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Having trouble getting the front suspension right.

482 Views 22 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Grog6
This is my first post. I have been stalking the site for a long time. I've had the car for a while -- it's a 1997 Thunderbird LX. It was in decent shape when I got it. All of the balljoints were torn and the sway bar bushings were shot. It was making noise, so the first project was to re-build the front end including the strut rod bushings. I decided to do the lowering springs and cobra hubs all the way around and the cobra front brakes while I was at it. It aligned well and rode fine.

I decided to take a gamble with the thermoplastic strut rod bushings. That was obviously a mistake. They lasted roughly 3 months. The passenger's side essentially disintegrated. I was able to track down the ford bushings. I kept the original sleeves, so I reused them. It aligned well and rode fine again.

Hurricane Laura hit and ate the shed that the car was in. There was some damage. Surprisingly little for having a building pulled off of it, but still enough to make the care difficult to drive, so it sat for about a year. I got it fixed and started using it as my daily driver again. It started making noise in the front again. I assumed the thermoplastic bushings on the control arm side of the strut rod. I drove it a bit longer than I should have. It turned out to be the lower control arm bushing on the passenger's side. It had torn allowing the arm to move.

I went through the front end checking all the bolts. No issues. The bolt on the arm was tight. I used AC Delco... everything except the upper control arms (that's a different story). So I didn't use cheep parts. I haven't put 15000 miles on the car since the first re-build. I am at a loss. I have since put it all back together with new lower control arms (driver's side had a torn grease boot). It aligned fine again.

Over the last two days, I get a metalic clank when I put it into gear. the noise seems to be coming from the passenger's side front. I also get vibrations through the steering wheel from about 40 to 60 mph. I'm at a loss here. I'm a little sick of working on the front end of the car. The rear needs some attention. I need to deal with the cats. What am I missing with this car?
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The clank part sounds like the driveshaft; vibration too.You have to remove it to check it; I've had two separate. I run an aluminum driveshaft now. As far as the front end, I've rebuilt it every 100k or so; that stuff wears faster than you'd think.
Thanks for the reply. Part of me is happy not to have to mess with the front end again. If I'm not mystaken', I would have to drop the fuel tank to look at the drive shaft. That doesn't sound particularly fun either.

I seem to be having cascading failures with this car. It's been the front end, heater core also decided to pop on me (bypassed for now), getting code P4030, it's definitely smelling funny and running a bit rough, so one cat's probably out, apparent drive shaft issues, and the door lock switches are dead. It only has 86K miles on the clock (I believe it still works).
86K; but 26 years old. Don't get discouraged, these are great cars, but anything that old will have failures.
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Kidd-7, it's funny you mention the age of the car. You're right, it's old enough to drink and have kids in elementary school. It's also my newest car. It's the fanciest and most complicated of the group. It's the first car I've actually had to bypass the heater core on myself; the other two came pre-bypassed... I guess it's going to be another project car.
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it's old enough to drink and have kids in elementary school.
My '89 is now 10 years older than I was when I bought it.
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To repair the front, all you have to do is replace both sets of control arms, the swaybar endlinks, and the tie rod ends, then get it aligned; you're done.If the strut rod bushings go bad, you're stuck with termoplastic MOOGs now.
To repair te front, all you have to do is replace both sets of control arms, the swaybar endlinks, and the tie rod ends, then get it alligned; youre done.If the strut rod bushings go bad, you're stuck with termoplastic moogs now.
The 60s Lincoln Continental Energy suspension ones too. Still look good on mine after a year, I think the design is more of a factor in premature failure than the material.

There was a legit rubber aftermarket substitute found as well in the last strut rod thread as well
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I was looking for an mlps in \the garage yesterday, and found two sets of front ones; I knew I still had the back ones. Nice surprise. :)I also found all the stuff to rebuild my spare set of rear control arms.
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Your new noises sound like drive shaft noises to me. Or possibly TC noises. Good job keeping up the front end. Some of these cars seem to eat front control arms and components. It almost seems like batches of bad parts and bad luck.

You really did well changing out your hubs, springs and doing the Cobra brake upgrade...none of that is cheap or all that easy. Point being, great start. Your old car needs all new everything be all new again.

But, they do not make cars like these any more. At least, not ones I could ever afford.
As far as the drive shaft goes you don't have to pull the fuel tank what I do is place a jack under the differential then take out the 4 bolts holding to the sub frame (blots will have nuts facing downward but you need to remove the bolts from the subframe) then lower the diff until the axlels are touching the lower control arms this will give you just enough clearance to slide the drive shaft over the diff to disconnect from the trans. then lower the front of the drive shaft and pull it over the top of the tank... You may have to remove the 2 U brackets that act as a safety meauser incase the u-joints break. I've done this by pulling the tank and done it by doing this way I promise you it's easier to to drop the diff....
I appreciate the guidance. I am use to the old car grind. I've got another 2 old fords that I've been taking care of for a while ('68 Cougar and '71 Torino). The Thunderbird is definitely more complicated than the old Falcon platform. Dropping the drive shaft, for example, is just un-doing the u-bolts on the diff and poping the u-joint out. I don't think the exhaust is even in the way on either other car.

I appreciate the dropping the IRS cradle idea, 97 Teebs. One of the next projects was going to be re-bushing the rear. I was going to go with poly bushings all 'round. It's just an extra step or two, provided the cradle bolts will cooperate.
I really wouldn’t recommend that, those subframe bolts have a high probability of not coming out and if you fasten it down it might be out of alignment with where it was necessating a suspension alignment.

You only need to partially lower the back of the fuel tank. You don’t need to fully unbolt it ordisconnect hoses or lines, just lower it enough and you can slip the whole driveshaft out underneath the differential
PST of florida made shafts for a group buy we did about 10 years ago; I got a discount on the last one I bought several years later, by mentioning tccoa. Their prices only look to be ~100bux higher, call and ask. BTW, a 4" shaft is too big, it rubs, and a member cut one in half on one of those u pieces you mentioned.
He managed to turn the safety loop into an impromptu- lathe. That's definitely not a good surprise. 3.5 in shaft it is, than.

I think I read about the tendency of the IRS sub-frame bolts being a bit difficult to remove. The gas tank seems to be an easier bet. I am taking the car to deal with the cats this Friday. I decided to just do the entire exhaust. I went with the Tru Bendz 2.5" kit. I was going to have them put a couple of band-clamps either before or after the X-pipe so I can drop the exhaust to make getting to the tank a little easier. The fuel pump is definitely on the list of things to upgrade, too.
Be careful where you get your pump; china is now making fake walbros.
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I figured I should keep this up-to-date just in case anyone else runs into similar issues.

I did the exhaust as well as cleaned the MAF and put a new air filter in. I pulled the battery leads for a few hours to reset the computer. I also slid under the car and checked the lower, inner control arm bolts (just for fun). They were tight. So, now the car both sounds and performs better than before. Still having some issues.

I am leaning more toward Rocketdog's line of thinking. I have a trans leak. It hasn't made it into the "low" range on the stick, but it's not full either. I added a little less than 1/2 a quart of fluid over the weekend and the vibration is less pronounced. I am also getting some odd responses while driving. When I get up to speed and let off the gas, (moving from light acceleration to cruse) it seems to loose power and stumble slightly. It corrects quickly, but it is noticeable. It had been doing this before, but it was also running pretty rough (I'm assuming due to the dying cat'). It also doesn't want to rev past 2500 RPM.

I am thinking fuel starvation or torque converter issues. Will be changing out the fuel filter sometime this week.
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Fairly sure it's the torque converter. Spent some time getting the fluid just right and no vibrations and no nosing over between acceleration and cruse. So, ideally, find the leak (fingers crossed it's just the pan gasket), fix it, and back to business as usual.

Feel a little dumb for chasing suspension gremlins instead of looking for other possible causes. Good thing this is just a hobby. I appreciate the help.
Won't rev past 2500 is usually the spark plug wires and or plugs. It can mimic TC shudder pretty well. It's a misfire, and causes issues. Make sure there's no water or coolant in the spark plug wells.
However, vibration, then a trans leak is exactly the progression I had on the Red cougar. It was the driveshaft, and I left it long enough, it took out the transmission, diff, and rear wheel bearings, lol. Both the diff gears and the bearings had this really weird pattern on them, that had to be caused by the vibration. I bought new knuckles and a diff from the JY. The transmission was upgraded to a 2002 Gran Marquis transmission. The leaks kill them slowly; they really don't like being more than a pint low. The seal at the tail was bad, and the tail assembly on the trans was loose. Check the bolts. That's an easy confirmation that the ds is bad. It also goes 'ting' when you put it in gear, when it's really bad.
I appreciate the advice. It is going 'ting' in the mornings when I throw 'er in reverse. So... bad. I'll slide under this weekend and check the tail shaft bolts.

It's odd, the Torino that the Thunderbird shares a garage with has the same problem. I know the tail housing seal is shot and the front main seal on the diff also leaks a bit. It also vibrates a little. I've suspected the drive shaft on it for a while. I don't really care about those bits because I'm going to be changing most of it out for other things when budget allows. Ironically I think the Thunderbird will be cutting into that budget. Gotta' keep one of them running to get to work... Thinking about it, the Torino may be a bit easier to deal with in the short term. That'd mean driving to work with no AC in the Texas heat.
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