I’m going to clue you in on a little secret. You know that whole “dare to be different” thing we editors preach? Well we could really care less what you build. Ford, Franklin, Frazer, at the heart of the matter it’s all the same to us.
What we’re really doing when we tell you to build some obscure car is lead you into trouble because when people get in way over their heads they tend to get creative. There really are no rules to lazily fall back on when you’re chin deep in a ’35 Hupmobile Aero. We want to see what you can do, not what everybody else did. Because we’ve seen that before. Many times in fact. We take these jobs largely for their entertainment value. And we love to see you squirm, because that’s when you do your very best work.
Woolery and Abbott stripped the suspension and set the car at its intended ride height and
Honest. I swear I am.
But deep down we mean well; like scientists in a lab we really do feel for our test subjects. We know we can’t just send you down the rabbit hole without at least a rope. We wouldn’t want you to get discouraged after all. You might just go away. Or worse, build another safe car like a Ford or Chevy. And what a shame that would be.
Luckily at least one manufacturer is complicit with our little conspiracy even if it doesn’t realize it. Fatman Fabrications offers independent front suspension crossmember kits and frame stubs for applications on beyond Zaporozhets.
Word spread among orphan car owners that Fatman was one of the few shoulders to cry on. Some owners outright sent chassis to have crossmembers fit; others simply sent dimensions. Whatever the case, Fatman made templates from each design so it can reproduce them anytime. Seriously, you could probably learn automotive history simply by reading the catalog: Hupp, Graham, and Lafayette are but three among more than a dozen brands Fatman supports. And that’s just brands. Figure at least a few models or year groups for each one of those.
Abbott then marked the front wheel centerline. Bear in mind that he did this on only one s
Fatman owes its versatility largely to its crossmember design. Rather than make its crossmembers origami style as others do, it makes them largely from heavy-wall tubing. So Fatman can vary track width simply by altering the tube length. And the crossmember usually meets the frame by way of vertical tubes. Fatman trims them at the angle necessary to meet the frame pitch and welds them to the main crossmember tube at whatever width the frame dictates. As a result of this versatility, Fatman can make crossmembers for applications with track widths at least as narrow as 45-1/2 inches (Ford Anglia and Nash Metropolitan, for example).
What follows is a Fatman crossmember installation on a ’33-36 Willys at Marshall Woolery’s Thun Field Rod & Custom in Tacoma, Washington. This was an extra-special job: a well-intentioned prior owner fashioned a very clever IFS from Jag parts. It was neat but unfortunately it didn’t work properly. The tie rod would hit the lower-arm mount upon full suspension droop and pop its inner joint out of the steering rack. Nate Abbott, Woolery’s right-hand man (he has the shop right next to Thun Field) set us in the right direction, so to speak.
He then dropped a plumb bob from holes that appeared in the identical spot in both framera
One thing bears mention: fit. We take tight tolerances for granted but in the real world old-car frames are seldom very close to spec. The Big Three were fairly good at it; with volume usually comes consistency. But the smaller manufacturers didn’t have the benefit of mass scale. As a result, orphan chassis can be pretty sloppy. And economy cars like Willys are even worse. You could alter this car’s chassis specs by merely leaning on it.
Fatman Fabrication intentionally leaves the cut lines a little fat for this reason. It figures that the end user is best qualified to match the shape to the specific parts. We certainly experienced the inconsistency of this car’s frame shape. The two sides were definitely not mirror images of each other.
Abbott measured the distance from that line to the wheel centerline. He then transferred t
We realize that only about 17 of you reading this have such a car. But this story is for anyone who owns or is considering buying an under-supported breed. The process required to install an IFS crossmember in a chassis that doesn’t have integral spring pockets is pretty well universal anyway. We want you to understand that it’s really not all that difficult to update an oddball car with a modern suspension system.
So yeah, we want to see you squirm a little. Maybe you’ll do something different. At the same time, we want to see you succeed.
Honest. We really do.
That last line represents the true axle centerline. He punched the location on several pla
Abbott raised the car for more working room but realigned the chassis to the ground using
Instructions call for linking the upper arm hats like so. That way they remained aligned a
Instructions also call to mark the upper-arm hat’s centerline. As the instructions note, d
Fatman trims the hat’s inner edge for each application. That edge meets the frame but as t
Make that edge sit flush by trimming the hat’s side. This way the hat can be trimmed to ac
Once trimmed, the hat sits pretty much flush with the frame. We encourage additional grind
Naturally the hats must sit level on the frame. Willys frames aren’t exactly precise so Ab
Fatman leaves the last bit of crossmember fitting to the user. Use a drafting compass or c
Abbott then tacked the crossmember. Note that the gap is lateral; the frame is actually na
He also tacked in place the upper arm hats. Fatman supplies these gussets to spread the sp
Here it is, the entire front crossmember in place, if only tacked there. But the work’s no
The Fatman crossmember supports the frame better than Willys’ gussets did. They interfered
With the fabrication finished Abbott test-assembled the suspension. With fit proclaimed co