Affordable Classic: Shocks and Brake Removal – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian

In the last installment I tackled a few smaller jobs on the Pontiac. While the feeling of accomplishment was uplifting for the spirits the fact remains that the Pontiac was rolling on very old suspension components and did not have functional brakes. After a (small) mountain of new parts boxes arrived it was time to get to work.

I think we should start with the shocks as they are more of a manageable size project. I had a receipt for two new ones dating from 1977 and while the car passed a very simple bounce test one of the rear shocks had a minor leak. A brand new set of mid range shocks was quite affordable with no labor costs. I suppose we should get a little disclaimer out of the way; these are not technical instructions but rather a log of what I have done to my car. It does not replace the need for a workshop manual and I am definitely not a professional mechanic.

Starting at the front the shock replacement job is very easy in theory. There are two bolts on the bottom and one at the top. Undo those, slide the old shock out, then the new one in and tighten up a few bolts. Done! Except when dealing with old vehicles these tasks never go quite as smoothly as one would think. At the top end the nut was 9/16″ in size but when turned it would also spin the bolt and top end of the shock unless it held by a 1/4″ wrench at top where it was more square while taking care not to round it off. Starting on the driver’s side this worked fantastic until the nut was about 90% of the way off before seizing on solid. This was likely the result of some poor condition or dirty threads on the bolt. By the way that large spring visible in a few photos is just a temporary piece to hold up the remaining portion of the exhaust long enough for trailer loading/unloading.

I do not usually care for cutting off parts even if they are to hit the garbage but out came the angle grinder and the offending nut was no more.

No problems on the bottom end as there were two 1/2″ bolts which came off smoothly allowing the old shock to slide out.

After working out the angles for a moment the replacement shock slid into its new home without too much trouble.

Moving over to the passenger side I make sure the bolt threads were clean and thankfully everything went smoothly with no seized bolts.

View of the old and new shocks. I will miss the name Pleasurizer but they were certainly past their best.

Moving to the rear there is no room for any angle grinder work as all the bolts need to be re-used.  This bottom shock mount is a known parts breakage problem area. Luckily I managed to finesse it loose.

The view from below of the top mount which has two bolts with nuts 1/2″ in size.

Not visible from below but the top mount bolt has a 1/2″ head on it. So a wrench to hold the bolt head on top while loosening the nut underneath with a socket and extension bar from below seems to be a reasonable strategy if a bit awkward. I am happy to report these came off cleanly as well.

The axle needs to be lifted a little with a jack to get shock off the mount.

Rear shocks – old vs new

Surprisingly the installation of replacement rear shocks turned out to be as straightforward as advertised and took only about fifteen minutes per side.

Moving onto the brakes I had previously decided on a front disc conversion kit that included new bearings, rotors, pads, as well as a master cylinder and power booster. While the cost was not significantly more than overhauling the drum brakes the overall effort certainly is. Good thing I work for free.

In preparation for the disc conversion the drum hardware had to be removed right down to the spindle. Additionally new brake lines would also have to be routed as the design would be moving from a single to dual circuit. A proportioning valve would also need to be added to avoid locking up the rear (still) drum brakes.

An easy start was removing the old manual, single circuit master cylinder. Not much fluid remained in it as the car had been idle since at least 1981. Is it possible I could have filled the master cylinder with fluid, bleed it and it would have worked? Possible. Would it then fail in service sometime after? Likely.

The next step is to remove the old drum brake hardware. Simple in concept but it proved to be a bit of a challenge. You can see the one missing wheel stud on the driver’s side in the above photo. As luck would have it the wheel studs are a part of the drum assembly so when it is replaced the wheel stud issue goes with it.

Perhaps not surprisingly given their long period of inactivity the drums did not want to come off without a fight. After giving the drum face a thorough hammering job the drum was not longer seized to the hub. The drum adjuster was incredibly stiff and I was only able to eek out a tiny amount of movement after liberally spraying with penetrating oil. At this point I could rock the drum a little but the shoes were holding up the drum from further movement. Not pictured but the dust cover, spindle nut and outer bearing also come off at this stage.

The next step in stuck drum removal is to drill out the mounting hardware for the shoes. As you can imagine the angles to accomplish this are not always easy but I managed. Frustratingly the drums still did not come off. The above photo is of mounting hardware in the drum after I got them off.

The brute force method with some pry bars was up next. After much frustration and colorful language we get the above point. I can report that the shoes were the only thing smiling that day in the garage. The passenger side came off a little easier as I got a bit more movement out of the adjuster but the same basic process had to be followed.

The inner bearing, shoes, adjuster and various springs were quickly pulled off the brake backing plate and I was left with three bolts to remove. The two smaller, lower bolts connected the steering arm and drum backing plate to the spindle and the large top one secured the brake cylinder and drum backing plate to the spindle. The top bolt had a very thin bolt head area but required a massive amount of force to loosen. I was able to remove it with careful use of a borrowed 2ft breaker bar and a deep socket. One of the two bottom bolts eventually broke free. The other simply would not. It was so seized in place that when pulling on it with the breaker bar the bolt head itself was twisting rather than turning. Nothing for it but grinding the bolt head off and drilling out the (very long) bolt in the spindle and steering arm. This took much longer than I would like to admit.

Again the driver’s side was a massive pain but the passenger side was relatively more smooth with bolts that broke free cleanly. After far too long we were now down to a bare spindle on each side. Some clean up is obviously still required.

There were a few queries in past sections if this car still sported the original paint. It does but I am unsure about the markings above the heater components. Any ideas?

For the next installment the new disc components will get installed. Stay tuned.



The whole Affordable Classic series:

  1. The Search Is On
  2. Landed One – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian
  3. Dragging It Home
  4. Assessment and Planning
  5. Little Fixes
  6. Shocks and Brake Removal
  7. Disc Brake Mounting
  8. Cooling and Fueling
  9. Back into the Brakes and Other Odds and Ends
  10. First Drive!
  11. Last Minute Fixes