By John Niolon
Everyone that visits the FTE forums knows of my tendency to "redo" portions of my truck even before I've finished it ! And, I get a fair amount of grief about it, but that's ok as long as it's my money and not theirs, I'll pretty much do what I want.
We all know the "Put the Volare in... take the Volare out... Put the Mustang II in" saga. The main reason for the swap was a problem with header clearance. I couldn't make my headers fit with the Volare clip in place. (The other reason was the M II unit was just so darned pretty) Anyway The Mustang II unit is in and in re-installing the steering linkage I then had a clearance problem with the steering column.
I had installed a mid-80s Caddy tilt/slide column and it worked perfect with the steering box of the Volare but since the Mustang II steering box is lower and more centered. Well the headers were in the way.. Not a big deal, slide the column over a bit but then I messed up !! I started thinking !! I started thinking that I really didn't like the look of the caddy column... kinda big and bulky and after a little more investigation, I could see where the "innards" were worn and could probably need replacing. I started looking through the magazines and catalogs. I found a rebuilt GM column for a few hundred bucks, but I'd still have a "used" column, rebuilt or not. I turned a page and like a kid, something shiny caught my eye. It was a Flaming River Chrome Column displayed diagonally across the page and it was whispering my name.
A call to the toll free line got me all the details I needed the column with the shifter on the column and with tilt AND with a 1'-48 spline shaft. My original set up had Borgeson U-joints and vibration dampeners splined for a GM 48 spline shaft. Any of you that have priced Borgeson "stuff" know it ain't cheap and I didn't want to waste what I already had. Flaming River said "No Problem" but it's an extra hundred bucks for a 'special order'. I asked the rep why if they were building the column anyway, couldn't they just put a 48 spline in? It seemed like a reasonable request and it was for a hundred more bucks. This was already an expensive item, running a few hundred bucks more than I'd imagined. Time for PLAN "B".
Plan B was a call to IDIDIT. We went through the same specifications and again the response was "No Problem". Then I mentioned the 48 spline part I tensed up waiting for the added charge. The rep replied "No Problem, we've got to build it anyway". Exactly what I wanted to hear. They told me they had built columns for this model before and what I needed was a 30" column and about a 3" drop at the dash. So, that's what I ordered. Shiny chrome tilt job with column shift, and wiring built in for (future) cruise control installed in the turn signal lever. A couple of weeks later, as I pull in from work, I see a box is leaning up against my garage door ( an expensive box that UPS left unattended.. made me a little apprehensive, but it did arrive).
I checked out the contents and everything was there and in good condition, very well packaged and protected. It was so pretty you hardly wanted to touch it and get fingerprints all over it. The installation follows:
When I had originally installed the GM unit I had cut a large opening in my new floorboards to make the install a little easier. I had made a cover plate after it was complete. So, un-installing was easy. There was no linkage to disconnect, just two bolts on the floor and two on the dash and the old column was out. The first step was to determine how much to adjust the column left to clear the headers and patch/redrill the floor.
The old GM column shift lever was fixed on the shaft so a larger hole was needed to get thru the floorboard. The IDIDIT has a removable shift lever so you can cut the floor hole just larger than the column diameter of 2.25". A 2.5" Greenlee punch made easy work of the hole.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. As I said the hole in the floor was rather large about 6x4...
Sooo, I cut a patch panel to match the hole,
welded it in and started over..
Now we have a clean un-altered floor to start with the next step is deciding where it will enter/exit the floorboard. If your floorboard is original and has the large opening already cut, you can probably fit it in this hole with no problem. Many of the older trucks had a steering column angle that was too steep for comfortable cruising. Experiment a little with your column angle. Choose an angle that feels comfortable when you're sitting in your normal driving position. Consider your seat position, distance to pedals and most importantly, how your arm hangs on the window frame. You have to have the proper "attitude" when cruising and you can't do that without the proper stance.
I've seen articles showing a broomstick or a piece of conduit and a pie pan mockup. Using the column itself is a little cumbersome.. it's too long without the hole in the floor and it's heavy and hard to handle.) It helps to have someone to assist you at this point. Move your dummy column around try different heights get comfortable. When it "feels" right have your helper take some measurements and mark the floor where the column will exit. Measure the distance from the floor up to your wheel... measure the distance from the center of the column perpendicular to the column shaft up to the underside of the dash (for column drop length) (Remember, if your column has tilt also it will make your ride more comfortable). This measurement process should give you the probable vertical (up and down) center of the cut out in the floorboard.
You probably want the column to enter the floor perpendicular to the floor. If it goes in at an odd angle ( angling to the left or right) it just doesn't look or feel right... I then found the centerline between the column mounting holes under the dashboard and then using a framing square and a straight edge. Projected this line down to the floorboard. This should give you a good center horizontally (left to right). On the outside of the cab, I used the centerline of the steering shaft on the rack. A little ciphering and measuring showed these two lines to be within the operating limits of the universal joint. No problem, linkage will handle that easily. To give me a better clearance on the header collector I moved my column 1" to the left. It didn't affect the feel and the column still looked centered (pretty much) in the dash. My original center line on the floor was moved 1" left and of course, this moved my mounting points to the left in the dash so new holes needed to be drilled.
My hole fell almost at the top of the sloped portion of the floor board where it meets the firewall. A little higher than the original hole if I remember correctly. Make your cut in the floor board using a torch, recip saw, hole saw. Your floor board. Your choice... your level of finish will determine your method. I found that a Greenlee punch (a punch used by Electricians to punch holes in junction boxes for conduit) does an excellent job. The concept is simple. You drill a 3/8" hole, push the pilot bolt and die up flush on one side and screw the cutter on the other, then with a ratchet or crescent wrench, draw the cutter into the die. The hole is cut cleanly, and accurately. Far superior to using drill bits or a hand file, Greenlee punches come in a wide variety of sizes. A # 7211-BB2 will punch a perfect 2.412" hole with a few wrench turns. These punches are rather expensive so if you can borrow one from a friendly electrician (or from work)
A bi-metal hole saw will also do an acceptable job for less money, just remember to go slowly, oil generously and clean up the burr it leaves or it will lay a finger open in a heartbeat.
So now you have your hole where you want it, the next step would be to install your column drop. You did order your column drop with your column didn't you Sure you did !
Well, actually your next step is to wrap the column drop and the column to protect them. ESPECIALLY if they are chrome or polished. I covered the drop with 2" masking tape and the column with foam packing material. I know, you're careful, but I can almost guarantee a nick or scratch just where it will show. Take the time to do it .
Now, bolt up the drop to the dash board. For 99% of the applications you find the center of the dash panel and attach the drop with two bolts thru the lower edge of the dash most times the original drop holes will work our for you. Since mine was offset slightly I had to adjust for that and drill new holes.
So you've bolted in your drop, you can see the marks on mine here where I offset 1" to the left.. Remove the screws that hold the bottom section of the drop and insert the column into the drop and thru the floor.
|This will locate your column within 1/8" of it's final location horizontally. Make your adjustments up and down by loosening your drop screws and adjusting the height of the column.|
One thing we haven't done is secure the column at the floor. I had used a fabricated floor mount before from a piece of angle and a u-bolt worked just fine.
|But this time I ordered an adjustable mount from Ididit.. it makes for a little neater install and won't show as badly thru the carpet.|
As far as securing the column at the floor right now, I would wait till I had all my linkage connected, column at the perfect height THEN tie it down at the floor ( just a personal preference), you might think differently.
So now you got it in place, it's time to connect it to the steering box. At this point your install might differ from mine physically, but not in theory. You might have the stock suspension or a Volare clip or a Mustang II, the only difference is the number of u-joints and length of shafts you need to make it work.
I had already purchased a Vibration dampener and universal joints for the Caddy install and dropped a good bit of change. I wanted to reuse them. I was able to order the column with the 1"- 48 spline shaft to match my vibration dampener so I thought I was ready... WRONG!!!Will I just never learn to look ahead After starting to mock up the linkage I found that because the box on the rack set further to the right than the Volare box did, it caused some linkage interference with the header collector..
|I was using dowels for mock up pieces since the final shafts were that size and dowels are cheap and easier to work than steel rod or tubing. You can see in the picture I was right up against the header, less than .015" and when the linkage wobbled a little it actually rubbed the dowel against the header makers tag.|
Well, this isn't gonna work !! There were a couple of work-arounds but none were really feasible. One was a more complicated linkage with a bearing support (which I really didn't have room for) and another u-joint then a funky angle to the steering box. The other was to lengthen the steering column shaft. I'll interject here that ordering a 33" or even a 36" column would have cured the problem, so heed my words and look carefully at your linkage situation before ordering your column.
I talked to a master machinist at work... he's 80 years old and this guy can make anything! (Well, I found out..nearly anything). When we discussed making an extension with a 1" - 48 spline female end and a 1" - 48 spline male end ?? Well, he said he probably wouldn't live long enough to make it a perfect fit on the column end...half a tooth off and it won't fit. A bunch of calls and internet searches looking for 48 spline shafts left me with no solution, finally I called Ididit back. I knew they had couplings and 1"-48 spline shafts, even if I had to buy a complete shaft it might be worth it. I told the tech guys my problem, emailed them pictures and this is what we worked out (with my machinist buddy's help). Borgeson offers a sleeve type coupling with 1"-48 splines on one end and smooth bore on the other. Ididit has a 1 foot section of 1" shaft with 48 splines that they don't show in their ads... (what for, I wonder ?)... anyway, parts were shipped and after mocking up the coupling to the column and building up the other end from the steering box up to the vibration dampener, I calculated the length of the intermediate shaft and presto, we knew how long to cut the shaft to fit. The shaft and coupling already had a good slip fit so my machinist buddy cut the shaft to the proper length and cross drilled the shaft and coupling for double roll pins. Since all my Borgeson parts were polished and pretty... my machinist made a stainless sleeve that fits over the 1" shaft... The coupling and the sleeve will be polished to match and everything will be shiny... we like shiny
Here is a picture of the extension in place and an exploded shot of the parts. Ignore the tape on the sleeve in the first picture it s holding the roll pins there so I don t lose them. I mocked up the extension with a cotter key holding things together.
SO, now we put all the extension parts together, added the vibration dampener, installed the shaft down to the universal joint on the steering box and tightened everything up. Next we turned the wheels and watched the linkage closely for binding and looseness and found none. When I was happy with the linkage, I tightened up the floor mount inside the cab and the column drop screws. This secured everything.
I sorta glossed over the linkage components but every install is different.. the U-joints and vibration dampeners can be bought in several different configurations.. smooth bore, Double-D shafts, splined in both and 1 diameters even collapsible columns in case you re concerned with your impact with the steering column. Borgeson s catalog and web site http://www.borgeson.com/ have a wealth of information and list all their components.
My best recommendation is to buy the end connectors (u-joints) then figure out the middle some installations will be a simple shaft between the two ends, some will require a third u-joint in the middle. If this is the case, you will HAVE to install a bearing support to hold the middle joint in place, else it will wrap and lock up on you. Not a good thing when you re trying to steer. The techie guys can lead you to the proper components listen to them.
I haven t chosen a steering wheel yet . That will come when I get more into the interior design of the truck.. The stock Ididit column will accept a gm wheel and other aftermarket units with the proper adapter . I had an old Chevy wheel that I used for mock up purposes. Here s what the almost complete install looks like, still have to hookup the turn signal lever and steering wheel but the column is complete. The install would be the same on a Flaming River or salvage yard column with the mounting being a little different but similar.
The column comes with a standard GM wiring harness plug and most of the wiring kits in the aftermarket come with the mating socket so the wiring of signals and horn and such is much simplified
Although the cost was significantly higher than the original Caddy column, I m much happier with this install. The steel columns start around 400 bucks and go up as you add tilt, chrome, special wiring, etc the column drops are around 40 bucks and up and the linkage pieces depending on finish could be 30 dollars up to 125 each. It s not a cheap addition but it adds a lot to the finished look If you re looking for practical just steering it is quite a bit cheaper with plain steel paintable columns and plain carbon steel linkage pieces. Your imagination (and your Visa balance) are your only limitations