When the pony cars entered the automotive world, it was a good day. These cars were lighter, smaller, and much more nimble than the typical tuna boat offerings; and though you couldn’t fit as much in the trunk or as many people in the back seat, they still had the option for V8 power. The pony car wars brought us cars like the Mustang, Barracuda, Firebird, and Camaro.
However great these cars were, there was one other component that carried over from their bigger siblings: the steering system. These cars had the large, heavy steering box that the full-size cars used, and while it was okay for the bigger cars with the one-finger steering, it was a bit too much for a performance car like the Firebird and Camaro. The steering in early musclecars wasn’t set up for performance – they were set up for full-size family sedans.
Borgeson Universal has made it their passion to steer us forward, and we’ve previously upgraded a road racing Mopar with a new, lighter power steering gear, and a first generation Mustang with a power steering conversion that brought the steering systems in those cars into the 21st century. This time, we wanted to see what Borgeson had for the first gen F-body cars, particularly a 1967 Firebird with a BBC for motivation.
This Firebird is a full frame up restoration that received many new and many rebuilt components, bringing this F-body back to its original looks and configuration – save for the BBC replacing the Pontiac mill. The suspension and steering utilized new components, too, but when it came to the steering box there was only one choice: a rebuilt, 45+ year-old power steering unit.
We asked the owner, Ed Stutler, what he thought of the steering box he had in the car. Since it was a fresh build from the ground up, he was happy with what he had. When we first approached him with the Borgeson power steering box upgrade, his first question was, “How is it any better than what I have now?” It was a valid question; after all, he had just installed a fresh rebuild that wasn’t giving him any problems at all.
We asked if he would be interested in trying this new steering box out, and if he didn’t like it we would help him pull it out and reinstall his original steering box. The only thing he had to lose was a few hours labor and a few bucks for power steering fluid. He has a lift in his back yard, and a plethora of shop tools, so getting the car in the air and making the swap wasn’t going to be a difficult process.
Don’t Judge This Book By Its Cover
The Borgeson Saginaw/Delphi 700 Series steering box, which can be ordered from Borgeson (p/n 800205) or JEGS (p/n 153-800205), is a variable ratio remanufactured steering box that shares the same dimensions as the original steering box. Though the outside dimensions are identical and it uses a similar box as the the original, it’s what is inside that makes the difference. The steering ratio, which is 16:1 at the center vs. 13:1 past-center steering, provides a better, firmer feel for normal, everyday driving without giving up the turning radius.
Stutler is an old school, retired hot rodder who loves classic cars and has a few that he’s rebuilt and customized. When he grew up, driving a car with disc brakes was for the rich – for people who had expensive cars, not people who drove the typical daily commuter car. He would say things like, “In the 1960s nobody had four wheel disc brakes or performance steering boxes, why do we need them now?”
Granted, cars were much more basic back then, and the reason nobody needed all these modern amenities was two-fold. First, they weren’t available; and second, in the 1960s we didn’t have compact sports cars that raced all over the road. With so many cars on the road today that are more nimble, brake quicker, and drive closer than they did in the 1960s, having some upgrades on a classic isn’t just a good idea – it’s practically a necessity.
While Stutler opted for keeping the car fairly original, he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the upgrade. After all, how do you explain that a “quicker center ratio” is going to be better than his standard box? For that, we turned our attention to Jeff Grantmeyer at Borgeson.
“A lot of what we do revolves around sourcing the right parts and creating something better than what they had before,” said Grantmeyer. “The 700 series gear boxes have been going through refinements over the years, so they are better than the original. We take it further and firm up the steering so there aren’t any more oversteering issues, like when looking over your shoulder to change lanes.”
With early boxes and the one-finger steering, it was common for the car to drift a little into the next lane as the driver looked over their shoulder. But the 16:1 center steering is less sensitive to movement as it is near lock, and helps to keep the car straight instead of wandering all over the lane, as was so typical in the 1960s.
A lot of what we do revolves around sourcing the right parts and creating something better than what they had before. -Jeff Grantmeyer
The newer box is used as a starting point, and while Borgeson doesn’t make the boxes they do a bit of machine work to upgrade the newer boxes to work in classic musclecars. “We use steering box witchcraft to make the best steering box possible,” Grantmeyer said jokingly.
He shared that there is some work they do that would be difficult for many rebuilders to duplicate; not because it’s impossible, but because it involves a lot of knowledge, research, and engineering that goes into their steering boxes. As the refinements continue, so does the research for Borgeson, and that helps them to build a better steering box.
Easy Installation Process
Because the Borgeson steering box is a rebuild on the same housing as the original, there was only one additional part that we needed with the installation. Borgeson included a new rag joint to attach the factory column to the input shaft on the Borgeson unit.
The 1979 and later vehicles had a 3/4-inch input shaft, so the new rag joint was included to replace the early one. There were also a pair of inserts to convert to inverted flare from an O-ring for the pressure and return hose configurations.
After removing the left front tire/wheel for easier access, the vehicle was supported so we could remove the pitman arm from the steering box. The pitman arm is reused on the new box, so it’s a good time to check and make sure the ball joint for the drag link is good at this time.
We also removed the two lines from the box housing, making sure to wrap up the ends and keep them higher so that all of the fluid doesn’t drain from the reservoir. This job will be a little messy unless you completely drain all power steering fluid from the system. Even then, you can almost expect to get some residual dripping during box removal.
We had our car on a lift and that made it far easier to remove the old box and install the new one, but it’s not the only way to replace the box. Raising the car up high enough to crawl under – while supporting the vehicle on jack stands – will provide plenty of working space.
It’s also helpful to loosen the steering column mounting bolts and to pull the column back a little. Before the bolts are loosened, be sure to mark where the column retainer is on the column with painter’s tape or a marker so it can be returned back to the same or similar location.
Borgeson provides a new rag joint for the early cars because the input shaft on the later boxes that they use is a little larger, and the original won’t fit the input shaft. We installed the rag joint on the new steering box before installing it; it is easier to install it properly and to tighten the Allen bolt and nut on the bench. As you can guess, working space in the engine compartment is limited.
After we installed the box and tightened the mounting bolts, we reattached the column to the rag joint, secured the column mounting bolts, and then reattached the pitman arm. Special care had to be taken to make sure that the steering was centered when the old box was removed, and the new box was centered as well.
The pitman arm could be bolted into place in the same/similar location and then the pressure and return lines were reattached. With the column slid back into place and tightened, it was ready for filling the reservoir.
Topping Off The System And Final Impressions
We recommend using a quality power steering fluid such as Lucas Power Steering Fluid with Conditioners. There is a common saying that you get what you pay for and we have found the Lucas fluid to have a higher boiling point and to resist foaming when hot. When you spend money on a new Borgeson steering box, it doesn’t make sense to buy generic steering fluid just to save a buck or two.
There is a procedure for circulating the fluid in the new steering box, and it should be followed before you start the car and drive away. With both front tires in the air, add fluid to the reservoir and turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock a couple of times and add fluid as necessary. Once this initial procedure is completed, start the engine and repeat the procedure, standing by with fresh fluid to add to the reservoir. If the pump starts making a lot of noise, it could be low on fluid – the box needs to fill up and it’s not good on the pump to run it for very long when the level is low, so make sure to add it to the reservoir as needed.
After a few lock-to-lock turns, the fluid level should remain constant and you’re ready for the next process: checking your alignment. At first thought, only the steering box was replaced and the alignment should be fine, and usually it is. But whenever any steering component is replaced, it is recommended to have the alignment checked to make sure that nothing has shifted or moved.
So how did our skeptical old-timer feel about the new Borgeson steering box? We waited for him to take a trip with the new box installed and wondered ourselves, but the report came back that he was glad he switched to the Borgeson unit, and his old one will be put up on the shelf, or sold to another enthusiast. He noticed that the steering was firmer than before, and that it was easier to keep the vehicle straight and in his own lane.
“When you first asked me if I would put this in my car I was just willing to help you out,” Stutler told us. “I figured after we were done if I didn’t like it I’d just put my other one back in. You said I would be able to tell the difference and I thought you were full of hot air, but it’s a lot better than the other one I had.” We couldn’t pry the new Borgeson unit away from him if we tried.
The turning radius wasn’t lost, and the one-finger steering method requires a little more effort, but overall it’s a good upgrade that has Stutler’s skepticism quelled. It makes driving the car a bit more fun and stable, and we could tell that he really liked the new Borgeson steering box upgrade – mission accomplished!
Borgeson has several conversions for all major American manufacturers, as well as upgrades for steering boxes and pumps. They also have a full line of universal joints for difficult steering solutions, and with their decades of experience and knowledge they will help steer you in the right direction. Check out the Borgeson Universal website and click the links for your vehicle to see all that they have to offer.