Project TR7 part 5: Suspension surgery begins

The tired, original old suspension parts ready to remove

When the classic car gods hand you the gift of smiling down on your project, you take it and run with it. And that’s what I did with the first major surgery on Project: TR7, rebuilding the suspension system.

On a bright sunny Sunday, I started the car and eased it out of the garage. Then I chocked the front wheels, loosened the lug nuts on the rear wheels, slid a jack under the center of the rear axle, pumped the back end of the car high enough to place jack stands under the frame rails and then got my first real look under the car.

It’s pretty clean, nothing more than minor surface rust and no bent or missing parts. The suspension system is indeed the original…and it shows. The rubber parts are in sad shape and the original Girling shocks, though present, checked out long ago. Even the Cooper tires are 13 years old.

Old rear suspension parts off the car

Working by myself on the rear first, I had the old shocks, springs, rubber mounting pads and bump stops off the car in about 30 minutes. The TR7 is really a very easy car to work on. With the car on jackstands and rear wheels removed, you jack up the rear axle enough to take the load off the shocks, then you undo the lower shock retaining nuts and lower the axle until you can remove the springs. The upper shock mounts live under black metal covers in the trunk, shielded from elements — the two nuts holding the upper portion of the shocks in place came right off. Then all you do is push up slightly on the body of the shock and remove it from the car.

Out came the old tired rubber pads for the springs and in went firm new polyurethane pads. Then I installed the new, stiffer springs and KYB gas-charged shocks. In all, from wheels up to wheels down took just over an hour. Now the rear suspension is nice and tight.

Rear suspension parts ready to install

New rear springs and shock installed

Rusty rear spring

Worn out front suspenion, ready to remove

That’s all I was planning to do, but I had lightning in a bottle. So, I backed Project: TR7 into the garage and started on the front suspension.  A jack under the subframe can raise the car high enough to slide jackstands under the front frame rails. From there, you undo the six bolts holding the anti-roll bar in place. Then you remove the four bolts connecting the steering linkage to the struts. After that, the brake calipers come off. That’s four more bolts. And then, finally, you use a fork tool to separate the ball joints and tie rod ends from the struts.

I did have a little trouble here. I had to use a Dremel to cut off the rusty nuts on the balljoints. Six nuts, three on each side, attach the struts to the turrets in the engine bay. In all, just 22 nuts and bolts hold the front suspension to the car. It took about three hours to remove it all. This is another reason why I really like working on the TR7. It’s a perfect car for loner gearheads like me who work better and faster by themselves.

Front suspension removed

Empty wheel well

The front-end bushings look tired, so upgraded rubber bushes, harder than stock, will replace the originals. Speaking of parts, let’s take a look at the cost of rebuilding Project: TR7’s suspension with the best parts available for street driving.

Here’s what I bought to overhaul the front and rear suspension:

Heavy duty spring set: $159.00
Poly spring pads: $49.95
Ball Joints:  $31.90
Tie rod ends: $21.95
Front & rear bump stops: $43.90
KYB shocks and struts: $244.95
Front end bushings: $36.90
Needle bearing steering kit: $35.00
Total: $623.55

Here again is another example of the TR7’s affordability and why it’s a very appealing budget sports car — especially if you can do the work yourself. The suspension repair bill will eventually go a bit higher. There are four rubber bushes in the rear suspension arms that I did not replace, but that we’ll revisit later. That’ll cost another $100.

TR7 McPherson strut ready to be rebuilt

Now nearly everything (except the tie rods ends and steering rack boots) is off the car ready to be serviced. So far, the suspension work has been unexpectedly easy, with no broken or rusty bolts that I couldn’t get off, and no major snags. Heck, I didn’t even bang myself up bad enough to draw blood.

If the classic car gods are still with me, overhauling the struts and replacing the regular wear items on Project: TR7’s front suspension will be a breeze. But I have this this nagging feeling things are going just a little too smoothly, and that something ugly is lurking around the corner. In fact, I think I know what it just might be…

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