Frame Off the Body

Bad News! - While working under the car, one of my friends noticed that I was missing a frame to body bolt. I looked around and found out that almost all of the frame to body bolts were missing and 4 of them were broken off. The only way to get the broken bolts out was to remove the frame from the body! Only two studs (no nuts on them) at the firewall and 4 bolts at the rear were holding the body to the frame. About 14 bolts were missing. This explained the strange creaking noises I heard when I was putting the car on jackstands. Doing a body off of frame restoration was not what I planned to do at all.... :-( But now that it was done, I'm very happy about the results.

I was originally going to jack the body up high and roll the complete frame out from under the car. I purchased four space saver spare tires to lower the frame as much as possible to the ground. This lowered the frame about 4" closer to the ground then the stock tires.

I realized that in order to roll the frame out, I would have to keep changing the positions of the jackstands. I was hesistent to do this because the top chop is incomplete and has only been tacked welded along the drivers side and windshield. I didn't want the body to start twisting and warp the roof by constantly repositionning the jackstands.

The rear cross member just ahead of the rear bumper was damaged from what looks like an overzealous tow truck driver and needed to be replaced. I had removed it by grinding off the rivets and planned on replacing it with a 53 Pontiac cross member which by the way is bolted in not rivetted.

53 Pontiac replacement and damaged crossmember

I started sandblasting the new crossmember, gave up after about 1/4 was done because it was taking too long. I switched to wirebrushing with my grinder and found that it was about 10-20 times faster. I painted it with gloss black rust proof paint and it looked great except for the minor dents. You couldn't tell which portion was sandblasted and which was wirebrushed!

With the rear crossmember off, I realized that there was only the front suspension, rear end, transmission crossmember and the front crossmember holding the two frame rails together. The front crossmember is held on by 4 rivets. The transmission crossmember is held on by about ten 1/2" socket head bolts. An idea was in the works!

I removed the crossmembers and rear axle. This is where buying a previously owned rod pays out big time. The rear axle had been temporarily mounted in place and the bolts were hand tight. 15 minutes and the rear axle and springs rolled out the back of the car. It took a bit longer with the front crossmember because I had to grind off the rivet heads. The front suspension which is normally held in by 16 bolts and plates was only held in by 4 bolts. The tranny crossmember went very well except for two bolts which are mounted inside the crossmember rails. They were covered with 46 years of hard caked dirt and were situated at a strange angle. Not to mention that you couldn't see them directly.

Front suspension removed, next remove the tranny and front crossmembers

I rigged a support frame for the rear of the car under the rear axle tubs. I used the shock absorber body mounts as the main support points.

Body rear support frame for under rear axle tubs

For the side of the car, I used jackstands and a 4x4 post. I just happened to have a plastic laundry tub that was the exact same height as my jackstands. I placed the 4x4 post on it and measured the distance from it to the body support ribs. I supported each side at 3 places next to the frame. I nailed two 2x6 blocks together and cut an indent in them so that they wouldn't fall off the 4x4 post. I also cut each to fit exactly at each support rib. Once positionned properly, I placed the 2 jackstands at the ends of the 4x4 post.

Body side supports

The body was supported by jackstands under the passenger side rail and the homemade supports in the rear axle tub and the 4x4 post just on the inside of the driverside frame rail. I supported the driverside frame rail with two hydraulic jacks. I removed the last mounting bolts and slowly lowered the frame rail. The body was rock solid and the frame came off incredibly smooth. There was one snag where the front of the rail hung on the remaining firewall stud but a little wiggling and off it came. Very satisfying!

Driverside frame successfully removed!

Now the wirebrushing started :-( I wirebrushed the complete frame rail and sandblasted any sections I couldn't get my grinder at. Then painted it black. With the rail off the body, I got under the car and wirebrushed as much of the underside as possible. Very tiring and a dirty job. Had the garage doors open to provide a breeze through so that the rust dust would blow out. Wore a full face mask and cheap air filter which had to be changed every 2 hours or so. I painted the underside a middle gloss gray color. I figured that it would make the black frame stand out more and wouldn't require any more work - why not? I mixed 2 parts gloss black with 1 part gloss white for the grey.

As my friend Rick said:"The underside looked clean enough to eat off of!". With the supports in place, I couldn't wirebrush and paint the complete underside just about 1/3 of it. So back on went the like-new frame rail, held in with a minimal amount of bolts. By the way, the frame rail weighs about 150 lbs and is about 15' long. One person can move it around slowly by lifting it from the balance center point. I lifted it back into place using my two hydraulic jacks - it worked beautifully. Don't forget to place the rubber body mounts back on at each of the mounting points. I used grade 8 bolts for all bolts and washers. Couldn't get replacement washers thick enough to replace the firewall washers so used 2 together - not as good but it worked. I didn't tightened the bolts completely yet.

I used the same technique to remove the passenger side rail and here's a tip: leave plenty of room on BOTH sides of the car. I had parked the car too close to the garage wall and now couldn't move it. It was cramped but still workable. More wirebrushing and painting and it was placed back on.

The only body underside not wirebrushed and painted at this point was the area on top of the rear support frame I rigged up and the gas tank. The car was again supported by 4 jackstands on the rails. So down came rear support and I unbolted the gas tank without any problems (man do I love this car to work on!). I finished wirebrushing and painting the underside which I was getting very tired of doing. Lying on my back under a car on a creeper holding a 4 1/2" grinder which is wirebrushing rust off is not my idea of fun! Thankfully, the worst is over.

The rocker panels are rusted with the driverside being the worst. There is some rot in the rear quarter panels and minor work required in the wheel wells. The rear trunk lip also needs work. Nothing that I'm worried about. I'll have to tell you about the 55 Chev I had in 1976 and the body rot that I fixed. That's a long long story! The 54 Pontiac is a walk in the park compared to the 55 Chev.

Removing broken bolts - Once I had the rails off, I tried every trick in the book to remove the rusted, busted off bolts. I tried welding on extra pieces of metal, squirting penetrating oil on over a period of 48 hours, heat cycling, you name it. It didn't work. I put my air chisel on and in 2 seconds the bolt/nut broke off. Now the problem was how to place a blind nut into the rail. There was no access to the top of the rail. After unsuccessfullty contacting a number of fastener and bolt supply house companies, I cut out a piece of the floor board about 1" square above each bolt hole. placed a bolt/washer in from the top and bolted everything into place. I was going to weld in a plate to cover the holes but decided to screw a piece of sheet metal over the openning. It'll be easier to access it later if I ever need to.

Since I had both rails off, there is a very good chance that the frame is now no longer square. I will be measuring diagonally from the front of the rear spring mount to the front suspension mounting holes. Loosen all the frame mounting bolts and use a big persuader (hammer) to correct any misalignment. I will probably use some form of locktite on all the bolts in addition to the lock washers. I won't use permanent locktite but something semipermanent (such a thing?)

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Copyright March 2011 Eugene Blanchard