Upgrading Worn Brass Bushings on Early Ford Kingpin Suspension

By Ryan Manson – Photography By The Author

A tight frontend can make all the difference between an enjoyable early Ford and a downright rotten roach of a hot rod. A car that wanders around the lane, is hard to steer and control, or clunks, clangs, and creaks while going down the road is not only uncomfortable, it’s dangerous. Thankfully, early Fords are easy to work on, simple to fix, and easy to find parts for because of companies like Speedway Motors. They stock everything from aftermarket, modern upgrades to OE-style replacement parts for 1928-1948 Fords and beyond.

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Before we begin the spindle installation for our roadster, we need to modify the top of our Speedway Motors 1929-1948 Ford Forged Spindles (PN 91632104) to fit their 12-inch Bendix-Style brake kit backing plates (PN 91065420). Here you can see the area that needs to be relieved.

When it comes to restoring an early Ford frontend or solving any of those aforementioned issues, most attention is usually paid to the area of the kingpin. Over time this is usually the spot that has seen the majority of abuse and is one of only a few items on an early Ford frontend that requires any kind of maintenance. Put simply, a kingpin attaches solidly to the straight axle via a lock pin and the spindle rotates around the kingpin on brass bushings.

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A 4-inch grinder with a 120-grit flap wheel made pretty quick work of clearancing our spindles, while still keeping things relatively smooth. A couple more minutes with a smaller sander will get things perfect before we paint.

Years of regular use eventually wear the softer brass bushings down, allowing the spindle-to-kingpin clearance to increase, resulting in negative handling characteristics. Caught early, it was a simple manner of installing new brass bushings, honing them to match the kingpins, and reassembling the frontend. But many early Fords were driven into the ground, scrapped, and then scavenged for useful parts. That means buying an old axle at the local swap meet can be a bit of a gamble. Oftentimes, the wear that first attacked those brass bushings, moved on to attack the axle, hogging the kingpin bores out to an undesirable shape. This makes the job of the restorer/rebuilder that much more difficult. Thankfully, there are solutions to even the most clapped-out early Ford axle, one of which bears little resemblance to the old bushing Ford kingpin design.

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A piece of card stock works as a good indicator to check the clearance as it gets close. Once the register of the spindle seats fully into the backing plate and the card stock can be slid between the two surfaces, you’re good to go.

Recently, we sourced an original Henry Ford V8-60 front axle for our Project Potvin roadster. It was in decent shape, the kingpin and spring perch bores looked good. After careful consideration and thorough design of our chassis, it was decided that we would need to use a pair of Speedway Motors 3-3/4-inch dropped steering arms to clear the framerails of our one-off tube chassis.

We’ve used the stock-style kingpin bushing rebuild kits in the past but thought we might try out Speedway’s fancy Deluxe Spindle Kingpin Set for 1937-1948 Fords (PN 91032115) for this project. We like the idea of using precision needle bearings instead of the original-style brass bushings and the fact that we won’t need to hone the bushings to get a nice, snug fit. The needle bearing design is also reported to provide superior strength, better lubrication, and easier steering than the stock-style setup. The kit consists of a kingpin, four needle bearings, shims, lock pin, grease fittings, felt gaskets, endcaps, setscrews to replace the spindle-mounted grease fittings, and a thrust bearing for each side. Also pictured is the bearing installation tool at right.

We had also decided to use their Bendix-style 12-inch drum brake kit, having installed a set on our Model A coupe and being thoroughly impressed. That said, it only made sense to use a set of their 1929-1948 spindles to mate the old and new. And since we were mixing up a couple new components with the old, we thought it was worth giving their Deluxe Spindle Kingpin Set a shot.

Before we begin the installation, I wanted to take a moment to clean out the perch pin holes in our V8-60 axle. Thankfully, the bores were pretty clear, so all we had to do was make a couple light passes with an appropriately sized reamer and we were good to go.

Speedway Motors’ Deluxe Spindle Kingpin Set does away with the old-style brass bushings, instead using a set of precision needle bearings pressed into the upper and lower spindle bosses.

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The kingpin bores were in similar shape and thus received similar attention. This old Snap-On King Bolt Reaming Tool has been in service since these old Fords were new, handed down from my great-grandfather, who was a Ford mechanic before the war. It’s little things like this that make working on these old cars so much fun!

This design not only decreases the friction involved, providing easier steering and smoother operation but also negates the need for special tooling required to ream stock-style brass bushings to suit the kingpins. The stronger design is also easy to install and maintain, providing a cost-effective solution to the original, bushed design. MR

Speedway Motors
(800) 979-0122

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