Tuesday, March 29, 2016

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

This project has been a challenging and interesting one so far, and one that's getting closer to completion.

I just received the new 1978-on turn signal lever I ordered from an eBay seller, which also incorporates the cruise-control on/off switch.

However, since my car does not have cruise—and I have no plans or desire to install such a device—it shall remain unplugged.

I thought about clipping the wires, but decided instead to run them through the steering column cover and will leave it hidden under the dash, just in case.

At $60, the turn signal lever was an expensive part, but since I really needed one my options were limited. Had I looked hard enough I am sure I could've found a cheaper alternative from a different GM vehicle, but since the bend of the lever seems to be unique to '78-on Vettes, I decided it would be easier to just bite the bullet and buy the correct part.

The ignition switch was a lot cheaper and even though the one that came with the column seemed okay, I thought it would be wiser to go ahead and replace it with a new ACDelco part and not take any chances.

Installing the new Ignition Switch

Since the ignition switch is operated by a rod connected to the ignition switch tumbler, the switch must be positioned in the Off setting. This means that on a 1977-1982 Corvette, the slider must be positioned correctly beforehand.

To do this, Jim Shea provides an excellent tutorial that explains the process in great detail.

I used a thin metal rod to push and pull the slider (red arrow photo below) in order to ensure it was in the Off position by following Jim's instructions...

Key Release Columns (1977-1982). Rotate the lock cylinder all the way counterclockwise until it stops. DO NOT actuate the key release lever. This will place it in the Off/Unlock position. 
You now need to place the ignition switch in that same Off/Unlock position. You do this by moving the slider all the way to the end of travel to the Accessory position. It should detent and stay in that position. If in doubt, the other travel extreme will be the Start position and you should feel a spring return. Now move the slider two detent positions back from the Accessory position, this will be the Off/Unlock position.

I also operated the ignition tumbler to see in which direction the ignition rod moved to ensure the switch would operate correctly. When I had both parts ready, the switch slid into place easily and I secured it with the two bolts. I then tested the ignition tumbler to make sure it was working properly.

If you are installing a new ignition switch, you must remove the lock pin.

And this is my new ignition switch secured in place.

I made this 20-second video that shows how the ignition tumbler operates when the ignition switch is properly installed. It was a bit challenging to hold and point the camera while attempting to turn the ignition key, but I think it turned out okay.

After I was happy with how the ignition cylinder and switch operated, I installed the tilt and turn signal levers. I have to admit that I did not care for the sharp angle of the turn signal lever, but that's the only way it fits so my solution was to straighten the lever a bit, which helped considerably.

I then tested the turn signal lever, and it works just fine.



Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Part Nine of this Series.

Friday, March 25, 2016

New Power Steering Control Valve and Hoses

A few days ago I noticed my Corvette was marking its territory. Again! But this time it wasn't motor oil what I found on the floor, but power steering fluid.

I was unable to pinpoint the exact cause, so I had the power steering valve and the four hoses replaced this morning. This cured the leak and, as a bonus, the steering feel was improved considerably.

My mechanic was kind enough and removed the old power steering control valve, drained the fluid and gave it a bath. I then drove down to Eckler's Corvette in Titusville in order to get a new one. Bringing the old unit saved me the $130 core exchange charge.

Here are a few pics. You gotta love new parts.

Replacing the power steering control valve is not difficult if you have a lift, plenty of tools as well as a small "pickle fork" to separate the pitman arm from the assembly. Having said that, it helps to know what you're doing and it is a messy job, so I chose to let the pros at Sunrise Auto in Orange City, handle that task for me.

And, since they had the car up on the lift, I also had them install a remanufactured heavy-duty ACDelco starter, which the shop had ordered for me a few days ago since mine was making grinding noises every once in a while.

For $59 it was a no-brainer so in it went!

It works beautifully and smoothly. Fingers crossed that my flywheel is okay. As you know, old cars are never 100% done, so the "funds" never end.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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

Since the new turn signal crossover/actuator arm arrived in today's mail, I decided to go ahead and start putting the steering column back together.

After bolting the lock housing cover, a new lock cylinder tumbler went in, followed by a key warning buzzer switch. The new turn signal switch and the wiring made it's way into the column and, once secured, I screwed in the turn signal crossover arm, making sure everything was generously greased.

Here are a few photos of the steering column rebuild/restoration, so far. And even though I just ordered a couple additional new pieces, I am getting closer and closer to being done with this project.

 The  turn signal crossover/actuator arm (part #7827038) fits many GM vehicles, including 1977-1982 Corvettes.

I decided to eliminate the high/low-beam feature in order to make my life easier. To do this, I simply wired the turn signal base shut. The two pictures below show how the crossover arm connects to the turn signal lever base.

Also, after cleaning the whole assembly, I greased the pre-load spring and channel to ensure smooth, trouble-free operation.

And this is how the turn signal lever base attaches to the lock housing cover. I removed it in order to clean it properly and also eliminate the high/low beam feature. It is held in place by a pin (red arrows), so I used a small punch to drive it out.

The first order of business, once the turn signal lever base was back in place, was to secure the lock housing cover to the column with the three screws (red arrows). I used blue Loctite to make sure they'll stay in place.

I then installed the ignition key switch tumbler making sure it operated smoothly and that it was locked in place. I also ensured that the lock bolt (yellow arrow) extended far enough in order to lock the steering wheel locking plate when the ignition tumbler is in the "off" position.

The ignition key warning buzzer followed (blue arrow). All you need to do is push this switch into the hole until it bottoms out. A pre-load spring holds it in place.

The turn signal switch was next. You need to feed the wires through the steering column covers and then position the assembly in place. It is secured by three screws (red arrows). You will need to rotate the switch in order to reach one of the screw holes.

I then installed and screwed in place the crossover arm (red arrow), testing the assembly to ensure everything operated properly. If you have a turn signal lever, you can install it in order to test your work. I do not have one yet, so I manually rotated the switch.

The turn signal lever snaps in place. Notice the notch and pin.

You can also install the hazard lights switch, which includes the release button, spring, on/off button and screw. These hazard buttons are the same on many GM models, so you do not need to search for a Corvette-specific part.

This photo shows the lock housing, ignition switch cylinder tumbler, turn signal and hazard lights switch in place.

A new upper-bearing spring, the turn signal cancelling cam/horn contact and steering wheel locking plate were next. For this operation you need a special tool to compress the spring. You can buy these online or from your local auto parts store.

Once the C-clip is secured in place, you can remove the lock plate compressor tool and test the lock bolt (red arrows).

You can then install the horn contact retainer, which is a press fit.

Steering shafts and hubs have factory alignment marks that help position the steering wheel. Mine were gone since previous owners hit the stub shaft for reasons unknown. This not only damaged the threads and the telescoping action, it also erased the alignment notch.

I was fortunate to find traces of the alignment mark on the hub, and I used a small chisel to imprint that one, but the telescope shaft mark was completely gone. But this is what I did in order to chisel a new one on the shaft.

I used the turn signal cancelling cam to determine the approximate center. I rotated the switch to the left and found the spot where the cancelling cam for that side would cancel the turning signal as the steering wheel rotates. I then repeated the same operation for the right side. I did this twice in order to make sure it was positioned correctly and the position of the steering wheel lock plate confirms my theory.

Once I determined that the steering shaft was centered, I chiseled a fresh mark at twelve o'clock (red arrow).

I am very pleased with the way my 1978 Corvette steering column rebuild is coming along, so I went ahead and ordered a new ignition switch and a new turn signal lever, which should arrive in approximately a week, at which point I should be ready to start planning the actual steering column swap.

And yes, the turn signal lever comes with a cruise control switch, since that feature was available in 1978-and-later models. My '76 does not have cruise control and I'm not sure that's something I want to spend money on. Having said that, I may keep the wiring, just in case.

Stay tuned for part Eight, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Grant 791 Flat-Dish Steering Wheel for C3 Corvettes

Moving the steering wheel away from the driver, is one thing 1968-1976 C3 Corvette owners can benefit from. C3s have small cabins and many owners complain about the lack of comfort when driving their Shark.

Even though Vettes with tilt and telescoping (T&T) steering columns are a little more user-friendly than fixed-column units, the problem is usually compounded by steering wheel size and dish depth.

The steering wheel aftermarket is huge, and there are many beautiful options available to the C3 Corvette owner... as long as it's not a 1976 Vette. Having said that, I own a '76 Stingray with a T&T steering column, but I got rid of the infamous "Vega" steering wheel and replaced it with an OEM unit that came with a 1978 steering column I purchased to eventually replace mine with. More on that in a bit.

However, the 1977-and-later steering wheels have a deep dish, which puts it closer to the driver, so—in my case—this solution was not ideal, as much as I enjoyed being able to get rid of the Vega-style wheel.

1968 through 1976 steering columns—both standard and T&T—are long and ergonomically wrong. If you are tall, and by tall I mean anything over 5' 9" and/or have long arms, the steering wheel reach is the equivalent of a 1950s car and you'll look like an old person behind the wheel. Not very cool when driving a sports car.

Post-1976 steering columns are—by comparison—about 2 inches shorter. And even though that may not seem like much, it makes a huge difference when sitting in the car. If you have the chance to compare sitting in a 1976-or-older Vette versus sitting in a 1977-and-newer you will see what I am talking about when you grab the steering wheel and get in a driving position.

This side-by-side photo, courtesy of Rick B., clearly shows the length differences between
1976-and-earlier and 1977-and-later steering columns. The latter has to be slightly modified
to fit pre-1977 Vettes.

This is what prompted me to buy a used 1978 Corvette steering column and rebuild it so I can install it (one of these days) in my car. There are a few compromises that I am well aware of, but I address those issues in my 1976 Corvette Steering Column and the "Vega" Wheel series.

Replacing the 1978 Original Equipment Manufacturer (O.E.M.) steering wheel is very easy, and you can opt to use an aftermarket wheel that uses a different style hub. However, keep in mind that by doing so you  may not be able to use the original horn button and the column may no longer have the telescoping feature, so do some research about things like that before purchasing an aftermarket steering wheel.

Removal of the OEM steering wheel is a straight forward process which you must always begin by disconnecting the car battery. From there you can remove the horn button.

The next step is to loosen and remove the three screws that secure the upper horn contact plate, shim and the spacer.

You can then remove the two screws that lock the telescope star nut in place and then remove the star nut, followed by the telescope lever.

Note: I hand-tightened the star nut so the telescope would be held all the way in.
This makes the steering wheel swap more comfortable.

This is the Grant 791 steering wheel I will be using. The bolt pattern as well as the horn contact notches are identical to the factory wheel.

This is one difference that it's worth noting; The bottom spoke on the original steering wheel is spot-welded to the hub, which results in a height difference of approximately 3/32". The spokes on the Grant wheel, on the other hand, are one piece.

My solution to this issue was simple. I located washers that made up the height difference and I used Crazy Glue to hold them together. I also glued them to the back of the Grand steering wheel so they'd stay in place while I attached the wheel to the column.

I also made a template for future reference in case I ever want to fabricate a one-piece spacer.

Here's a side-by-side photo of the Grant and factory steering wheels that show the drastic difference in dish height.

With all the necessary pieces ready to go, the steering wheel swap takes about 20 minutes.

Start by securing the steering wheel to the hub, making sure the extension is properly positioned in order for the telescope lever to work properly.

Next, install the horn spacer and telescope lever, the latter secured by the star nut. Also make sure the telescoping action works smoothly and that the lever locks it in place without going over the extension left-to-right travel limit.

The upper horn contact and shim are next, but make sure the tab makes good contact with the horn brush. When everything is aligned properly, tighten the three screws.

The horn button snaps in place. At this point the job is done.

Make sure steering wheel telescoping works properly by loosening the lever, testing the feature, then locking it in place. Turning left loosens the lock, turning right locks it in place.

And that's it, folks!

The flat dish of the Grant 791 steering wheel moves the unit far enough from the driver to increase comfort considerably. Not as much as using a 1978-or-newer steering column, of course, but this easy swap is an affordable and easy way to improve ergonomics quite a bit.

Thank you for reading.