Upgrading to a Flaming River tilt-style steering column not only improves your classic’s looks, but, can also give the driver more sitting room.
When the trucks we hold so near and dear to our hearts were new, utility was first and foremost. As a result, hauling was more important than handling. Even when convenience options like power steering, brakes, and automatic transmissions entered the picture, drivability was, well, not at the forefront of the engineer’s minds. Let’s face it, they were trucks after all.
Before any work began, a measurement was taken from the dash to the steering wheel. At 15 ¾ inches, it sticks out there quite a bit.
Now, however, trucks have gone mainstream. They have as many amenities as a Cadillac, and do more than contribute to the American workforce – they now come in hot rodded versions. There is no doubting that classic trucks have gained a huge following. Those once utilitarian workhorses are the latest classics to get bitten by the customization bug. Such is the case with my ’79 Cheyenne C10.
The factory column is retained by a single bolt in the engine bay (left) and also a bracket under the dash held in place with two nuts (right).
A Little Backstory
During the last several months, I have done a few serious modifications to the Cheyenne. As far as interior accouterments, it all started with the Dakota Digital HDX gauge update. Next, I got tired of having to re-situate the Southwest-style blanket I had covering the seat, so I reupholstered the seat with a kit from Classic Industries. But, there is one aspect of the interior that has always made me a little uncomfortable, and with the help of Flaming River, it was an easy fix. I’m talking about the lengthy steering column that all C10 owners have to deal with.
Under the hood, at the firewall, there is also a clamp that needs to be removed. Take the two nuts off, and the lower half is removable.
Yes, I am a large guy, and that doesn’t help. But, even my wife has issues with the column, as it’s too long. For me, even with the seat all the way back, the driving position feels cramped. For her, to move the seat far enough forward so she can reach the brake and throttle pedals, means the steering wheel gets in the way. That prompted a little research into my options.
Under the dash, you’ll find six bolts (The arrows show four, and the others go around the top of the plate). These bolts hold the firewall/steering column plate. Remove the bolts, and the plate separates into two halves for removal. The gasket, however, does not and comes out with the column.
At first, I thought about getting a factory tilt column, but finding one at a salvage yard or even a swap meet is damn near impossible anymore. And, even when I did find one, I wasn’t sure the owner actually wanted to sell it – they were priced to reflect the pride the owner had in his used column.
Next, unplug the connections on the top of the column.
Also, most of the units I found, typically needed some repairs. Let’s face it, those columns have been around the block a few times – literally. I couldn’t justify spending as much money as I needed, just to get a used tilt column that needed rebuilding. What’s more, a factory tilting column isn’t any shorter than the factory non-tilting column.
The Better Option
After some research, I found that Flaming River has released a direct-fit steering column that can help you not only add a tilt function, but also, some room to your truck’s interior – more on that later. What’s more, they have them to fit various applications: tilt or non-tilt, keyed or no key, and even columns for either floor or column-shift vehicles.
Here you can see the plate removed, and the gasket still in place. You can disassemble the column to get the gasket off, or do what I did. I sliced it at the narrowest point. When reinstalled, I simply put a little black silicone in the cut before installing it. I also cleaned and repainted the rusty plate.
Just to make certain to clear the air, I wanted to let you know that all of Flaming River’s products incorporate new parts. You’ll find no rebuilt components as part of the equation. This level of detail ensures the parts they deliver maintain consistent quality standards and durability. Not only are all parts new, but all of those new parts are designed and built right here in the U.S.A.
The Cheyenne has the simple "Non-Resume” type cruise control system. That means the control is a simple momentary switch at the end of the turn signal stalk. Simply remove the stalk from the factory column by taking out the screw and carefully pulling the stalk and the wires out of the column. Since the factory turn signal stalk has wires for the cruise control, a small notch was needed in the Flaming River turn signal switch to make clearance for the wires running down the column. If you don’t make this notch, the wires will eventually get cut. If your column does not use cruise control, or you’re using the Flaming River turn signal stalk, this notch is not required.
Although not incorporated in this install, Flaming River also has a custom manufacturing program, which might interest you. They can design a column that is collapsible for added safety, in case you get into an accident.
The factory column uses this rubber ring to hide the extra space between the steering column and the dash bezel. The Flaming River column has a slightly smaller diameter and the ring is not a snug fit. That being said, using it still looks better than no ring at all.
I also ordered my column in an unfinished condition. That’s because A: it’s less expensive, and B: although powdercoating is an option, I did not want a shiny steering column. If you have them powdercoat yours, they have a myriad of colors available to complement a vehicle’s particular color scheme.
Installation of the column and hooking it to the steering box was really straightforward. It didn’t require any modifications to the truck. In fact, I had the job done in a single afternoon and only needed basic hand tools. That being said, there are a couple of things I need to let you know about.
To attach the column under the dash, Flaming River has developed the Stramp Clamp (PN: FR20300) that works in conjunction with the factory column cradle. Simply attach it to the column, and then attach the cradle to the clamp using the supplied bolts.
For starters, the Flaming River column comes with both a neutral safety switch and ignition switch installed. That means there is no need to swap them out from the old column or buy new ones. One of the factory connectors to the neutral safety switch was not compatible with the Flaming River switch. That was an easy fix – I’ll show you later in the article.
Before I attached the Stramp Clamp to the column, I connected the column to the intermediate shaft under the hood. This helps locate the column, and with placement of the clamp. You will need to drill the new column shaft for the connecting bolt.
Also, when the key is removed, the factory column makes use of a feature that keeps the steering wheel “locked” in place. This is done by a plate mounted underneath the steering wheel with notches that interlock with a pin when the key is turned to the off position and removed. The Flaming River column does not have this function. That means the steering wheel will turn at all times. Other than those two small differences, this really was an easy install. But, was the work worth the reward?
Here is the neutral safety switch connection I mentioned. The factory connector is flat, while the Flaming River switch needs a 90-degree connector. You can either remove the factory plastic connection housing and just plug the wires into the switch, or cut the factory connector in half and separate the two wires. The other connections are connected as the factory intended.
Before I started removing the old column, I wanted to know if I would actually gain any room in the cab. So, I measured from the steering wheel to the dash. The distance was 15 3/4 inches, and I hoped the new column would cut that down. Luckily, when completed, a quick measurement revealed that the new set up put the steering wheel at 13 inches. That is a significant addition of clearance. Immediately upon going for the test ride, I felt the difference was definitely worth the effort.
Flaming River has a large selection of steering wheels, so the choice is yours. The finished install shows how well it all looks, and the tape measure proves that interior room for the driver has substantially increased.
Thanks to Flaming River, now, the Cheyenne has a new steering column that is not only tighter and in better shape than the original, but it also gives me more room, adds the tilt function, and allows the misses to slide the seat far enough ahead when she takes it for a drive. A definite upgrade indeed.