Thursday, 28 February 2013

Suspended in time.

Take the engine out of a Vauxhall Viva and you are left with a large black hole through which a large oily  chunk of metal that is the 'cross-member' can be seen.

With the engine in place it is largely forgotten...... being 'out of sight – out of mind' . After gazing contemplatively at this dark study in oil and rust for some while I began to realise how neglected it all was.

Most of the life-saving bits of a car are hung onto this old bit of Vauxhall engineering. Inconsequential parts like brakes, steering, and suspension are all to be found lurking here. Brake pads and hoses had been replaced over the years together with the steering rack, but the shock absorbers are original, so are the discs. Top ball-joints were the same as they left the factory (a swine to replace in the car as they are riveted into the wishbone) and the inner top wishbone bushes looked very sad indeed.

Amazingly the top ball-joints still worked well after over forty years, but this was a sorry state of affairs that obviously could not continue........

Engine was out making the job 'easy' and so I embarked  on a re-build of the cross-member with all it's important little bits. A rare sunny day had prompted a start on this part of the restoration that was to prove more of a challenge than the engine.

Over the next few days I started to release bolts that had not been moved for nearly forty years. My first problem was how to actually support the car whilst the cross-member and suspension was dropped downwards. My drive has an incline so the chance of introducing some instability as the car was put onto stands is always present so care was needed. Andrew helped with a bit of psychological support and suggestions as I supported the body shell and rested the (unbolted) cross-member on a hydraulic jack.

With the shell firmly supported on a variety of stands, I lowered the cross-member down complete with brakes and suspension. Looking very sorry for itself it now rested on the drive blinking in the sunshine. This luxury of sun-bathing was not to last as I dragged this lump of rust into the dark cold garage, dumping it unceremoniously onto the floor.

vauxhall viva cross-member
'Sorry state of affairs'...........Viva cross-member

 Right......where to start?   Steering rack ? why with the track rod ends and bolts holding it to the cross-member, 'et voila!' steering rack is consigned to the corner of the garage, as if in disgrace ( it is actually in good condition, having been on the vehicle only 4000 miles )

Brake pads out.....brake calipers off together with a mental note to replace the grooved brake discs with new ( I already have some new calipers)  Spring  compressors were used to keep the suspension springs from going 'Boing! whilst the lower wishbone arms and shock-absorbers were removed .

Eventually the cross member became lighter and lighter as everything was taken off. Top wishbone arms still remained held onto the cross-member with a ten-inch long 'fulcrum bolt' which then goes through bushes in the arms of the wishbone. It was these bushes that were obviously 'cream-crackered' and would have failed an MOT test. So first replace the bushes.

O.K ......hmmmmmm......what does the manual say ?  oh yes.....remove the fulcrum bolt.  Large nut holding it was removed after a lot of persuasion and a large extension on the arm of the socket wrench ( a piece of strong steel tube)

Right......that is it then. Just remove the bolt, easy peasy.  A slight tap with the 'Manchester Screwdriver'
 ( hammer) did not move it.  A large smack with the hammer did not move it.

" Pass the BIG hammer please" I asked Andrew

A 2 1/2 lbs 'lump' hammer was passed over.  This is a real  'persuader' and I took a real standing swing at this recalcitrant bolt. In fact I took at least a  dozen full blooded swings before making a tactical retreat to consider further action.

Vauxhall Viva upper wishbone bush
This lady was not for moving........stubborn upper wishbone pivot bolt.

This lady was not for moving !!!!!

Vauxhal;l Viva cross member
Vauxhall Viva cross-member awaits sympathetic attention ( with a lump hammer). Re-built engine is pictured right.
Both fulcrum bolts refused to move despite use of the 'big' hammer.  Repeated attempts over the next few days produced no progress in moving the bolts.  A neighbour who is a retired garage owner suggested heating it to a red heat heat with an Oxyacetylene torch......
" I have never known that to fail " he suggested
Not having the luxury of such equipment in my garage, I approached a local classic car restoration business called 'Merlin' and they agreed to have a go with their Oxy' gear.

With the cross member on the bench and the outer tube heated to a red heat further attempts to free the bolts were made with a large hammer without success.

Owner of 'Merlin' suggested that the tubes and pivot bolts were cut off and new ones made. He knew a local engineer called 'Sefton' who wrestled old traction engines for a hobby and was sure he could do the job.

A phone call a week later brought the bad news that 'Sefton' was busy for a month. I waited a month and  after a few phones calls I realized that for whatever reason their was no enthusiasm to take on the job. Wanting to move some progress I decided that my favourite old maxim stills holds true......

'If you want a job doing....... do it yourself !'

Whilst waiting to see if the Traction Engine enthusiast could do the job I filled in the time with removing both bottom and upper ball joints in readiness for new ones.  I had replaced the bottom ones some years ago and after removing the circlips I found that I had the same problem as the pivot bolt.....they just would not move!

Repeated smacks with the hammer was useless.  Chatting with a friend who used to own a HB Viva many years go he offered to help by bringing his father's home made 'pullers' from his garage.

His father like so many in the north of England had served apprenticeships in engineering during the 1940s
and learned skills that have now sadly died with them. One of the skills was to make their own tools and this set of  sixty-year-old 'pullers' was just one of them.  A modern equivalent with cost you £60 - £70.

It was almost with a sense of history that my mate 'Phil' put the claws of the puller around the wishbone and I realised that his father could not have foreseen that seventy years after he had skillfully made them that they would be still being used on a forty-year-old Vauxhall Viva !!!!

Phil told me he had used these before for this exact same job on a friends car in the 1970s after the balljoints had refused to move after weeks of trying by his friend with sheer brute strength.

He went into his garage and came out a few minutes late saying....

" These just fell into my hand "  he said with a mischievous smile .

Back to the present day - a few taps with the a hammer - a few extra turns of the screw and one balljoint started to move. A five minutes or so later we had both joints on the floor and the job sorted.  The hand-made pullers that were produced so many years ago will be put away and hopefully helping to repair Vauxhall Vivas in a hundred years time !!!!

Top balljoints have to drilled out as they were riveted to the upper wishbone during manufacture. I took the upper rivet heads off with an angle-grinder and tried to drift the rivets out from the top.  This did not produce any movement. I then tried drilling through the bottom 'head' and drifting it with a few hard smacks from the top, the drill-hole then gives you a guide to where the rivet is . It is important to drill dead centre as it is easy to carve up the original holes if you drill at an angle. Rivets are replaced by 5/16" bolts  supplied with the new joints.

Vauxhall Viva balljoint removal
Vauxhall HC  upper balljoint removal & replacement

Vauxhall Viva balljoint removal
Vauxhall Viva balljoint rivets drifted-out with a punch ( right) after drilling.

Replacing the top ball joints had almost been a a diversion away from addressing the real to remove the rusted in top fulcrum/pivot bolts. During an idle glance through 'Ebay' for Vauxhall Viva parts I noticed a a cross member or 'suspension cradle' as it was described for sale exactly the same as our problem one.......without the and you shall find !!!!!!!!!

An email to the owner confirmed that it came complete with pivot bolts (removed) and had been grit blasted, primed and painted !!!!!! As these things are a heavy bit of metal it was naturally 'collect only' - 160 miles away in Sunderland!

I mentioned the problem I had with the seized top wishbone pivot bolts and he related a story about another cross-member he was stripping down and found exactly the same problem. He used a power-hammer or something like that bending the tube !!!!!  It seems these bolts either almost drop out or you have big time problems only cured by new tubes and bolts. ( I had bought some EN8 1/2" steel round bar to make new 10" bolts)

Vauxhall HC Viva top wishbone pivot bolt
Original rust-seized HC Viva cross-member pivot bolt. I had even tried drilling holes into the outer tube to inject oil - this proving a waste of time.

A day or so later saw Andrew and myself  speeding over the snow-covered Yorkshire Moors to collect our rare find. It was as good as the owner had described being part of a project he had changed direction on  and been restored to an almost new condition.

After a day in sunny Sunderland we could not believe our luck as it sat gleaming on the garage floor...........................

Vauxhall HC Viva cross member / suspension cradle.

With both top and bottom wishbones off the cross-member I have replaced both top and bottom ball-joints and replaced the top wishbone bushes with 'Superpro' poly bushes.  I had cut the original seized pivot bolt
as it entered the bushes ( I had planned to drill out the old bolts) enabling me to remove wishbones from the cross member.

I had purchased some poly-bushes from the Vauxhall Viva Owner's Club. These were half the price of 'Superpro' because they came without the outer tube and were designed to be used with the original outer steel tube that goes through the wishbone.

On close inspection I realised that there was some serious corrosion on the original outer bush tubes and the purchase of 'Superpro' was the only way to go ( they come with new alloy outer and inner tubes)

Vauxhall HC Viva Superpro poly wishbone bush
Old and new.........Viva HC top wishbone 'Superpro' bush next to the cream-crackered outer steel tube of the original.

I removed the old rubber bush material which was in surprisingly good condition although cracked and rotten on the surface.  Drilling through the material and then prizing out of the tube with a large screwdriver. Removal of the outer tube from the wishbone looked problematic as it was seriously rusted in. I decided to cut the bush tube wall from top to bottom with a small hacksaw and them bent the tube inwards away from the wishbone with a cold chisel.

Vauxhal;l Viva wishbone bush
Removing original top wishbone bush

Vauxhall Viva top wishbone bush
Removing HC Viva top wishbone bush. Outer 'tube' has been cut with small hacksaw and bent inwards with a chisel.

New bushes are an interference fit and really need to be pressed in with a bush press.  I do not posses such a luxury so a vice and hammer ( protecting the bush with a piece of wood) eventually found them in place.

Superpro Vauxhall Viva wishbone bush
'Superpro' bush eventually fitted to my Vauxhall HC Viva top wishbone

Vauxhall HC Viva top wishbone Superpro bushes
Completed top wishbones with new 'Superpro' Poly' bushes and ball joints on my 1974 Vauxhall HC Viva.
Pivot bolts that came with the 'new' cross-member/suspension cradle. I have not gold-plated them..........they have been blasted with copper anti-seize grease prior to fitting.  Vauxhall HC Viva

Progress was now actually being made :)      New bottom wishbone ball joints were now fitted being fairly straightforward apart from the circlips. I had bought new ones from 'Vauxhall greenparts' as the old ones were rusty and possibly brittle.  Even using circlip pliers you seem to need four pairs of hands to snap them in. It is important that the joint is pressed well and truly 'home' or the groove for the ring is not fully exposed and the all-important circlip will not fit.

I had bought some Quinton Hazel new 'old stock' ball-joints.  Quinton Hazell was once a large successful company founded in 1947 by a Mr Eric Quinton Hazell.  A U.K company based in North Wales selling quality automotive parts to 160 countries in their 1950s/60s heyday, but they went into administration last year.
Obviously there are many economic factors for their demise, but certainly one of them is that modern cars
are just so reliable compared to those of the 60s and 70s. A retired motor mechanic acquaintance recently made this observation to me .....

" They don,t make cars like they used to........ thank God! "

Certainly in the 1960s and 70s many car owners worth their salt could be found every Sunday morning on drives in front of houses replacing water-pumps/ ball-joints/suspension parts, etc. Ask a local motor accessory shop if he sells many parts like that anymore and he will reply with a wistful negative.

New bottom ball-joint fitted.  Lower wishbone.   HC Viva
Quinton Hazell  - went into administration during 2012

'Made in Great Britain ' A proud boast stamped on old Quinton Hazell parts.

With the 'new' cross-member we were starting to make some real progress as we could now start to reassemble everything. We began to swap the old control-arms over onto the outriggers and realised that it would be sensible to replace the original rubber bushes at this point as one of the bushes was looking tired and brittle. Finding a new set of original rubber bushes is like searching for rocking-horse droppings and a new set of Polyurethane bushes is the only way to go.

Searching for the correct Poly' bush set is not easy either.  'Superpro' who make them are an Australian company and like our American cousins we seem to separated by a common language!  Australian automotive descriptions certainly seem to differ from the U.K and sometimes the only way to find the correct bush is to compare photographs in their on-line parts lists visually with your original.........

Suppliers are not much help either as they have just 'copy and paste' from the original Australian text.
I spotted a 'possible' match  on an Ebay supplier shop site and managed to actually phone the supplier who was as uncertain as myself if this was the correct bush as it was described by 'Superpro' as.......'Front strut bar to chassis mount bush'

Vauxhall described the 'front strut' as a 'control arm' and 'chassis mount' could be misunderstood for a separate bush that is used to connect the cross-member to er......well....would you believe the chassis !
So buyer beware !!!!  I mentioned that it seemed to visually match the original, being four separate bushes and two tubes..... it should read " Control arm to outrigger" in my humble opinion.

" Not always the case as sometimes 'Superpro' change the design into one single bush " replied Mr Supplier.

He promised to change it if it was not the correct one, fortunately it was.  So in conclusion if you are doing this job 'Superpro' SPF1429K bush set is the correct one !!!!!!!!!

see pic............

viva poly bush superpro
Vauxhall HC Viva outrigger bush set compared to originals

......and fitted to the cross-member outrigger. Second mating bush is hidden in the outrigger arm.  HC Viva

Time had come to replace the front suspension springs and new shock absorbers. This proved to, well perhaps the most polite description.  Spring compressors were used, but it seemed much more difficult than when we removed them. Perseverance, as with most things in life eventually won the day as we moved closer to a completely restored front suspension/ brakes and steering assembly.

Vauxhall Viva front suspension
Spring compressors used during front suspension reassembly.  HC Viva

Nearing completion .....Vauxhall Viva front suspension restoration.

More to follow...........

Like many Google 'blogspot' users I am having problems with the 'comments' form appearing.....if you have a suggestion to resolve this or just comment on the blog click on 'No comments' below and the form will appear like magic !!..........illogical, but it works!  :)
    Remember if you want to be totally confused you need a computer!


  1. Just rebuilding a Viva front end at the moment. Had the same problems with the top wishbone fulcrums as you. Also had the same problem with my CF Bedford camper last year. Same design but bigger and was still in the van!!!
    Enjoying your blog.


  2. Interesting, I have the same problem but with the lower arm instead. Looks like i'm buying a sabre saw tomorrow. Any chance you've a list of part numbers for all bushes and ball joints you've replaced??

    1. Logan. Upper wishbone is Superpro SPF 1637K (DO NOT USE SPF 2119K AS SUGGESTED BY SOME EBAY SELLERS - THEY ARE T0O LARGE FOR A HC VIVA)
      Lower Outrigger bushes (see pictures a few paragraphs back) are SUPERPRO SPF1429K for the HC Viva. If in any doubt e-mail Superpro Europe direct - most Ebay automotive suppliers ( apart from individual Viva owners)
      in my experience have copied and pasted from an old Superpro parts list WHICH IS WRONG IN REGARD TO THE UPPER WISHBONE!!!!!! I have this knowledge direct from a senior manger at Superpro Europe so I am sure of my facts ( and I have used SPF 1637K for the upper-wishbone - so I know it fits)
      Ball joints for the HC viva (upper and lower) are a plentiful and common sale item on Ebay
      All the best....... Chris

  3. thank you for the part numbers as one day i might have to replace these and the thought of trying to find ones to fit filled me with dread.

  4. bonjour je cherche amortisseure avant pouver donner une réference merci