A partially disassembled car is sitting in the shop. The vehicle’s owner is calling daily, asking if it’s fixed. In desperation, you’re haunting salvage yards, hitting every source you know, then following up every source your sources know, and still … you can’t find that part. If you do find it, trust is a major issue, because you don’t know until it arrives if you’re getting the right one, or more importantly, if it’s good enough quality. When a part is the only thing between the car and its tires – such as with steering and suspension components – you really don’t want anything questionable. But when losing the customer is your only other option, you’re really between a rock and a hard place.
That’s what it can be like, because as repair and restoration shops know all too well, for the lack of the right high-quality part, a job can be lost. Or even worse, you find most of the needed parts, but not all. Same result.
Fortunately, there is a provider who cares enough to stock high-quality rare steering and suspension parts, who will even build them if they can’t be found.
Billy Thompson of White Post Restorations in White Post, VA, knows what it’s like to search for hard-to-find parts. His company has been in the antique and classic car restoration business since 1940 it was founded by his father and is now being run by his son and grandson. When dealing with antiques and classics, no substitutes are accepted; they must be 100% genuine.
"We do everything original, we don’t modify," said Thompson. "To do a complete restoration, that means seat springs, upholstery, body, paint, sheet metal, engine, transmission, fuel pump, water pump, carburetor and every piece of every car. It’s got to be all done right and when all assembled, it all has to work. And all the parts have to work together, as a team, to make a perfect car."
Obviously that won’t happen if any of the parts are defective, and it certainly won’t happen if the parts can’t be found at all. White Post Restorations literally goes to the ends of the earth if need be to get them. Before they had trusted sources, they hunted through salvage yards hoping to find parts in decent shape and, if necessary, would build or repair the parts themselves. As many shops and individuals have done and still do, they would also sometimes place an ad in Hemmings Motor News, and usually hear back several months later with someone who claimed to have the part. Hopefully the part was actually what they needed, and hopefully it was high enough quality that it would work or could be restored.
A number of years ago, though, Thompson ran across a gold mine at least when it came to hard-to-find steering and suspension parts in the form of Stockton, CA-based Rare Parts, Inc. This unusual company makes a practice of stocking high-quality hard-to-find parts. And if they don’t stock it or it can’t be found elsewhere, they will build it.
This source has saved Thompson from losing business several times. One notable occasion was the time White Post was restoring a 1951 Lincoln Cosmopolitan, for which tie rod ends were not available anywhere. It had to be 100% right before it left the shop, because it was going to an overseas customer, to a place where further repairs would be impossible. Thompson’s son, W. R., sent an old tie rod from the car to the company. They quickly manufactured the needed tie rod ends and added the item to their catalogue for anyone else potentially in the same situation.
"It’s always a job to find the parts," Thompson said. "So once you find someone good and trustworthy, you stay with them, and we’ve been dealing with them for 20 or 30 years now."
"Mat" Mathiesen is someone who, without a great source for hard-to-find parts, wouldn’t even touch older cars. In fact, when he opened Mat’s Brake and Alignment in San Louis Obispo, CA, in 1960, and for several years afterward, he wouldn’t even take older or rarer vehicles.
Part of the reason was not being able to trust parts sources. "You get rubber that comes out of India that never lasts," Mathieson said. "Or, for example, some people sell suspension kits, and you only get half the pieces you need." This kind of quality, obviously, won’t satisfy customers.
But some years back Mathieson, too, discovered Rare Parts, Inc. and as with others they have saved him jobs. In fact, he recently had a classic 1950 Willys Jeep Jeepster in his shop a vehicle for which most parts are not available except from this source. Because of them, he was able to not only repair the vehicle but also save his customer considerable money.
"The steering gear was in very bad shape," he said. "It was very, very loose. I was going to send it out to have it rebuilt, but then decided to take it apart and see what it looked like. We found that the bushings for the sector shaft were worn out. I called Rare Parts and told them I needed a set of bushings, and they were able to fabricate them for me. We saved the steering gear, and it saved the customer about $300 – $400."
He was also recently able to service an odd vehicle that happened his way an old grape picking machine. The brand name of the vehicle was lost in obscurity the owner had no idea of the original make. It needed tie rod ends, but without knowing the manufacturer, ordering them was a challenge. Mathiesen was able to pull a tie rod end from the machine, though, and send it to his source. They were able to provide them. You might even be drinking a glass of wine from grapes picked by this machine.
Another time, he had a 60s-era Ford with twin I-beam suspension, and the axles would no longer accept the kingpins hence, the kingpins were too loose. Ordinarily, this would have been a major problem, as axles for this car were not available anywhere. He was able to pull the axles and send them in, and the company re-bushed the axles and placed the kingpins back in.
"We saved the customer a lot of hassle, a lot of money and he can still use his car," Mathiesen said. "It’s as good as new."
Many would say that Steve Marx of Costa Mesa, CA, has it made when it comes to parts availability. His shop, Marx, only services Mercedes, and the manufacturer has a reputation for stocking parts for their entire line, all the way back to the beginning of their history. Awhile back, though, a customer brought in a 1957 model which needed front end repair. At that particular time, the parts Marx needed for the car weren’t available from Mercedes they had announced that they would indeed be stocking them, but no date was given and Marx could find no source. In a fix, Marx turned to Rare Parts, Inc. who manufactured the parts for him. "They made them for me, I put them on the car and solved the man’s problem," Marx said.
When it comes to hard-to-find steering and suspension parts, it’s good to know that at least one source cares enough to stock the tough ones and if they can’t stock it, they’ll build it.
Bruce Boyers is a freelance technical writer based in Glendale, CA.