Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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

One of the reasons I decided to venture out to the 2016 NCRS meet in Lakeland, in spite of questionable weather conditions, was the fact that I really wanted to find a few parts for the 78 steering column I bought with hopes to do a swap for my 76 Corvette.

I really lucked out as I found most of the pieces I was searching for, and for reasonable prices.



A couple of pieces, such as the telescoping lever, will have to be painted black and I am still debating whether I should go with a textured finish for the steering column, as I think it not only looks cool but it also would help hide small imperfections on some of the plastic column covers.

And speaking of telescoping levers (also referred to as telescope lock rings)... I've seen used ones offered on eBay, for example, upwards of $40 which is absurd when you can get new ones for around $25. You have to shop around if you want to avoid paying too much for parts. I paid $10 at the swap meet for mine.

I also found correct GM ignition and door lock key blanks for my car. Very happy about this since the ones that came with the car are ratty-looking aftermarket keys. And for $3 each, it was a no-brainer.

I have to say that I only bought one door lock blank since I am planning to switch to electric remote-operated locks, which would allow me to do away with the door locks completely. As a matter of fact, I am also planning to have those shaved when I install the power door locks.




You can find plenty of key blanks offered on eBay, of course, but make sure the ones you buy are coded correctly for your application. See the photo I shot of the model year/key code card the seller had at the Corvette swap meet.



Since the plastic steering column covers are scratched and marred by use (abuse may be a better word), I started to prep those pieces for paint.

After a good wet sanding, I applied glazing putty which I allowed to cure for a whole day.





I then sanded the whole assembly with 220-grit paper, applied some more touch-up putty, allowed that to cure for another day, then wet sanded.




I then set them aside to focus on other small repairs to the column systems.

The steering wheel lock pin spring was broken, for example, but my mechanic had a spare one that he gave me, so that saved a few bucks right there.
(GM part No. 7805827).



This is what was left of mine.





Installing the spring can be a bit tricky if you don't have some photos for reference. Luckily for me, my mechanic showed me how to install it so that saved me time and aggravation.

You start by hooking the short loop end of the spring to the lock pin, then, as you turn the spring toward the assembly, rotate the plastic gear a bit by hand so that the spring fits in the slot. You can then remove the small bolt at the bottom of the assembly (see photos below) and secure the loop by reinstalling and tightening the bolt. The spring will have some play even after you tighten the bolt, but that's normal.




I also decided to get rid of the headlight dimmer switch rod, since my plan is to use the turn signal switch from my 76, which does not have that capability. This feature became available on '77-and-later models.

By using my original turn signal assembly, I save a few bucks and don't have find and purchase the column-mounted switch. Besides, I don't mind using the foot-operated headlight dimmer switch, an accessory that appears to be a complete mystery to younger generations.

Removing the rod was a quick job—albeit not pretty—thanks to my Dremel tool.

For the record, I always try to save as many parts as I can since you never know when you'll need them, but in other cases you just have to pick your battles as I did here, since the rod was not coming off the column without taking it apart completely.



I also decided to remove the tilt mechanism retainer, spring and guide in order to clean some of the gunk that had accumulated. In order to do this, you need a large phillips screwdriver and a way to secure the steering column in place since you will need to apply quite a bit of force in order for the spring to compress, so you can rotate the retainer counter-clockwise so it comes off the assembly.

Once all three pieces were off, I cleaned them thoroughly, applied fresh grease and reassembled it, making sure the retainer was fully seated in place.








I also took the time to fix the threads of the upper steering shaft, since—from the looks of it—at some point someone beat the heck out of it, which made it impossible to screw in the nut and the telescoping lock knob screw.





Even though I have no deadline to get this project done, I am doing little repairs here and there whenever the mood strikes. This is especially important in order to become familiarized with the systems, as there are many.

When you look closely at the tilt & telescoping steering column, you realize that it took quite a bit of engineering by the folks at the Saginaw Steering Division. And while many components are year-specific, there are others that fit a wide range of years, so re-purposing parts from the original steering column from my car makes sense.

But in order to help determine which parts from my 76 column will fit the 78 unit, having a copy of the 1953-1982 Corvette Parts & Illustration Catalog is a huge help, so if you can borrow one, you'll save time and headaches.

Alternatively, you may be able to find a good, clean copy on eBay. It is a HUGE tome with thousands of illustrations and part numbers for every component used in the Corvette. Just make sure the book you get includes your model year.


Learning how to properly use the book can take some time, but there's plenty of information on the subject online and even from your local mechanic. But once you learn how to use it, it will become a valuable and trusted resource.


Here are a couple sample pages that I used to cross-reference parts I need for this project.

As you can see, the amount of information is quite large, and after you figure out which part you need more details on, for example which model years it fits, the required quantity, etc, you have to determine the "group" under which they are listed, then find the page for that "group" and find the right part for your car by name, then year.

It can be a little tricky at first, but it's not rocket science, as they say. And, frankly, your biggest problem may be searching for a particular component through a  cumbersome 1,500-plus page book.




Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part Four of this series.