The Studeblogger

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adjusting your Studebaker's steering gear.

There's nothing worse than going down the road sawing at your steering wheel, trying to keep your car in its lane. Hey, it's a 47-year old car -- it's bound to have a little play in the steering gear, right? Even with a newly-rebuilt suspension, new tie rods, springs, bushings and everything, you've got to expect a little slop.

Except that you don't. There's a simple adjustment you can make that will bring your steering gear back to proper working order.

Barney's steering gear had about 4" of slop in it. That's right - four inches of "I'm doing NOTHING!!!" before any change of direction occurred. So, after scouring the Tech board at the SDC Forum, I found the secret to fixing it.

In this post, Tom Bredehoft posted the procedure, which is really simple. Let's dive in! My Lark has a Saginaw recirculating-ball steering box, but the procedure is similar for the Ross cam-and-lever box as well.

The adjustment for the steering box is on the driver's side of the car, just above the frame rail, and has to be accessed from the wheelwell. So we'll get started by jacking up the front end and removing the driver's front wheel and tire.

Once the wheel is off, you can see the heavy composite dirt guard stapled to the inner fender to keep dirt, mud and water from entering the engine compartment. Grab this from the bottom and lift it up to expose the steering gear adjustment screw.

There's a lock nut holding the adjustment screw that must be loosened before you can turn the screw. This area has a lot of grit and grime and oil in it, and likely your steering box will be just as grimy as mine. I used a steel brush to clean the crud out of the threads, then backed off the lock nut with a 5/8" box wrench. Once the nut is loose, turn the screw clockwise until you feel resistance, then back it off a bit and snug up the lock nut. Turn the steering wheel lock to lock and make sure that there are no points where it binds; if it does, you've tightened the screw too far. Undo the lock nut, back the screw off, and try it again. Make sure the steering moves smoothly through its entire range without any tightness. Be sure the lock nut is tight, put the wheel back on, and lower the car.

Ready for a drive? No you're not. One more thing to do before you hit the road: check the lubricant in the steering box.

Pop the hood and locate the steering gear filler plug. It's the big, square plug just above the Pitman arm. Unfortunately, it's in a slightly unhelpful location, down at frame level, slightly obscured by the brake lines and parking brake cable.

I put together something with a little reach; a 1/2" crowfoot wrench on a 16" extension. This allowed me to snake down amongst the cables and wires without trying to muck around down there with a spanner in the limited space available.

Once the plug is out, shine a light into the gearbox and see if you need to top off the lubricant inside. Chances are, you will. In fact, my gearbox was so empty I could see the worm gear. To fill the box, you'll need a special lubricant.

Originally, Kendall 999 gear lube was the specified lubricant for the Saginaw box, but Kendall is long gone, unfortunately, and Brad Penn, their successor, has no modern equivalent. Fortunately, Studebaker International has a re-creation: Semi-fluid Steering box grease. it's part No. 801651. This stuff comes in a caulk-type tube that's got enough in it to refill an empty box. A good thing, because mine took nearly everything in the tube! Just one more thing that makes me wonder why this car didn't drive into the ditch years ago... Who knows when anyone last checked it?

Once the box is full, stick the plug back in. But before you go for a drive to test the steering gear adjustment, make sure your lug nuts are torqued properly - the Studebaker shop manual specifies 74 - 85 lbs.-ft. I mention this because I had neglected to re-torque my lugs after I brought the car home from the brake shop, and they came off far too easily when I went to remove the wheel. (Could account for the front-end shimmy on my last freeway outing.) I usually split the difference, so I set the wrench for 78 lbs.-ft.

Having done this, I took Barney on the road. You would not believe the difference in the steering! The slop is now completely gone, and the car tracks straight and true down the road with no wandering. Bonus: it was a beautiful day in San Diego today. Great day for a photo in the park!

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  • Thanks for the great info! I had some front end work done on my Studie and mentioned this to my mechanic because I have excessive play in the wheel. He looked at the screw within the nut that you described and he told me it's already been screwed down to the bottom...nowhere left to go with it. He thought I might need the steering gear replaced instead. Does this sound like a good solution to you? I really want to fix this problem because I'm constantly moving the wheel back and forth while driving, trying to remain centered in the traffic lane, and it's kind of annoying. --Kurt

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:31 PM  

  • Anonymous, I'm certainly no expert, but if your mech says the box is at the end of its adjustable range, then you have two options: rebuild or replace.

    If you are mechanically inclined and feel like tackling it yourself, the shop manual gives the proceedure; there's also a great photo tutorial on a '50s Saginaw box posted here at the SDC Forum:

    If you want someone to rebuild it for you, you can pull it and send it to Lares Mfg., a well-known rebuilder of steering gears.

    Or you could source a good used box from a StudeFriend :) Try the Studebaker Swap page:

    Either way, you should get that fixed - it's dangerous. BTW, did your mechanic just look at the screw, or did he actually try to adjust it? If he didn't touch it, it wouldn't hurt you to try it yourself before getting all spendy...


    By Blogger Clark, at 11:48 PM  

  • Replacement for Kendall 999 is Dynalite L-EP 00 product code 1044025 Product of Phillips66,Conoco,76

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:31 PM  

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