Video: How To Rebuild Vintage Barracuda/Challenger Front Ends

We picked up a video hint from our friends at Performance Online that hit us right where our passions exist: High-performance parts and one of the most desirable pre-emission control muscle cars of the era.   

From the start, almost everyone loved the Chrysler E-body cars. These were basically a street-legal race car. By comparison, if you wanted a COPO “race-ready” GM for the street, you had to know someone big at corporate but to get a “street-Hemi,” you only needed to find a Dodge or Plymouth salesman at the local dealership.   

POL’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda project car gets lifted.

Platforms

Taking a cue from GM, Chrysler began using alphabet characters to identify the different platforms in the Mopar family of vehicles. GM had begun the practice in the late 1920s. Chrysler began the practice with the A-body and B-body types in the early 1960s.

The C-body platform was next and everyone started to see a trend (A, B, C).  The D-body full-size platform was intended to identify the Chrysler Imperial and redefined to include models from 1957-1966.

Beginning in 1970, Chrysler launched the E-body platform that featured completely redesigned Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger models. Later, the F-body was designated as the compact car platform for Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare.

Each Chrysler body platform has legions of enthusiasts, but the sporty muscle car models attract the most attention. These are the highly popular A-, B-, and E-body platforms.

The 440 graphics indicate this Barracuda was one of the “six-pack” dream cars of the early 1970s. Most Cudas came off the assembly line with the standard 383 cubic inch Mopar.

The Barracuda And Challenger Platform

The 426 Hemi was a real game-changer for the E-body platform when it was released for the 1970 model year. The new Barracudas and Challengers were the lightest, and smallest vehicle platforms that could be fitted with the “Street Hemi” version of the race engine.

The “Street Hemi” was very similar to the “Race Hemi” but with an inline 2X4-barrel induction system, lower compression (10.25:1 from 12.5:1), and lower-lift cam for better street manners, it was a big hit with younger performance-minded car-buyers. That is not to say that every E-body from the factory came with a high-powered “Street Hemi.” In fact, very few did. But you could own any one of the “Nixon-era” Mopar engines, including the standard 383 four-barrel that had plenty of power to satisfy gear-heads.

This lasted until the regulatory environmental laws forced auto manufacturers to find other, more environmentally-friendly engine platforms. The E-body Barracudas and Challengers were discontinued after the 1974 model year.

Now For The Bad

Most buyers’ guides for the Chrysler E-body cars will point out that rust being prone in the trunk, quarter panels, and in the rocker panels is common. Right after that, buyers are told to look for another common problem: Uneven tire wear that indicates worn lower control arms and ball joints. The heavy engine in the lighter vehicle platform that was sportily driven tended to wear out control arm bushings and ball joints.

Let’s be honest here. Ball joints were never meant to last 50 years or more. Bearings and bushings are consumables, so this really isn’t a black mark on the make or model. However, replacing the stock parts with ones made with modern materials and modern manufacturing processes is a big deal.

The Kit

As detailed in the video above, Performance Online’s 1970-74 Mopar E-Body High-Performance Tie Rod and Idler Arm Kit (Part # TRIK7074E) contains everything an enthusiast would need to rebuild their project car’s front suspension.

Company spokesman Larry Ashley was not shy about telling us, “This tie rod end and idler arm kit is a must when rebuilding your classic vehicle,” he said. “By replacing these components, you will give the vehicle better handling and a positive “new car” feel.”

According to Ashley, “this kit is the perfect compliment to completing a front end rebuild when adding tubular control arms.”

Kit includes these parts that meet or exceed factory specs:

  • Inner and outer tie rod ends
  • Idler arm
  • High-performance tie rod adjusting sleeves
  • Lower ball joints
  • Required hardware

Application:

  • 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 Plymouth Barracuda
  • 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 Dodge Challenger 

Ensure you have all the tools needed to perform the maintenance. Small things like diagonal wire cutters that help remove cotter pins can make a big difference.

How To Do The Upgrade

Performing the maintenance is relatively simple, providing simple precautions and attention to detail is used when assembling suspension components. The safety of the mechanic performing the maintenance, along with those riding in the vehicle, and anyone on the road where the car will be driven depends on following the assembly instructions.

Other than a ball joint separator – commonly called a pickle fork – and a small sledgehammer, only common hand tools are required to do the removal and replacement of parts safely.

What You Will Need:

  • Jack stands
  • Pickle Fork
  • Sledgehammer
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Diagonal side cutters (wire cutters)
  • Grease Gun
  • An Adjustable wrench (Crescent wrench)
  • 5/16” Combination end wrench
  • 3/4” Combination end wrench
  • 13/16” Combination end wrench
  • 7/8” Combination end wrench
  • 15/16” Combination end wrenches (2)

Getting Started

You will have to remove the wheels from the vehicle, so getting the car into the air is required. Most of us home garage mechanics don’t have a two-post lift, but a floor jack and jack stands will work just fine. After the car is lifted and supported, the front wheels need to be removed.

Remove the dust cover with a large flat tip screwdriver.

Chrysler had a unique way of fastening wheels in the late 60s and early 70s. The driver side had left-hand threads and the passenger side had right-hand threads, ultimately confusing some mechanics when service was called for. More than one hapless mechanic has broken a stud or stripped a nut turning them in the wrong direction. When removing the lug nuts, keep in mind that many of these models still have left-hand threads on the driver’s side.

While Chrysler-style ball joints may look puny, they are actually tough as a tank and built to handle the stress. However, they were never intended to last 50 years. This is a new replacement ball joint from Performance Online mounted to the original lower control arm.

Remove the dust cover and the wheel bearing retainer cotter pin, the retainer, and the spindle nut. The hub and bearing can be removed together, exposing the brake assembly. Take time to inspect the front wheel bearings and replace them if needed. The lower ball joint cotter pin and nut can be removed safely by backing the nut three-quarters of the way off, making sure a couple of threads are still engaged. This prevents the entire lower control arm from dropping when the ball joint is separated from the control arm.

Perform the same procedure for the outer tie rod joint making sure to keep the nut engaged with a couple of threads on the stud. The ball joints can be broken free using a pickle fork and mini sledgehammer. The lower ball joint assembly can now be removed and replaced on both the passenger and driver sides. Be sure to clean the mating surfaces where the ball joint assembly mounts.

Once the lower ball joints are installed in the lower control arm, with the ball joint nut finger tight on the ball joint stud, the drum can be lowered back in place and the mounting bolts reattached. Tighten the bolts to the specified torque, then insert the cotter pins, bend and cut the cotter pins for security.

Tie Rods

Just like removing the ball joint from the lower control arm, remove the cotter pins from the castle nuts on the tie rod link, back the nuts off until there are about two threads engaged on the stud. Use the pickle fork to break the ball joints free and remove the tie rods, one at a time so that you can keep the driver’s side and passenger’s side separate. You will need to measure each of the tie rod links and ensure the link going back on the vehicle is as similar to the one that came off as possible.

As shown in the video, the tie rod ends should be placed on the tie rod link evenly. The rod can be adjusted on the vehicle by turning the center barrel to extend or retract the link. The tie rod link that was removed from the driver’s side should be measured from the zerk fitting on one end to the zerk fitting on the other end. These fittings are located at the vertical center of the ball joint and are a good reference. The same should be done for the passenger side tie rod.

Idler Arm

At this point, the center link can be removed from the idler arm. The old idler arm can be pulled off and tossed as the POL kit includes a new idler arm. This is worth the entire front end rebuild alone. Install the new idler arm and reattach the center link. The tie rods can now be reinstalled in their respective positions on the driver’s or passenger’s side.

Make sure all the castle nuts are tightened and cotter pins have been used to safety the joints. Grease the ball joints and rod ends for proper lubrication. Then schedule a trip to the alignment shop to have the front end aligned properly.

Loosening the mount bolts on the center link to facilitate removal of the tie rods.

Final Touches

Replace or repack the wheel bearings with grease then install them into the hub. Install the large spindle washer and nut to hold the wheel bearing in place. Secure with the retaining plate and large cotter pin. Then place the dust cover in the hub and tap it into place. Re-install the wheels and tighten the lug nuts. Double-check the security of the ball joint castle nuts and tie rod end castle nuts, then lower the vehicle to the ground. Get the front end aligned before putting any mileage on the vehicle.

For more information on this Performance Online kit, or their other fine products, visit them online at www.performanceonline.com.

 

Article Sources

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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