Wednesday, August 3, 2016

1976 Corvette Steering Column and the "Vega" Wheel
Part Ten (Final Chapter)

Thankfully, the light at the end of this tunnel was not an incoming train, and this is the last and final installment of my 1976 Corvette Steering Column and the "Vega" Wheel series of how-to articles, where I share how I rebuilt a 1978 Corvette steering column I found on Craigslist, mods I made, which parts I replaced, and the actual swap.

The project was actually started in December of 2015, when I spotted a 1978 Corvette steering column listed on Craigslist, for which I ended paying $65. Needless to say, the unit needed a LOT of work and many parts, as it had not been treated kindly by the previous owner(s). The first installment of the series was posted on Friday, January 1st of this year.

Incidentally, at the end of each installment, I've provided a direct link to the next chapter for those readers who want to easily follow the 10-chapter series.

Anyway, after removing the original '76 steering column as chronicled in Part Nine, I decided to take advantage of the momentum and install the '78 column once and for all.

Working alone in a Central Florida garage that reaches temps close to 100° made this task the more challenging. Installation of the '78 column is pretty much the reverse of removing the original '76 unit, but as it usually happens, little problems come up to the surface at the last minute.

The first one was that the "harmonica" male connector from the aftermarket replacement turn signal switch I used for my '78 column rebuild, did not fit the female connector on the car. It was close, but not 100%. And even though I tried to modify it by trimming a few areas, it simply would not plug in right.

My solution was to remove all terminals from each connector and swap them. But in order to accomplish this, I had to make my own "tool," which I made from a scrap of copper wire. Sometimes it pays to save odd pieces such as old construction wire.

I flattened then filed the wire so it would fit inside the plug channel into which the terminal clips in. The purpose of the wire is to push the tab of the terminal, which clips and holds it in place inside the connector.

I then installed the terminals from the new turn signal switch into the corresponding channel of the original "harmonica" connector, making sure they were securely in place.

With that issue out of the way, I was able to plug in the necessary ignition switch and turn signal connectors.

I then reinstalled the a/c crossover duct followed by the steering column itself, which I bolted under the dash. In order for the dash trim piece to fit snugly, I will drill a small hole for one of the trim screws. For the time being it's just held by the two lower trim screws, hence the big gap as shown below.

I am happy to say that trimming the '78 column lower cover to 2 inches proved to be the perfect choice, as everything lines up beautifully.

Under the hood, the steering gear/rag joint flange lined up perfectly and it's now secured in place by new Grade 8 lock-washers and nuts. I also tightened the 7/16 twelve-point star bolt.

Applying Loctite Extend Rust Neutralizer on parts that have surface rust, does a very good job of taking care of the problem as well as the unsightly rusty finish. However, I wish I had a bead blasting cabinet in my garage, as that would've allowed me to make some of these parts look new again.

There was one remaining item under the hood that kept me from being done with this job, and that was the firewall column plate, which I was having powdercoated. But while I waited, I took the opportunity to remove the ignition key lock cable from under the car, since it was just hanging there. Since the transmission is at the shop having gaskets and seals replaced, removing the cable was a piece of cake.

Above: Before powder coating.

Above: After powder coating.

The firewall plate secures the column in place at the firewall, and even though no one will ever see it, it will protect the flange from rust thanks to the powder coating.

Above: View from the engine bay.

Above: View from the inside with new Grade 8 hardware.

Since a lot of the wiring is currently disconnected while the engine is out of the car and the battery is dead, there's no way for me to test how the electrical portion of the steering column works, so the trial by fire will be when the shop installs the engine and tranny. Fingers crossed that everything works as intended.

Installing the steering wheel presents its own challenges. There are many pieces that must be installed in sequence for everything to operate as intended by the engineers who designed the steering column.

Another thing I discovered at the last minute, is that there's supposed to be a rubber "bump stop" spacer on the telescope shaft, between the hub and the horn contact retainer. This spacer was missing on my '78 column, and that explains why the turn signal/tilt housing had a groove in it, caused by the telescope cover rubbing on it. The red arrow (photo below), points to the area that was gouged.

Above: The steering column was quite tired when I first got it, as the photo above shows.
And the rotating housing gouged the lower housing because of the missing spacer.

As I reinstalled the steering wheel (the first time), I realized that would pose a problem so I checked the original steering column, and sure enough, there's a rubber spacer, which is nothing more than a piece of hose that slides over the telescope shaft, and about 3/4 inch tall. I failed to take a photo so I apologize for that.

After installing it, I tested the telescopic function cover by pushing the telescope all the way in, and the spacer provides a small gap of about 1/8 of an inch, which prevents gouging.

Once that was taken care of, and the steering wheel was in place, I installed the horn spring, followed by the pin (red arrow, 2nd photo) and plastic retainer (black arrow, 2nd photo).

Getting the pin and retainer in place can be a little tricky, so I positioned the pin and retainer on the spring with the little tab aligned with the channel (red arrow below), and pushed it in place with a small flat screwdriver. I then used a 90° pick to rotate the retainer so it would lock. It takes time and patience. Once in place, I installed the safety snap ring. (blue arrow below).

The next step is to install the horn spacer (gold ring with three prongs, photo below), and the telescopic lever, followed by the star screw and the two small locking screws (red arrows)—making sure it stops the telescoping action when turned to the right—before the stop tab (blue arrow) touches the steering wheel spoke.

And the process, at this point, gets a bit more challenging, Maybe there's an easier or simpler way to install the horn contact and shims, but I have yet to figure that one out, so I improvised as I'm usually forced to do.

I positioned the horn contact in place, making sure the contact tab (red arrow below) was lined up with the horn pin (blue arrow). I inserted two awls to align the horn contact screw holes with the base, and installed the screw closest to the contact tab, so the tab and pin would remain in contact, followed by the other two.

I tested the movement of the horn contact and everything seems to be positioned correctly. I sure hope it is. I then installed the horn button.

So here's the end product. And even though I used the factory 1978 steering wheel instead of the flat dish aftermarket wheel I was using with the original column, the reach is so much better and comfortable than with the '76 factory setup.

At some point in the future I may have the steering wheel professionally recovered, or I may just buy a new one. But for now, this one will work just fine.

So that's it folks! It's been an interesting project but I am glad I did it, as the driver comfort benefits are huge, plus I also feel that this modification has brought my car into the 21st century.

Thank you for following my 1976 Corvette restomodding adventures.