By Chris Ritter
With the thought of reassembling my rear suspension on my mind, I recently gathered all of my parts to determine what I needed to replace and what I can reuse. Leaf springs — check. Leaf spring shackles — check. Shackle bolts — oh wow, a bunch of those are trash. U-bolts — oh snap, all of those look terrible. It is time to go on the hunt!
My first part to tackle was new U-bolts. While I suppose I could have made an argument that my originals could be reused, at around $9/bolt it is quite wise and cost effective to buy new bolts. Besides, I didn't feel like scraping and cleaning the old units. Assuming the U-bolts on my car are pretty much universal, I made a trip to the local NAPA store.
U-bolts are sized by providing three dimensions — A: the rod diameter, B: the width between rods inside to inside NOT center to center, and C: the length of the rod from its end to the highest part of the bolt curve. Oh yeah, that's another thing, U-bolts can have a round bend, semi-round bend or square bend. My bolt dimensions are 1/2" X 3-1/8" X 7" and they have a round bend.
NAPA was eager to help but didn't have the right bolt on the shelf. Some consultation with their computer followed by flipping through some old, thick catalogs produced "something that might work". The bolt they had available was 1/2" X 3-1/8" X 6-1/2" and they ordered me a set of four. I picked them up the next day and started flipping through my pictures of the car before disassembly — would the new bolts be too short? Absolutely. It turns out that when installed there were only 2-3 threads visible on the original units. While I would be able to get these 6-1/2" units started I would never have enough length to make them safe. With that knowledge I simply returned the bolts to NAPA and continued the hunt.
As I mentioned above, new U-bolts cost around $9 each pretty much wherever you shop. The big variable, however was shipping and prices ranged from $9 to $25 via UPS! The $25 rate was from a shop in New York and the $9 rate was from Ace Spring Service in Texas. Some phone calls back and forth between the exceptionally friendly "Anthony" at Ace were made and within days a fresh set of four properly fitting U-bolts were at my door.
This shows how far the U-bolts extended past the nut before disassembly.
A new U-bolt next to a recently retired bolt.
The second thing I needed to hunt for were shackle bolts. The threads on two of my shackle bolts were trashed and I had suspicions that the threads on my other bolts couldn't have been much better. These bolts are pretty darn critical too — if your shackle bolts come off there is nothing connecting the body to the rear axle and expensive noises will follow soon after bolt failure.
The bolts are pretty simple. A zerk fitting is attached to the bolt head covering a shaft for grease. The shaft opens at the center of the bolt where grease can be applied into the bushing that rides in the leaf springs. Plenty of grease here ensures a smooth and quiet ride.
This is another part that you won't find on the shelf at the local NAPA. You can have some made if you know a machinist or you can find NOS units online. While I have an old South Bend lathe in my basement I opted to go the NOS route and found original bolts from a supplier in North Carolina. A few clicks and a printout later and new bolts were on their way. In this way I feel bad for restorers and hobbyists of yesteryear as they struggled to find parts and knowledge like Early Man struggling to harness fire. Oh well, I live in modern times, what can I do? When the NOS bolts arrived I was pleased to see that they came in their original boxes too. These nifty little boxes are already resting on display in my office at work.
NOS shackle bolts on display.
My NOS shackle bolts even had their original box — a nice score for my display shelf at work
I now have all of the parts I need to reassemble my rear suspension. I was quite happy that I didn't have to pester my car hobby buddies on where to find U-bolts. However, if I did actually pester them I would have learned that I could have had a set made over my lunch break at a location 15 minutes away. Oh well.
Santa brought me one last package at the end of December and this one sparkled like a diamond. A little while ago I started to shop around for chrome work. I decided that I would let the local guys handle my front and rear bumpers and send my smaller pieces to a company in Erie, PA called Qual Krome.
On December 29th the UPS driver pulled into my driveway and I went outside to greet him. I played it cool and acted like the box was no big deal. I think I even asked him how his holiday went, all the while wondering when the hell he would let me go open my box. After the small talk ended I dashed inside and started ripping and tearing. When the dust settled my reflection in the fresh chrome revealed that I was smiling and drooling. I was one happy camper indeed.
Mid-dig into the chrome box
The pieces I sent and received back included the front quarter window glass trim and the post that divides the main window from the quarter window. Bob, at Qual Krome, removed each quarter-window swivel, did all the necessary chrome work and reassembled them. The original pillar only had chrome on the area visible outside of the car while my returned pieces featured chrome on all surfaces. From initial shipment to the 29th took somewhere around three weeks. Pretty darn speedy considering that at this time of year a man in Erie, PA probably spends more time shoveling snow than anything else.
Freshly unwrapped, the new chrome sparkles like a diamond.
My next step with the door/window project will be to purchase new quarter window glass, reassemble the divider pillar and start putting the entire door assembly back together. I will need to replace the main door window glass and overhaul my regulator assembly too but I don't see either of those obstacles as much of a road block. I will worry about getting my bumpers rechromed sometime this summer.
So you know, I have no affiliation with Qual Krome other than the fact that I am a satisfied customer. My experience was smooth and enjoyable — I would have no hesitation using them again in the future.
Shifting gears, I want to tell you about another humbling experience I've had in the old car hobby. Not long after I bought my Buick, I got an email from a friend who lives in Ohio. He was scanning Craigslist and found a pretty unique accessory for my Business Coupe about 40 miles away near Allentown, PA. The accessory was a small pickup bed that would slide into the back of the coupe after the trunk lid was removed. Assuming it was an aftermarket item I thought it was cool but unnecessary. The price was $250 but, more importantly, I didn't know where I could hide the big box without my wife seeing it. Despite this I kept thinking about the box and did some research. To my delight I learned that it was indeed a legitimate Fisher Body accessory. Unfortunately I drug my feet long enough to lose out on the deal and I haven't seen any other accessory pickup boxes for under $1,200. I vowed to not lose out on any other great deals for my car in the future.
This image is from GM sales literature, showing the accessory truck bed for coupes.
Fast forward to late 2014 when I received an email from the same friend in Ohio. This time he told me about a guy who was giving away a package shelf assembly from a 1937 Pontiac Business Coupe. The package shelf is a very cool item that featured two storage shelves directly behind the driver and a place to store the car's spare tire directly behind the passenger. The front of this assembly had vinyl curtains while on top of there would be a shelf running the width of the car. The front vinyl and top shelf conceals the entire area behind the front seat.
This package shelf assembly was extremely practical for traveling businessmen. The shelf behind the driver's seat provided quick access to sales material and storing the spare tire in the cabin created an increase in storage space in the trunk. The package shelf was standard equipment for the 1937 Pontiac Business Coupe but for some reason it was not standard equipment for Buick that year. It is unclear if it was even an option for Buick. Sales literature spends little time discussing the business coupe in detail, probably because it was Buick's cheapest offering. The package shelf is discussed and illustrated in the 1937 Fisher Body Construction manual.
The shelf as shown in the 1937 Fisher Body Service Manual.
The Fisher Manual shows the concealment vinyl in place.
Years ago, when I first saw illustrations of the package shelf I instantly loved it. To me it just looked cool. The first time I saw this shelf I wanted one and even thought of fabricating my own. When the word came to me that one was available, I wasn't going to let it slip away like I did the pickup box. I contacted the man (named Bill) who owned the shelf and we started trading emails.
This is the front view of the package shelf.
The left side of the unit is where the spare tire mounts. This threaded rod secures the tire to the mount.
A close-up of the actual shelf.
Bill had originally secured this shelf for his 1936 Buick but it wouldn't fit. Not wanting to chop it up for fire wood he made his generous offer to give it away for free to someone who could use it. I wish Bill lived in the next town over but he lives near Seattle, WA. Shipping a large package shelf would not be cheap via UPS so Bill suggested using Fastenal. That's right, not only does Fastenal sell hardware and tools but they also allow you to ship things with them. After learning the shelf dimensions and making some calls to Fastenal I learned that it would cost $100 to ship the shelf from Bill's local Fastenal store in Washington State to my local Fastenal store in Harrisburg, PA. During my discussions with Fastenal I learned that when calculating freight charges they are less concerned with weight than they are item dimensions. Keep this in mind if you ever find a great deal on bulky items like engines, rear ends, axles, etc.
After Bill wrapped and delivered the package shelf to his local Fastenal store it started its journey east. Within a couple weeks the item arrived safe and sound in Harrisburg. I was able to load it into my Jetta and brought the still-wrapped item to my house where I tore it open like a kid on Christmas. The shelf will make a great addition to my car and I plan on making a little brass tag that I will attach to the shelf with Bill's name on it so he can "ride along" with me and I will continue to remember his generosity. Bill is a great example of some of the amazing people you meet in the old car hobby. Think about it, not only did he give me the shelf for free but he also packaged it up and delivered it to the local Fastenal store for shipping. In the future, I look forward to helping someone else in this hobby the way Bill and many others have helped me.