When our classic Mopars first hit dealer showrooms, factory tires consisted of skinny bias-ply rubber, and power steering was more of a luxury than a necessity. However, as these cars received wider tires via car owners in the quest for better handling, that standard-fare manual steering became cumbersome at best. Especially when it came time for low-speed maneuvers like what occurs in a parking area.
Years ago, the only option available to upgrade to power steering was to find another car that had what you needed and glom the parts to complete the upgrade. The problem enthusiasts have now, is where to find OE parts to make the swap. Since original parts are getting harder to find, more expensive than ever, and are usually worn out, many enthusiasts are turning to kits from Borgeson Universal Company.
Borgeson makes steering box upgrades for enthusiasts because they feel classic cars and trucks can benefit from the same advances in technology later model cars enjoy. Jeff Grantmeyer of Borgeson says, “the boxes used in this Mopar kit are all new. The problem with rebuilding a 40-year-old steering box is that you still have 40-year-old technology.”
Before I get into the actual swap, let’s talk about the recipient. The car is a ’75 Dart Sport that came from the factory with manual steering. At some point, the owner upgraded the factory box with another company’s aftermarket manual gearbox in hopes of improving the steering. While the stock Mopar box delivered a 24:1 ratio, the aftermarket, quick-ratio unit was 16:1. The quicker ratio was definitely a better alternative than the factory box in some regards. However, with modern tires, steering was nearly impossible when the vehicle was moving slowly.
The owner wanted to upgrade to power steering, and Borgeson’s modern, quick-ratio power steering box to fit ’62 through ’79 Mopar cars was a great idea. That’s right, there is no need to scour swap meets looking for used parts. The Borgeson power-steering box is a direct bolt-in and mounts to the stock K-frame. It even uses your stock Pitman arm.
While this upgrade is great for manual-equipped cars, those with factory power steering can even benefit from the swap. A stock Mopar power-steering gearbox delivers a 16:1 steering ratio while the Borgeson quick-ratio box offers a 14:1 ratio. The box is even slightly smaller than the OE power-steering box, and according to Borgeson, offers a 10-pound weight savings (23-pounds vs. 33-pounds).
All Things Considered
The new box is actually designed for those wanting to upgrade their existing OE power-steering with the Borgeson unit. The parts with the kit make the power-to-power swap easy. I want to let you know upfront, there are two things you need to consider when contemplating the swap: one, the shaft in your steering column will need to be cut in order to use the Borgeson Mopar power steering box. To accomplish the swap after cutting the shaft, the factory column-to-steering-box coupler is replaced with Borgeson’s vibration-reducing U-joint coupler (PN: 036425).
But, we are upgrading a non-power-steering car to include power, so things have to be done differently (more on that later). Secondly, If your engine has a single-groove crankshaft pulley, you will need to acquire a double-groove crankshaft pulley. These came on cars that didn’t have air conditioning but did have power steering. I had one on the shelf, but if you need one, I found them at 440 Source.com.
The Long And Short Of It
Mopar power-steering columns are shorter than those found in cars with no power steering. If I were to cut the longer, non-power-steering column shaft in the Dart Sport to use the vibration-reducing U-joint, I would ruin the column shaft. The reason is that the cut would be made in a hollow portion higher on the shaft. This is not a safe option as far as I am concerned. The column needs to be cut at the solid portion of the steering shaft where the OE steering coupler resides. “The column-shaft issue you ran into is not apparent on all models the kits fit,” said Jeff Grantmeyer. “This will only be a problem on a 1968 and later Darts with factory manual steering.”
After some measuring, it was determined that using Borgeson U-joint (PN014925) was a suitable option. This “standard” U-joint is shorter and does not offer the benefit of vibration reduction. I could live with that. With the proper U-joint in hand, I was able to cut the shaft in the “solid” area to fit almost perfectly. Unfortunately, even with this shorter U-joint, the column shaft was still 5/8-inch too long.
Luckily, the steering shaft in all steering columns built after 1967 are collapsible. This collapsible shaft is comprised of an inner shaft and an outer sleeve which are kept stationary with a strong plastic “binders.” In the event of a frontend collision, the plastic allows the inner shaft to be moved (slid) into the outer sleeve. When this happens, the energy received through impact is absorbed by this collapsing shaft.
Since the shaft is designed to collapse, I asked Jeff if tapping the shaft inward (to “shorten” it) would create an unsafe condition. Although Borgeson does not recommend shortening the shaft a large amount by hitting it with a hammer, he let me know he felt it was safe to tap the shaft inward the small amount I needed. With the column’s length situation handled, I then needed to address the column-shaft to U-joint connection.
The small, solid portion of the shaft where I needed the U-joint to connect, is 3/4-inch in diameter. Borgeson has two U-joints that can be used. One is PN: 012564, which has the correct splines on one end, and a 3/4-inch smooth bore on the other. This U-joint does have set screws to hold it in place, but it is recommended that it be welded to the smooth shaft. This is a safe and effective option, however, the U-joint I decided to use (PN: 014925), has what is called a Double-D connection style. A Double-D shaft is a round shaft with two opposing “flats.”
To make the round steering shaft fit the Double-D U-joint, I took a hand grinder and made two flats on the existing round shaft. It didn’t take long to grind enough material from the shaft for the universal to slide snugly into place. Modifying the steering column was not very difficult, and it actually took more time to get the column out of the car than it did to make the modifications.
Bringing It All Together
Since this is a non-power-steering car from the factory, I also needed to install a power steering pump. While the Borgeson box is able to be purchased by itself, two complete conversion kits are also available for Mopar A-bodies with small-block engines (PNs: 999063 and 999064). Which kit you need depends on the diameter of the Pitman arm shaft. Pre-1973 boxes utilize a pitman-arm shaft with a 1 1/8-inch diameter while the ’73 and later units use a 1 1/4-inch shaft. If you’re not working on an A-body, Borgeson has parts for almost any car.
The kit came with the gearbox, U-joint coupler, power steering pump, reservoir, bracket, and the hoses. When ordering the kit, make sure you tell them if you have a non-power-steering car and order the shorter U-joint that I mentioned.
I was pleasantly surprised the swap only took the better part of one day — not counting the downtime for ordering the new U-joint. Once everything was back together, it was time to see how much better the steering felt — if at all.
As I backed out of the garage and around the corner, I first noticed how easy it was to steer the car while hardly moving. That was a pleasant change. No more worrying about breaking off the steering shaft while trying to turn the wheel during a nearly stopped situation.
While maneuvering under normal driving conditions, the absence of the vibration reducer was barely noticeable. Sure, there was a little more road feel than there would have been if using it, but I still feel it is a non-issue. Overall, steering is now much-less labor-intensive, and the car has the firm-driving feel we hoped the Borgeson kit would deliver. Now it’s time to find some twisty roads and really give it a workout!