Steering

The steering system received a complete overhaul. Every part that wasn’t replaced was rebuilt. Since 1988, the steering column was a GM unit that had been modified to accept a universal joint on the bottom and a quick-release stub on the top. This helped to retain the look of being as “factory” as possible. The old column ran its course, and it was high-time to switch to a safer, collapsible racing steering column that wasn’t as bulky or heavy. To start, they had to get a steering column that was the proper length. The overall length of the old column and steering shaft assembly was 60 inches. The length of the steering column by itself was 36 inches. This gave them the measurement to order the proper length column. The guys chose a safer steering column and steering hub from Sweet Manufacturing to replace the old GM steering- column setup. The quick-release hub was adapted to the mid-’70s Olds Cutlass Supreme steering wheel Big Red has been using since 1988. The collapsible steering shaft is much safer than the old factory column, and is a welcomed upgrade. The old Stiletto steering rack had been in service since the beginning. The mount was simple, but effective. No parts will go back on Big Red unless they’ve been rebuilt, replaced, or meticulously inspected. The company doesn’t offer this steering unit any longer, so it was sent to its new parent company, Chassis

Shop, for a complete rebuild. This particular model is no longer in production, so replacement wasn’t an option. It didn’t seem to need a rebuild, but it was time to get it checked. It came back with a great bill of health. The repair document stated, “It was in excellent condition mechanically” and “the rack and pinion showed NO wear.” They performed some upgrades along with the standard service. The Big Red team was excited to know that the rack was in great shape. It meant that there wouldn’t be a bunch of fab work to install something else in its place. After years of service, it was time to replace the old block-and-pin steering U-joints with new roller bearing units from Chassis Shop. Unfortunately, the new ones are a little larger diameter. This threw a wrench — actually a grinder — into their plans. The frame had to be clearanced for the new U-joint. Then Dave welded a new plug in the frame and the guys touched up the powdercoating with paint. The upper steering joint at the column also was replaced with a new unit from Sweet Manufacturing. When he was swapping the old GM column with the new Sweet Manufacturing column, Tim had to fabricate an all-new steering mount and hang it off the cage bar behind the dashboard. To give the new Sweet column a factory look, Dave went the extra mile and fabricated a column cover out of aluminum.

He used two different diameter pieces of tubing and performed his metalworking magic to make a smooth transition between the two. Tim painted the cover black to mimic the factory column and match the dash, and installed it over the column. To weld the new roller bearing steering joint to the steering shaft, Dave used an old trick to keep from overheating the joint and all the grease in the bearings. He submerged the steering joint in a cool-water bath and proceeded to weld the joint and shaft together. The result was a weld with great penetration, and the joint didn’t get overheated.

From the back, the factory firewall is still visible. Big Red is a race car, but it’s still as much a ’69 Camaro as possible. The new column goes right through the firewall at the same angle and location as the stock column. Dave welded a new reinforcement plate to the face of the firewall so the lower steering column bearing could be solidly mounted. Once the steering rack was mounted and the lower steering column bearing was installed in the firewall, Dave could finish the steering shaft. He already welded the joint to the lower end of the shaft; the next job was installing the

upper steering joint. Measure twice and cut once. He used the same cooling bath technique to weld the joint to the top of the shaft then bolted the assembly to the bottom of the steering column. When RJ stopped by the shop, Dave and Tim had him get in the car so they could adjust the steering column length to fit him perfectly. The beauty of the Sweet column is its adjustability. If RJ prefers to have the steering wheel closer at Pikes Peak, but further away at Mojave, the new steering column will allow those changes