The Suspension Situation, Part 1

It’s been a while since I posted about the Miata. It’s been a while since I posted at all. I have been driving the car. And have autocrossed it a few times. But for one full month, the last week in June through the first three weeks of July, the car sat on jackstands while I tried to replace the shocks, springs, and sway bars with autocross ready high performance bits. Once again rust and old fasteners were my enemies.

I started with the front of the car. To replace the shocks in the front you have to disconnect the upper ball joint. Rust had made the cotter pins in the upper ball joints virtually unremovable. I sat for a half hour picking at the right side and then gave up. Irene then tried and after 10 minutes or so got it out. The left side was not so lucky. We had to drill out the cotter pin. The castle nut on this side got all chewed up and had to removed with an easy-off. This meant that we could not re-use it and had to find a replacement. Not an easy thing. In fact I had to replace the nuts and bolts that attached the shock to the control arm, and all the sway bar fasteners. AND all the boot were ripped. Upper ball joint, lower ball joint, tie rod ends. Both sides. We took a trip to the nearest Sears Hardware to get the new fasteners and put the front shocks and coilover springs in. Time for the rears.
The rear of the car was even more of a nightmare. Where the bottom of the shock connects to the lower control arm there is a bolt. On the end of that bolt is a square nut that is kind of hidden inside the control arm and thus is held in place from spinning by some sheet metal. It’s a common problem for these square nuts to spin loose and that is exactly what mine did on the right side. On the left side it was just frozen solid. Wouldn’t even spin with an impact on it. That was about all I could take for one day. We would pick it up tomorrow.

So the next day (Sunday) I brought up my Dremel to try and widen out the hole to access the “captive nut” as they are known. It was VERY slow going. My battery powered Dremel wasn’t making much of a dent in the metal and was running out of it’s charge pretty quickly. Irene’s Dad has a plugin Dremel so I switched to that. It still wasn’t doing a whole lot to open the hole up and I couldn’t get a good hold on the wrench. Part of the problem was that the sheet metal that is supposed to hold the nut in place was in the way of me getting a good grip on it with a wrench. So we decided to take the whole rear suspension out as a unit to get better access at it. I went to remove the bolts that hold the rear lower control arms the chassis. These bolts are special offset bolts that also function as the alignment adjustment. I try the first one and it breaks loose without to much fanfare, just a good snap as it was untorqued. As I pull the ratchet away I see it wasn’t a snap from the nut being untorqued, it was a snap because the bolt sheared off! This happened to all four! Yikes. But it got worse. While two of these broken bolts came out with just a little persuasion from a hammer and punch the other two required heat and a lot more persuasion. A lot more. We beat on them and beat on them before borrowing an air chisel. That was a big delay to get. And after pounding away with the air chisel they STILL didn’t move. That’s when we got out the propane torch. We had to torch the one bolt a couple of times before it came out. But we finally got both rear suspension assemblies out. Irene’s Dad got kinda swept up in “beating the car”. I didn’t expect him to help out as much as he did. But I was grateful, and lucky, that he did. I needed more tools and experience than I had available myself.

Then we went on with the task of separating the rear shock from the lower control arms. With the control arms out of the car we could get a better look at what was going on. We needed to move the thin piece of steel that kept the “captive nut” captive. A small screwdriver and chisel took car of that and we were able to jam a wrench in there and use the air gun to loosen the bolt! On the other side, the one what was totally frozen, we tried using heat to loosen that one up too. We ended up melting the whole shock bushing out b/c the thing still would not budge. Luckily Irene’s Dad also had a sawzall! We had to cut the bolt on either side of the shock to get it out. A few sawzall blades died in the process. By this time Irene’s Dad and I were beat tired so we called it quits. Another day down the drain. The whole weekend gone and I was only 1/3 of the way done.