Made In America | Chassis Solutions From TCI Engineering

THOUGH CLASSIC PICKUPS HAVE BOLD bodylines and real style, they don’t always have the best components underneath. Back in the day, these trucks were workhorses built to get the job done. Comfort wasn’t a priority; hauling loads was the primary goal. Trucks were more likely to travel unpaved roads and were given a higher stance to cope.

Nowadays, most of these classic pickups have been taken out of service, but we customizers enjoy giving them a new life. Getting these trucks to go low isn’t too difficult, but it can be a pain to drive one that still has most of its original components. Things like modern ride quality and power steering are features we are accustomed to. If you’ve ever driven an old truck, you know what we’re talking about. Parallel parking? Forget it!

Total Cost Involved is located in an industrial area of Ontario, California. The front office can be misleading since the production side runs across two separate buildings at the site. When we stopped by the TCI crew was building a few 1953-56 Ford F-100 chassis.

Fortunately, there are companies like Total Cost Involved (TCI) Engineering providing solutions for tired, old trucks. TCI offers a wide range of products from basic independent front suspensions (IFS) to complete chassis with numerous options. These systems accommodate disc brakes for stopping power and rack-and-pinion steering to ease turning. The different kit levels also provide options for running dropped springs, Ridetech coilovers and even airbags.

The company was started back in 1974, and has a solid reputation for bringing new life to old trucks. TCI started from humble beginnings, but it has expanded to become a huge competitor in the classic truck aftermarket. We decided to head to TCI’s headquarters in Ontario, California, to see the 32,000-sq-ft facility. As we were guided through the grounds, we quickly discovered that TCI makes all of its products directly onsite. Better yet, the majority of the components that make up the kits are fabricated onsite as well. Making products inhouse, like TCI does, allows for improved quality control. The folks there have so much confidence in their parts that they offer a lifetime warranty for parts made in-house and a six-year/60,000-mile warranty on wear-and-tear parts.

With more than four decades of creating suspension systems for classic vehicles, the crew at TCI knows their stuff. Everyone at the facility was hustling to get multiple orders done to meet the demands of their customers. The staff is very helpful and experienced in assisting classic truck owners working to infuse new life into their older pickups. Follow along as we show you some of the company’s products and how they are made.



Out back, products are organized in bins, ready to be shipped with their corresponding parts for complete specific chassis components.
Once parts are gathered, they are boxed up and shipped from this section of the facility.
TCI Engineering starts the design of all products in the R&D section of the shop. Here, the crew mocks-up parts on actual vehicles and tests how they function in real-life situations. The team is getting ready to drop a body on a full frame.
Many parts like the frame rails, cross members and brackets start from flat sheets of steel. They are cut out on a CNC plasma table to exact shape and size specs.
Cross member sections get their shape by being placed in a huge, automated press brake. This ensures all of the bends are made to exact specifications.
Products like control arms, sway bars and 4-links are constructed from round steel tubing. The crew starts with long pieces, cuts them down to the desired lengths and fits them together.

The welding section is responsible for assembling many parts. Once components like these control arms are welded, they are sorted into their specific bins.

The spindles are cast in bulk and require prep work before installation. These are the spindles for the custom IFS kit. Notice that they don’t have steering arms. The steering arms are made separately to allow for a variety of steering options. These spindles were milled down to fit the bearings and center pin.
The brakes and bearings are placed on the spindles, and then secured with the proper hardware and cotter pin. The caliper brackets and the brake calipers are bolted to the spindle to complete this part. You might notice that these spindles have a steering arm. This is the style used on the airbagged frames that the TCI crew was working on during our visit.
Here you can see the sway bars are formed from solid round steel tubing. Mounts and end-links are made to fit them to the IFS.
Here are all of the raw parts needed to create a coil-spring IFS kit for a 1953-56 F-100, including the front cross member, control arms, spindles, disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.
Though TCI does have suspension options for various budgets, one of the better systems to use on the rear of a classic truck is a coil-overequipped 4-link. If you are looking to go super low, they can be fit with airbags as well. Like many suspension components, the frame brackets are first formed using a CNC plasma table to cut shapes out of flat steel. Then, they are welded together.
Link bars are also constructed onsite by cutting and notching round steel and welding the pieces together.
TCI makes rear coil-overs in-house by stockpiling monotube shocks and machining a threaded shaft and adjuster. The threaded shaft is welded to the shock to secure it in place.

Once the shock is painted, the bushings are pressed in, the shaft is coated with anti-seize and the adjuster is spun on. Completing the package, the springs are placed over the shock and the top hat holds it all in place.
This is everything that comes in the rear kit, including link bars, frame brackets, coil-over cross member and track bar.

Complete chassis come with custom 9-inch rearends that can be tailored to your needs. Third members and axles are preassembled to save you time and effort. Brakes are also installed on the rearends, and as you can see, larger versions can be ordered as well.
The cut steel is placed in a jig and welded solid. Having fully boxed frame rails also helps keep the chassis stiff.
Once the welds are completed, a team grinds them down for a smooth appearance. At this time the team can spot and repair imperfections before they go out.
With the rails finished, the cross members are welded in place to make a complete frame. Putting a frame together takes about a day’s worth of time for this team, which puts pricing into perspective.
Here’s a finished frame equipped with a coilspring IFS.
Completes chassis come with the brake booster and master cylinder mounted below the cab for clean looks on a completed vehicle. They also come with brake lines and even air lines if you order your chassis with airbags.
These frames have everything to bolt up to your truck, including all of the necessary mounts.
After a frame is a buttoned up, it’s crated for shipment. Here you can see that several frame orders were being shipped out during our visit. Once you receive your new chassis, you can paint or powder coat it to protect it from corrosion and give your ride a nice touch.

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