Building a Deuce Frame
When it comes to a frame for a 32 Ford you basically have two choices. You can purchase a rolling chassis or start with the rails and go from there. I chose to start with a new set of rails and build it myself. I did this for a couple reasons, first it is quite a bit cheaper and second, I can tailor the frame to the aftermarket body I'm using so it fits correctly.
I've had this set of frame rails sitting in my shop for almost 10 years now and the first order of business is to clean them up, check the frame fit on the body and weld in blind nuts for the body bolts.
Here is an example of why you need to check the frame - body fit. Although this body fits the rails very well fiberglass bodies usually won't use all the boltholes that a stock body will use. Here you can see that the first two firewall mounting holes are obviously not going to be used. Actually there is another hole behind the firewall that won't be used either. All three holes will have to be filled on each rail in order for the frame to look right.
In this view of the under side of the body you can see how well the American Stamping frame rails fit the body.
Once the frame was checked against the body the rails were cleaned and all body and gas tank nuts were welded in place. This was done because the frame will be boxed. Also the inside of the rails were coated with a good quality weldable primer. Don't skip this step. Without priming the interior of the rails (and boxing plates) the entire inside of the frame will be susceptible to rust.
It's important to have a good set of blueprints for any project like this. Although the actual width of the frame (where it will be under the body) will be adjusted to fit the body, the rest of the dimensions are critical and must be correct.
With the rails cleaned, holes filled, and the blind nuts welded in place it was time to check the frame for twists and warping.
The frame was mounted on the table and the center section was measured and clamped in place based on the measurements provided in the blueprints. The front and rear of the frame were then checked against the blueprints to see how far out of spec they were. In this case the front was 3/8" narrow and the rear about 1/2" wide. Both are easily correctable at this point. We also found one rail where the front section was slightly twisted. We will address this when we weld in the boxing plates and front crossmember.
Once the boxing plates arrived they were stitch welded in place. This is a slow process and can't be hurried if you are going to do it correctly. When the boxing plates were completely welded the welds were ground smooth to give a nice finished look.
With the boxed rails mounted to the frame table and firmly held in place it was time to locate and weld the front spring crossmember in place. This crossmember was moved about an inch forward from its stock location in order to give a little more engine compartment space for the hemi.
It is important to mention an important point here. Some deuce re-pop front crossmembers have a 5-7 degree caster angle built into them and some don't. In this case mine (a Speedway Motors) crossmember did have about 6 degrees of caster built in. So when you mount the crossmember in the frame with the radiator mounting pads at level the front spring and axle will have the proper caster. When you use "big & littles" it can and does in most cases change the angle of the frame (your level reference for setting the caster angle) by a few degrees which in turn will decrease the caster angle by the same amount. Therefore I mounted the crossmember to give a total caster of 9 degrees. When the chassis is sitting on the ground with "big and littles" installed this angle will be reduced to the proper 5-7 degrees. The following picture demonstrates what I'm talking about.
This is a picture of a typical Deuce. You can see the angle of the frame (red line) is not level when compared to the green line which is the level reference. You can also see the difference in the camber angle as the angle of the frame is changed. That change effectively decreases your positive caster and can screw up your steering if you don't compensate for it in the building process.
At the same time the front crossmember was installed the rear spreader bar and fuel tank were installed. This was done to ensure the proper alignment of the rear of the frame once the rails were securely mounted to the frame table. The frame is now ready for the center crossmembers to be welded in position. First however I will need to mock up the engine and trans in the frame in order to establish the correct location for the trans crossmember which is an integral part of the center crossmember assembly. The same holds true for the rear end. It will have to be mocked up as well to locate the front ladder bar crossmember.
Well, everything doesn't always go as planned. As it turned out, my bellhousing arrived the other day and although it fits the HotHeads trans adapter perfectly my Saginaw 4 speed has the wrong size front bearing retainer for the bellhousing so the trans won't bolt up. I've ordered a new one the right size and will have the engine and trans mounted in place within the next week or so. I also had the block cleaned so I would not be messing with a filthy block with a new clean frame.
So....I decided to go ahead and get the rear suspension mounted and welded in place. It will be easier to fit the center section after the suspension crossmember is in place anyway so why waste time.
Remember this car is being built as someone would have done it between '62-'65 which means no coil over shocks, no air bags and no disk brakes. One of the popular rear suspensions for Deuces back then was a transverse rear spring. Sometimes these were taken from Model T's and sometimes from Model A's, but most of the time they were taken from some of the later model Fords such as the 34 or 36. In this case the spring is from a '36 Ford.
Here you can see the heart of this Pete & Jakes suspension system. The spring is mounted to a crossmember that was positioned exactly 3" in front of the last body bolt hole. The entire suspension is then positioned off of that reference point. Unfortunately this design does not allow me to move the rear end back an inch to perfectly center the wheels in the fenders. That said, since this will be a highboy having the rear end in the stock location will be OK.
Pete & Jakes manufactures two different front crossmembers for this suspension. One has a dip in the center and is mounted under the driveshaft and this one which is straight and is mounted above the driveshaft.
Now for the engine and trans. The first thing I did was to make a copy of the firewall out of cardboard, mount it to some wood and clamp it in place on the frame. That allowed me to set the for and aft position of the engine/trans. Ideally this would be done with the body on but since I'm working alone and don't have my lift yet I had to settle for cardboard substitutes. You can see here that the water pump (BBC short pump) along with the pully and fan have been installed to make sure there will be enough clearance between the fan and the radiator, in this case also represented by a piece of cardboard. The engne/trans unit was set at 7 degrees (trans down). Since the chassis will sit between 3 and 4 degrees (nose down) that will give the engine a final angle of 3 degrees.
A cardboard radiator stand-in was also made and clearance between the fan and radiator position was checked to ensure there would be no interference. With this setup there will be more than 2" of clearance between the fan and radiator. If need be I can always add a fan spacer to move the blades closer to the radiator. This car will not have a fan shroud because most hot rods built back in the early 60's didn't have one. If extra cooling is needed I will add a Spal electric pusher in front of the radiator and behind the grill. It will never be seen.
Early hemis used a variation of the donut style engine mounts so these modern versions are pretty easy to install. Next I'll tack the trans mount and frame center section together.
I spent most of one day locating and tacking in the main lower frame center section. The crossmember kit I'm using is basically a Deuce Factory design that is sold by Speedway Motors. It is designed for a frame that is not boxed so boxing plates for the center section are included, although I won't need them. It also isn't designed for a ladder-bar and transverse spring rear suspension system, so some modifications were in order.
Above is a pic of the basic design. It has been updated a bit since I purchased mine 10 years ago and there has been a minor change in the way the trans mount is done. Other than that it's pretty much the same kit.
The crossmember for the ladder-bars is located about 3" from where the front upper crossmember supplied in the kit is supposed to be. So that one was eliminated. Not to worry since I used the tubing to create a "K" brace to strengthen the ladder-bar crossmember. The lower sections were trimmed and reversed then tacked in place. The rear crossmember was used but for some reason both of the crossmembers in the kit came with a slight bend in the center. Since there was no logical reason for this I straightened the rear crossmember, cut it to size and tacked it in place about 20" behind the ladder-bar crossmember. Small 1" x .125" tubing was added both in front and the rear for bracing. You may notice there is no provision for an under floor brake booster/master cylinder. That's because it's going to be mounted on the firewall similar to the "American Graffiti" coupe. More on that in another update. Above is a pic of the completed frame center section.
So now the hard part is done. The basic frame is assembled and everything that can be welded from the top has been. In the next few days I'll remove the engine and trans and start the assembly of the front suspension so the hairpins and steering box can be located. Stay tuned.
As promised here is the front end installed. This is a Pete & Jakes (Superbell) front axle with chrome hair pins, drag links and panhard bar. It uses a chrome Posis spring as well.
I'm using cross steering and a standard GM small manual box. These were common on early Novas and other small GM cars. Don't let anyone charge you $350 for a "Vega" box since these are the same size. The only difference is the input shaft on this box is about 4" longer. Cost??? $15 at a local swap meet.
Next week I'll remove the front suspension (7 bolts) and flip the frame over. There are some welds that need to be done that I couldn't reach while the chassis was on the frame table. After that it's on to narrowing the Ford 9" rear end. That will be covered under another topic.
Check back often for more updates...
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