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2007 Spider Springs Change - Lessons Learned

Yesterday I installed Eibach springs on my recently purchased 2007 Alfa Spider 2.2 JTI. I retained the standard dampers. I used ordinary home-mechanic tools and procedures. It took me the best part of a full day, but I could have saved 40 percent of that time had I known what I learned yesterday. Here are some things I discovered.

Iím an American living in Italy, so my terminology may not match that used by Her Royal Majesty, but youíll figure it out. If you have a Spider, donít bother buying the Elearn shop manual. Download the free 159 version (mentioned elsewhere in this forum). Itís the same as far as this procedure is concerned.

Youíll need a pair of cheap, screw-and-claw type spring compressors, a Ĺ and 3/8 inch socket set with sockets up to 22mm, a Ĺ inch breaker bar, torque wrench, and a pair of good jack stands. Of course, youíll need the typical selection of wrenches, hammers, cleaners, degreasers, lubricants, etc. that most home mechanics already have on hand. A pneumatic impact gun-type wrench and the required air compressor are nice to have, but not absolutely mandatory. I suppose you could manage without a hydraulic floor jack, but I highly recommend one.

I assume youíre like me; i.e. you dream of having a genuine automobile lift, a refrigerator, and a urinal in your garage but you donít. So make sure you use real jack stands, not some stack of old fire wood. This job can be dangerous if you act like a fool. If you decide to support your car on a stack of old magazines, be sure you wife knows how to call the ambulance service and you might even instruct her on the use of a hydraulic floor jack just in case she hears you screaming something about an Alfa crushing your legs. Plus, fitting hand controls to an Alfa is quite expensive. Donít take chances with your safety, ÖÖ.. In the garage anyway.

I wonít detail each step of the procedure. In other words, I assume you know that to change the front springs you have to jack up the front of the car, remove the wheels, and proceed from there. The Elearn shop manual has very good drawings. Unfortunately, it features somewhat mysterious instructions (translated from Italian I assume) which state the obvious but completely omit some important information. Thatís why Iím writing this.

In the front, you will need to detach the upper wishbone ball joint. It has a tapered stem and theyíre typically hard to remove. Iíve been doing this sort of thing for many years without the aid of a dedicated ball tool. The cheap scissors types often donít work and the pickle fork types often ruin the ball joint boot. My alternative method is this: Unscrew the nut but leave it on to protect the end of the stem and as a safety measure in case the suspension has a lot of load on it. In other words, unscrew the nut to the end of the stem, but donít completely remove it. Now take two of your largest hammers, one in each hand, and hit the fore and aft sides of the vertical suspension member exactly where it is holding the tapered ball joint stem. Incidentally, ďfore and aftĒ is relative to the car. As you sit on the floor looking into the wheel well, it will be the right and left side of the suspension member that you hit. The idea is to hit both sides at exactly the same time using a hammer in each hand. Hit it as hard as you can. Then give the side facing you a few whacks with one hammer. If the ball joint doesnít pop out, give the end of the stem an upward tap; just a light tap. DO NOT TRY TO POUND IT OUT OF THE TAPER FIT. You should be tapping on the nut, not the stem. And you should only be giving a relatively light tap. After a light tap or two, return to simultaneously whacking the fore and aft sides with both hammers. Use some real force here, but be sure you aim correctly. Remember, youíre hitting the suspension member, NOT the ball joint or the upper wishbone. The idea is to send a shock wave through the metal where the tapered hole has a firm grasp on the matching taper of the ball joint stem. This may require twenty, thirty, or more HARD hits. I used short handled, two pound sledge hammer and my five pound log splitting maul. Donít get frustrated and start hitting the stem of the ball joint in an attempt to drive it upward. At most, lightly tap the ball joint stem by impacting the nut, not the threaded stem itself. Save the hard hits for the fore and aft sides of the steel suspension upright. Eventually the taper will lose its grip, it will pop free, and youíll be smiling.

In order to maneuver the lower fork in such a way that you can remove the shock/spring assembly, you must disconnect the anti-roll-bar link. That was easy for me on right side, but I found it impossible on the left side. I discovered that by leaving the right side link disconnected, I could just barely maneuver the left side lower fork down far enough to extract the lower part of the shock absorber (damper). It takes a bit of grunting and cursing, but I was just barely able to remove the left side damper with the anti roll bar link still connected on the left side. If you do this, take care not to damage the rubber CV joint boot.

Once the shock/spring assembly is free, wash it using a strong detergent and your garden hose, dry it, and take it to your workbench. The way the spring is indexed and fits into the lower spring perch at the bottom is obvious; the top ÖÖÖ. not so much. So BEFORE you take it apart, take a look at how the upper spring perch and rubber component is positioned relative to the end of the spring coil at the top.

Because the spring is wound with various diameters, my cheap Chinese spring compressor would only safely grasp the largest, center coils. That made compressing the spring a bit more difficult and a little more dangerous. Use care here because if you lose control of a compressed spring, you could be seriously injured. The shop manual shows a gigantic spring compressor which compresses the entire unit; therefore, removing the upper nut is easy. I improvised by compressing the spring until I could wiggle the upper component to verify that most (if not all) the spring pressure had been removed. Then I used a 16mm socket held with a pair of Vice-Grip locking pliers to remove the retaining nut while I held the counter torque on the stem with a small socket wrench.

Examine the upper rubber spring retaining cup so you understand how the new spring is supposed to fit. Be sure you install the new spring so that the upper component is indexed relative to the lower spring perch properly. The shock only goes back in one way and you wonít be able to twist things into alignment at that point. Therefore, as you release tension on the new spring, be sure you have the upper component indexed properly. Because the new springs are shorter, the job of installing them is easier than removing the old springs. Oh yeah, donít install the new springs upside-down. Pay attention to how the logo and part numbers are printed on the new springs.

Before you tighten the pinch bolt holding the lower part of the damper, be sure the damper is all the way down in the receiving part of the lower fork. The elongated hole in the small web welded on the bottom of the damper will allow some up and down movement. Be sure the damper is positioned as low as possible before you tighten the pinch bolt. Tap on the web lightly to be sure; then tighten the pinch bolt.

As you tighten the upper wishbone ball joint you may find that it spins. Clamping the upper wishbone together with the upright suspension component using a pair of locking pliers will hold the ball joint stem in the tapered hole with sufficient friction to tighten the nut. Iím embarrassed to say I failed to look and see if the ball joint could accept a hex key to hold the stem while the nut is turned using an open end wrench. You should check, because if it does, using a hex key is the better method. By the way, I use a dab of Lock Tight thread locker on all these suspension parts. Be certain to use the proper torque values.

The instructions for the rear are so simple that I mistakenly thought the job would also be simple. Wrong, Pasta-Breath!

Contrary to the supposedly-Spider-specific-instructions, the upper mounting nut is removed from the top (hood) storage area, not the luggage area where Brera/159 owners will find what theyíre looking for. On the Spider, the center floor cover inside the hood storage area is held in with half-turn latch-type fasteners, NOT screws. No need to go through the difficult task of removing the side trim. Carefully bend up the side trim and remove a small piece of insulation to reveal the upper damper mounting nut, which can be removed using a socket wrench with a long extension.

Inside the wheel well I was able to remove the four upper Torx head bolts using an ordinary 11mm socket. But my car has always been kept in a garage and never driven on salted roads. Consequently, removing the bolts was easy. You might have to shop for a special socket if your bolts are difficult to turn. Whatever you do, donít strip the heads of these bolts be using too much force on the improper too. Remove the larger lower bolt and then Elearn simply says ďremove the shock absorberĒ. Wrong again Pasta-Breath.

The shock can only move down about 20mm after the lower bolt is removed. But it must go down about 60mm or more so that the damper stem at the top can clear the body shell. W.T.F.?

A Danish fellow has a post on this forum showing how he managed to fit a pair of spring compressors so that he could remove and reinstall his rear shock assembly. Sad to say, my compressors would not fit properly and I couldnít produce enough spring compression to do be effective. I wasted a lot of time fiddling around with this dilemma and I even thought about dragging out the really big wrenches to take apart major pieces of the rear suspension. Eventually I hit on the idea of forcing the rear suspension lower. So I took the mechanical scissors jack out of my Opel and used that to move the rear suspension down far enough away from the body shell to wiggle the damper free. The exact position of where you put your jack will vary depending on the design and size of the jack. The objective is to put the jack between some part of the suspension and the body shell above and then turn it just far enough to free the damper. Remember, youíre dealing with a fair bit of potential energy. Do not grab the damper in such a way that you will amputate a finger if your scissors jack suddenly slips.

The indexing of the spring position relative to the upper assembly is even trickier in the rear. Pay attention to the orientation of the shock before you remove it because, unlike the front, it can be rotated 180 degrees and still fit. Pay particular attention to the upper casting. It is not symmetrical and could be incorrectly installed wrong-way-round. I used a black marker to identify the front of the damper itself and the forward edge of the upper casting. Furthermore the upper rubber cup holding the top of the spring is in two pieces and the indexing is NOT obvious; therefore, before removing the old spring, I used the marker again to draw on an index mark both on the rubber parts and the metal part of the upper component. If you screw up the indexing when you reassemble the damper using the new spring, it wonít fit and youíll have to do the job twice.

Good luck. I hope this information might help some Alfa enthusiast who has good mechanical skills but who may not do this sort of work for a living.
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I donīt have one of the new Spiders, nor do I plan to get one, but I certainly enjoyed the story anyway!
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