Anatomy of the Narrowed Beam
Last Updated: 06/19/2015
Each day, Airkewld sells about 5 Ultimate Beams. Whether or not it is due to the quality of materials we use, the fit and finish or plain old marketing. Either way, the satisfaction rate is it at 97%. That is pretty great in business, but what about the 3%?
There are three options on the market today when it comes to the surfaces that the control arms ride on.
Original beams worked extremely well when maintained over the years. What does well maintained mean? Lubricated every 3-5 thousand miles through the zerk fittings in every beam. How many of them were maintained like that? Not many. What we have found over the years is that 10% of core beams we purchased were greasy and the control arms, when disassembled, looked perfect. The 90% of beams that were dry and rusty, the control arms were not so good. During the suspension cycle, the bearings had created enough heat to move metal away from the original bearing surface. It cause the original diameter to become an egg. Thus breaking down the inner bake-o-lite bushing and thus wearing it out or breaking it altogether. So if you do your math correctly, 90% of beams that we disassembled, were worn like this.
So do you think purchasing a narrowed beam with bearings is optimal for your restoration? We don't think so. We hope to shed some light even farther in this article. We will be updating this article with a video illustration of the movement that can be found with all three available bearing surface applications.
Until then, let me add a scenario to better understand our logic as a VW industry. When building an engine, we machine the case, we have the crank machined and new bearings are installed so that the short block can rotate perfectly. Seems legit. But there is a group of enthusiasts that do not think that this is how a beam should go together. Here's the proof. Brand new bearing beam in your possession and you are completely stoked. You insert the control arms out of your old beam with out doing anything to the bearing surfaces. Slides right in and you might think, perfecto! Wrong. If you press onto the outer most portion of the control arm, you will notice the beam has a rock to it. It wiggles back and forth. This will cause a vibration in your steering wheel that will annoy anyone. Since control arms are not reproduced, you will now need to find unworn controls arms (+/-10% available) to eliminate this from happening, or weld the arms up in those spot, have a machine shop machine the arms to OEM specs to eliminate that play (Who is going to go through all that work?) or live with the vibration and play. Has this information raised your eyebrow? It should.
Back in the early to mid 80's, there was a company that I think is still in business today called JT Front Ends. This company built aluminum front ends for dune buggies that were lite in weight and durable just enough for the rigors of the sand dunes. These beams were equipped with Poly-Urethane bushings. I know this because I had been building dune buggies with my father since the late 70's and we installed these beams 1000 times. It was the best thing since sliced bread. I compare it to the first iPhone. Glad it came into our lives when it did. Now, if you are still following along, you might see that dune buggies for the sand are not used every day. At most, 10-12 trips a year a couple days at a time, let's say 30-45 days per year at most. The beams are built on the premise that they are used in the sand when bearings would clog, they would allow for a lighter beam instead of the steel beam, anything to be lighter and faster.
One day, some one decided to use this bushing as a replacement for a street application. Whoa.....can't find outer bearings or bake-o-lite bushings anywhere, these are already being used by a beam manufacture, let's use them for a street car. How many of you knew that these were originally built for sand only? Most of you probably did not know that. But as the story goes, and as I provide the facts, these bushings are still being used today. Nothing has changed in the compound make-up, the major manufactures are making them consistently because they are selling, making that money, money, money!
If you have been in the VW industry, you have probably seen back yard builders, (I was one of them at one time), building new construction beams. The use cheaper materials like mild steel tubing, these poly bushings and Chinese adjusters. Check out this article for those details. They are building these to make money. They are not educating you on the lasting traits of the products, the trueness of the quality build, nothing like that. They are offering up a beam at a great cost to give you what they think you need. What do they have to gain or lose if you are not happy? Someone else will find them and they will make their money.
But let's take a closer look at these Poly-Urethane Bushings. They are incredibly squishy. What does that mean, really? I like to call it fudge room. If you place this bushing in a mild steel piece of tubing that has a weld seam in the middle of it, how does the round shape deal with that raised seam? It moves away from it. When you slide your worn control arm in it, the material moves away from high spots and fills in the low spots. With this picture painted, there is no greasable zerks on beams equipped with Poly Bushings. So this means, what ever grease you put on the arms or in the bushings and you slide it in, what ever you had on there is the only grease that will be present in it's lifetime. The bushing need a special kind of grease, have yet to find it in a tube that can be used in conjunction of a zerk fitting, so eventually, they will wear out. Over time, the weight of the vehicle, the vigor of the roads that you are driving on will wear out the bushings pretty fast. So that means, you will need to replace them again, and again, and again. So if you need to get a car out of your hands fast and cheap, this is an option.
There is a class in the VW off road racing industry where off road car travel 5000 miles through the most hanus terrain. Mercedes Benz and BMW are known for there superior suspension performance. Each of these instances use a plastic material for there bearing surfaces instead of rubber, bearings or urethane. It is Delrin. Delrin is expensive, but it is precise.
When building our beams, we thought of all the various options that were available. We thought of the pro's and cons of both installation and education. You don't rebuild an engine with out machining the case. You don't machine heads with out doing a valve job. You shouldn't assemble a front end with out polishing the bearing surfaces to have the proper spec. But wait, can a control arm that has wear be used in a Delrin equipped beam? Yes. Yes it can. We build the bushing so that it indicates the entire control arm. If you have a high spot, polish it with emory cloth until it slides in nicely. Because it indicates the entire arm, you can press on the outer edge and it doesn't move. The fit and finish is far superior than that of a bearing or Poly bushing equipped beam.
Will we ever make a beam with bearings or Poly bushings? No. Do we recommend them? No. Our goal is to have return clients, happy clients, referrals and accolades. Pictures and videos to come shortly.
Tags: Ultimate beam, PRObuilt Beam, Poly Urethane, Bearings, Delrin, bushings, Link Pin, Ball Joint, Narrowed Beam, Adjustable Beam, Front axle, VW beam