to make the car handle better, but we decided to work with what we had and save some money in the process. We had the control arms off the car to replace the bushings (which was covered in November's issue of our ugly stepsister publication Chevy High Performance) and were a little surprised by just how much the arms flexed as the new bushings were being pressed in. We decided to reinforce the wide area between the spring bucket and the bushing mounts and therefore improve handling. So we made a crude-looking template out of cardboard that fit the spaces we were targeting.>
We clamped the steel in a vise and trimmed the excess bits away with a die grinder.
Then we used electric shears to cut the shape of the reinforcing plates.
Though the shears were pretty good at following the contours of the shapes we traced, we l
We used our bench grinder to trim away the excess material. It takes a little time shaping
Prior to welding, we cleaned up the control arms and the reinforcing plates with a Scotch-
It can be tricky welding two pieces of metal together that are of differing thicknesses because the heat setting for the thicker piece can cause you to burn through the thinner piece. In experimenting with the heat settings on our welder, we decided that 100 amps worked best. We aimed the torch more at the control arm, since it was the thicker piece, and started a weld puddle. Then we slowly added the filler rod and moved along the seam. In places where the fit between the two pieces wasn't very tight, we had to bridge the gap with a couple of extra passes of filler rod. A hundred amps sounds like a lot of heat, but remember that you control the TIG welder with a foot pedal. Like the throttle on your car, it varies the power output. You'll often need more heat to start the weld. But once the puddle forms, you can usually back off the pedal and still continue to weld using only as much amperage as is needed. We're using ER70S-6 filler rod, a good general-use filler material for welding mild steel.>
OK, these welds aren't that great-looking, but we're still getting the hang of TIG welding. After the control arms cooled off, we sprayed them with a few coats of Eastwood's satin black wheel paint. It dries quickly and offers good protection against chipping.
The Eastwood Company
263 Shoemaker Rd.
Miller Electric Manufacturing Co