By Ronald J. Welch
Let me preface this article by saying that the recommendations outlined here are based on experience and are offered only as suggestions. They are not the definitive answer to all suspension projects. Only good project investigation will yield the best results and save you the misery of an uninformed decision.
Trucks with the early single "I" beam technology of the '40's, '50's and '60's were strong, dependable and intended for lots of heavy work in primitive surroundings. These trucks over the years have proven that they were well built and long lasting. However, they lack the comfort and safety features we expect in today's daily transportation. Thus a whole industry has been created to satisfy this need.
Not too long ago there were few choices for converting to IFS (Independent Front Suspension). Really the only choice a restorer had was to cut off the front of his or her truck frame and install a donor front clip from various donor cars. Popular donor cars were Camaro, Nova, Chevelle, Volare, Mustang II, Pinto and Pacer. These solutions were OK, but fraught with problems and trade offs.
Some of these trade-offs are apparent only after the installation. A Camaro clip, by itself, sitting in your garage, may looks quit good until you see it under your truck. Now I'm sure there are a lot of satisfied truck owners who have donor clips on there trucks. They also can attest to some of the trade offs, which include: engine sitting too low in the engine bay, poor handling, problems attaching sheet metal, ride height, and a myriad of other problems.
Today, there are many new choices for an IFS solution. The unique feature of most of these kits are that they are engineered for your application. Another nice feature of most of these kits, is that you do not have to cut your frame to install them. There are also engineered stub frame clips that do require frame cutting. Below, I have outlined briefly some of today's IFS options and the skill required to complete each project.
Camaro/Firebird Stub Frame: HIGHLY-SKILLED
There are really few advantages to this type IFS system above the gain of power steering, disc brakes, and independent suspension. Drawbacks are engine placement, ground clearance, sheet metal relocation and ride height problems.
This type of installation requires the frame to be cut and quit a lot of welding and frame boxing. So, this type project is not for the mechanically or tool impaired. There also is extensive sheet metal remounting tasks that have to be completed along with this type of project. Spring replacement is always required to make the truck handle well. Don't think your saving any money on this type of project, because the corrective measures put you in the kit area on price. Average cost for this project would depend on how much work you farm out. $1,600 to $2,500.
If you really what this type of IFS system, then your best bet is to find a shop that has experience doing this type of work. I don't mean some welding shop. Look for a rod or custom fabrication shop that has a good record with this type of work. Then check out their work through customer references and the local Consumer Affairs Department.
Volare IFS Frame Graft: HIGHLY-SKILLED
Now, let us discuss the Mopar Volare front end graft. This system is very popular with Ford F-100 truck owners. Although I have seen it used on the Chevy, I do not recommend it. When used on a Chevy, the clip is not hidden well by the sheet metal. When standing only a few feet away, the IFS components are very visible. It is personal choice, but the ride is as good as the F-100.
This project is not a simply bolt-in swap from car to truck. This systems requires extensive frame channeling, precision alignment and welding. This work should only be done by those who have done it several times successfully or by someone who is very skilled in automotive fabrication. Since plasma cutting equipment is not usually part of the hobbyists tool inventory, you can see why this type of project should be farmed out.
This type IFS system provides a soft ride and height adjustment made easy via the torsion bars. Cost of the IFS out of the wrecking yard is relatively low. The real cost is in the time and welding requirements. Because the frame is not cut, sheet metal parts are easily re-mounted in their original locations. Aftermarket motor mounts are required for Ford & GM engines. Average project cost: $1,400 to 2,500.
Engineered Roll-Under IFS Assembly: NOVICE to SEMI SKILLED
One of the easiest to install IFS systems is the fully assembled IFS front end. Installation requires that you strip off your old suspension, roll in the new IFS assembly and adapt your steering. These systems usually require welding to the existing frame, but there are a few bolt-in IFS assemblies.
The ride characteristics are excellent and can be tuned to meet your driving needs. The ride height is maintained and handling is quit good. The benefit of power steering and disc brakes speak for themselves.
Most of these systems are built around the Mustang II type IFS and use standard FORD or GM components. There are some hybrid systems that are scratch built and use FORD, GM and now DODGE DAKOTA components. Most of this systems utilize rack and pinion steering and offer options for wheel lug pattern and weight correction. (Springs)
The cost of these type of IFS systems start around $1,600 and up, with around $2,200 being the average project cost with steering. The time savings for this project is substantial. A well tooled hobbyist could do this project in a couple of weekends.
Weld-in / Bolt-in Frame Kits: NOVICE to SEMI-SKILLED
The weld-in or bolt-in kits are available in many forms. There are strip down crossmember only kits and full blown turn key kits which have all the components to complete your IFS project. The strip down kits offer probably the least expensive IFS project cost. It allows the hobbyist to obtain used parts to complete the IFS setup. When used with a bolt-in crossmember, the savings is even greater. With no welding and going with used parts, this type of project could be accomplished for under $1,000....MAYBE! Cost range: $1,000 to $2,500.
Again, many of these kits use FORD and GM components. Other kits use Corvette, Dakota and early '70's Mopar components. These kits allow for many options such as drop spindles, larger brake rotors and custom lug patterns".
The ride quality is equal to that of the roll-under IFS systems and provides the same handling. Both IFS systems allow for timely installation and easy remounting of original sheet metal components. CTS