Whether you're attempting your first build or your 20th, one key to maintaining sanity is finding a balance between what you can afford and the desire to use top-quality parts. Fortunately, the hot rod aftermarket continues to develop quality parts to help us improve our cars, and magazines like Custom Rodder keep the information coming so we can make educated purchases. Better still, the aftermarket remains small enough that hobbyists like us can give manufacturers feedback on what worked and what didn't, and offer suggestions for new options or products. Successful manufactures use such feedback to continually upgrade and expand their product lines. One such manufacturer that has arguably done this well, all while delivering quality and affordability, is Fatman Fabrications.
We recently had the chance to install one of Fatman's popular front frame stubs and Stage V hub-to-hub IFS kits on a '53 Pontiac Chieftain. Over the years, Custom Rodder has chronicled many installations of Fatman parts. As someone who has had a hands-on relationship with more than a few of those installs, I can say that Fatman's products have gone together easily and worked flawlessly on the road. However, this time around I was working in unfamiliar territory; both the frame stub and model of car it was going on were new to me.
Not that I was scared. Fatman has been building suspensions for decades, and offers parts for an incredibly wide range of applications. To augment the IFS kit, I elected to use Air Ride Technologies ShockWaves and a Big Brake kit from Engineered Components Inc. (ECI). For the more budget minded, Fatman offers the options of using standard coil springs or a variety of coilovers.
Here's the best part: Fatman has taken guesswork out of the installation process by designing its stubs to specifically fit each of the more than 100 cars for which they are available. This means someone at Fatman has already done the exact job you are getting ready to do, on a car like yours. This is especially helpful when calling the company tech line to ask questions. The stubs are not only designed to easily tie into your car's existing framerails, but they also include prefabricated mounts for sheetmetal, bumpers, and radiators. Most are also set up to lower your car several inches, in addition to providing a proper track width and the improved ride quality and geometry of the Mustang II-style independent suspension.
With all that said, we don't want to mislead you. This is your car's foundation, and no matter how straightforward an installation like this is, you'll still want at least a little chassis knowledge and good welding skills to take it on. You'll also need a quality welder that's up to the task of doing framework-we used HTP America's MIG 200. Beyond that, you'll need a good grinder, plumb bob, reciprocating saw (or plasma cutter or other tool to cleanly cut your frame), level, jackstands, hydraulic jack, various handtools for suspension assembly, safety glasses, and a good dark-colored felt tip pen. The Fatman instruction booklet will be your best friend throughout the install, and includes pertinent details you need to know when working. Pay close attention to the points where the original suspension was located and the new one will be placed. Concentrate, take your time, and follow instructions and the installation is almost certain to go smoothly.
Fatman Fabrications' frame...
Fatman Fabrications' frame stubs have become very popular solutions for getting more modern front suspensions under the noses of all kinds of '50s cars. They're easier to install than most junkyard subframes, and are arguably better values in the long run. Not only that, but they look clean, too, especially when they're outfitted with Fatman's stainless steel control arms. This '53 Pontiac project got a Fatman Stage V IFS kit to augment its stub, as well as Air Ride ShockWaves and ECI brakes.
After removing the drivetrain...
After removing the drivetrain and front sheetmetal, the car must be elevated to a comfortable work height, then leveled side to side and front to rear.
Next are the crucial steps...
Next are the crucial steps of recording original suspension points to use as references for the new stub. Using a plumb bob, we transferred the axle centerline, front body mount bolt, and radiator core support mounting holes directly to the garage floor with a dark felt tip pen. It is also imperative to measure and record the height of each of these points for stub alignment reference later.