How To Adjust The Front Wheel Alignment on Your Imperial

Imperial Homepage -> Repair -> Suspension -> Alignment

Question from Terry:

As this project continues, I am planning on re-aligning the front end. It pulls to the right now, but not a lot... :) I know these cars can be finicky when it comes to alignments, any suggestions on how/where to have it done?

Reply fom Mark:

If you're looking for chains to do it, forget it. When they look at that Y-Body suspension they about have a heart attack, since they have to drop the balls somewhat to get in there. Most places don't want to get involved. I suggest you get with your local WPC Club to see what folks are doing. Here we have several garages in the Denver area who specialize in vintage Mopar. Suspension is one of the fuselage peculiarities and you need an old body who really loves this era and has the know-how and patience to do it right. The guy I use has nephews that he's training to take over his business and suspension is their "hardest class." 

Question from John (1956):

A while back I mentioned that when I turned the steering  all the way to the right the left front wheel rubs on the inside. Y'all  were super fast with the advice all centering around "tire size". I was informed that the correct tire size was 820x15 (for 1956's) - Well, that's what I have all around on the car. The left front (driver side) is the only one that  rubs - Any other suggestions? 

Reply from Mark:

John, this is one of those questions that is so difficult to answer 'cuz it could be one of/or a combination of things. What pops in the top of my head is: Inner fender. Is the inner fender bent or warped in any way? Is it installed and aligned properly? (Or is the tire rubbing on the frame?) Toe-in. Is the toe-in set to specification? How's the rest of the alignment? Any front end parts bent?  Loose kingpin or control arm bushings. If the front end parts are a bit sloppy, the wheel will tend to "fall in" when the car's turning. Bent rim. Tire size. Mrs.. Courant may have something regarding the ACTUAL tire diameter. I've noticed that just because a tire is marked as a certain size, AND that size is what is specified by the manufacturer, doesn't mean that it is the actual size the manufacturer intended. One solution to this problem is to go around the local tire stores with a measuring tape.... 

Question from Jeff (1956):

I took my '56 Sedan in to have the alignment checked now that I have new (read expensive) tires on it. I brought along my copy of the factory service manual as the tech had requested so that he would have the proper specs.

Well after 45 minutes of pawing over both the car and the book, neither he nor I could figure out how one adjusts the caster. Camber and toe settings he was able to correct without difficulty but the book provides little help on caster, saying only to adjust the eccentric bushing on the upper control arm. We couldn't find such a bushing on the inboard end of the control arm nor any other means of adjustment.

Does anyone with a '55 or '56 have experience with the proper caster adjustment procedures? I ask mostly out of curiosity as the car handles and tracks very well and caster shouldn't affect tire wear.


From Paul:

My shop has aligned the front end on both my '55 and my '56 Imperials without asking a single question. In fact I was so pleased with them, that I ALLOWED them the privilege of rebuilding the front end on my '62. After some confusion over whether or not I had supplied the correct lower control arm bushings, they did a fabulous job.

I would say that if your front end shop doesn't know how to align the front end, you need to find another shop.

From Matt:

Good old alignment shops are still out there. I live in a community of about 40,000 and we have 2 such shops. The one I use is owned by a car collector. When I took my 66 Crown in for alignment and front check, he and his son who works for him had to take it out for a test drive which entailed closing the shop for 20 minutes. He needed no direction on how to align, he knew how to do it and had the old books. His shop also replaced the accumulator for the ABS on my 92. Now that I have seen it done, I could have done it but was not familiar with these systems at all. He charged $25 in labor, so everybody needs to make a living. This shop is known for "If you can't get it fixed anywhere else, take it to Ray Snider." In the long run if you take your cars to this type of place, you will have less money spent and a much more pleasurable Imperial experience


From Kne:

Had the tires rotated on my '63 today. The shop I took it into said the car needed front end work. The idler arm and ball joints are bad and the shocks are leaking. Alright, I figure I can look at the shocks and SEE if they are leaking. I have not noticed any extra "bounce" in the car though. I haven't noticed that the front end is particularly "loose." The front tires are wearing a bit unevenly (off hand I think the outside is wearing a bit more than the inside, I could be wrong though) but again nothing excessive. At the most, at this point, I would have the front end aligned. I'm pretty sure that if someone took an old car that only had ten miles on it in, most shops would say it "needed front end work". It's just how shop-guys are programmed or something. :o) A shop is always going to try to find work for it's self, and in theory, your car probably could use some new parts to put it in "new" condition. In reality, I don't see why a front end needs to be in new condition, anymore than the engine or brakes, which would involve a rebuild every 30,000 miles, or a brake job every 5,000. (just trying to make a point, figures plucked out of the air!) So....the Kne 2cents: get your front end aligned, if there is excessive tire wear after that, then start replacing idler arms, ball joints, etc. Otherwise, if it drives good, feels good, and the tires aren't wearing out every 30,000 don't waste your money. Also, a "weeping shock" does not mean it is bad. As you stated, you will feel it when the shocks are actually bad. Kne warning: the shop will try to tell you that if you don't put in those new parts first, "we can't align it", "it will go back out of alignment" etc/blah blah blah. You may have to go to a couple of places, and tell them to please align it to specs, "don't tell me what's wrong", just "DO IT and I will pay you!!!" Or after they give you their spiel, just say to "please do it the best you can." I assure you most shops will do their best to sell you more than the alignment, trying to tell you that "it won't align" with out this or that new part. CA-CA!! 

From Brent:

I service limousines, and even a badly maintained car as they generally are when I first encounter them usually needs next to nothing. It is perfectly possible to get a pretty good alignment out of substantially worn parts- there's a long way between the point of detectable wear and ready to fall off. The shop manual refers to items exhibiting wear as 'Serviceable'- this means its worn and fine, which is a concept most front end shops have a hard time relating to. Considering most front end shops cannot be bothered retightening half the fasteners ( REALLY COMMON) and generally only align the worst side of the car to match the best, hence having half the work to do, not to mention overlooking basics like readjusting wheel bearings etc. before they get started, I would take the advice that 'your whole front end is shot' et al with a very large grain of salt. Once upon a time I received in the mail a coupon offering a 'free oil change or free front end alignment' as an introductory promotion to a new garage in my area. This was a timely offer in my case, as I had a car I'd just replaced every front end component in, and in the most comprehensive way possible- only the pitman arm and cross member was original, the controls arms were brand new factory parts as was the rest of the parts- springs, shocks steering box etc. I thought this was a heck of a deal, they were close and I could get all my brand new parts adjusted without having to do it myself! They put it in the alignment pit and after about 40 minutes came out to give me an estimate on the repairs needed before they could align it- it was going to take about $400 to make it 'safe' and about $700 to make it perfect. I played dumb and said my goodness, is it safe to take home in this condition? Anyhow, I asked the service writer to take me under the car and show me the problems. He asked the mechanic to show me, and with a straight face, he shook a tie rod and explained that it was shot, as was the shocks as he could bounce the car when swinging from the sway bar like a trapeze. I pointed out that the parts had never even been wet yet, and had less than three miles on them, as was conspicuously noticeable from the absolute cleanliness and the fact that all the parts department paper tags were in place and immaculate. The mechanic remained adamant. I had words with the service manager, who suggested that although the front end alignment was free, 'how are we supposed to make any money doing free alignments?' You can guess the rest, but the moral is, no car has such a good suspension that they wouldn't try to sell you some more! Yes, I ended up doing the alignment at home... Don't believe a word of it when they tell you its worn out. Find an honest shop!

From Brett:

Many shops these days have computer alignment machines and the technicians go absolutely stupid if your car isn't in the computer's database. (How much cash would you wager that a '63 Imperial isn't listed?) You may need to provide them with the caster, camber and toe-in specs for your car. Yet another reason to own a shop manual if you don't already.

This page was last updated March 11, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club