The steering system in a classic truck is one that can oftentimes leave something to be desired when compared to those of contemporary automobiles. And those trucks equipped with a huge steering wheel on a rather flat plane similar to that of a bus hooked to a worn original box and tie-rod ends can only further that desire to upgrade to something a little less archaic. Enter today's aftermarket industry and the plethora of options available that provide everything from the mundane to the insane. From stock style, no frills, straight, plain steel, to polished billet aluminum telescopic, tilt columns with automatic shifters, turn signals, and a complete wiring harness, the sky's the limit when it comes to retrofitting that old hauler with an upgraded steering column and associated components.
The stock steering system on many old Fords is one of those that falls under the "room for improvement" category, especially when other suspension upgrades have been made. Obviously, if a Mustang II front suspension setup has replaced that straight-axle design, it probably included a contemporary rack-and-pinion setup, as well. If this is the case, you have two options: modifying that original column to accept modern universal joints or replacing it completely. We recently went through such a predicament with our project F-1 and turned to the gang over at Flaming River Industries to get our project pointed in the right direction.
While our requirements were fairly simple compared to some more radical applications, we did have a few stipulations for the Flaming River crew. First off, since we're building our F-1 with a "traditional" mindset, we wanted the majority of components to appear as close to stock as possible. Obviously, with the installation of a Mustang II IFS and the prerequisite universal joints that accompany a rack-and-pinion steering system, there were consolations to be made. But when it came down to choosing a steering column, we wanted it to appear as original as possible while still embracing some of the more "creature comfort" features that a modern, aftermarket steering column can provide.
That said, they directed us to their Nostalgia line of steering columns. These feature a classic bell-style column that is almost identical to the stock Ford unit with the convenience of a built-in, modern GM turn signal, hazard, and horn setup. Further investigation revealed that the Flaming River crew was working on a telescopic unit that featured a full 2 inches of adjustability without the bulkiness of some telescopic units. Given the rather limited adjustability of the stock F-1 bench seat, this sounded like a sensible option if our wives or girlfriends ever wanted to hop in the driver's seat and head to the grocery store. The telescopic ability also facilitates changing steering wheels with varying degrees of dish and still maintaining a comfortable driving position. After taking a few measurements of the stock F-1 column and cab, we gave Flaming River a jingle and had them whittle out a polished stainless steel unit for the old truck.
With the column sorted, our conversation turned (no pun intended) to mating the column's 1-inch DD shaft to the rack-and-pinion's 3/4-inch by 36-spline output shaft. They recommended using a three U-joint system to alleviate any drastic steering angles, resulting in a steering system that would be absent of any bind and would allow it to collapse in the event of a frontend collision. Of course, that would necessitate adding a support bearing somewhere in the system to prevent the shafts from binding as well as keep it solidly mounted; a simple addition that is mounted off a custom-made bracket.
We started out with a 30-inch Telescopic Nostalgia column mounted off a 2 1/2-inch column drop and bolted it to the dash in the stock location. The toeboard on our F-1 was a bit worse for wear, and after our pedals were installed, we welded up a new plate to clean up the floor. A 2-inch hole was cut in the new toeboard for the column to slip through, and with the new column in place, we were off and running.
Here's our Telescopic Nostalgia...
Here's our Telescopic Nostalgia column and drop from Flaming River we'll be using for the install. Note the similarity between it and the stock F-1 truck column above it. The stock column is longer since it bolted directly to the stock steering box on the framerail; the new column will connect to a universal joint on the engine side of the firewall.
We bolted the stock column...
We bolted the stock column in place and used it to mark the location for the exit hole in the toeboard. A 2-inch holesaw was used to cut the opening that the new steering column will pass through.
With the column drop and a...
With the column drop and a mock-up steering wheel bolted up, the assembly was then slid into place.