Toyota Steering Box Swap For 1948-1960 Trucks

Toyota Steering Box Swap for 1948-1960 Trucks

By R.M. (Bob) Ferguson (FTE screen name Ferguson777) and Chuck Frank (FTE screen name AXracer)

Background

A common complaint from owners of 1948 through 1960 Ford truck owners using the original straight axle suspension and steering is sloppiness in the steering of their vehicle – the “drunken monkey” syndrome. In fairness to Ford's original engineering, the first thing you should do is a complete rebuild of the entire steering and suspension systems if you have this complaint. This involves checking and repairing everything that might be worn – the front and rear spring eye bushings and pins, king pins, tie rod ends, the drag link and finally the steering box. Also get an accurately done alignment once all the repairs are made. Excluding the steering box internals, you can do all this for about $250 plus your own labor. You will notice a marked improvement for your effort. If you go this route, you should seriously consider using a heavy duty, solid tie rod versus the stock hollow rod.  The hollow rod is known to flex and affect handling.

If you only need to adjust the steering box and replace some suspension components, you can get by rather cheaply as noted above.  Once you get to the steering box innards, however, it can get expensive. There is a certain amount of adjustment that can be made to the box, but that may not do it for you. The shafts and the worm and sector gears inside could be badly worn or damaged. Trying to over adjust worn or damaged gears to reduce free play will result in a tightness going straight ahead and even more accelerated wear. After careful adjustment as specified in the shop manual, if your steering exhibits any of the following, then it is time to repair or replace the steering box.

  • tightness or stiffness around neutral while going straight ahead
  • notchy, jerky, or rough turning
  • more than about 2 inches of free play at the rim of the steering wheel before the wheels move

Options

There are a number of options you can choose from at this point.  They include:

  • Buy a rebuild kit for the box
  • Replace the box with a professionally rebuilt/new box.
    • About $550 from places such as Mid-Fifty and others.

  • Replace the old box with a good used box.
    • Good used boxes are becoming quite scarce and expensive
      • The inherent nature of the simplistic worm and sector design Ford used required regular adjustment and maintenance that was seldom performed
      • They are popular with the traditional hot rodders
      • The are popular with restorers
      • They are sought out by rebuilders for cores.
    • Because the column shaft is part of the box, different year boxes are not always interchangeable and shipping a used box can be expensive
    • As with all used equipment you can never be 100% sure of its condition
  • Convert to cross steering and swap to a GM power steering box.
    • Mid-Fifty sells the parts required for this swap, but it's more expensive and less popular than the Toyota swap discussed below.
  • Convert to one of the new rack and pinion steering gear kits for beam axles.
    • This option is new and quite pricey, and has not established itself in the market yet
    • We are not aware of any first hand experience with it by anyone in the 1948-1960 forum
  • Replace the steering box with either a manual or power steering box from a 1979 through early 1984 Toyota 4×4 pickups.
    • This is the most popular and easiest option.
    • There is a substantial amount of first-hand information and experience with this swap

This tech article concentrates on the Toyota 4×4 steering box swap.

General Information on the Toyota Steering Box Swap

The Toyota box is similar in size, mounting location, and function to the OEM 1948-1960 box, so clearance issues are few. Using the 1953-1956 F-100 kit from a vendor like Mid-Fifty, Sacramento Vintage Ford, No Limit Engineering, and others, this bolt in swap can be done in as little as 4 hours. With small modifications the same kits can be used on the F-1 series trucks and the F-100 series from the 1957-1960 era trucks as well.

  • The frame mounting holes on non-1953/1956 trucks will need to be redrilled to match the OEM 1953-1956 3-bolt mount pattern

  • The drag link ball on the F-1 truck series steering arm will need to be replaced with the larger 1953-1956 ball

  • The 1953-1956 drag link must be used on F-1 installations

The Toyota swap can be used with a slightly modified OEM steering column and shaft or with any aftermarket or salvage column in the 30 to 32 inch length range. The only downside with using the original column is you will lose the horn button function in the steering wheel so a separate horn button switch will need to be added elsewhere.

Going with the manual Toyota box, you get a strong, compact, more modern recirculating ball design box from a popular model donor that is easier to get repaired at on a Tuesday night in East Armpit, Iowa. Going with the power Toyota box gives you all that plus the added driving enjoyment of power steering. The power steering upgrade also gives you quicker steering. Ford F-1/F-100 uses a 24:1 ratio (six turns lock to lock) versus Toyota's ratio of 19:1 (4.75 turns lock to lock). If you need to rationalize going with the Toyota box just say to yourself “safety improvements are not hotrod modifications.”

Members of the 1948-1960 FTE Forum are often designated as “Lightsiders” or “Darksiders”, depending on how much they have modified and/or hot-rodded their trucks. The Toyota steering box modification would move you farther from the ranks of a “Lightsider” and close to the being a “Darksider”, but unless someone crawls under your truck, who's to know? Based upon feedback from those that have done the swap, you'll wish you'd done it sooner! The real beauty of the Toyota swap (almost everyone that's done it has stressed this) is the simplicity of the work.

There is some literature available on this modification/enhancement. Bonusbuilt.com deals with it to a certain degree and Classic Performance Products also has a tech article on it. This article is based upon a combination of

·         Information from the numerous threads in the 1948-1960 FTE Truck Forum covering the installation

·         Some direct communication with Forum members to clarify specific issues not covered in the Forum threads

·         Considerable input from one forum member, AXracer, that did the installation himself

Caveats

  • You may experience some clearance issues if you're running a big block engine or if you have certain rear outlet headers/exhaust manifolds. The modification can still be done, but you may need to go through the frame in another location. Mid-Fifty sells a longer drag link (1.5″ longer) for use with axles that have been moved forward.  This part may help or a certified welder could modify your stock drag link. Moving the steering box can frequently cause some difficult to resolve issues with your steering geometry. This raises some safety concerns that are beyond the scope of this article.  Please consult with an expert before choosing this route. A better alternative would be to resolve the clearance issues with different headers or offset placement of the engine.
  • The spline count on both the manual and power Toyota steering box Pitman arm shaft is different from each other as well as from the original Ford Pitman arm. If you're using the Toyota power steering box, several of the vendors mentioned in this article sell a modified Pitman arm to save you from modifying your own. To use the manual box, the same mount bracket can be used, but a custom conversion Pitman arm will need to be fabricated as no one currently sells a pre-made one.

There is an excellent thread in the 1948-1960 truck forum which discusses creating your own Pitman arm by combining the Toyota and the Ford arms (Pitman Arm Thread). This thread contains directions, tips, and advise from several different members that have done it themselves. In addition, forum member Walston has a pictorial of how to create one yourself in his gallery (Pitman Arm Pictorial). If you make your own, bear in mind that your life and the lives of others depend upon how well it's made and welded together. At least ensure that a certified welder does all the necessary welding in making this Pitman arm.

Wally (Walston) has a good step”"by-step pictorial on the Toyota steering box custom-built Pitman arm in his gallery.

(Photos Courtesy Wally Kandel)

The “How-To”

First decide upon whether you want manual or power steering. Power steering means you'll need to mount a power steering pump on your engine and run hoses to the steering box. Going with a manual box means you avoid that aspect of the swap, but will need to fabricate your own Pitman arm.

Complete List of Components and Parts to do the Job

  • A Toyota 4×4 power/manual steering box. Head off to your friendly neighborhood wrecking yard and find yourself a good 79 to early 84 Toyota 4×4 pickup. For a manual box, grab the manual box and the Pitman arm. For a power box, grab the power box, the hoses running from the pump to the box and maybe the Pitman arm. You can also check your local penny-saver newspaper for someone parting out a suitable donor vehicle.

The Toyota 4×4 Steering Box You Want.

(Photo Courtesy Ron Goldberg)

  • A Pitman arm to fit the Toyota sector shaft and the Ford drag link
    • To be fabricated for a manual steering box
    • To be fabricated or purchased for a power steering box
  • A new Toyota Pitman arm/sector shaft nut (unless you saved the old one when taking the Toyota box off the donor). You may have to split the original nut to remove the pitman arm from the box.
  • A U-joint to connect the steering column to the Toyota box.
    • In the Mid-Fifty kit, this is Borgeson part number U15N-7DDx730 and fits ONLY a modified OEM shaft or aftermarket “DD” shaft.
    • Columns with shafts other than the modified OEM or aftermarket “DD” types mentioned above will likely require a different U-joint, so make your steering column choice prior to ordering.
  • A new, solid heavy-duty tie rod
  • A power steering hose set to match the steering box and the pump fittings. Sets of hoses to fit the Toyota box with adapter fittings are available from several sources. You may need to have this custom made – see additional notes below for more information.
  • A power steering pump and bracket to fit your engine. Any normal pressure pump will work, but avoid the ultra-high-pressure units from land barges like a Lincoln or Cadillac.
  • An auxiliary horn button for dash mounting if you are using the stock column.
  • A kit to adapt the steering box to your frame.
    • Mid-Fifty sells one for about $250 and it seems to be one of the best quality of the alternatives out there. The kit includes a very sturdy mount bracket, a hybrid Pitman arm (from Toyota PS to Ford), a new sector shaft nut, plus optional parts depending on which kit is selected (see catalog for specific components included in each).

The Mid-Fifty Toyota Conversion Kit

(Photo Courtesy Roger Hughes)

  • You can use the stock steering column but if you do, you'll need to make or buy (Mid-Fifty or No Limit Engineering) a lower shaft bushing to keep the shaft centered in the column housing. You'll also need to buy or fabricate a lower column to floor mount.

Step-By-Step Procedure

To make it easier to proceed, you might wish to remove your inner fender. This is not mandatory but it does make it much easier to get in there, especially of working alone.

  1. Remove the steering column. Note that the stock OEM steering shaft goes all the way into, and is part of, the internals of the OEM steering box. Thus, the method you use for removing the steering column depends on if you want to save the original column and steering box intact as a unit.
    1. If you are not using your original OEM steering column with the new Toyota box, and you want to keep the entire unit intact (e.g. for resale).

                                                               i.      Remove the pitman arm from the original box and unbolt the box from the frame.

                                                             ii.      Disconnect the shift linkage from the column if you have a column shift.

                                                            iii.      Unbolt the column drop at the dashboard.

                                                           iv.      Remove the entire inspection plate from the floor around the column.

                                                             v.      Remove the entire column and steering box as a unit from inside the cab.

    1. If you do not want, or do not need, to save the original steering box and column intact as a unit.

                                                               i.      Saw through the steering column just above the box. As previously noted, the stock steering shaft goes all the way into, and is part of, the internals of the steering box, so you need to cut it off.

                                                             ii.      Disconnect the shift linkage from the column if you have a column shift.

                                                            iii.      Unbolt the column drop at the dashboard.

                                                           iv.      Remove the column from inside the cab. You'll need to unscrew at least ½ the inspection plate from the floor to clear the shift arms if you have a column shift.

                                                             v.      Remove the pitman arm from the original box and unbolt the box from the frame.

  1. If you plan to reuse your stock steering column, follow the directions in the kit to perform the following procedures.
    1. Shorten the housing.
    2. Install the centering bushing.
    3. Match your shaft to the Toyota Borgeson joint you will use for a connection.  This will likely involve grinding two flats on your steering shaft to copy the DD design used with most popular Borgeson joints and drilling a depression in the shaft for the setscrew.  You may have to make other adjustments if you are using a different joint.
  2. Open up the sector shaft hole in your frame a wee bit per the instructions in the kit.  If you are not using a kit, make the hole large enough so that the sector shaft clears the frame with the steering linkage in all positions.

  3. Bolt the Toyota box to the bracket making sure to torque all bolts to 60 ft/lbs. Grind off the 1/8″ or so of the box below the pitman shaft that extends beyond the face of the mount so the mount can fit tight against the frame.

  4. Install the steering box and bracket assembly with the long end of the bracket pointing towards the bottom and then poke the sector shaft through the original hole in the frame. Bolt the steering box and bracket to the frame. If the holes are a bit off, break out that die grinder you're so good with. If the mount does not want to go inside the frame you may have to straighten one or both frame flanges until it slips into place.

  5. Center the sector shaft.
    1. Turn the shaft all the way in one direction.
    2. While counting the revolutions, turn the sector shaft all the way in the opposite direction.
    3. Now turn the sector shaft exactly half way back the other way so it is centered.
    4. At the risk of being anal, do this about three times just to be completely sure you got it centered.
  6. Attach the modified Pitman arm to the centered sector shaft so the Pitman arm is perpendicular to the ground.  Torque the fastener to 110 ft/lbs.
  7. Re-attach the steering column.
    1. Slide the column back through the firewall.
    2. Attach the steering shaft to the Toyota box using the universal joint you got from Mid-Fifty or whomever.
    3. Reattach the column drop at the dashboard.
    4. Reinstall the column inspection plate at the floorboard.
    5. Install the floor mount.
    6. Reconnect the shift linkage if you have a column shift.
  8. Reconnect the stock drag link at the lower end of the Pitman arm.
  9. If you decided to go with the power steering box, then you need to install the pump assembly on the engine and run the hoses between it and the pump. The port on the steering box closest to the frame is the high pressure or input line. The port closer to the engine is the output or low pressure line.
  10. Wire in your new horn and “Bob's yer Uncle”.
  11. Crack open a cold barley and hops based libation and, celebrate a job well done.

The Toyota 4×4 Power Steering Box Installed in a 1955 Ford F-100

(Photos Courtesy Roger Hughes)

For a nearly blow-by-blow account of one of the author's day's spent doing the install, check out this thread. It didn't go quite as smoothly or as quickly as the discussion above would suggest. A little worse than changing your old rear leaf spring pins, but no where near as bad as a root canal.

NOTES:

  • If you want to ease into this “" go with the Toyota manual box initially. Should you later decide you want power steering, the Toyota boxes interchange easily except for the different Pitman arm.

  • It has been mentioned that the early 84 Toyota box is useable and the later one is not. Here's how you tell the difference.
    • The good box has 4 mounting ears “" 2 on each side of the Pitman shaft (see the picture above).
    • The wrong one is a long skinny bugger. When you've seen both, you'll understand.

  • You will have to do a wee bit of grinding on the box housing to allow it to sit flat against your frame rail. Again, when you look at the box, you'll easily understand what's required.

  • You may want to shop around for the kit parts a bit

    • Mid-Fifty doesn't have the Pitman arm for the 1957-1960 trucks, but No Limit Engineering does.

    • No Limit Engineering has a bearing/sleeve/coupler kit to attach the stock column to the Toyota box.

    • The opinion of the group is that the Mid-Fifty kit has the best box-to-frame bracket and other parts.

    • Classic Performance Products has pretty much everything.

    • Mid-Fifty has the rubber power steering hose set with adapters for most pumps.

    • Gotta Show Products has braided SS hose sets with their own low profile fittings if you want stainless steel, need a custom length hose, or run into clearance issues with the return line hose.

  • There is a new electric remote power steering pump available if you can't, or don't want to, install an engine driven pump.  No one in the 1948-1960 Truck Forum has any experience with it, so you're on your own.

  • JobLot Automotive sells a rebuilt stock draglink assembly for about $90.

Closing Comments

So you've finished the upgrade to the Toyota box. It went easier and quicker than expected. You've got money left in your pocket and you know that just isn't right. Now it's time to think about upgrading those front brakes to discs. Check them out at places like Engineered Components, Inc. and others. It's another fairly easy and very worthwhile upgrade.

Disclaimer

The authors have made every effort to be as accurate as possible; however, we make no guaranty as to the accuracy of the information in this article. Your mileage may vary. Batteries not included. Don't run with scissors. Now move along, nothing more to see here!

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