01 1957 Ford station wagon contemporary ride and handling capabilities with an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip.
Colin Radford prepares to give the family’s ’57 Ford station wagon contemporary ride and handling capabilities with an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip. That’s his completely homebuilt, Flathead-powered T roadster sharing shop space.

Dressing Up a Chassis With an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip

By Ron Ceridono – Photography by Brian Brennan & Tate Radford

It’s been fascinating to witness the changes that have taken place in hot rodding over the years—most notably the inclusion of cars that at one time would not have been considered to be raw material to build a legitimate hot rod. While the foundation of the hobby was based on cars of the ’40s and earlier, the interest in vehicles produced during the ’50s and ’60s continues to grow—and some of the coolest of them all are station wagons. We demonstrate how to upgrade your hot rod’s front suspension without removing the body, on Colin and Sue Radford’s ’57 Ford Del Rio Ranch Wagon. Enter Art Morrison’s do-it-yourself Bikini Front Clip.

02 Art Morrison Enterprises recommends having the chassis at ride height when attaching their clip.
Art Morrison Enterprises recommends having the chassis at ride height when attaching their clip. Colin found the stock frame sloped up front to rear making determining ride height difficult.

Read More: To the North Pole In A 1939 Mercury Custom Sedan

Two-door station wagons, like the Radfords’ long roof, can be cool cruisers and utilitarian to boot. What a great way to haul family and friends to a show, a swap meet, or just go for a cruise. But while cars of this era are arguably better drivers than their earlier counterparts, they can certainly benefit from upgrades. Typically these cars can use improvements in the suspension department—standard steering can require the arm strength of Popeye to turn a corner, not to mention parking, and the power steering of the day was usually over-assisted, vague, and prone to leaking from a variety of hoses. Brakes are generally not what you want to rely on in a panic stop and the front suspension geometry wasn’t designed with spirited driving in mind.

03 As the station wagon was going to have only a slight rake, Colin leveled the body according to the drip rails.
As the station wagon was going to have only a slight rake, Colin leveled the body according to the drip rails. The important factor is to ensure the new subframe clip is level to maintain the caster that is built into the suspension.

When it came time to update the front suspension under the Radfords’ station wagon, there was a decision to be made. The original suspension could have been updated with contemporary steering and brakes, but then the same old frontend geometry would remain. And when the cost of rebuilding the original suspension was factored in, that option lost its appeal. An entirely new frame could be slid in place, but that was outside the allotted budget. The most sensible option from a cost and performance standpoint was an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip grafted onto the original ’57 frame, so that was the option chosen.

04 The frame rails of Art Morrison Enterprises_s Bikini Clip are long enough on both ends to allow trimming.
The frame rails of Art Morrison Enterprises’s Bikini Clip are long enough on both ends to allow trimming. Ride height can be varied by where the new ’rails are grafted on the original chassis.

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Art Morrison Enterprises’s Bikini Clips uses the same proven suspension geometry found in their complete frames (several performance levels are available) and include custom tubular control arms with either coilovers or air suspension.  To ensure accuracy caster adjustments are made with shims rather that the common Mustang II–style slotted holes that can slip. To customize installations Art Morrison Enterprises offers stock or 2-inch drop Wilwood spindles, and a variety of Wilwood brakes are available. All those cool suspension parts are attached to subframes made from 2×4-inch rectangular tubing in either 0.120 or 0.180-inch wall thickness (ours is 0.120). A beautifully formed, mandrel-bent center crossmember anchors the lower control arms and mounts the rack-and-pinion steering.

05 Before the stock suspension was cut off the station wagon was leveled, then the chassis centerline was established with a plumb bob.
Before the stock suspension was cut off the station wagon was leveled, then the chassis centerline was established with a plumb bob.

Like most other Independent Front Suspension assemblies, careful planning, precise measuring, and quality welds are required to install an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip. Colin has years of fabrication experience and is a certified welder, however others may want to seek help from a professional. Regardless of how it’s done, results will be well worth it. Besides, who doesn’t love a bikini? MR

06 Masking tape was used to make easily identifiable reference points on the shop floor.
Masking tape was used to make easily identifiable reference points on the shop floor.
07 Here the centerline of the original front crossmember is established.
The key to success when installing a clip is to take a variety of measurements. Here the centerline of the original front crossmember is established. Note the hoses for the ram on the original link-style power steering (surprisingly, this one wasn’t leaking).
08 A critical step is to accurately locate the centerline of the spindles.
A critical step is to accurately locate the centerline of the spindles. Of course the wheels have to be straight to do this, so the center of the hubs were marked (this was double checked with the grease caps removed).
09 With help from grandson Tate, the centerline of both front wheels was verified from the front of the original frame.
With help from grandson Tate, the centerline of both front wheels was verified from the front of the original frame. For accuracy the suspension was compressed to ride height with a threaded rod that replaced the shocks.
10 The drop spindle centerline was also checked by measuring to the rear at the body mount.
You can’t take too many measurements. The drop spindle centerline was also checked by measuring to the rear at the body mount.
11 Satisfied that all the measurements were accurate, a plumb bob was again used to make reference marks on the floor.
Satisfied that all the measurements were accurate, a plumb bob was again used to make reference marks on the floor.
12 measurements were taken from the ground up and the drop spindle centerline forward for reference
As some fabrication of the front bumper mounting points will be required measurements were taken from the ground up and the drop spindle centerline forward for reference (we will show how that was done in the next installment).
13 The first was the location of the drop spindle centerline. The cut was made 16-12 inches back from that point.
Two main factors dictated where the frame was to be cut. The first was the location of the drop spindle centerline. The cut was made 16-1/2 inches back from that point.
14 determining where to make the cut was where the subframe and original ’rails would best blend together, so a horizontal cut was made in the Ford’s frame.
The second factor determining where to make the cut was where the subframe and original ’rails would best blend together, so a horizontal cut was made in the Ford’s frame.
15 In some applications the front portion of the frame could be salvaged for bumper and core support mounts—not so in this case.
Talk about the point of no return, here it is. The severed portion of the wagon’s original frame was hoisted up and away. In some applications the front portion of the frame could be salvaged for bumper and core support mounts—not so in this case.
16 The Ford’s framerails were approximately the same gauge steel as the Art Morrison Enterprises bikini clip.
Here are the initial cuts made in the frame. The Ford’s framerails were approximately the same gauge steel as the Art Morrison Enterprises bikini clip.
17 The edges of the cuts were cleaned up with a grinder, being careful to maintain the measurements that had been established.
The edges of the cuts were cleaned up with a grinder, being careful to maintain the measurements that had been established.
18 To reinforce the points where the clip would be attached, the ends of the framerails were boxed.
17 The edges of the cuts were cleaned up with a grinder, being careful to maintain the measurements that had been established.
19 The ends of the Ford’s frame were further reinforced by adding horizontal boxing plates were the clip will attach.
The ends of the Ford’s frame were further reinforced by adding horizontal boxing plates were the clip will attach.
20 Marking the centerline of the Art Morrison Enterprises crossmember allowed it to be matched to the centerline of the frame on the floor that was established earlier.
Marking the centerline of the Art Morrison Enterprises crossmember allowed it to be matched to the centerline of the frame on the floor that was established earlier.
22 Art Morrison Enterprises includes temporary struts in place of the coilovers to position the control arms at ride height.
Colin positioned the clip on jackstands leveled front to back and side to side with the drop spindles at ride height. Art Morrison Enterprises includes temporary struts in place of the coilovers to position the control arms at ride height.
23 With the clip’s rails cut to length the tops (to the left) were cut to match the slope of the Ford’s frame.
With the clip’s rails cut to length the tops (to the left) were cut to match the slope of the Ford’s frame.
24 Here the clip has been welded in place. While it’s hard to tell in this photo, the clip is narrower than the original frame.
Here the clip has been welded in place. While it’s hard to tell in this photo, the clip is narrower than the original frame.
25 To make up for the difference in widths in the new clip and old frame rails, and to reinforce the joints, fishplate reinforcements were made.
To make up for the difference in widths in the new clip and old frame rails, and to reinforce the joints, fishplate reinforcements were made. These are for the outside of each side—they will extend to the front body mount.
26 To accommodate the differences in width, the fishplates were formed on a brake. Here the outer left reinforcement has been tack welded in place.
To accommodate the differences in width, the fishplates were formed on a brake. Here the outer left reinforcement has been tack welded in place.
27 Here the finished welding is in progress—obviously Colin is a skilled welder.
Here the finished welding is in progress—obviously Colin is a skilled welder. Note the cut made to the top of the clip (see photo 23) has been closed with a flat plate.
28 These are the reinforcements for the inside of both splices. These could be longer because there wasn’t a body mount to contend with.
These are the reinforcements for the inside of both splices. These could be longer because there wasn’t a body mount to contend with.
29 There is some final welding to be done on the reinforcements, those will be done when the body is removed, and the frame can be flipped upside down.
There is some final welding to be done on the reinforcements, those will be done when the body is removed, and the frame can be flipped upside down.
30 The Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip will provide ride and handling qualities that couldn’t be imagined in 1957.
The Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip will provide ride and handling qualities that couldn’t be imagined in 1957. We added a Flaming River power rack and pinion and suspension will be via coilovers.
31 Art Morrison Enterprises’s Bikini Clip is an affordable way to add contemporary ride and handling capabilities to virtually any vehicle.
Art Morrison Enterprises’s Bikini Clip is an affordable way to add contemporary ride and handling capabilities to virtually any vehicle. An added plus is all the room now available for an engine swap, which we will need, and you’ll find out why soon.

Goodbye To Our Friend: 

We would be remiss if we didn’t pay tribute to our friend, Craig Morrison, Vice President of Art Morrison Enterprises. Craig died on June 13, 2021. 

After graduating from business school Craig eventually joined his father at Art Morrison Enterprises. He started by sweeping floors, worked in each and every department in the company, eventually rising through the ranks to become VP, dealing with marketing while creating a number of new products. Craig could often be found at street rod events working in the Art Morrison Enterprises booth; he would be one of the guys who was always upbeat and smiling, the other guy would be his father, Art. In the Morrison’s case, the acorn certainly didn’t fall far from the tree. They truly enjoyed each other at work and play and it showed. 

Craig was a many-faceted individual. He was well also known as an automotive enthusiast, outdoorsman, and businessman. He was a force in the hot rod industry, his wit and sense of humor were legendary, and he made friends easily. But more than anything Craig was a devoted son, husband, and father. Our condolences to parents Art and Jeanette, wife Clarey,  and son Alexander, and to his legion of friends. Craig will be missed. —Ron Ceridono

Sources
Art Morrison Enterprises
(866) 808-4759
artmorrison.com

Flaming River Industries
(806) 648-8022
flamingriver.com

 

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