Fitting an aftermarket full width adjustable front suspension beam

Discussion in 'How To' started by mikedjames, Apr 18, 2024.

  1. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    What is this all about ?
    Replacing a rusty and cracked cut and twist welded (circa 2005) front suspension beam with a JK adjustable full width beam. The previous cut and twist modified beam lowered the bus to having the wheel about 50mm from the wheel arch. For years it had been raised another 25mm with coilover shocks.

    This is describing changing from a beam without bump stops to a beam without bump stops.

    While I can find Youtube videos of changing a rotted beam with an identical replacement, these all have bump stops.

    Here I describe what goes on when you have no bump stops before or after, but considering what happens if you do have bump stops.

    It took me two days working by myself from about 0900 to 1800, probably wasted a fair time on a few occasions getting stuck doing something like reassembling the steering lever arm.

    I can make copies of this available as a Word document or PDF.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2024
  2. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Effective bump stop positions with a JK adjustable beam.
    Without the physical bump stops, the upper stop of the suspension will be the shock absorbers or the wheel hitting the arch . In my case its the KYB shock absorbers.

    The lower bump stop limit will be the ball joints bottoming out e.g with my Meyle ball joints. The KYB shocks are still not quite at their bottom limit.

    If you don’t like this, go and buy a good used beam from FBIVW and fit adjusters to it, then run into issues with the bump stops being in the wrong places because it is lowered.

    Or buy drop spindles or some other Red9 thing.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2024
  3. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    The old beam
    When I inspected one end of my old beam, I noticed that things were moving which should not have been. I welded it up as a stop gap but resolved to ASAP replace the beam. The red arrow points to a crack that was present in the end of the tube, and which extended through corroded sheet metal to mean that the bearing at the end of the lower offside suspension tube could move down but not up from the correct position – As it was still held by the inner bearing and the torsion springs and the structure of the suspension, it just caused some banging when the suspension unloaded suddenly. The suspension arm also had some marking from where the roller bearing had hammered into it.
  4. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    The Project
    What did I order

    • Full width adjustable ride height front suspension beam (used a 10%Volksworld show discount code)
    • Steering damper.
    • New gearshift rod , the type with a bend in it to clear the adjuster bolt.
    • Seals for end of beam tubes
    • Balljoint boots for main balljoints (one got damaged sometime so had to be replaced)
    • A fitting kit for the suspension beam (bolts, lock washers and spacers/washers)
    Other parts I found I needed
    • 4 x New grub screws for the suspension arms.
    • 4 x New nuts for the suspension arms.
    • 4 x New nylock nuts for main balljoints (M14)
    • 4 x M12 lock washers for shock absorbers.
    • 2 x New nylock nuts for track rod end ball joints (M12)
    • A pair of KYB Gas-Adjust front shocks.
    • About 800g of ornery grease.
    • Some molybdenum sulphide grease for any balljoints you feel might like it.
    • Primer and paint
    • (Some 1.6 or 2mm steel sheet for chassis repairs.)
    • (A pair of female and a pair of male brake nuts for sealing brake lines, with a bit of rubber sheet)

    Tools required.
    • A big floor jack. Mine can lift from 50mm to 550mm approx.
    • ATV jack – really stable for lifting and dropping the beam and moving it.
    • A small bottle jack.
    • Two solid axle stands – your life will depend on these.
    • 11mm or 12mm brake nut spanner depending on brake nuts (some I got off eBay had larger hex heads but were all M10x1mm thread.
    • 19mm socket spanner and 19mm ring spanner for track rod end balljoint nuts and shock absorber. 19mm open jaw spanner also used for female ends of brake flexis.
    • 22mm ring spanner for adjuster locking nuts, 22mm socket (impact) for the four beam fixing bolts.
    • 27mm ring spanner for balljoint nuts. Also 27mm socket for when the going is good and the nuts will move without the balljoints spinning.
    • Thin jaw 36mm spanner for the camber nut adjustment. Either Bahco adjustable thin jaw spanner or a ground down spanner from elsewhere .
    • Spanner to lock balljoints holding the bottom of the thread steady – either Allen key in a hole in the bottom, or adjustable spanner onto flats on the end of the thread.
    • Socket drive Allen key selection for doing up and undoing grub screws.
    • Big balljoint splitter tool (US Pro truck tool)
    • Medium balljoint tool as the big tool is too big for track rod ends.
    • Angle grinder fitted with knotted wire wheel.
    • A working grease gun that doesn’t use little cartridges. (mine had hardened grease from the 1990’s interfering with its operation)
    • Rattle gun – I used a Clarke mains powered gun for a few bolts. You could use a breaker bar but the rattle gun is quicker and more annoying.
    • A 1kg hammer.
    • A sledge hammer if the 1kg hammer will not do..
    • A big 5 or 6 inch G clamp for getting the steering relay arm back in place. .
    • If you don’t have a bump stop - A ratchet strap about 30mm wide with hooks on the end. (quick release but strong)
    • If you do have a bumpstop - a bar for levering the suspension arm on or off the bump stop.
    • A pair of heavy duty steel saw horses so you can put both beams across the pair to work on them at the same time..
    • Welding kit including angle grinder with flap wheel and cutting discs for when holes appear. (because it was windy I used 0.6mm flux cored wire I bought in the Middle of Lidl on a whim a year ago.. )
  5. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Taking it apart.
    Chock off the rear wheels thoroughly, because one of the steps is removing the handbrake cables from the lever at the front, so the bus is entirely held stopped by the chocks and transmission.

    If there is any slope in the ground, let off the handbrake and let it roll into the chocks, then move the other side of the chocks into place. Preferably work somewhere level. Put the bus into gear as another protection.

    Loosen off the front wheel nuts while its on the ground and easier to apply torque. (or use a rattle gun when its up in the air)

    Jack up the front end and place an axle stand under the chassis rail just in front of where the jacking point joins it, where it is a full box section. Make sure it is high enough up you can get the wheel off. Do the same the other side.

    Then inspect the first axle stand. Because things move around – different angles with one side of the bus lifted at first- you may notice it is no longer straight. Go back to that side, jack up the bus again and adjust the axle stand.

    Then inspect the second axle stand. Both sides should now be cradling the chassis rail. Hopefully it wont be like the time I started lifting the rear end of a Mini off the axle stands while pushing up hard on a stiff nut with a breaker bar.
  6. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Clear the suspension beam of other systems.
    Things that may go through the front suspension beam, which need to be removed or you will later have a beam hanging off bits of wire and things..

    • Clutch cable – loosen off cable adjustment fully at the gearbox as your life will be easier later on. The clevis pin at the front has a clip that goes round the end of the clevis swaged onto the clutch cable.
      Unclip the clip and the clevis pin will rotate so the clip points down.
      Now lever the pin clip assembly away from the clevis. On mine, because the clevis pin was so worn it locked in place with the spring tension on the clutch cable, so it got destroyed, . And then replaced with new.
    • Handbrake cable. Note approximately how much adjustment has been applied for reassembly.
    • Gearchange rod. Engage third gear (so gearbox linkage is pushed back) Remove gear lever in cabin. Undo little square headed pointed nosed screw on joiner which will be found up above the handbrake cable area. Push the gearchange rod forwards and it should just pop off the end of the shifter rod.
    • Steering drag link to relay lever . Crack off the balljoint and disconnect the drag link – this arm will get in the way while you are trying to put things back together..
    • Speedo cable. Remove any C clip from the end of the cable and pull it out of the centre of the nearside front wheel hub through the spindle. Un clip it and pull it out of the way .
    • [maybe] Brake Servo and brake lines. If you have one and it is attached to the old beam, remove it, cap off brake lines. Non-servo brake systems are above the beam so can be left in place.
    • [maybe]Hot air hose from heat exchanger (this may be a post crossover feature – my bus has a solid tube flattened and arching above the beam so it can stay in place)
    Its a good idea to make sure all the hanging cables are out of the way of the beam – maybe tie them back, especially the speedo cable that will catch on the beam as it goes in and out.
  7. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Weight and inconvenience and safety

    The suspension beam with the spindles and brake discs is very heavy, even with just the suspension arms it is pretty hard to lift, so a lot of the time you will be removing parts from the beam to make it possible to handle it safely, as it goes from extremely heavy to just heavy.
    art b likes this.
  8. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Brake line disconnection – no bleed solution
    Disconnect the brake flexis on the side of the chassis – I used a female M10x1 brake union nut with a disc of 3mm neoprene sheet pushed in it to act as a seal to stop brake fluid running out, and I used a male M10x1 brake nut with a length of crushed off flared brake hose in it to seal the female end of the flexi. upload_2024-4-18_20-40-53.png

    Removing calipers, brake discs and hubs

    Consider taking the brake discs, calipers and hubs off at this point.

    If you want to make putting it together easier, take the heavy brake discs and hubs off the spindles, and then protect the machined surfaces of the spindles from possible damage .

    I found the combined spindle and brake disc assembly very heavy and hard to move, but it saved me a lot of time disassembling and reassembling the whole thing.
  9. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Remove the spindles.
    You now need to remove the spindles from the ball joints. The spindle removal is made a fair bit harder by the absence of bump stops.

    Undo the track rod end, split the ball joint But leave the end of the ball joint in the steering arm.

    Use the small jack to lift the steering arm by pushing up just behind the ball joint, get the suspension to move up a little, allow yourself space for the ring spanner on the bottom nut and the top nut – things are a bit easier when the arms are more or less horizontal.

    Remove the shock absorber at about this point using the jack to take any tension off the shock absorber to allow you to remove the top bolt.

    Wire brush the threads of the ball joints that you can see, to remove rust that may otherwise cause grief in the future.

    Start undoing the two ball joint nuts, the jack will be holding everything in place as the suspension arms are pressing down on the spindle assembly.

    Hopefully they wont do what happened to me a while back when I changed a ball joint boot, the rust on the threads built up in the nut until it bound solid. I heaved harder and instead of undoing the nut, it cracked the balljoint with the nut frozen onto the thread. It started going around, and small spanners popped off the flats on the end of the thread. I ended up having to cut the nut off because it had taken all my strength to jam it. If it starts to bind, tighten it, apply lubricant , try to get rid of more rust, then undo. Gradually it should come undone, if you keep going backwards and forwards. If it was binding then the nut is probably junk by now, why I bought more nuts.

    You may need to fiddle around a bit to get the angle of the steering arm right for the ball joint splitter.

    Split the upper and lower balljoints from the suspension arms.

    With a bumpstop

    If you have a bump stop your life is easy for the next step. Lower the jack and the top arm stops and the lower suspension arm should keep moving until the top balljoint pops out. Then you can lower the jack more and the bottom balljoint should come out (might need a bit of persuasion), the spindle may just fall off so you might want to make sure you arent underneath it , and there is some padding to catch it. Especially true if you left the discs and calipers attached.
    Upper arm is removed using levering over bumpstop (may be best to remove bumpstop first) and then tapping out from the end of the end of the tube after removing the locking grubscrews.

    Making a temporary bump stop (optional ).
    If you have not got a bump stop, now is the time to create a temporary bump stop.

    Jack the bottom of the spindlle up a bit to make the arms fairly horizontal.

    Insert the upper shock absorber bolt into the top of the beam. Loop the ratchet strap over the bolt over towards the chassis rail and place it so that the mechanism has the end of the strap feeding in from the bottom, with the handle quite near the top of everything. Now loop the free end of the strap under the arm, hook the ends together.

    There is a convenient protrusion on the arm that stops the strap slipping up. Tighten the strap and use the jack to lift the arms to horizontal. And then the strap will be taking the place of the bump stop.

    As you release the jack, the suspension arm will stop moving down and allow the spindle to be pulled off by the bottom suspension arm

    When you get to the end, release the ratchet strap and let the upper arm fall down, or if your floor jack is tall enough, use it to take the load

    This picture shows reassembly, but the principle is the same.
    Do not forget the other side ...
    Now repeat on the other side.
    art b likes this.
  10. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Removal of the beam itself.

    I decided to leave the arms on the beam because the lock nuts looked pretty crusty.

    Move the ATV jack under the beam, ready to support its weight .

    Undo the four bolts each side – I loosened all four each side first, then removed three of them leaving the fourth. Nothing happened . So I hit it with a hammer and it moved a bit and stopped. So I got out the sledge hammer and gradually worked it off the bus – it came down a long way before it finally dropped onto the jack. Then I carefully lowered it, trying to steady it- maybe it could be worth tying it to the jack to hold it vertical .

    Once it was on the saw horses, first I degreased the arms and wire brushed the rust and paint before repainting them, keeping dirt away from the bearing parts of the arms before the arms were removed..

    I removed the steering relay arm and the

    I was able to undo the lock nuts on the arms using a 22mm socket on the rattle gun, on three of them , the nut came off the grub screw , on the 4th the whole thing came out as a rusty lump.

    As the allen key holes were pretty rusted, I just got out a pair of mole grips and unwound the grub screws .

    Three of the arms tapped off the end of the beam without much trouble but the arm which had the most corrosion around the grub screw was also reluctant to come off.

    But in the end, the arms were all out.

    The central grub screw and locknut came out easily on each stack of torsion leaves, I was glad to see that there were the required number. One end of each stack was welded for better insertion, but on both stacks a couple of leaves had split off from the weld. So I wrapped the welded ends using a cable tie which I expected to remain in the beam forever, and then fed the matching stacks into their new homes on the new beam, making sure the centre dimples were facing where the new grub screws were fitted. A few taps with a hammer on the end of the stacks, and they started moving through the cross shaped hole in the centre of the beam and fairly quickly I had them centred , poking out both ends of the tube and then locked centrally to the centre of the beam with the grub screw that comes with the lowering kit.

    Removing the old seal and fitting a new seal in each arm and pushing the arms back into their corresponding positions was not too difficult, lining things up with the dimple in the end of the spring pack and then inserting the grub screw and tightening it was a bit harder.

    Once it was all together, out came the grease gun and about 800g of grease went into the grease nipples in total (even with some old grease still on the arms..) This took an extra long time until I cleaned out waxy ancient grease from the grease gun, that almost locked it up .
  11. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Angle Grinder Noises Stage Left
    There was then a pause while I patched up some rusty holes in the chassis rail with the welder and angle grinder and sheet steel.

    Fool: So you thought your bus was rot free eh?
    I will do the jolly Rust Dance while tickling you with my Tickle Stick
    as you lie under the bus with hot metal showering around you.
  12. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Check shock absorber top mounting bolt holes for diameter.
    On my new beam, this hole was too small for the M12 shoulder of the top suspension bolt, so I had to get out the trusty Dremel with a tungsten carbide burr that makes quick work of making a hole in 5mm steel a bit bigger. .

    Moving it back under the bus
    By now the beam was quite heavy and I was glad I only had to lower it from the saw horses onto the ATV jack and slide it under the bus.

    It was quite hard to raise it up to vertical under the “arches” in the chassis., but eventually it was possible to jack it up and get the bolt holes to align. The new beam is wider than the chassis rails, rather than being an “interference” fit, hence the spacers in the fixing kit. On my bus there was only room for spacers between the beam and the chassis rail on one side, so the other side, it pulled in about 2mm as I did up the bolts using the rattle gun.
  13. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Steering relay Arm refit
    At this point I picked up my steering arm and track rod assembly and placed it over the centre steering pivot pin.

    Lined up the notch in the pin with the arm, either peering down the hole or poking a bolt in there and feeling it move freely (but do not use ANY force at this point , only hand tightening, because the pin and the arm are quite capable of destroying the thread on the bolt in seconds.)

    Fit the locking tab plate onto the bolt with the long tab up and the short tab to the side, because the top of the arm is flat and easier to fold the tab over onto. .

    Then squeezing down on the whole stack with the big 6 inch G clamp,

    The bolt slides easily in and engages with the thread in the arm on the other side of the slot. Tighten by hand- if it will not go, remove bolt and check the alignment, the pin comes out of the top of the steering arm by a few mm. Tighten it up and lock it off with the side part of the locking tab plate.

    Steering Damper
    You can now fit the steering damper to the arm , and to the beam. This uses a 17mm headed bolt with a 15mm nut on the relay arm connection end.

    Reassemble Spindles
    Then it was time for reassembly of the spindles onto the suspension arms.

    Use the new nylock nuts on the balljoints, its much easier than fighting with the knackered ones you took off.
  14. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    If you have a Bump Stop
    If you have a bump stop on the new beam, during the reassembly you have to get the arm onto the upper bump stop out there on the saw horses.

    Then you can simply hang the spindle from the top suspension arm, using one of the new nuts, and jack the lower suspension arm up until the lower balljoint goes through the hole , then start doing up the nuts.

    No Bump Stop
    It was actually at this point I worked out the ratchet strap trick for pulling the upper suspension arm into place to act as though there were a bump stop allowing the suspension arms to separate from each other, and for the two to meet the spindle when the ball joints were at about 90 degrees to the suspension arms. I used the bottle jack to lift the lower arm. (I used the shock absorber stud as a pivot point for the lower jack as it is harder for a small diameter stud to roll off the jack as the angles change as the arm goes up.

    If you leave it all hanging with the suspension arms both at “7 oclock” which is the position giving the highest ride, the ends of the ball joint threads cannot hinge far enough for you to get the ends into the holes in the spindle.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2024
  15. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Doing it all up
    Lift the spindle into place and get both threaded ends of the big balljoints through the holes in the spindle and get new nylock nuts on a few turns. Dont forget the brake line bracket on the top balljoint below the spindle casting.

    Camber Nuts
    The main thing to do is to make sure that firstly you have greased the outside of the camber nuts on the top balljoints, so that you can adjust them, and then as you do up the top balljoint nut, the notch in the camber nut ends up pointing forwards. Use the small spanner on the bottom of the balljoint (or Allen key if that is what is there) to keep it facing forwards .
  16. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Reattachment of the connections through the beam.
    Go back over the list of items going through the beam at the beginning and reverse.

    Except you now use the gearchange rod with the bigger kink in it that you purchased at the beginning of the process.

    Reattach clutch, readjust for the 1 inch depression before feeling the load of the clutch plate.

    Reattach handbrake cables and adjust.
  17. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    Camber nuts
    Adjust camber nuts (why you greased the outside of the camber nuts) With the wheels on the ground , loosen off the top balljoint locking nut.

    I couldn’t find ground flat enough to use a clinometer app on the phone , so I settled instead for winding them out about 45 degrees from head-on notches, and then tweaking the offside one more clockwise and the nearside one more clockwise if the bus tried to steer off to the left when you let go of the wheel.

    Do up the ball joint locking nut afterwards.

    Ride Height

    Basically because of the pre-tensioning of the torsion leaves, they are always under torsion even with the wheels off the ground hanging on the bottomed out balljoints.
    So you have to go right back to the point of jacking up the suspension one side at a time, removing the spindles and letting the suspension arms flop, releasing the adjuster clamping nuts, getting the locking plate to release, moving the arms to the new position. And then re-tensioning and reassembling.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2024
  18. Huyrob

    Huyrob Supporter

    Brilliant explanation so good that it’s put me off ever trying to do it :)
    JamesLey, Moons and Zed like this.
  19. Zed

    Zed Gradually getting grumpier

    It would be faster to do the job than read that lot! Doesn't haynes fit it on a page? :)
    When you say something flexed in 2mm because you couldn't get the supplied spacers in, did you consider getting or making thinner spacers?
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2024
    matty, davidoft, philntfc and 2 others like this.
  20. mikedjames

    mikedjames Supporter

    There are a lot of write ups and videos doing stock to stock beams, but nothing much about the fitting of one of these type of beams.
    I had a choice of another less patched cut and twist beam which I still have, (dont need it anymore) or this which ended up costing about £1000 in parts.

    As far as spacers go, it could have been possible to add thinner spacers , but as my beam was ultra tight coming out, there was not a lot of room. My original reasoning was to put spacers in one side, tighten it up and see what happened the other side as the gap looked small.
    But when I tightened it up one side onto the spacers, the remaining gap the other side remained small, the top of the beam was actually touching the chassis rail with a slightly larger gap at the bottom. So I tightened that up as was.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2024

Share This Page