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Hydraulic and Friction Shocks on a Period Project

12/20/2016
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There are a wide variety of shocks available to the modern hot rodder and nothing is more popular than short hot rod tube shocks. The reason builders have used tube shocks on the front of their hot rods is because they work great, they are inexpensive, easy to find, easy to mount, and trouble free. These are the reasons why hot rodders adopted them with open arms when they became widely available. There is another option if you want to rewind the clock back further in the history of hot rods and that is to go the route of friction, or hydraulic shocks on your hot rod. Why would you do this? If you are like me and have been dreaming of a car built like your forefathers would have done it during the golden age of hot rodding, a friction or hydraulic arm style shock set up is just right for a period look.

I have always believed an old car should feel like an old car so my choice of these shocks isn’t because I want my hot rod to ride like a new Caddy! I am working on a '29 Ford Roadster on pinched deuce rails. It is getting to the point in the build where I need to pinch myself because I can’t believe I am so close to taking it out for a spin! While friction and hydraulic shocks may not provide dampening like a modern car suspension most people I have talked to running them explain they work just fine.

After a close family friend passed away recently I became the new owner of some of his parts. One hidden treasure was a zinc bucket filled to the brim with old ‘32 Ford Houdaille hydraulic shocks. I was astonished the lever arms moved freely because most shocks you come across are frozen solid. Not only did I love the fact these were original parts, they belonged to my friend and I was happy to have him be a part of the history on my car.

Houdaille created hydraulic shocks for many car companies in the early days. Ford was one, but even some early Ferraris were fitted with Houdaille shocks. My decision to run them was cemented when I visited the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana not long ago. Seeing high-end ‘30s cars fitted with hydraulic lever type shocks convinced me they would be good enough for my rustic roadster.

Once the decision was made to run these shocks I had to decide how to mount them. My frame was already boxed, but I wanted to run the original hardware too. I started by plotting the correct location on the frame rails. My rails are new stampings so they were void of the original holes. I tracked down a good frame chart, and with a little measuring was able to determine the correct location to mount them. I started by drilling a small pilot hole through both sides of the rail. I decided to make an access hole on my frame so I could use the original mounting bolts and still access the nut on the back side. Once I had a pilot hole I used a small hole saw to create the access hole on the inside first, then opened the outer holes to the correct size.

Once the shocks were mounted the next task was connecting them to the axle itself. Original 1932-1934 spring perches had a shock mount that protruded from the top. Most of these were cut off by hot rodders converting to tube shocks. If you can find originals perches they are either in very rough shape, or they are expensive. There may be a day when I consider purchasing a set of originals, or I may get lucky at a future swap meet. For now I decided to try a more economical route. I picked up a set of Speedway forged spring perches, (part# 91033047), pictured below.

I then made a boss that could be welded to the top of the perch. This boss was drilled and tapped to accept another handy part available from Speedway, (part# 1356105) Dog Bone Shock Link Balls. I was really happy with the way these turned out, and they were really easy to Tig weld to the perches.

Once the new perches were in place I had to connect the shock. Because the new shock ball mounted to the perch was in a different location than the stock 32-34 mount I had to get creative. The arms on the front shock have a bend and are much shorter than the shocks for the rear. I experimented by taking some rear Houdaille arms which are straight and a bit longer and put them up front. The length was just right. The only problem was the dog bones. Original Ford dog bones in 1932 had alternating holes (one on each side of the bone). Speedway bailed me out again because they offer a dog bone with both openings on the same side. Part 1356100 was just right!

I picked up two of these and they completed the job. I like the way these shocks look.

They give the front end a vintage look I am after. I am considering what to do in the rear with my Quick-Change and high arch Model A rear spring. I will probably go the same route back there and stick with Houdailles!

I hope this helps you out if you are considering lever shocks like me. The good news is you don’t have to track down old parts to have vintage flavor. Speedway offers a variety of friction shocks that operate the same way and give you the right look. Below is a picture of some of our basic friction shocks mounted on one of our T-buckets.

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