Steering

* Warnings & Safety
* General Information & Procedures
* Factory / Stock
* Rebuilding / Removing and Installation

* Upgrade / Improvement Considerations
* Upgrading
* Customizing / Alternative Setups
* Tuning / Examples

Submit corrections and additions to this information to The Olds FAQ Compiler.


Warnings & Safety


General Information & Procedures


Salvage Yard Upgrade

Make sure you get the pitman arm with the steering box. Chances are good that you will need to use it.

[ Thanks to Bob Barry, Jim Chermack for this information ]



Factory / Stock Setup


Rebuilding / Removing and Installation


Power Steering Pump

  1. If you replace your PS pump, check out the screw in fitting location, and the hose slip on fitting. You can interchange pumps as long as the hose inlets are the same. Sometimes if you get the wrong pump and the fitting hits the exhaust manifold, you can swap pump housings. Be carefull when you take it apart, so you don't damage the O ring.
  2. Before you start taking stuff apart, get the correct power steering fluid from you local parts store. GM is GM.
  3. No special tools needed. Couple pieces of wood, and a soft mallet.
  4. As far as I know a pump is a pump is a pump, as long as its GM.
  5. If your fittings are rusted into the steering box, get some liquid wrench from your local parts store, spray it on one day, do your thing that day, and later on remove the fittings. I also cut down a 9/16, 5/8 open end wrenches that I used only on power steering pumps and steering boxes. Works great in tight places, and of course they are Craftsman tools.
Thanks to Peter Slisz for this information.


Upgrade / Improvement Considerations


Fast Ratio Steering Gear Upgrade

There are very few power steering boxes for RWD GM passenger cars produced between 1964 and today. Five, I think. Manual steering in two ratios (quick ratio went obsolete in 1974) and power steering in three ratios. Yes, there are changes in connectors, fittings and hoses, but the bolt pattern and shaft relationships are the same. You can put the new Camaro box in any GM A, F or G body from 1964 to the present. This covers about 50,000,000 cars. You might/will need to swap over the pitman arm and probably the steering gear end plate (this determines the steering stops).


Upgrading


Fast Ratio Steering for Olds A-bodies

The discussion below applies only to cars with power steering. Most A-bodies came with a very slow variable-ratio steering gear that produced roughly 4 turns lock-to-lock, which works out to about a 16:1 ratio average. This steering gear was designed to produce slow steering response on-centre, and speed up as the steering wheel is turned towards the ends of its travel, which makes for lazy cruizing on the interstate while permitting parking maneuvers without too much wheel-winding. However if you prefer a quicker steering response (almost a necessity once you upgrade the cars handling) you will need to replace the steering- gear with a faster ratio one.

Early Cutlass' and 442's ('64-'69) used very slow boxes. It takes at least 5 full turns of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock on these cars. Lock to lock means from one extreme position to the other. The idea with these "slow" steering gears was to provide effortless steering for the driver. While, with power steering, you can use your little finger to steer your Classic Cutlass, I've never been quite sure why you would want to. The high number of turns lock to lock, plus original steering wheels big enough for a steamboat, have a net result of making a driver trying to change direction in a hurry look like one of those cartoons with arms and elbows flailing everywhere. If you would like an improvement from this with no visible modifications to your car, I have some suggestions. And then I have a few more that require very little change from stock appearance.

The first suggestion for corrective action on a '64-'69 Cutlass/442/Vista Cruiser is to swap in a steering box from any '70-'72 "A" body GM car (Cutlass, Chevelle, Skylark, Tempest, 442, GTO, etc.) These steering boxes can be installed with no modifications whatsoever and are identical in appearance. They require only about 3 1/2 turns lock to lock and make a big difference all by themselves. This is a simple bolt in direct swap, just remember to keep the Pitman arm from your original box to keep the front end geometry correct. There is no visible change to your showroom stock car and, because control is easier, you probably just made it a bit safer to drive as well. There is also a minor improvement in road feel. Since the changes are internal to the steering box, no show judge will never know.

Another consideration is to reduce the diameter of that steering wheel. The 4-spoke Sport steering wheels found on the 442 and other GM cars starting with the '70 model year are several inches smaller and also make a very nice appearance improvement. This change further reduces the distance your arm must move to change direction. Your view of the road should improve as well since you won't be looking over or through the larger version. While for a 64-69 car this isn't showroom stock, it looks correct to most people. If you use an Olds wheel or hub cover, it will look stock even if it isn't.

Aftermarket sources:
You can buy a steering-gear that drops into your car and is already converted to 12.7:1 ratio steering from several vendors, a few are listed below. Prices vary from around $500 to around $200. The more expensive boxes are modified and blueprinted in addition to being rebuilt. Custom levels of steering effort (firmness), etc, are available.

Power Steering Services, Inc (www.powersteering.com, (417) 864-6676) Approx $200, core required

Global West Suspension Systems (www.globalwest.net, (909) 349-2090) Blueprinted, approx $500, no core required

Lee Manufacturing (818) 768-0371 Blueprinted, approx $400??, core required

For those of you who would rather avoid doing business with a recycling/salvage yard, BAP offers them, for $269. Oldsparts.com

Junkyard/factory sources:
For those seeking the ultimate solution, the quickest steering ratios that can be easily adapted will reduce the lock to lock count to a very low 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 turns. These steering boxes are found in the GM successors to the venerable "A" bodies, the 83 up "G" bodies. The vehicles to look for as a donor are:

These "quickest" steering boxes did not come in every "G" body, so before you take one out of a donor car, or pay the recycle yard for one, always count the number of turns from lock to lock. As stated, the quick ratio's are between 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 turns.

These steering-gearboxes can be identified by a faint and easily erased "YA" marking on the endcap of the steering gear (the end opposite where the steering column hooks up). These cars are not all that common in junkyards, however.

The fastest ratio factory steering-gear had a constant-ratio 12.7:1 box, which should result in just over three turns lock-to-lock in an A-body. In the WS6 Trans AM's of 78 to 81, they used a 12.7:1 ratio, and constant ratio, where the regular T/A and Formula FireBird got variable ratio and 14.1 (or so):1.

You can use the steering box from a 73 or 74 X body (Nova or clones). They are variable ratio and 3 turns lock to lock. Just reuse your old pitman arm. I'm very pleased with mine.

F-body Box:
You can also use a steering box from a late model (90's) Camaro or Firebird (if you count the number of turns!!). The bolt patterns for all these GM steering boxes are identical and will bolt to the "A" body frame. But the internal stops are usually different (due to the variations of the front wheel wells from an F-body to a G-body) The stops from the "G" body cars are closer to those of the older "A" bodies. The F-body steering box might leave you with fast ratio steering but a huge turning radius - you might need all 4 lanes of a 4-lane highway to do a U-turn! F-body cars used a longer pitman arm and steering arm than A-bodies, and the steering box has built in stops that restrict pitman arm travel. The longer F-body pitman arm cannot be used on a G-body because the center link would be moved rearward.

But, according to one source, a late model Camaro IROC box has been installed in a '67 Chevelle with no problems. Even with 50 series tires up front, they don't rub anywhere. Using the Pitman arm from your car on the new box will minimize the chances of interference. If you want to try the recycling yard, the Hollander number for these boxes is 1282.

Be careful comparing the turns lock to lock because the steering boxes themselves have internal stops based on the steering geometry of the car they are going into. While you may have fewer turns, the actual ratio may be the same. You would need to compare turns versus actual front wheel location/angles.

The 82-92 F Body box is a direct replacement for a 70-81 F Body, and that is a replacement for the 73-88 A/G body. And even some Fords! The newest box is better, better road feel, better seals, etc. GM pretty much used the same mounting in all, some only used 4 of the mounts, some had 5. Obviously 4 is fine.

You can usually find these model 800 boxes in the junkyard for a very reasonable price. A box off a late model Camaro (82-92) will also work. They are 12.7:1 ratios and take approx. 2 3/4 turns lock to lock. I put a 84 Monte SS box in my 79 Cutlass. I paid $10 for the box and $25 for a rebuild kit.

While the Model 800 box will bolt up to the A-body, I believe that there are two problems (neither fatal). First, a new coupling is required to connect to the A-body steering shaft. Second, the Model 800 has different internal stops which limit the turning radius when used in the A-body chassis.

Potentially a better solution is a setup sold by Power Steering Systems in Springfield, MO., phone (417) 864-6676. For $189.95 plus about $20 shipping they will rebuild your original A-body power steering box using a brand new 12:1 worm gear and piston set. This provides the quick ratio (greater than 3 turns lock-to-lock) with a true bolt-in system and no downside. And, of course, the box is rebuilt with all new seals and bearings.

The owner, Chip, has a 69 442 and claims he recently converted the steering boxes for three different 69 H/Os.

I was able to convert my 1970 power steering pump to 1980 power steering pump hoses by replacing the fitting that screws into the pump body with the one from my 1980 power steering pump. They are very different pumps, if you have an old Olds 1970 and older compare it to a later 70's and up pump, they are compatible with this change. So, you will need the hoses from the year of the power steering box, and then you may need the fitting on the pump that matches those hoses, if there is a difference.

One style is flared, and the newer one is flared with an o-ring at the end. Done to reduce leaks.

Use the 82-92 Trans AM WS6 Box. Newest is best, has best road feel, and fast ratio was only avail on WS6 cars, not plain jane Trans AM/Z28's. Get 1992 Trans AM WS6, fits all 70-81 F-Car, does not have the short stops, and you get the best there ever was in the power steering boxes that GM did for high performance. And the WS6 box is supposed to be constant ratio, not variable ratio. So double goodies from the WS6 box, 1982-1992. The 78-81 WS6 Box was constant ratio, and did have the 12.7:1 ratio (2.25 turns lock to lock, that is full left to full right boys and girls....) (Most are 3 turns lock to lock, 15.7:1 or so ratio) and the ratio from middle to sides remains constant, almost ALL cars do NOT have constant ratio, they have a variable ratio that does not turn much at the middle, but when you get past 1/2 turn left or right, it gets progressively faster for easier maneuvering like parallel parking, etc. Only WS6 Trans AM, Corvette and special cars got the constant ratio.

Nearly ALL GM Chassis can use the 1982-1992 PS Box, so if you are going to waste any money on one, get the best, don't waste money on the older 2 gen F car box.

F-body cars (Camaro's and Firebirds) have a faster steering-ratio than our stock A-bodies, but not all of them have the 12.7:1 ratio, and these steering-gearboxes can cause problems when swapped into A-bodies; all of them were designed to use a longer steering-arm, so when swapped into an A-body with the shorter steering-arm the tires will no longer turn as far to either side, which will increase your minimum turning radius, making U-turns a thing of the past. The longer F-body steering-arm and idler-arm cannot be used on A-bodies as the steering centre-link will hit the frame crossmember. In addition some of these cars used a different type of fitting for the power-steering hoses (using an o-ring), so you either have to change your hoses and power-steering pump, or change the hose fittings in the steering-gear. Lee Manufacturing makes adaptors that convert the newer fittings to accept the older hose-ends. Camaro's and Firebirds with factory handling packages are most likely to have the 12.7:1 ratio gear, these include Z-28 Camaros and Trans Am's and WS6 Firebirds. One listee said that the 1992 WS6 Trans Am steering gear was the best of the factory ones. This one has both the new hose-fittings and the limited turning-radius, so be warned. It is available from AutoZone for about $200 for a rebuilt one, be sure to specify WS6 or high-performance suspension option to get the fast-ratio box.

The internals from these fast-ratio gearboxes can be swapped into the steering gear from your car, converting it to fast-ratio steering. This looks like a fairly complex job. For some information on gearbox swaps go to Jim's Muscle Car Page http://members.home.net/jimmy4 and follow the link for Steering Gear Swap Info. The end cap on the steering gear controls the the internal stops that limit total travel of the steering arm, so by using your stock steering gear endcap and housing along with the fast-ratio internals your turning radius will be the same as before.

While these late model steering boxes will bolt into the chassis, two modifications in the area of connecting them up are needed. You need a hybrid coupler (the "rag" or fabric connecting joint) from a '79 to '84 Chevy pickup truck to adapt the older design steering column to the new design steering box, and you need to change the way the power steering fluid connections are made. Adapters to convert the metric fluid connection lines to earlier standard fittings are available. The newer boxes use an o-ringed metric end while the older boxes use the common 3/8" flare end. NAPA sells the required adapters. They are:

Since the boxes varied slightly from model to model versus the fluid line connections, you should order all three. Take your "new" steering box (or the newer lines for comparison) with you when you go to the parts store. They might even let you pick the 2 you need and not buy the unneeded adapter.

The GM part number for _brand new_ boxes of the latest, fastest ratio is 7839897. They list for $677

As noted above, to use the late box with early steering columns, the Chevy pickup truck coupler is needed and its GM part number is 7826542 ($68.25 list, again a discount is available). I would strongly suggest using a new coupler rather than a used one when changing your steering box.

Results:
For the record, I performed the change to a '70 steering box and wheel on my '67 Cutlass 442. The improvement is phenomenal. You may see me checking the GM section at the local "Pick 'n' Pull" yard myself looking for that super quick box.

Ken Crocie's used a 84 Trans Am steering box that has 2.5 turns lock to lock on his 64 GTO. There is supposedly a problem with internal stops in the F body box so that you won't be able to turn the wheels all the way and have a wide turning circle. It looks like you can simply take the box apart and reuse part of your original box to get rid of the stops. The stops are in the end plate which faces forward and down when the box is in the car (the round piece). The reason for all this is that the F bodies have a longer (so I've heard) pittman arm which you can't use in an A body since the center link would be moved rearward.

[ Thanks to John Carri, Thomas Martin, Kyle Tilbe, Todd Daenzer, Mike Bloomer, Bob Handren, Scott Woodworth, Tom Millard, Joe Padavano for this information. ]

Tilt Column Swap

Everything is a bolt in swap. Took me no more than 90 minutes tops along with tidying up some wiring when I was under dash.

You just need to swap the steering column. On a 1968 this is pretty easy, as you don't need to mess with changing the ignition lock. Say about an hour, tops. A column with ignition will take a little longer.

[ Thanks to Joe Padavano for this information. ]


Customizing / Alternative Setups


Tack and Pinion Setup

As far as why you would want to install a rack there are several reason's:

  1. Reduced weight off the nose
  2. Quicker steering ratio
  3. KISS (simplicity), etc.

As far as actually doing it it depends on what rack you use. Most common is the Pinto unit but have seen many different brands used. First thing to tackle is to actually mount the rack. Simply fabricate two pads to weld to the crossmember to bolt the rack to.

Next is the column linkage. Usually it is necessary to cut two holes in the frame to pass the shaft from the rack to the intermediate shaft through. This shaft needs a support to keep in in the proper position and properly phased U-joints, and you usually end up adding two shafts with universals between the rack and the column. This is all standard street rod stuff and is available over the counter.

Next thing is to adapt the rod ends to the width of your car. Simply cut off the ends of the rack, add/remove shaft length, and reweld. This is standard fare on most drag cars also. The last step is usually the hardest and only applies to power racks. This involves adapting the rack and current power steering pump to the motor or simply adapting the hoses, it all depends on the combo. If you can fabricate and have access to a welder it's not all that difficult to do, just make sure to center the rack side to side.

[ Thanks to Mike Bloomer for this information. ]


Tuning / Examples

In General



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