We started with a second-hand 'smiley' tube axle, with about a 3" drop, set up for Mark 2 Ford Transit spindles. The axle looks alright in the photos, but the chrome was a bit rusty in places, and the batwings and spring mounts weren't what we wanted: it was set up to put the spring behind the axle, and located with a track-rod ended four bar. The right hand view below shows one of the batwings and shock mounts after we had the chrome stripped, and closer inspection revealed some suspect welding on the brackets.
It was a nice shape and the right sort of width, though, and it came with spindles. Most English aftermarket axles, such as early Geoff Jago ones, were straight-centred, or with just the ends bent up for the 'drop'. We're not sure who originally made this one, but the centre section has a nice curve, and the ends are neatly swan-necked. The ends appear to be cast or forged steel, welded to the centre tube, but we don't know who the original manufacturer was, or how old it is.
When the chrome was stripped, the remaining layer of copper seemed a mile thick (we had assumed that the copper would have been stripped, too, for the forty quid it cost, so no Gold Star for the plater we used). When we were grinding off the copper, we found other chrome underneath, so it must have been re-chromed at some time.
We are not aware of anyone still making axles in the UK, at least not like this. American-made Super Bell, and similar axles, are obviously available, but they are made for early Ford spindles, and have a different kingpin angle to Ford Transit ones. There was a company called Quality Rod Parts - QRP - that made some axles like these, but we think they had the spring perch holes cast into the ends, and ours has welded brackets. In fact, QRP's had integral kingpin bosses, whereas this one has separate ones welded on. It's so long ago - must be early 'Eighties - that we can't remember if the QRP axles were set up for English Transit, or American Ford, spindles.
Anyway, all we had to do was hacksaw and grind off the old bracketry, and we were ready to start work. Because this axle isn't drilled for wishbone mounting bolts or spring perches, we had to fabricate different perches. These were sawn and filed from 3/8" bright steel plate, with seamless bushes welded to the back for the wishbone bolts, and threaded bushes at the bottom for the lower shock mounts. You can buy adjustable spring perches that pivot to align themselves with the spring, so we welded some bushes to 5/8" bolts to make our own pivots. Then we drilled the main perches to suit, and welded bosses on for support.
We obviously made a pair of these - LH and RH - and then set up a repro Ford axle as a welding jig. We also had to cut a section out of the front of each of the perches so they could slip over the axle, to be welded back in afterwards.
Using the Ford-type axle as a jig meant that the wishbone mounting holes are at the same width and angle as original, to keep our options open. The brackets were part-welded on the jig, then, when secure, the finish-welding completed at the workbench.
Additional fillet plates were added to strengthen the spring perches, and a threaded bush, also reinforced with 1/4" plate, fitted at each side: one will be used to mount a steering damper, and the other side used if we fit a Panhard rod. Finally, to stop it all going rusty after we removed the last of the copper, we gave it a coat of spray-can epoxy chassis/roll-bar paint.
The finished brackets may look a bit agricultural, but they should be up to the job, and are actually mostly hidden by the shock absorbers on the car.
There are a couple of possible changes that we may make at a later date: firstly, we might cut the top off of the perches and weld tubes straight onto them, although we would only do this if the finished suspension set-up wouldn't cause the spring to bind.
The other change would be to narrow it slightly: the drilled holes in the kingpin bosses are a bit loose, so we might make new bosses to weld on. If we did this we would probably trim the ends a bit to narrow the kingpin centres from 47" to 46" - although we think we're right in saying that original Ford ones are about 51" wide (usually about 48" wide when dropped), narrower axles tuck the wheels in under the fenders (if used). We also think it tidies up the front end view if everything is tucked in more closely, and would better match our comparatively narrow Alfa rear axle.
Next up should be the front wishbone, and the modifications to the spindles, so that we can join the axle to the chassis.