If you’ve followed the trends in Pro-Touring, autocross, or even custom builds for the early Mustang, you’ve likely seen the many suspension, brake, and handling upgrades that are available. As much as we like those suspension upgrades, many of them require a complete transformation of the Mustang’s front suspension, which includes rack and pinion steering. It’s a great improvement, but not always in everyone’s budget.
For those who upgrade with an OE-style suspension using new control arms and sway bars, one component is left out of date: the steering. For those who want a better power steering feel, or to upgrade from manual to power steering system, Borgeson Universal Company has an upgrade kit that bolts directly into classic Mustangs.
The kit takes modern steering technology and applies it to the early pony cars without replacing other suspension components, whether they are stock or OE-style upgrades. The kit is designed to utilize the factory pitman arm, even when converting from manual to power steering.
For our conversion we started with a 1966 Mustang Fastback with manual steering. While the process is a little bit involved the entire job can be done in about a weekend with moderate mechanical skills.
Manual To Power Steering Conversion Kit
The conversion kit we installed from Borgeson included mostly everything needed to convert to power steering. Borgeson also provides any additional components necessary to complete the upgrade. Since our Mustang had a manual transmission, the factory clutch Z-bar needed to be replaced with one that would clear the new steering box, and that is also available directly from the Borgeson web site.
The only additional components needed for the conversion were the two drive pulleys (both double-groove) and a new V-belt for the system. These are available at any local auto parts store; the pulleys can be purchased ahead of time, but the belt should be purchased after installation to ensure the proper length.
Upgrading from factory power steering to a modern power steering box is also possible without replacing the factory pump. It will work with the new steering gear, but if it hasn’t been rebuilt a new pump is available from Borgeson and will bolt in the stock location. The new pump is available for both inline six cylinder engines or V8 engines with the proper bracket and hardware.
Due to the difference in sizes and the location of the input shaft on the new gear box, a new steering shaft is included in the kit as well as a rag joint coupling. The column housing has to be modified and a new column bracket and seal are also included.
The steering box itself is a brand new, modern unit that provides a firm, yet responsive power steering feel. For manual steering cars, the conversion does away with fighting the wheel when parallel parking or getting into tight spaces.
For original power steering cars, gone is the light “one-finger steering”; this upgrade provides a modern system with the better feedback and road feel, leaving you more in control of your steering.
The steering box is modified to fit the Mustang; a mounting bracket is welded to the housing and the pitman shaft is machined and re-splined to fit the factory pitman arm. Although it’s slightly larger than the factory manual box, the 16:1 ratio and performance feel are worth it.
Borgeson’s Sales Manager, Jeff Grantmeyer, has explained before that the problem with rebuilding old steering boxes is that you still have an old box with old technology. Grantmeyer said, “Early boxes went too far, and they’ve been dialing them back ever since.”
Installing Steering Confidence
Our 1966 Mustang has had a lot of work done recently, including a freshly rebuilt engine. With the many other upgrades this pony car received, the manual steering was outdated and for this car to be a driver it needed more modern upgrades.
The control valves in the original boxes didn’t care whether the input came from the driver or grooves in the road. -Jeff Grantmeyer
“The biggest advantage of the new box is the road feel,” Grantmeyer said. “The control valves in the original boxes didn’t care whether the input came from the driver or grooves in the road. That’s what gave that floating feeling when driving down the road, the new boxes do away with the control valves for a better road feel with input only coming from the driver.”
The first step was to remove the original gearbox and replace it with the new one. This required the most effort and although we had a lift at our disposal, this conversion can be done in the driveway or garage with the car on jack stands.
If you’re restoring your Mustang and have the engine and transmission out of the car, this is the best time to perform this part of the upgrade. However, it is not mandatory and with a little bit of patience and effort the upgrade can be done with the engine installed.
For those who aren’t familiar with the first gen Mustang steering system, the steering shaft is a permanent part of the manual steering box. With the engine installed, the steering shaft needs to be cut away from the steering box, but before any cutting can be done there are a couple of steps that need to be taken.
After removing the steering wheel, we measured the distance from the face of the column housing to the end of the steering shaft and recorded it. This is an important step because the column housing will need to be cut down in order to complete this conversion.
With our measurements recorded, we first unplugged the signal/horn wiring harness from the underside of the dash. We unbolted the column bracket from the lower dash and removed the locking ring on the steering shaft so we could remove the column housing.
The column housing needed to be pulled out–with a foot on the floorboard and a swift pull the column released from the car and left us with the steering shaft attached to the original gearbox. If your signal cam is damaged or broken, this is a great time to replace it with the column removed.
Under the car, the factory box won’t come out with the shaft still attached, so it needs to be cut off with a sawsall or cutoff wheel. The sawsall worked well for us, and since we replaced the entire unit the factory gear and shaft can simply be discarded.
The clutch linkage was removed next. It needed to be replaced because of the interference with the new steering box and shaft. The steering gear can be snaked out around the exhaust with some patience, but we found that it was required to unbolt the header to give us additional room.
We bolted the new power steering gear to the chassis, leaving it slightly loose so we could line it up with the hole in the firewall for the steering column. A rag joint coupler is supplied to connect the new steering shaft and once it was attached to the input shaft we began to go to work on the column housing.
We left the pitman arm attached to the gear so we could remove it with a pitman arm puller, it was too difficult to remove while installed, and much easier to do so on a workbench.
With everything aligned, we tightened the bolts down and secured the gear, and installed the new Z-bar clutch linkage to the car in the factory location. The header was bolted back to the engine and the pitman arm was secured to the new box, making sure that it was clocked in the same spot as when it was removed. We made sure both the original and the new gear box were at the mid-point through the steering so the pitman arm would be in the same place when reinstalled.
The input shaft on the new gear is closer to the firewall, so we had to cut off a couple of inches from the column housing at the bottom end. Using the measurements from the original shaft and column, we took measurements with the new shaft installed and marked the end of the column where we had to shorten it.
Again, we wanted the shaft to have the same distance from the face of the column (at the top) as it did before, so a cutting wheel was used to remove a couple of inches. A new rubber cap is provided for the cut end of the column, and it is held in place with two sheet metal screws supplied by Borgeson.
A new plate that mounts to the firewall from inside of the car will hold the column in place. A worm clamp helps to keep the column secure to the new bracket. The column shaft is inserted into the rag joint. The housing is then slipped over the shaft and secured to the new column bracket. We reattached the column support bracket and installed the lock ring on the shaft, and the steering wheel was reinstalled.
New Steering Pump And Pulleys
The new pump mounts directly to the bosses in the cylinder head. By using the provided spacers we were able to attach it without modifying or moving any other components. A slight bend in the fuel line helped to clear the pump and bracket, but other than that everything lined up.
We discovered that Ford had different pulley sizes depending on the accessories (power steering, air conditioning), and new crankshaft and water pump pulleys were needed. The required double-groove pulleys change in diameter; the required double-groove crankshaft pulley is larger than the single-groove pulley. The water pump pulley will also need to be replaced with a double-groove pulley, which is smaller in diameter than the single-groove.
Both pulleys are required to drive the power steering pump. If visiting a salvage yard is too much of a hassle, then you can usually get these new chrome pulleys from a local auto parts store, or you can order them online through the Spectre Performance website. We were in the process of doing an engine clean up project, so the timing was perfect for us to install the new pulleys.
The other component that isn’t included is the drive belt – again, something that can be purchased at a local auto parts store. Grantmeyer said that it’s easier to measure for the belt after the installation than to guess beforehand, so it seemed better to not include a drive belt in the kit since there are no guarantees that the belt will be the correct length.
The two hoses needed for the kit, the high pressure hose and the return hose, are also included and were connected next, and fluid was added to the reservoir.It is recommended to raise the vehicle, add fluid to the reservoir, and turn the wheels lock-to-lock a few times, adding more fluid as needed before starting the car.
With the car idling, continue to turn the wheels lock-to-lock and add fluid until the system is full. Grantmeyer recommends using a good quality conventional power steering fluid.
Unfortunately, the Mustang isn’t completed, and before we go on any test drives the rest of the steering linkages need to be replaced. Because we replaced the steering gear, a front end alignment is recommended, regardless of the condition of the rest of the steering links. Anytime one component in the steering or front suspension is replaced it’s a good idea to check the alignment. You never know how much things can change once you start unbolting parts.
If you’ve been thinking about converting to power steering, or simply upgrading to a modern power steering system in your classic car, be sure to check out the Borgeson Universal website for your application. They have dozens of upgrades available and all the right information to get you steered in the right direction. Grantmeyer said they are constantly keeping up with customer requests and are always looking into upgrades for classic cars.