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:
- The Search Is On
- Landed One – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian
- Dragging It Home
- Assessment and Planning
- Little Fixes
- Shocks and Brake Removal
- Disc Brake Mounting
- Cooling and Fueling
- Back into the Brakes and Other Odds and Ends
- First Drive!
- Last Minute Fixes
The under carriage of your car looks amazingly rust free for a 57 years old car in Canada.thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Seconded, the lack of rust on this car is very impressive.
I think you did a really nice job explaining and outlining these repairs. I did the rear shocks on my wife’s Civic a couple of months ago and found it to be a pretty painless job. It took me awhile to realize I had to use the jack to lift the axle to get the bolt to get all the way through the shock.
Nice job getting those old brakes off. Sometimes, no amount of tension, grease, or finesse will get the job done, and you have to do some cutting or drilling.
Looking forward to the next installment!
Excellent work David,
At my house this would have been a bit easier because I have acetylene welding/cutting equipment. 30 years ago I was able to buy the equipment outright through a tool company I worked for, and I can get bottle exchange via a farmer friend.
No cursing necessary, just cut the old drums in half 🙂
I doubt very much that any of your old brake system hydraulics would have been usable. When I bought a 21 year old 66 Fury III (that was completely functional and drivable) I decided to rebuild the brake hydraulics. Every single piece was badly pitted from corrosion inside, and I was amazed that nothing was leaking. They certainly would have started leaking before long.
I bought new master/wheel cylinders and hoses. I did not replace the lines (but probably should have) as the car was extremely low mile and had not spent much time on wet roads, thus no significant external corrosion. I figured that most of the internal moisture would be near the end points.
Wow, how long has it been since I have done a shock replacement myself? Decades. For a job that is supposed to be pretty easy, getting really old shocks off has always been a nasty job when I’ve done it. My hat goes off to you.
The “spinning shock shaft” problem was encountered even when these cars were new, and when factory shocks were lucky to last a couple of years. A problem you did NOT run across was stripping the threads in the lower control arm so the two bolts would not hold. Don’t ask how I know about that!
What is the deal with that spring around the brake drum?
I’ll have to put my “way back” thinkers to work, but I believe they were to prevent squealing ?
You are correct, to prevent squealing. I replace many, many drums that originally had the spring with new drums that didn’t have the spring. Never had a problem.
Not sure. It seemed on there very solidly. Of course it might have been a bit more flexible when new. I couldn’t determine its purpose in a brief look at it.
I agree with ravenuer-
When turning drums, shops place a similar band around the drum to reduce the noise generated by the cutting tool.
The band is a rubber belt rather than a metal spring, but when left off the drum definitely sings out more loudly during the cut.
I’d forgotten that brake drums can ring like crazy. And then I remembered a symphony orchestra performance that used brake drums as part of the percussion section for one piece. They were being used as a substitute for anvils. That’s right: anvils.
I did a search “spring around brake drum” and found answers, I’m not sure how it works but it appears to make the brakes quieter or reduce vibration ringing. One site said that new drums don’t have a groove to hold the spring on as they are made of thicker material and don’t need it.
Good job! Having fun looking over your shoulder!
You should clean off the “Pleasurizer” shock whose sticker is in the best shape and keep it with the car!
That was the plan. I might convert another one into a trophy for the Beater Challenge along with some other old parts.
I’d sneak it into an adult bookstore and hang it up with the toys.
Hmm. He knows how the toys are displayed at the store… 🙂
Good work, David, the play-by-play is very interesting. Thanks for bringing us along here!
Loving these posts thanks for sharing!!
I’ve enjoyed following along as well, David.
It looks like the brake shoes on those drum brakes had plenty of life left in them (well, at least the lining closest to the camera in the 4th picture from the bottom, anyway). But the rest of the components, and optional cobwebs… maybe not so much.
I think you’ll like the disk brakes a lot better!
Save yourself an enormous amount of blood pressure and loss: use Cunifer or one of its less-expensive generic equivalents. It is vastly easier to work with than steel, stronger and safer, and though you likely won’t own the car long enough to care, it doesn’t rust.
I second Daniel’s recommendation for cunifer. And the seemingly, for me, difficulty flaring of ends much easier with the copper nickel iron alloy tubing.
And I’m guessing you don’t have oxy fuel torch to help with some of those bolts.
I’m enjoying your posts and progress almost to the point of feeling the hurt in my hands 🙂
Oxy-acetylene torches (a/k/a “blue wrench”, “hot wrench”) are keen, but with much less expense and hassle a regular hardware store MAPP gas bottle under an ordinary propane-type torch head can do a lot of such work. A step up from there are the oxy-MAPP torches (okeh, actually I just like saying Bernz-o-matiC); I have the previous model of the linked one and it has done everything I’ve asked of it…so far. »minor chord«
A major step forward in my car repair ability came when I discovered that fire and irrestible force are legitimate tools by which I mean a heating it up with a torch and and then smacking it with a BF-Hammer.
I still tend to view sawing something off as a bit of a failure, but I am coming around to the position that it’s really to be considered as a triumph of the will over impossible circumstances…..
Oh, you lot are childish, just saying this so now we have “cunifer” and “pleasurizer” in one post.
This whole series is a trip down memory lane for me. I don’t recall ever doing shocks . I do however have vivid memories of brake shoe placement .
Excellent call converting over to disc BTW
+1 on the brake shoe replacement. There is still a visible scar on my left palm from the last time I replaced some brake shoes, some 45 years ago. It turns out there is a lot of energy stored in those retainer springs that can get dissipated in a hurry if they are not properly seated when you release them with a pair of pliers:-)
I wouldn’t even attempt to replace shocks; some things are just better left to professionals with access to a lift and power tools.
Shocks aren’t too bad if you don’t have to disturb the coil spring.
Even struts are do-able if you’re able to get a friendly shop to do the compression-and-swap over part (3 or 4 minutes work for them). I’ve done this successfully and I’ve been known to mismanage oil changes.
And I too was cut badly by a shoe spring, though in my case, trying to stretch it into position. Bloody drum brakes.
thanks for your continuing reports!
Love this car and glad to see someone cared enough about a 4 door to get it going again!
Really enjoying your series David. Thank you! I’ve always been impressed by your respect for Canada’s automotive history, and thorough knowledge of even the most obscure Canadian market cars. Like the Acadian, the Laurentian used to have so much presence in the Canadian market. It was the b-body versions after 1971 I recall the most. I would consider you somewhat of a Canadian automotive historian.
Thank you. I certainly enjoy Canadian market specials.
Oh yes, those Canadian specials. Dad had a 57 Plodge (in Israel, of all places) and before I got my (US-built) 64 Mercury Comet I was considering one. Being in the EU, common sense prevailed at last and I passed, but were I Canadian I would not consider anything but a local car.
Oh: I’m looking forward (?) to going through the same process on the Comet next winter (same set up: 4 drums, single circuit and non-servo)…
My brother and I have always been fascinated with those Canadian Market cars. I remember visiting my aunt in Detroit as a kid and running into these for the first time and thinking “What the heck is that?”. I think my dad explained it to me.
I grew up in far southern Indiana and we would occasionally see them passing through town. In fact, someone a few blocks from our house eventually owned a Canadian Pontiac.
I remember a couple of years back explaining the combination of Pontiac/Chevy parts to my car club buddies.
This is a great series of articles.
Great work. Keep in mind that with the increased braking force of the discs you’ll be putting some extra stress on the front suspension so check your upper and lower ball joint, tie rods, etc.
I’d do a complete rebuild of the front suspension for the reason of…just because. Besides, weren’t the Pontiacs of this era renowned for their handling in comparison to other cars? I’d want to get that back.
Except its basically a Chevrolet under the skin.
Does this car have a front sway bar? I can’t see one in the pictures. Our ’62 Bel Air, which would have been mechanically identical save it had the V8 and Powerglide, would tip over so far on a tight turn that we feared it might undergo the personal embarrassment of people being able to see its privates. Might help keep the beast on the correct side of the road out on those windswept prairies. I am just amazed that you are taking on the entire brake system-I have replaced brake drums/shoes and rotors/pads, but never took on the master cylinder and lines. Good for you, and thanks for these wonderful updates. It’s like being able to watch and learn without having to get the rust in my eyes.
I can confirm that there is no sway bar so I will be wallowing around corners like you did.
Once you get it on the road I will be curious about one thing. I have griped about that early 60s Chevy driving position with a really low seat behind a really high steering column. I have always been curious whether this was a Chevy thing or a corporate B body thing. I would love to know if Pontiac gave buyers some better ergonomics or if this is just like sitting in the 62 Bel Air that I came to dislike so much.
Great series! That is one neat car. Did maybe hundreds of drum brake jobs like this. If the car hadn’t been driven much or not at all in a while we knew we would have to destroy the brakes and replace everything. Disc brakes is really the way to go, you’ll be much happier and safer.
Fascinating work, David, but great googly moogly! What’s that in the picture of the stubborn top shock nut? It kinda looks like a prehistoric sea creature wrapped up in Uncle Mel’s old wool suit. 😉
Hey, get a load of that easy-to-read licence plate: [ NTD 312 ]. Black legend on a bright yellow background.
Equally good: [ 123 ABC ], [ AB 1234 ], and suchlike, in bright characters on a dark background or vice versa.
Nowtimes we have all manner of crap on the background—an ocean, a river, a lake, a forest, a fish, a dog, whatever—and the legend is not only often in a poorly-contrasting colour, but it’s also often a thoughtlessly crammed-together mess like [ALI1234] or [A231R93], not readily memorable even if you manage to read it correctly.
I’ve never lived in California and probably never will, but I think they’re the one jurisdiction in North America to figure out how best to deal with needing more plate numbers than ABC123 can provide: use number prefixes so you have ABC123, 1ABC123, 2ABC123, 3ABC123, 4ABC123, 5ABC123, and so on. The basic ABC123 remains readily memorable, the prefix can be remembered as a separate item in mind (or at worst “I don’t remember the prefix, but it was somethingABC123” narrows the field considerably more than “I don’t remember, I think it had ummm…maybe a one in it? And an R?”).
Sorry, folks, I left out a in the above, and I can’t go back and fix it.
I’ve seen those shows on TV where they do all of the repairs that you’ve done, but their parts all come apart very easily and rust is never an issue. I think you might be doing something wrong. Seriously though, I’m enjoying following your progress. Best wishes.
Only Edd China of Wheeler Dealers would fuss about and spend time with rust on camera. I remember him cutting off major parts of a SAAB and a Miata while carefully explaining what he was doing and why. Too bad WD made him quit.
Interesting read. Or rather, interestingly reminds me why I hate, and always have, car repair. I just can’t gather any satisfaction from it; but people like my brother-in-law seem to to thrive on it. He’ll spend a couple years disassembling and rebuilding a hulk, only to finish it, sometimes not, and then sell it for a new project. He’s currently on his “final” project, having acquired his “holy grail”, a ‘67 Vette roadster. My sister and I don’t believe him. One. Bit. Hahahahaha! But, more power to him, he truly enjoys working on cars he’ll ultimately only drive for a brief time, before moving on to another.
I’ve always been fascinated by automobile design, and by extension (I guess), automotive marketing. One of the reasons i enjoy this site. Always enthralled by the articles and knowledge therein, as well as the opinions. Just read Paul’s screed on the ‘73 Satellite Sebring Plus, and then went and read his previous article on the ‘71-‘72 Sebring he linked to. Really interesting and thought provoking. I’ve always considered myself quite knowledgeable about automobile trivia and such, but…some of these contributors blow my mind with their knowledge and ability to call out seemingly inconsequential details.
Just thought I’d put this message out there. Keep up the good work. Everyone!
Great post. Rather like Frankster, I’m not enthused by actually doing these things, at least not as I’ve got older. Such postings as this satisfy the vicarious urge, sans rust flaked vision and blood.
I’ll add to the chorus of approval for the discs. Drum brakes were once braking technology. As soon as discs were viable, drums were irrelevant. No-one now would fit mechanical fuel injection, and drums to me are in the same category. They can never be as effective as discs as a matter of design. They always but always leak. They are impossible to adjust evenly, or to remain that way. They judder. They lock up unpredictably. They go on strike if they get wet. They are an enemy of man’s progress, and should be made to live on only in banished ignominy. You have chosen the Right Path.
The car itself is a cracker, rust-free even for Aus. I hope you hang on to it, as it’s too worn for shows, too unwanted to restore and quite perfect as it is. You mightn’t know that that Laurentian identity was used here too, as our CKD kits came from Commonwealth member Canada. They really should have renamed it here after local mountain ranges, though the Pontiac Great Divide likely would’ve failed, and the Pontiac Kosciuszko might’ve been taken as a spy vehicle in the day.
Looking forward to more of this tale.
Yes indeed the “B” Canadian Pontiac was assembled about 6 miles from where I’m sitting.
When I started at GM in 1972, CKD Oshawa was a going concern. A job in CKD was like winning a lottery. Unfortunately by the time I had enough seniority to transfer, CKD was long gone.
Today the site of the former CKD room is aisle 4 at Costco. Good to know a little bit of my home town made it all the way to Aus.
Nice work David. The car is looking great, this is a great series. Here in salt laden Ontario it is expected that the top shock bolts will not come off. A trick to get them off when you don’t have a cutting torch, is to use a deep socket with a very long extension. Put the socket over the bolt, and rock it side to side. Repeat this and it will eventually break the nut off the shaft. Quick and easy.
I’m pleased to see the lack of rust underneath .
This looks to be a very good project .
Bilstein should make B4 gas charged shocks for it that won’t make it ride roughly but will make it handle far better than those cheapo oil things you bought .
Looking forward to more on this car’s progress .