Project Payback: Simple Steering Shaft Install is One Small Step

Life in a pandemic can be complicated. Thankfully installing a steering shaft is not. With idle hands I decided I’d get the factory steering column connected to the brand-new rack and pinion on the Schwartz G Machine chassis underneath Project Payback, our Pro Touring 1968 Pontiac GTO. We’ll have the full chassis and powertrain installation here soon, but in the mean time you can snack on this little appetizer.

Since the steering rack came with a Flaming River U-joint attached, I called up Flaming River for a steering shaft and U-joint to connect to the factory steering column. At first, it was a bit challenging finding the correct diameter and spline count. Apparently they varied even among 1968 A-bodies. After a little trial and error as well as a helpful diagram in a GTO Facebook group, I returned the smaller unit for a 1-inch, 48-spline billet U-joint (PN FR1712DDPL) to connect to an 18-inch Stainless DD 3/4-inch diameter polished steering shaft (PN FR1850SSPL).

“The DD is nice to work with because it is a universal fit,” Jeanette Ladina, President of Flaming River Industries, told me. “Since the DD runs the length of the shaft (two rounds and two flats which have the appearance of two “D’s”), it can be cut to length at any point.  The 36-inch length is very popular as it can be cut into several shafts for one job. It also simplifies the phasing process, which prevents binding.” For those hung up on telescoping shafts, Ladina stated those are more useful for trucking applications or something with plenty of chassis flex. “It smooths out the system with up to 3 inches of telescoping movement, making the steering system less rigid.”

“Flaming River has a number of series of universal joints including the Billet-Joint®, Chromemoly, and the Stainless Steel Series all Made in the USA,” she continued. “The series that works best for a customer varies based on the build, finishes, and angles.  The Billet-Joint® is our most popular series as it is electroless nickel plated with a nice finish right of the package. The stainless steel series is 303 stainless with radiused edges. It can be polished to a mirror finish. Both of these universal joints accommodate up to 30 degree angle. The Chromemoly series has a black finish and accommodates a more extreme angle at 35 degree angle.”

Flaming River originally sent a couple U-joints to go with the DD shaft that would connect to the U-joint on the rack and pinion as well as the OEM 1968 Pontiac GTO steering column. I later discovered that it took a massive 48-spline, 1-inch diameter U-joint.

The steering shafts are cut-to-fit, so I used some painters tape to mark off where it needed to be cut and brought the shaft to PAM HQ to have tech Scott Nogrady make a nice clean cut. It took a couple tries but once properly sized and I slid the steering shaft into the U-joint on the rack and pinion, then pulled the spring back on the factory column and slid the billet, 48-spline U-joint into place with the shaft connected. The key is to account for the depth inside the U-joint and to cut it short enough to allow room for it to slide on. Once it was cut to the right length, I tightened the set screws to make a mark on the shaft, then had Scott dimple it (as Flaming River recommends) so that the screws have a nice flat surface to grab.

Once I got the right U-joint, it was a matter of pulling back the spring on the factory column to get good engagement on the splines. Then I measured the shaft and took it to the PAM HQ to have tech Scott Nogrady shave about 4 inches off the top. Flaming River also suggested mocking up with PVC pipe or dowel rods prior to cutting. Once you have the final length, you'll need to dimple the shaft so that the set screws have a flat surface to grab.

If are attempting this on your project, be warned that the install may not be quite this simple. “A support bearing should be used whenever more than two universal joints are used in a system (3 universal joints = 1 support bearing, 4 universal joints = 2 support bearings and so on),” Flaming River told me. “A double universal joint is another alternative and it would count as two universal joints. The VDog® is a Variable Angle Gear that is perfect when an extreme angle needs to be made – LS engine swaps and Cabovers are perfect applications. The VDog® features a 90-degree angle in addition to a 35-degree articulating shaft with a ¾-inch, 36-spline. It makes a turn at the firewall possible. For certain projects, it is a perfect solution.”

Flaming River recommends red Loctite on the set screws. I did not use it initially as I wanted to ensure clearance, which we had in abundance.

After the fun stuff was done, I gave the set screws and jam nuts a final tighten and away we went. When I turned the steering wheel, the wheels actually turned now – one small step, but an important one. Turning is essential. And there was no interference with the headers or frame, as you’d expect from what is already science’d out by Schwartz.

If it is time to upgrade the steering on your project, hopefully this information will help. However, feel free to call the pros at Flaming River – they also make rack and pinions, cradles, columns, and more. And stay tuned for more on Project Payback!

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About the author

Scott Parker

Scott dreamed of being in the automotive media in high school, growing up around car shows and just down the street from Atco Raceway. The technology, performance capability, and craftsmanship that goes into builds fuels his passion.
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