Saturday, February 13, 2016

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

My steering column swap project keeps making progress, albeit slowly, but I am learning quite a bit along the process.

A couple of local mechanics have shared a few valuable tips on disassembling the column, and Inside the GM Tilt Steering Column—a very detailed 69-page article I found online on how to disassemble, repair and reassemble a GM steering column—has proven invaluable, thanks in great part to the many clear photos.

Since the article is published in PDF format, I downloaded a copy to my hard drive for future reference, and you may want to do the same just in case.

If you ever need to disassemble your Corvette's steering column in order to repair or replace one of the many parts it contains, you will need to have a couple inexpensive tools. 

You will need a steering column lock ring compressor. Many auto parts stores have these in stock.



You will also need a steering pivot pin remover. I got mine from Amazon (see link).



And you will also need a #3 Phillips screwdriver to remove the tilt mechanism (cap, spring and aligning pin), I got one at ACE Hardware for 5 bucks.

Depending on how much of the steering column you decide to take apart, you may also need a set of reverse Torx drivers, although I was able to remove the ones on my column with a 1/4" nut driver.

Here's the steering pivot pin tool in action. There are two of these pins that need to come off and the only way to do this properly is with the help of this little tool. Get one!



Next, carefully pry the sector gear off the lock cylinder cross shaft.



Here are just a few of the steering parts that have been removed, so far.



The upper housing is still attached to the steering column, but since the tilt spring assembly has been removed, it pivots easily when moved by hand.

In order to remove it from the lower housing, you will need to temporarily screw in the tilt lever and pull it forward. This will release the tilt pawls which will free the upper housing from the pins on the top of the lower housing.




With the upper housing off, you can now remove the sector or actuator rack off the lower housing.



Here's a close-up view of the tilt pawls and what's left of the tilt/telescoping shaft lower bearing. Needless to say, new upper and lower bearings will be used.




Take note of how the actuator rack connects to the lower assembly, as this will be important when the two housings are reassembled. If you see any damage or cracks, now is an excellent time to replace this unit.



Here's a view of the tilt/telescope shaft with the telescoping shaft removed. The one in my column was stuck since someone, at some point and for reasons unknown, beat the heck out of the shaft which not only damaged the threads, but also locked it in place. I was able to get it free but had to file and sand the bottom end in order to get it back to proper working condition.



The red arrows point the reverse Torx bolts that hold the lower housing in place. I used a 1/4" nut driver to remove mine since they were pretty loose. I will use Loctite when I reassemble the steering column to hold them securely in place.




The main shaft of the steering column connects to the tilt/telescoping (or stub) shaft through an ingenious plastic ball joint, which gives the steering column the ability to tilt while turning.

In order to separate the stub shaft from the ball joint assembly, it must be rotated so you can rotate the stub shaft 90 degrees.





At this point the stub shaft will separate from the main shaft easily, and you will also be able to remove the plastic ball joint from the stub shaft.





The plastic ball joint is comprised of two halves and a spring, which removes play. I will clean these parts and use fresh grease when I am ready to put it all back together.



In order to remove the main shaft and lower housing from the column you will need a brass hammer since you will most-likely need to hit the bottom of the shaft a few times in order to remove the lower bearing.



Once the main shaft is out of the steering column housing, note how the bolting plate fits. I chose to make a marking on mine in order to make assembly easier. With the lower housing out you can also remove the key release lever and spring if you have a manual transmission column.

At this point you can also slide off the plastic housing, which comes in handy if you plan to paint it.



And here's the steering column housing or jacket, and the main steering shaft. This also is a good time to inspect the main shaft since it is collapsible. You will notice an injection-molded plastic key which breaks upon impact of a torso hitting the steering wheel. Since this is a safety feature, be careful when handling the main steering shaft.

I know some people choose to weld it in place if the plastic key is damaged, but that is a decision that only you can make. I will keep mine collapsible since that safety feature may save my life. I much rather never test it, but it's nice to know it's there.




The main steering shaft bearing has seen better days, so my plan is to order a new one. Even though most bearings can be cleaned, this one appears to be missing a roller.



Anyway, so that's my latest update on this project. A lot remains to be done such as prepping and painting a few parts, replacing others, and lots of cleaning. When reassembly begins, I plan to use a quality waterproof grease that will not soften or run when hot.

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for Part Five of this series.