This week we heard of a Bugeye with a front wheel bearing failure. That particular car had the original type of ball bearing wheel bearings and the issue occurred (fortunately) as the owner was approaching his house. As a preventative measure, we are now recommending everyone switch to tapered roller bearings on their Sprite. I’ve had ball bearing front wheel bearings on Gumby since 1979 (as many of you have) so they work fine. But when you look at the magnitude of improvement the tapered bearing provides, there is little reason not to upgrade.
If you’ve been around, you know that roller bearings are superior. If you are unfamiliar, the original design features ball bearings riding on races whereby only the apex of the ball contacts the race. The tapered design allows a vastly greater contact patch whereby each roller contacts the tapered race with much greater surface area doing the same amount of work. The result is greater longevity and peace of mind.
If you look closely at the picture below, you can see the tiny stripe on the outer race of a used ball bearing set-up. This is the shiny thin path of contact from each ball as it rotates in the race. This is the race from “Sara,” one of the cars we recently upgraded to the roller set-up. It’s not particularly worn, it just visually illustrates the small footprint of the ball bearings.
With the roller set-up in the picture above, you can see how the force is dispersed over a much greater area. The rollers contact the tapered race over a much bigger footprint.
This upgrade requires proper shimming to fit the bearings. While it may take a little trial and error to get the right fit, the original ball bearing type is not adjustable, and often shows excessive play. The tapered bearings are completely adjustable to eliminate play.
Each kit includes instructions, inner and outer bearings and races, hub oil seals, a packet of various shims and packets of grease. It’s a very simple design and any garage can help if you choose not to do it yourself.