Saturday, February 20, 2016

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

As I've probably mentioned before, my steering column bearings are shot, so I ordered new ones along with a few other components needed for the restoration of the assembly,

Everyone knows that parts with the Corvette name attached to them cost twice as much as those intended for the rest of the Chevrolet/GM models and, by a fluke really, I came across a kit offered through Amazon.com for the main shaft bearing, including the retainers and clip. The funny thing is that this kit also fits most Jeep and GM vehicles. Long story short, for $23 I thought I'd get one and if it didn't work I would just send it back. Well, it came in yesterday and it works just fine.

Some Corvette vendors get upwards of $70 for just the bearing, so this was a major score, and proof-positive that doing a little bit of research pays off.




Putting the steering column back together is a challenging process so you need to arm yourself with lots of patience. In my case, I've reassembled one component, for example, only to take back apart a few moments later after realizing that I forgot to install something else beforehand. Needless to say, all this "practice" has made me quite good at steering column mechanics.

One thing I did purchase was a set of E-sockets in order to properly fasten the star bolts that secure the lower housing in place. I also used Loctite (red) so they won't vibrate off. As good as I've gotten at steering wheel disassembly/reassembly, I really don't want to take it apart once it's in the car.

Before reinstalling the lower housing, you must install the key release lever (if your column has one). I added a thin layer of grease to portions of the assembly that slide back and forth. The spring has to be compressed a bit so it sits in the right slot so the lever works properly.




I also reinstalled the lower housing bolting plate, which is a little tricky since it will only go in, in a certain way. You have to hook up the right side first and then the plate falls into place. You will still need to be careful when attaching the lower housing so the bolting plate does not fall off the slots. A long and thin phillips screwdriver comes in handy in order to help align and get the first two bolts started. And don't forget the Loctite.

Having that little marking on the plate helped quite a bit during reassembly.





With the lower housing in place, I reinstalled the ignition switch rod. The end of the rod that sits inside the plastic cover will be connected to the actuator rack once the upper housing is reinstalled.



The upper housing snaps back in place once all necessary parts are installed. I used new bearings since the original ones were destroyed. Actually, I would've replaced them even if the original bearings looked okay. I applied plenty of fresh grease, too.




But before the upper housing is reinstalled, I got the plastic ball joint ready (don't forget the horse shoe-shaped spring) and then attached it to the stub shaft. Again, I lubed all components before reassembling them.




Reconnecting the two shafts is pretty straight-forward since the ball joint will go in one way only. I lubed everything so it would operate smoothly. As the photos below show, the ball joint in the stub shaft must be at a 90° angle in order to connect with the main steering shaft. Once connected, you can rotate the stub shaft and the ball joint will be aligned to operate correctly.





At this point you can reinstall the upper housing, but make sure the actuator rack is in place and that the ignition rod under the plastic cover is connected to the actuator rack, so that it moves back and forth when the actuator rack is pulled or pushed. At this point you want to carefully align the upper housing with the lower housing so that the tilt pawls will engage with the cross shaft at the top of the lower housing.

Even though this all sounds complicated, once you are at this point, it all becomes clear and making the upper and lower housings connect is a straight-forward operation.

With both housings aligned, push the tilt lever forward to release the pawls while pushing the upper housing into the lower. It won't take a lot of force and you will hear a "click" once the pawls engage the crossbar. At this point release the tilt lever and that's it. The upper and lower housings are properly connected.




Before moving ahead with the steering column reassembly process, make sure the actuator rack moves freely back and forth and that the ignition rod also moves at the same time. The actuator rack rests on a small flat spring that sits right below it and snaps in place. I lubed all those pieces before assembly.

With the actuator rack in place, you can now install the steering lock pin followed by the sector gear and ignition lock cross shaft. You may need to tap it in place gently with a hammer. When the cross shaft is fully in, you can reinstall the E-clip. Just make sure the sector gear and actuator rack are aligned properly (see 2nd photo below).

 


At this point I installed the sector gear spring and—while making sure both housings were aligned—I tapped in the pivot pins.




Since I wanted to see how the covers would look when assembled, I temporarily installed them and am happy to say I love the way the textured finish looks.





After inspecting everything to make sure I had not forgotten any small parts, I reinstalled the tilt alignment pin, spring and cap.

In order to be able to compress the spring enough, I had to prop the steering column on the floor so I could push the pin, spring and cap comfortably with a #3 phillips screwdriver. When the cap goes in the channel, you can turn it (about a ¼-turn) and it will snap in place. At this point you can release the pressure and it will lock in place. You want to make sure it is properly seated.




And this is what my rebuilt 1979 Corvette steering column looks like, so far. I did temporarily install the telescoping shaft and key in order to keep everything together. I should have another update soon.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for Part Six of the series.