The Ball Joint Adventure

I ordered and received a set of rebuilt torsion arms from Wolfgang International in about 5 days. They had been cleaned up and painted gloss black. Ball joints, with new lock nuts and concentric adjusters for the upper joints, were in place and everything looked in order.

The next Saturday (3/23) I began the tear down. The front end went up on jack stands and the front wheels came off. With the hind sight one gets on Monday mornings, before starting this again I would remove the upper arm bump stops before getting the front end off the ground. I removed them later and reinstalled them after completing the front end re-assembly by facing the van down the slight hill on my driveway -- to get enough weight transferred to raise the upper arm high enough to clear the stop and stud. The stop is held on by a clip that slips into a slot in the stud on the bottom of the stop.

While I had the wheels off I planned to re-painted them. Right after the body work and painting was originally finished, the wheels were looking a little shabby in comparison. I got some new VW hub caps and some 14" chrome rings (from the Pep Boys) to dress up the wheels. I took some silver paint to the wheels before installing the new chrome pieces. Well, four years later the silver paint had begun to look a little dingy so while they are off they'll get redone.

I began the disassembly process by removing the brake calipers and wiring them up in the wheel well. Then I removed both shock absorbers. Since the lower arms were coming off the stabilizer bar was also removed. I purchased a set of Sway-A-Way stabilizer bars for the front and rear so would be replacing the from one with a new heavier bar. Then, very carefully, using a tie-rod fork I removed the tie-rods at the steering knuckle attachment point.

I have a little 3 ton floor jack that I placed under the lower torsion arm with just a little bit of pressure before I removed the 27mm ball joint nuts. With both removed I gently lowered the jack and the top ball joint stud eased out and further dropping the jack the lower came off. Based on a review of Bentley’s instructions showing a press being used to push the studs out of the knuckles I can’t say that my experience was normal (studs sliding out) but on my van it happened on both sides.

With the steering knuckle/disk rotor out of the way it was time for the torsion arms. I loosened the stop nuts and then removed the allen screws that secure the upper and lower arms to the torsion bar. The lower arms just slid right off. Have lots of rags ready – grease every where! Here’s where I ran into the upper arm stop problem mentioned earlier. The upper arm is pressed right against it. When removed it will let the arm drop about an inch or so further and therefore less pressure from the torsion bar. It also makes it easier to get back on. I used my tie-rod fork to lift the torsion arm off the stop using a small hammer knocked the arms off. This was a tedious process with the stops in place.

Once the upper arms were off I ran in to a small problem. The right hand end of the torsion bar was a mess. The weld was missing and the springs were every where but right.

The torsion bar, for those never having seen one, is a collection of 9 springs. They are stacked together in this order and number of leaves: 1 narrow, 2 medium, 3 wide, 2 medium, 1 narrow. What results is a semi round bar with a distinctive shape. At each end of the bar there is a weld that runs across its width to hold this unit together. This shape goes through a fitting in the middle of each torsion tube and held in place by an allen screw/stop nut, like the ones used to attach the torsion arms, that is located in the center of the torsion tubes. If you look into a torsion arm you’ll see a fitting the same shape where the torsion bar slides into the arm.

The bar needed re-welded or replaced. I called some local dismantlers but they insisted on selling me a complete front end. I did finally locate a new one, $85.00, from The Bus Boys in Redding. It was ordered and shipped, ready for the next weekend’s work.

Many thanks to Bob Hoover who took time out on his weekend to lend an ear regarding the stubborn upper torsion arms and lack of weld on the torsion bar. He provided good sound advice, as usual.

While checking over the torsion arms I noticed that I had 2 r/h upper arms. I called Wolfgang’s Monday and they weren’t surprised. Just a few minutes prior to my call another customer had called about getting 2 l/h upper arms. I had the replacement in 2 days. They handled it with good spirits and my torsion bar problem provided a window that made the delay OK. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll check closer when the box comes in. Probably a good lesson here for any mail order part deliveries.

Putting it all back together took about half of the next Saturday.

I greased up the torsion bar and slid it back in, when it is evenly spaced the center set screw gets put in. Make sure it seats all the way in. There is a dimple like the ones at the ends for the torsion bars in the bar that the set screw fits in.

Then the torsion arms get slipped back on. The lowers are easy. The uppers were looking like a problem until I took off the afore mentioned stops. They would slip on and just catch the bar in the shaped fitting right at the point where the stop’s base would prevent lifting it over the bracket. With the stop off it went right on, with a little persuasion from a mallet while lifting it with the ball-joint fork.

With the torsion arms back on and set screws in it was time for the steering knuckle/rotor to go back on. I placed the floor jack under the lower arm as I had during removal. Then I pulled the lower steering knuckle up over the lower ball joint stud and put the nut on finger tight. Then I carefully maneuvered the upper ball joint stud over the steering knuckle and very slowly jacked the lower arm up guiding the stud through the hole. Add nut and tighten to 92 ft./lb.’s.

Then the brake calipers went back on after cleaning up the rotors. With newly painted wheels back on, the front end came off the jack stands.

The new front stabilizer bar went back on very easily. I used new clamps for the rubber grommets.

The rear stabilizer bar required the addition of an "L" bracket to the inner lower bolt where the spring plate attaches at the wheel. Then the ends of the bar are bolted at the bracket and at the front of the bar there are grommets that are clamped to the torsion tube. All in all a nice addition. Cornering is noticeably flatter.

After a good alignment the difference is amazing. The ball joints that were replaced were in horrible shape. They rattled in their cages – very unsafe I’m sure. So the change was like night and day. It really feels solid driving down the road.

to the Project Page