Friday, January 1, 2016

1976 Corvette Steering Column and the "Vega" Wheel
Part One

1976 Corvettes sported a new steering wheel that year, which was the same one used in Camaros and the infamous Vega, hence the moniker "Vega steering wheel."

Either you love it or you hate it, but the biggest challenge for those who want to change it in favor of a smaller-diameter wheel, is having to, basically, re-engineer the telescoping components of the column, since the design of the steering wheel incorporates those as part of it. In other words, you cannot simply remove the steering wheel and place an aftermarket (or another Corvette wheel, for that matter) on the hub, since there is no way to secure it. Thanks, Chevrolet engineers!

The other issue many have with 1976 and older models, is the length of the steering column itself, which places the steering wheel too close to the driver, which makes me wonder why they bothered with the telescoping feature in the first place.



— Photo courtesy of Rick B.
After reading countless articles and C3 Corvette-related forum posts, I decided to see if I could locate a used steering column from a 1978 or 1979 Vette, as these were almost 2 inches shorter than the 1976 unit. The 1977 Corvette also had a shorter steering column, by the way, but the turn signal lever incorporated a bunch of features that would make installation a bit more challenging, in my opinion.

You can find good used Corvette steering columns on eBay, for example, but prices can range widely from $300 for those that need a lot of work and/or repairs, to refurbished columns that sell in the $800-$1,000 range. Too rich for my blood.

Yet another option is to use an aftermarket column such as those made by Flaming River. But those are not cheap either and, if you want the telescoping feature, you're out of luck. You can also purchase the installation kit, which will set you back an additional $315, putting the total purchase cost at almost $1,200.

I decided to try my luck with Craigslist, and found a 1978 Corvette column for only $65. Of course at that price it was a bit on the rough side and the telescoping mechanism was missing a bunch of parts. It also needed the horn plate and button, but all those parts are available online.

So I went ahead and bought it, and let me just say that I could easily sell the steering wheel that came with it and get all my money back. But since the wheel is an OEM Corvette piece, I decided to clean it, then paint the leather black since it was blue from the factory.



As the photo above shows, there was some dirt and surface rust all over the assembly, but the tilt mechanism seemed to work well so this one is a good candidate for a rebuild.

Now, rebuilding one of these columns is not easy. There are so many parts involved that you may want to hire a professional do that for you. So I talked to my mechanic who happens to love to work on these types of complex projects and I may have him help me rebuild it and then install it in my car, especially from a safety point of view.

This one will need a new ignition switch and keys, so while I cleaned it and took it partially apart, I removed the old switch, which can be a PITA.









I saved all the parts that came off the column, since you never know what you'll have to re-purpose. I also downloaded and printed out several articles by Jim Shea, who is an authority when it comes to Corvette steering columns. 

If I decide to replace steering columns, this will happen sometime in 2016. I am not sure yet which way I will go as I may still decide to go aftermarket, find a different column, or have this one rebuilt. But for the time being, I decided to clean and repaint the steering wheel.

After polishing the spokes I cleaned the leather thoroughly. Then I sprayed Bulldog Adhesion Promoter which works very well, in my opinion, followed by SEM Landau Black interior trim paint.







After the paint had cured, I applied a light coat of leather protector to ensure it stays supple.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this series.