Thursday, July 28, 2016

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

I've been dragging my feet and—even though the 1978 OEM column I rebuilt has been done for a while—avoiding going through with the actual swap. But now that my car's motor is being rebuilt and I am done detailing the firewall and engine bay, the perfect time to start the swap has presented itself.

I started by reading one of the excellent Corvette steering column tutorials published by Jim Shea, which provided step-by-step instructions that allowed me to remove my car's column all by myself, in approximately an hour-and-a-half. It is safe to say that, with the engine in the car, the process would've taken at least an additional hour.


THE STEERING COLUMN REMOVAL PROCESS

The first thing I did was to remove the steering wheel and the plastic column cover under the dash. I also loosened the two bolts that secure the column to the dash, but as Shea recommends, I left everything in place.



I then removed the two nuts that secure the lower column plate to the firewall, but first I disconnected the key-release lever, which I will eliminate since the 1978 column I will be using has its own key-release mechanism.

The only drawback is that this will also eliminate the safety feature that the car has to be in reverse for the key to be removed. But sometimes you just have to compromise.

Above: Arrow points to reverse gear/key-release safety mechanism, which I eliminated.
The carriage bolt on the plate right above the lever can be removed, and I will replace it
with a stainless steel bolt I purchased at ACE Hardware.

Above: View of the lower column plate from the inside. Arrows indicate bolt openings
that secure the plates to the firewall. The one on the right side is a carriage bolt that I
removed and will replace. The one on the left is spot welded to the plate.

Next, I removed the two nuts and lock washers that connect the steering gear coupling to the column flange.


I then removed the a/c crossover duct under the steering column, removed the two vertical bolts and allowed the column to rest on the seat. Note that the a/c duct is secured by one sheetmetal screw that also needs to come out.

As a side comment, the observant reader will also notice a Bubba electrical connector courtesy of one of the previous owners. I will have to do a little bit of detective work to determine the purpose of that ground, which I am thinking must have been related to the aftermarket alarm system the second owner of the car installed.


Above: This sheet metal screw (arrow)  has to come off to remove the crossover duct.


Once the steering column is loose, you can disconnect the electrical connectors from the column ignition switch. I had a hard time getting them to come off and wasted about 10 minutes on them until they finally released.

I also disconnected the turn signal “harmonica” connector from the harness since my rebuilt column has its own, of course.



At this point the column can be taken out, but it takes a little bit of trial and error to get it free from the car, as you have to turn it in order to clear the brake pedal while trying to get the steering gear coupling flange through the firewall.

Patience is definitely required for this job, as you don't want to start yanking on things and risk breaking or damaging something.


In order to compare the '76 to the '78 steering column, I laid them side-by-side, and you can see how the newer unit is about 2 inches shorter, which will make a huge difference and improvement as far as ergonomics are concerned.



I will also have the firewall-side, lower column plate powdercoated, for both looks and durability.

Thanks for following this series and stay tuned for Part Ten, which will be the final installment of my C3 Corvette steering column swap articles.