Review of FatMan IFS Airbag install 1938 Chevy PU - Hot Rod Forum : Hotrodders Bulletin Board
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Old 08-18-2003, 11:05 PM
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Review of FatMan IFS Airbag install 1938 Chevy PU

I have been monitoring this site since I purchased my 1938 pickup(s) back in March. I have two trucks, both 1/2 tons. I got one from a friends friend with a perfect frame but 60% body. I got another which I thought was all together, but it had been hit at some time so it had a tweaked frame, but a 90% body.

I knew that I wanted to run a full airride kit on the truck, so I looked around the ads in the magazines and compared prices and the full FatMan IFS/Air kit seemed the best kit for the money. I called and talked to the owner of FatMan and I called and talked to a worker at Heidts and the difference in price just didn't seem worth the difference in the parts.

This weekend we installed the kit on my good chassis this weekend. First I will describe the priocess of the install, then I will note my likes and dislikes about the kit.

The first thing we did after removing all of the front sheetmetal, engine/tranny, front suspension/hangers/brackets and all misc brake lines/holders etc was determine that the radiator support crossmember that FatMan (FM) sent as a replacement for my existing stock crossmember was unnecessary. At some time the stock transmission crossmember had been removed and an ugly hack-job had been patched in. After removing that, there was nothing holding the frame rails together from the radiator support crossmember all the way back to 10" in front of the rear end! Cutting out the stock crossmember may have allowed the frame to spring, causing more work than necessary. The back half of the stock crossmember held the original motor mount bolt holes and some accessory bolt holes. We just used the plasma cutter to cleanly cut the back half of the crossmember off and trim it up to look decent. No aligning, no checking the frame, just cut.

After that was done, we leveled the frame front to back, side to side and used our measurements verified from 3 trucks to mark our axle centerline on all sides of the stock frame. Without having driven the truck, I wasn't about to "eyeball it" off of the stock solid axle.

We then took the FM upper A-arm/shock mount housings and welded them together with the shockholes the prescribed 36" apart using some stock rod. We then took that unit and lined the centerlines on the housings up with the centerline on the frame, centered it from side to side and marked the housings for some trimming (which was in the instruction manual). We trimmed them, then took them back up on the frame. The problem is that the housings are built to put the angle of the shock hole 3 degrees past vertical. That gives you a "dive angle" so your shock doesn't operate straight up and down...it supposedly makes a smoother ride. The bottom of the housing should sit flush on the frame rail, then the top of the housing will be at the 3 degrees. Well, on the 38 frame, the front of the frame rails turn down right where the housings are supposed to sit. So the bottom of the housing sits flush on the frame rail in the back, but in the front, there is a 3/8" gap between the bottom of the housing and the top of the frame rail. We didn't have a digital angle finder, so we had no way to make sure that the housings were correctly seated.

We tacked those in and the gussets that support them, then used a jack to hold the lower crossmember up and aligned it's centerline with the axle centerline. The lower housing is a HEAVILY built peice. It feels like 5/8" thick plate steel welded together! It is HUGE. WAY overkill! My uncle's aftermarket crossmember in his competition mud-bogger isn't that thick! As I mentioned before, the frame turns down right where this has to go, and we needed a horizontal surface to weld the crossmember to. So we had to cut relief's out of the frame and bend some of it frame up to provide a flat surface for the crossmember. Doesn't look too pretty. Anyways, the lower crossmember was about 1/5" wider than my frame rail width. So we have some of the crossmember hanging out both sides, which looks tacky. We knew it wasn't our frame rails, as we hadn't cut the front crossmember out, but if we had, we probably would have mistakenly spread the framerails to meet the crossmember, which would have messed up our bodymounting holes.

After the lower crossmember was tacked in (huge tacks to hold that behemoth in), we began the C-notch for the power rack. The power rack bolts onto two brackets that hang off of the front of the lower crossmember. We located the power rack and cut the nothces (in the wrong place....long story, just didn't think ahead...had to cut them out and redo them). FM sends two 3.5" diameter, 3" wide C's for guides/fill to do the C-notch. They would have worked correctly if we had done it right, but 4" diameter peices would have been easier.

We temporarily bolted the lower control arms in the lower crossmember and tacked the two support fixtures on the back of the crossmember (they are just extensions that the lower control arm bolts go through)


After we got all of those peices in, the welder (the person who can makes Pretty welds....not me) finished up the welding. He griped about the 3/8" wide gap on the shock housings and about the C-notches, but he did a terrific job. Then we went to bolt up the suspension to see where to mount the upper shock braces (the shocks on the airride kit hang off the back of the lower control arm and have an extra set of brackets as an upper mount that go behind the upper shock housing. When we attempted to bolt up our upper A-arms, I found that one of my upper arms didn't have a bushing pressed into it. I called FM and the worker said they would send me the bushing and hardware overnight.

So that's as far as we got. The removal of all of the stock suspension took about a day, and the installation of the front end kit would have been done in about a day if it werent' for the upper shock mount.

I liked the heaviness of the kit. Everything is solid, the welds are unnoticeable, everything looks very provessional. All of the stainless peices are polished nicely, but not show-quality. The power rack is an off-the shelf O'reily's kit. That kind of depressed me. Everything else looks very nice. The upper shock mounts could have been manufactured to where the 3/8" gap wasn't there, but I understand that these kits fit many years, and every install probably has it's "engineering difficulties". The polished peices could have been covered in tape or some covering to help keep from scratching them. I haven't scratched myne (yet), but I covered them with tape as soon as I got the kit. I liked the phone assistance that I got, but I dont' like the fact that they have short hours on Fridays (the day when most guys are starting their install and may need the help). The airbag setup isn't just a conversion kit, which I had purchased from Heidts and intended on using, but sent back. All of the peices are actually made for the airbag setup with an exception of the upper shock housing. It still has the bung for the upper shock bolt. I will cut this off on my own and fill the hole for a smoother look.

If anyone has any doubts, I would definitely use FatMan Fabrication again. Their kit was just right for someone in my position skill-wise (not much) and price-wise. The person helping me with the install said that they thought that the Heidts kit came with boxing plates and better instructions, but I havent' heard this from anyone else. Boxing plates would have been nice, but as every frame is different, I would think that a set of boxing plates would need so much trimming to fit that making your own would probably be not much more work.

I will post pictures as soon as I cut them down and get them on my site.

The 'hopper

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Old 08-21-2003, 06:48 AM
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Sounds like a good experience to me! Thought you were gonna gripe a bit more since the crossmember wasn't a perfect fit, but sounds like you're happy with the results, so all's good! You can get small pieces of steel stock from Lowe's or Home Depot. I'm assuming your welder filled in the 3/8 gap with welding rod (easily possible with a "stick" welder and good high deposition rods like 7014s or 7018s). Next time make your own filler plate -- a short piece of 1/2" wide x 1/8" thick steel plate would have been great as a backer for the welds, and probably hidden. Anyway, I'm sure you learned a few things (measure twice, cut once, and measure once more before you cut just to be sure!), can't wait to see a few pics of the setup in the gallery or post a URL to another site. Would be great to see some pics before the body is on...
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Old 08-21-2003, 12:00 PM
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I installed a FM on my 37 Ply last winter. I found the kitinstall very straight forward except for a few items. 1. The dust covers on the ball joints will not stay on correctly. I have made several attempts to get them to fit tight all around but the cover keeps coming loose. 2. The upper A arms position so close to the shock towers that we had to grind out a half smile on the outer lower edge of the tower to get enough clearance for the upper A arm to hinge without binding. 3. FM does not promote sway bars and their lower A arms are not preped for sway bar links. Sway bars should be as basic as brakes on any car on the road today! My set-up is working well and I guess I would recommend FM to others, but with a few cautionary notes attached.
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Old 08-25-2003, 11:16 PM
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Thanks for the replies guys....I sent pics to FM to see what they said about the 3/8" gap and they called me back IMMEDIATELY....they had sent me the WRONG KIT! They had not listened when I told them that I had a truck and they sent me the coupe kit. So now, I get to torch off my upper A-arm supports and weld on the ones that they over-nighted to me AARRRGGH!!

This could have been my fault, as when I put my order in, I talked to the general manager, but when I called in to talk the first time, I talked to the owner, and we talked about it being a truck for sure (he gave me some tips on how to get more clearance under the bed for larger diameter wheels). However I am nearly positive that I told the general manager that I had a truck also. Anyways, I have to call the GM back tomorrow to find out what they are going to do about this...this is the 2nd thing that they screwed up on my order (A=arm without bushings was the other thing). Oh well..so much for getting it going by Ottawa .

I am still satisfied with the product, but I'm pretty easy to please. The welder and the people helping me have all taken up torches and are ready to go burn down FM. I just hope I can get them some beer before they go too far!


The 'hopper
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