Front Suspension Alternatives for 1948 – 1960 Ford Trucks, Part One

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Front Suspension Alternatives for 1948 – 1960 Ford Trucks

(Editor’s Note: This series of articles is a collaborative effort of many members FTE in the 1948 – 1960.  We wish to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the hobby which made this one of a kind article available for everyone’s viewing pleasure.  This series spans 11 parts and we will be presenting one additional part every 3 days.)

So you think you want to replace your straight axle with an IFS? Before you strike up that torch let’s examine your reasons first. Are you installing an IFS because you think it’s cheaper than rebuilding your stock steering and suspension? We hope not because that’s a highly unlikely outcome. An accurate cost estimate for a stock rebuild is fairly easy to calculate. On the other hand, all custom modifications tend to far exceed the initial budget. Change begets more change, and you may quickly find yourself replacing things you had not intended replacing. Clearance issues may arise from the astronomical number of model, IFS and engine combinations. Installing an IFS is truly like a box of chocolates. You don’t know for sure what you are going to get in terms of potential obstacles to your successful install. Rest assured there will almost always be unforeseen obstacles.

Are you changing to IFS to save time? Again, we hope not because this is sheer folly. If saving time is your goal, then we recommend you leave the suspension stock. Much patience is required. We tried to make accurate time estimates in the work that follows, but it is impossible to account for all the variables. The IFS installation time estimates contained here do not include removing and replacing your drive train. Nor do they include the costs that are inherent with complete drive train removal and replacement. Installing an IFS with your sheet metal in place is very difficult. Removing your sheet metal is another likely source of potential complications or expense due to corrosion of 50-year-old fasteners. Our time estimates do not account for your possible decision to install a new steering column, hanging pedals, run new brake lines, or the scores of other potential modifications you may end up determining are necessary or desired.

Are you changing to IFS because you desire the performance attributes of Corvette-like handling, or the comfort and safety of an LTD ride and power disk brakes? Perhaps you want a very low stance, easy steering and improved ride and you are on a limited budget and enjoy nothing more than customizing your truck with all your spare time. These are the real reasons to install an IFS. We hope we can help you make the correct decision for you.

Let us start by killing some common myths associated with the stock straight axle suspension. Are you contemplating removal of your straight axle (S.A.) because it requires use of both lanes? The ’48-’60 forum members affectionately refer to this as the "Drunken Monkey" suspension. We don’t care what you have heard this is not the way it left the Ford assembly line some 50 years ago. If your truck wanders, it is in need of immediate inspection and rebuild of worn components. Loose steering is neither "nostalgic" nor is it normal, it is dangerous and demands your immediate attention. A properly rebuilt stock suspension may completely meet your needs. The facts and opinions follow.

Characteristics of the Stock Straight Axle

  • It has time-tested strength, the very definition of "Built Ford Tough"
  • It provides ample clearance for engine swaps.
  • It is relatively easy to service. One could completely rebuild brakes, steering and suspension in a weekend.
  • It is relatively inexpensive. One can generally be completely rebuilt for $450 to $850 (kingpins, tie rod and ends, draglink, springs, and brakes).
  • Many people enjoy the "feel" of driving with the stock steering and suspension.
  • One can upgrade to power steering and/or disc brakes.
  • Rebuild parts are relatively easy to find as the classic Ford trucks are well supported by the aftermarket.
  • Most routine maintenance and rebuild can be done without the use of special tools, those needed can usually be rented from a local parts supply house.
  • The future value of an unaltered suspension may be a factor.

Important considerations concerning the Stock Straight Axle

  • Even when rebuilt the stock braking system is somewhat inferior to other alternatives. This is a serious consideration if you are installing a more powerful drive train and perhaps driving it more aggressively.
  • General condition of components is critical to the level of handling.
  • Handling is inferior to the alternative set-ups for high performance use.
  • Manual steering and brakes require more effort than power assisted alternatives.
  • "Bump Steer" is inherent with this type on suspension setup; at best it can be made manageable.
  • One can upgrade your brakes, ride height or steering with kits available from numerous suppliers using all new parts or a combination of brackets and donor parts.

Options concerning the Stock Straight Axle
If you are willing to stray from a pure restoration, there are many modifications that you can make to a straight axle to significantly "modernize" your ride, handling, braking and steering characteristics. You can also alter your ride height if desired. Complete modernization of a straight axle can be very expensive, but there are some low buck methods utilizing used donor parts.
An important thing to remember is that a proper rebuild of all the stock steering and suspension components is mandatory. After all looseness has been removed, the simple addition of radial tires and quality shock absorbers is obvious but essential. Bias ply tires are inherently prone to wander and offer mediocre ride qualities. Sway bars are another easy to install upgrade that will enhance the cornering ability of any F-1/F-100. Front and rear sway bars can be purchased for under $400.

The stock manual drum brakes can be improved with a variety of options. Kits are available from many vendors to upgrade to power disk brakes. A very significant improvement in braking performance can be expected as the brakes are a weakness on all stock � ton Effies. You can retain your stock under floor master cylinder location if you desire. Complete power disk brake kit prices range from $400-$800.
Power steering kits are also a very popular modernization. Probably the most popular and effective method is the Toyota power steering kit. The kit is based on a power steering box from a Toyota 4×4 pickup. Total cost of the kit is around $600 depending on what pump and hoses you use. The reason the Toyota power steering conversion is so popular is its simplicity and it has a somewhat stock appearance. There are other options. Power ram assist kits run around $700, but then you have an ugly control valve hanging out with twice as many hoses and a slave cylinder to mount. This might not be great looking but is effective. A low-buck alternative is to install the steering box from a larger truck such as the F-600. Modification of stock mounting holes is minor. The column hooks up just like stock and the steering box looks just like stock. This isn’t a power steering kit but you still benefit from much reduced steering effort.

Many Effie owners prefer a lowered ride height. Stock trucks sit relatively high. Many options are popular for slamming a straight axle. Quality dropped axles are available for about $350 and can offer as much as a four-inch spindle drop. Many types of front springs are also available in the $400-500 range, including reverse eye springs, mono-leaves and shorter leaf stacks. Spring re-arching is often cheaper than new springs. Mono-leaves offer the greatest drop, but are not popular among the forum members. Negative ride and poor handling characteristics often come with the mono spring design. "All things in moderation" definitely applies to lowering a straight axle. The first 2-3 inches of drop will likely improve the handling characteristics of your truck if done correctly. While a 5+ inch drop often comes with a big price, you also compromise suspension travel and steering geometry going to this extreme. If you desire a huge drop and intend to drive your truck regularly, alternative suspension options should perhaps be considered.

Difficulty level to perform a stock suspension rebuild – 2

Difficulty level to perform upgrades to a stock suspension – 2+

Ride Height  stock to 3" drop possible.

Part Two >>>

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