Shake, rattle and roll might be a good name for a ‘50s song, but it isn’t what you want your collector car to do when you’re driving it to a show. Worn steering and front-end parts can make old cars very hard to handle and dramatically reduce your driving safety. Yet many car collectors put up with sloppy underpinnings because obsolete front-end parts seem hard to find.
That used to be the case, but as I found out last summer, help may be as close as your local Auto Zone, thanks to a California company called Rare Parts. I discovered this while searching for parts for a newer convertible that I’m fixing for my granddaughter. Because I happened to be at the parts store, I asked the guy behind the counter if he had front-end parts for my ’53 Pontiac and ’57 Buick. Honestly I never expected him to say “Yes,” but he did.
It turned out that the old-car parts weren’t carried as a regular in-store item; they had to be ordered. But it would only take a day or so to get them shipped to my local parts store. The parts were reasonable, and the shipping was even more so. They came in plastic sleeves with the Rare Parts logo.
Later I ran across an advertisement for the company and contacted them to learn more about their operation. It turns out that Rare Parts manufactures and sells steering and suspension parts for vehicles from 1930 to the present year. The company was founded by Lyle Burgess, who operated a wheel alignment shop in 1957.
Even back then, Burgess could see how difficult it was to get the steering and suspension parts that he needed. "I needed parts every time, not just most of the time," he recalls. By the late 1970s it became apparent that the major suspension suppliers couldn’t offer complete coverage, for the older cars in particular. This drove Burgess to create Rare Parts Inc. in 1981.
Burgess’ concept was simple — to specialize in suspension parts and nothing else! He decided to sell one piece at a time, as needed, to the wholesale trade. Thanks to Rare Parts, today it’s possible for any local jobber, warehouse or distributor to stock a complete range of suspension parts for all cars. This simplifies business for everybody, eliminating the need to stock slow-moving or obsolete inventory at the warehouse, distributor and jobber levels. It also allows repair shops to serve their customers quickly, regardless of the type of vehicle being repaired.
Rare Parts is set up to deliver almost any suspension part fast, even overnight when needed. Finding steering and front-end parts was difficult, even early in the game. But when old inventory wasn't available at all, the company began make older suspension components by in-house manufacturing methods.
In 1984, Rare Parts was manufacturing eight part numbers. By 2000, the inventory grew to 800 part numbers. Today, Rare Parts has a full testing facility set up to conduct both destructive and cycle testing. The quality of the parts being produced greatly surpasses OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) quality standards. Rare Parts also features the largest wholesale inventory of over 1,000,000 steering and suspension components of its kind in the United States.
The Rare Parts machine shop is capable of building practically any steering or suspension part. The shop is completely equipped with a CNC lathe, a CNC mill, presses, threaders, an induction heat treating machine, various welders and steel media tumblers. Original OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) drawings are on hand. These drawings often help lead the way to remanufacturing obsolete parts.
Enthusiasts or collectors looking for a custom piece or an obsolete OEM part can have it built. Rare Parts can make ball joints for a race car or a drag link for a rock crawler. If the company doesn¹t stock a part, it can build it. Contact Rare Parts at (209) 948-6005.
John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.