Being in the business of building classic trucks, if you ask me which is better, a straight axle with power steering or an independent front suspension, I'm going to recommend IFS every time. In my opinion the money spent on an IFS installation is some of the best money you can throw at a truck. I have had several customers who swore by the dropped axle with all the brake and steering upgrades as they were building the truck. Once they started driving it their story changed. Most ended up giving into the independent route. I think it really comes down to how much you're going to drive the truck. Any daily driver I'm putting together is going to have an independent frontend just for drivability. A casual weekend driver could probably put up with the straight axle and the way they drive.
With the 1953-56 Ford trucks, one of the best steering boxes to use, if you gotta have the straight axle, is the power steering box from the 1980-87 Toyota four-wheel-drive pickups. There are two different types available and the one we're using here has four symmetrically square boltholes to mount it. The other model that you don't want is the one with three mounting holes. There is even a manual four-hole steering box from that same Toyota 4x4 that will also work and is an improvement over the stock Ford box, but if you are going to all this trouble in the first place, the power box is the only way to go.
Although the manual box wouldn't need a pump, Mid Fifty suggests that you also get the big nut for the sector shaft as well if you score yours from a local wrecking yard. They will even buy the stock Toyota pitman arm from you for $10. They use them to make the new one used in the kits. There isn't any heating or bending of the arm. They simply drill out the hole for the drag link and TIG weld in a newly machined ball end to accept the stock Ford drag link.
All of the parts to install the Toyota steering box, the power steering hose kit, and tilt steering column came from Mid Fifty F-100 Parts. Some of the parts used in the kit are from Classic Performance Products. Mid Fifty simply puts together everything needed. The only thing that wasn't included in this kit was the power steering pump and mount. Pretty much any pump that is commonly run will work just fine with the Toyota box. I chose a GM canister pump from the early 1970s since it is easy to mount, cheap, and readily available. The power steering hose kit is a CPP kit also. The hoses are very good quality and should last for years.
There is a difference in the size of the return fitting between years. The early boxes from 1979-80 had a return port size of 14mm x 1.5mm. The steering input shaft is different in the 1979-80 boxes, in that the shaft and splines are straight. There is no machined area on the shaft where a locking bolt or pin could reside. The 1980-85 steering boxes, however, have that machined slot on the input shaft and the return port is now 17mm x 1.5mm.
So rather than have the tech phone ringing off the hook over at CPP, they just included the five possible fittings you might need in the kit. The kit includes five male to male fittings: (1) 14mm, (2) 16mm, (1) 17mm, and (1) 18mm.
The swap was pretty easy and straightforward. The disassembly was dirty and nasty, but hey, if you don't get dirty they won't believe you did anything. In this installation, with the small-block Ford that had been previously mounted, there weren't any clearance problems. The Toyota box cleared the engine and the exhaust. Everything bolted right up like it should and made for a nice installation. The only thing I found on my installation was the stock sector shaft hole in the framerail that the instructions said to open up 1⁄8-inch and I found it needed 3⁄8-inch. Other than that it installed like a dream.
The steering column was next and it also was a snap. I bolted the 4½-inch Flaming River steering column drop to the underside of the dash. When I test-fit the CPP steering U-joint onto the shaft of the steering column I saw the shaft needed to be shortened some and the shift lever arm should be changed to the offset one CPP includes in the steering column box. The pictures and text will detail this.
With the steering box and column mounted it's time for the real fun part, which I'll show ya next issue in part 2 of this install where I'll be making the bracket for the power steering pump and installing the hoses, so stay tuned. See ya next month.