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The Great Steering Box Upgrade

Cure That Vague, One-Finger GM Power Steering Feel With The Great Steering Box Upgrade

Photography by Douglas Glad, Greg Smith, , Joe Grippo

Drive a new Mustang, Challenger, or Corvette and then slide behind the wheel of a '60s muscle car and it takes about a minute to realize that ride quality, handling, and performance feel have evolved quite nicely in the last 40 years. The first thing you notice is how that new car steering wheel has a direct connection to the road, while that '60s muscle car feels like a soggy bowl of porridge. In fact, we've driven some of the more upscale computer simulations that have better feedback through the steering wheel than a stock '64 Chevelle. The good news is there's an easy fix for this vagueness if you own a '64 to '72 Chevelle, '67 to '81 Camaro, or '68 to '74 Nova. And the parts are no farther away than the local boneyard.

Back in the '60s, GM thought the one-finger approach to twirling the steering wheel in a parallel parking exercise was the blue-ribbon pass for the ultimate driving experience. While that might have been great for your grandmother in 1965, any track day junkie will tell you it's the effort and feedback through the steering wheel from the front tires that is part and parcel of the handling holy grail. Beginning in the late '70s and through the '90s, GM's classic recirculating ball steering box has drastically improved steering feel and, as you might guess, there are almost as many different versions of this box as Pamela Anderson has plastic surgeons in her Rolodex.

Several years ago, certain steering boxes had surfaced as ideal junkyard swaps for these early Chevys. To be accurate, this swap will also work for any early A-Body, such as a Pontiac, a Buick, or an Oldsmobile and also first- and second-generation Camaros and Firebirds. All the demand for these good boxes, such as the '85 to '88 Monte Carlo SS box, has put a crimp in the supply. We drilled a little deeper into the GM steering box grab bag and discovered several other body styles that are excellent candidates for this swap. We also spent a day with Tom Lee at Lee Manufacturing, the guru of steering box science who builds steering boxes for Sprint Cars, Cup cars, and many of the hard-charging off-road racers who are masters of steering box abuse. The beauty of all this is that the knowledge transfer that trickles down from race cars will make your street car box a real treat.

Best Buys
The following condensed chart was derived from a much longer original created by Jim Shea, which appears on the Team Chevelle web-site formatted by Wes Vann and used with permission. If you would like to see the entire spreadsheet, it can be found at chevelles.com/techref/ftecref29.html. Shea has also posted updated references on the corvettefaq.com website. Just look for the Jim Shea's Steering Papers notation in the upper righthand corner of the page. Jim also goes into great detail on modifying the steering column to mount the new flexible coupling, which we don't have room to detail here.

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39 comments
Chris Mombourquette
Chris Mombourquette

They handled that way because or the weight and poor aerodynamics of the car

Courtney Fitzsimons
Courtney Fitzsimons

Suspension brakes & steering. Most large late 60s/early 70s muscle cars stock handled like a drunken pig on roller skates.

Daniel Valenzuela
Daniel Valenzuela

Steering , and suspension . Sure it might look good . If the steering wheel shakes , or the car can't handle corners as well as stay straight then it isn't a good build .

Richard Lowe
Richard Lowe

NEVER USE A POWERSTEERING UNIT IN ANY KIND OF CAR ... Always use a manual gear box cause you never have to worry about adding powersteering fluid

Al Delprado
Al Delprado

You can come and do mine 78 Camaro steers like an old Caddy!

Chaz Beaumont
Chaz Beaumont

Would these steering boxes work on a 65 impala also?

Justin White
Justin White

Headlights and electrical.I'm gutting the harnes and going through it now.I'm tired of worrieing about it.time to do it right!

Scott Stamper
Scott Stamper

Nice inexpensive upgrade built my 80 Z28 box up two years ago.Was totally worth it.

Jim Gillgam
Jim Gillgam

Most any project is put on hold because of the expense... Give us bargain ways to do things...

Jason Gingrich
Jason Gingrich

The budget friendly tech is awesome, anything I can apply to body work, welding, or Ford FE engines goes in the vault :)

Car Craft Magazine
Car Craft Magazine

Jason Gingrich, good point... How are our budget-friendly tech stories?

Lynn Kirchner
Lynn Kirchner

Don't forget, too bleed, the pump before, using!

Lynn Kirchner
Lynn Kirchner

Simple, give me, something a-little more challenging.

dyeager535
dyeager535

Instead of buying specialty fittings, why wouldn't you simply swap the fitting on the back of the power steering pump to whatever your steering box fitting is? Low pressure side is irrelevant of course.

Car Craft