Notes on a Volare Front Clip Install On A 1953 F-100
By John Niolon
First, when I say Volare clip I'm referring to any Chrysler product front clip, Grand Fury, Diplomat, 5th Avenue, etc. Second, let me begin by saying this is by no means a how to article. I'm not smart enough to write that on this subject. It's only a collection of thoughts and comments on what we did and how we did what we did when installing a Chrysler Clip in a '53 F-100. The pictures aren't complete... I didn't take enough in the beginning stages... we were busy cutting and grinding and stuff. So, take it for what it is and I hope it is useful to some of you.
Second, there are several excellent articles in Classic Truck and Custom and Classic Truck Magazines over the past few years on this subject with very good pictures. I used one of these articles to guide me in doing mine. I'll attach a list of the magazine name and month of article on the tail end of this. I've copied these articles for some people and sent pictures to some... so I thought I'd finally write down everything I could remember and stop doing this over and over.
So it begins...
I chose the Chrysler Clip for a number of reasons. I wanted IFS and good braking.. I've driven enough old stuff with straight axles and Armstrong Power Steering to know that's not how I wanted to go. Wandering between the stripes and hoping it would stop tends to cut down on my driving enjoyment. There are several very nice after market kits out there that offer IFS and disc brakes. My number one criteria was cost. You can purchase a complete clip including steering box, power steering pump, hoses and in some cases rims and tires for under $200.00 at most salvage yards. Depending on your bargaining skills, and your relationship with 'the man', maybe less. Compared to the trick IFS kits the after market offers at 5-10 times that price, it's a no brainer for low dollar builders like me. It serves the same function and unless you're jacking up the truck and laying down mirrors under it at a show.... Who's gonna see very much of it anyway ?? Number two was convenience. The clip is complete. No sear ching for components from Chevys and Mustang II's. It all comes with the package. Number three is ease of installation. With a set of templates and good welding skills, even a rookie like me can do this. Ok, I didn't do the welding. I have a friend who is an EXPERT welder and he was also interested in a Chrysler install on his truck. Mine was the guinea pig...er...learning tool...
Choosing the donor...
Chrysler has used torsion bar units for decades... the earlier units used straight torsion bars that mounted to the frame rails. The later units (80's and up) used a bent torsion bar that is totally contained in the front clip assembly...this is the one you want to use.
Especially if there will be a big block anything riding over it.
I'm told by a Chrysler front end "expert" that any rear wheel drive Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth product from 1984 and up was a V-8 and is a suitable donor. The bottom line is ....if it was a slant 6, V-6, transverse 6....don't use it ! BUT, I'm told by another knowledgeable Chrysler person that the slant-6 engines weighed more than some of the Chrysler V-8s ( the 318 ) !!! The V-8 units are probably stiffer and for sure the police units were the strongest of all.
As far as I can determine, and I've called at least 20 Chrysler sources... there is no table or listing of torsion bar sizes that specifically says that ...this size bar fit a slant-6 and that size bar fit a V-8. The consensus is.... the only way to tell is looking at the engine mounts. Chrysler used a funky 'tower' type engine mount that was welded to the front clip (Chrysler calls it a K-member, go figure). The slant-6 mounts were of unequal height, the passenger side being higher than the drivers side. The V-8 units were of nearly equal height. I guess the best way is to scrounge the yards....find a car with the engine still in it, with no front end damage... and point to the man and say "This one".
The first step is to take some measurements and make some marks. Find the axle centerline. Using a plumb bob and line or a square, transfer the axle center line from the axle body to the frame. Punch this center line on the frame and scribe it on the side of the frame rail. It wouldn't hurt to take some reference measurements to the rivet heads right under the firewall and write them down somewhere, just in case you get rowdy with the grinder or something and remove your marks from the frame.
Stripping the frame...
Next is to strip away all the straight axle stuff. Springs, shocks, axle, spring mounts, snubbers, and the 'drip pan' behind the front cross member (and under the radiator)... Everything till you have a clean set of frame rails to work from. I'd even go as far as pressure wash, steam clean or sand blast if it's convenient. I steam cleaned my whole frame before we started, but waited till the clip was in before the sandblast and prime stage.
From the pictures you can see I had an empty frame and it makes it so much easier. My buddy Doug (the welder) did his under the fenders... didn't remove any of the front sheet metal. You can do it that way.. but measuring, sliding, clamping and grunting are much easier without the sheet metal in the way..
Marking your territory.....
Before you make your first cut, you should level the frame. Front to back and side to side. Set it up on jack stands and shim between the stands and the frame till it's perfectly level on both planes. If the frame is cleared of cab and bed, now's a good time to do some diagonal measurements and see that it's square and not twisted out of shape. If it is far out of spec, I don't think I'd attempt to weld in the sub frame until the frame is square. I don't know that the tolerance is... mine was within �" of square and best we could tell with minimum equipment, it wasn't twisted at all. (We set up a level and took readings on each corner of the leveled frame.. everything seemed to be flat with no twist..(poor mans frame machine )
Templates for the cut are available from some of the custom truck shops. Bobco or Bob's F-100's has them as well as some others. And, I think there are some videos available also. I would strongly recommend investing in templates. They are worth the cost as they give you specific measurements and reference distances to rivets and frame holes. They make the job much less daunting when you light the torch. Some will include boxing plate templates and some don't. Mine didn't but they are easy to do after the sub frame welding is complete. The templates also have the proper rake and setback for the axle line built in. Makes the placement a breeze.
Transfer the template outlines to the frame rails...scribed or soap stone. Check your measurements to the reference points again. Walk around it and look at it, does it 'look' right ?? Go get a cup of coffee or a beer and think about it. Check your measurements to the reference points again. Look at the templates one more time and lay them on the frame to check your marks. Do the frame holes and rivets line up correctly Check your measurements to the reference points again. I know this sounds like I'm saying you're a dummy, but once you cut it wrong...it's extremely hard to fix. Is it right Apply striker to torch tip !!!
Doing the deed....
Don't fret the torch... if you aren't comfortable with a torch you could use a saw !!!
But remember, the straighter and cleaner your cuts...the less grinding and filling you'll have to do. The cuts are simple... looking at the side of the frame, a notch is cut out approx 1-1/2" high (from the bottom) at the front of the notch( at the front cross member) and about 1/2" high at the rear... the cut is the length of the sub frame... approx 18"-20" or so. The difference in the depths is to give the sub frame a rake to the rear. (I didn't make pictures of the frame after the cutting process...just after the clip was tacked in... but I've highlighted the cut lines in that picture as best I could.
The picture above shows a line on the frame rail, this is the approximate cut line. The circle on top of the rail shows how the front cross member must be notched for the torsion bar adjuster. The other circle on the other frame rail shows the rear cross member. This can be removed AFTER the sub frame is completely welded in. The sub frame will give the frame all the strength it needs in the front now.
The templates will give you a very close fit (if you can follow the cut lines closely) but some grinding will be needed to get a perfect fit. The closer you can fit it , the less filling you have to do with welding rods.
We tried two different ways to put the sub frame under the frame. First was a cherry picker (engine hoist). We slid the sub frame under the frame and lifted it into place with the cherry picker. It worked find and gives you movement in small increments and the load is balanced. You can also use a floor jack... set the sub on the jack...roll it under and jack it into place.. It's a little more precarious on the small jack pad but it also works.
Clamp the sub frame to the truck frame using wide jaw welding clamps or Vice grips and start checking your measurements. We transferred the axle center line from the center of the hubs to the top control arm mount. Then we used this scribed line for our measurements to square the sub frame into the frame. It took us several attempts and some grinding to get it perfect. When complete it was within 1/16" of perfect. When you get it where you want it... clamp it in several places.
One point I didn't mention... the templates we used set the new axle center line 1" back from the original. This positions the tire more in the center of the wheel opening and gives the truck a little better appearance.. this is explained in one of the articles very well.
O.K. so now you've clamped it in place and checked your measurements one last time. Right Check your measurements to the reference points again. Walk around it and look at it, does it 'look' right ?? At this point if you do it wrong... it's even HARDER to correct. If you're happy with it, start your tack welds. Weld it at each corner, inside and outside the frame rails. Then... Check your measurements to the reference points again. If you're still happy, make it permanent. We used a Lincoln 225 amp AC./DC welder on DC settings. I'm sure you could use TIG of MIG although some of the areas, like between the control arm towers and the frame are less than �" wide. That's a little narrow for a mig torch. We used a 6010 rod for the root pass (good fill characteristics and works with dirty or rusty metal well) and a 7018 (low hydrogen) for the fill passes. Don't start at one end and weld to the other.. move around and weld in different places. If you concentrate too much heat in one area things will start to move and twist around. Use 2-3" passes alternating on opposite sides and opposite ends
Until you have a complete weld. We welded inside and outside the frame rails.
Note: If you don't feel confident doing this welding, by all means find someone who can do it properly. This is what keeps your truck in the road.... At 70 mph (or more ), around curves....making hard stops and hard starts... You need to trust the welds. I was fortunate to have a good friend who is a master pipefitter and an expert certified welder...and he has a '55 also. He's responsible for the nice welding on my truck.
After the sub frame is welded in, slag chipped away and welds prettied up, I'd shoot a coat of primer and paint on the welds (maybe Corroless or POR-50) before I installed the boxing plates. Holds down the rust and it looks better.
If you have templates for the boxing plates.. good. If not, they are easy to do with cardboard and a pencil. Keep your grinder handy... We used 1/8" plate set just inside the frame rails. We boxed from as far forward as we could to about 12" behind the sub frame. You'll have to notch around the torsion bar adjusters a little and probably around the steering box if you're using the Chrysler box. Look at the pics to see ours. This adds a lot of strength to the front end and combined with the sub frame, the front end is very rigid.
Fish plates ...
Under the frame rails where the front of the sub frame contacts the frame is where the largest amount of metal is cut away. The magazine articles mention this and I agree that some gusset plates should be added here to reinforce the front of the frame horns.
It's hard to explain how to do it but, cut and fit some 1/8" plate that will fill in the void areas between the frame rail and the sub frame. Both on the horizontal and vertical sides of the frame rail. It's not a very large area but it needs reinforcing. It holds up the front end of the fenders, hood, grill and bumper... why not
About all that's left is the cleaning of welds, primer and painting. Except for engine mounts... The Chrysler clip has some funky mounts down low on the sub frame that are just in the way.. Wash them off with a torch and you'll have plenty of room to fab up whatever you need for you engine.. these shown above and in the other pictures are for a 460 c.i. Lincoln engine
Some folks opt to remove the Chrysler mounting 'ears' and make filler plates for the holes... their reason is that someone will invariably try to jack the truck on these ears, bend them and they look bad... Personally, I'll be the only one jacking my truck and I know better. The Chrysler bolt pattern is 5 x 4-1/2" which is different from the Ford 5" or 5-1/2"... I was having rear axles shortened and resplined so I just had them redrilled at 4.5". That way I can carry one spare tire. Your conditions may vary from this.