Nostalgia is a funny thing: Think back on a sweet hot rod you owned back in the day, and there’s no doubt you’ll remember the good things. The feel of neck-snapping acceleration, the sound of spinning tires, and the look of that just-right stance come instantly to mind. Chances are you won’t remember that awesome rod’s shortcomings – like its God-awful braking distances or its death-defying, body-leaning “handling.” No sense in dwelling on the bad stuff, right?
Tom Argue’s old man has fond memories of cruising in his 1969 Coronet – which comes as no surprise when you see one of these long, cleanly styled Mopars. But as the years passed and modern cars handled and drove better, he found that driving the big B-body was more and more difficult. And when his spotless Coronet started to spend all of its time in the garage, his son took notice.
Argue owns St. Petersburg, Florida-based Tom Argue Design, a shop that specializes in classic and muscle car restorations, custom builds, high-end paint work, and water transfer printing. He is well versed in not only bringing classics and muscle cars back from the dead, but also updating them – because let’s face it, when your rod isn’t able to keep up with a corner-carving Camry, it’s no fun for anyone. So Tom set out to update the Coronet, and get his dad behind the wheel again.
“We had one goal for my dad’s Coronet: bring it up to modern-day handling standards,” Argue begins. “My dad loves this car, but when it floats down the highway, and you definitely have to keep the hands at 10 and 2 to stay under control, it’s no good. He wants it to drive like the new cars.”
However, while Tom wanted the Coronet to handle and drive better, he also wanted to be able to take it back to stock. (Seen the values on 1969 Coronet R/Ts lately?) So after doing some research, he decided on Mr. Norm’s Garage and their bolt-in Classic Front Suspension kit. This complete assembly includes a tubular cradle, control arms, coilover shocks, and spindles for a drastic handling improvement over stock, as well as rack and pinion power steering, tie rod ends, and steering arms for better driving characteristics.
“The coilovers will allow us to adjust the ride height and ride quality, and will give more adjustment compared to the factory torsion bar setup,” Argue explains. “And the rack and pinion steering will have a much quicker, better feel compared to the steering box setup on there now. Best of all, if you take care during the disassembly – not cut and hack things up – this bolt-in kit can be easily removed, and the car can be returned to its valuable factory condition.”
Mr. Norm’s Garage shipped over the parts, and Tom Argue Design got to work – follow along as we begin this Coronet’s transformation from a sluggish stocker to a corner-burning performance machine.
Mr. Norm’s Garage offers a Classic Front Suspension kit that drastically improves an old Mopar’s handling, steering, and overall feel. It comes complete with a tubular cradle, tubular control arms, rack and pinion power steering, coilovers, tie rod ends, steering arms, and spindles. The coilovers are Afco double-adjustable units; while we won’t be using these spindles for the build due to an upgraded brake kit, they’ll be mocked up during the initial installation.
With our pile of parts at the ready, the Coronet is pulled into Tom Argue Design’s shop and placed on jack stands. The hood is removed, and tech Ron Harding gets ready to dive in.
Though the Coronet originally had a 440, it now boasts a Hemi crate that fills up the engine bay. Because we’ll be swapping the cradle, the engine is lifted up with a hoist to take the weight off of the motor mounts.
The battery and battery box are removed.
The high (top) and low-pressure power steering lines are unhooked.
The retention pin for the power steering shaft has been removed, and the shaft is slid up and off.
The front shocks’ top bolts have been removed, allowing the shocks to slide through into the wheelwell
A dust cover is taken off of the framerail so Harding can access the upper A-arm’s front mounting bolt
With the rear bolt removed, Ron uses a bar to gently pry the A-arm off of its upper mounting points.
The A-arm is pulled up. Note that since the entire cradle will be removed, the arm’s spindle mounting point doesn’t need to be loosened.
A torsion bar suspension is as Mopar as a 426 Hemi; however, in our Coronet’s case, the two factory torsion bars will be removed to make room for a coilover-style suspension upgrade.
The bars are removed by taking out the nut and washer on the front, and the snap ring on the rear. In our case, they have to be “persuaded” (beat) with “special tools” (strong language and a big freakin’ hammer) to be removed.
Harding and shop owner Tom Argue grab some jacks and slide ‘em under the car.
There are four subframe bolts – two on each side – holding the cradle. A 1 1/8-inch socket with an impact wrench is used to remove the two rear bolts completely, and loosen the fronts.
A line of three jacks are used – two centered on each lower control arm, and one at the center of the cradle. Then the front two subframe bolts, which were still in by a few threads, are completely removed.
The cradle settles onto the jacks, and once Tom and Ron are satisfied that it is balanced correctly, the entire assembly is slowly dropped down.
Once down, components like the shocks and control arms are adjusted so they are out of the car’s way. Then, the cradle assembly is slowly wheeled out.
A shot of the Coronet’s factory cradle assembly. Shocks, upper A-arms, motor mounts, spindles/drums, sway bar, end links, torsion bars, and power steering are clearly visible. The stocker is out – tune in next time, as we will be bolting up some corner-burning suspension parts!
Mr. Norm’s Garage
Tom Argue Design