67-81 F-Body Rack and Pinion Conversion Part II

Click Here to Begin Slideshow Welcome back! Earlier this week we walked through the process of removing all the obsolete parts from your car in preparation for the installation of the new rack and pinion plus the cradle it bolts to. In this article, we’ll continue by flushing the power steering pump, if you have one, to get rid of all the old fluid and contaminants that can damage your new rack and pinion. We’re also going to show you how to install the new pump that many kits come with or if your car isn’t a power steering vehicle yet, as it is recommended to do so. We’ll then go through mounting and connecting the new rack and pinion and adjusting the toe.

67-81 F-Body Rack and Pinion Conversion Part II

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Welcome back! Earlier this week we walked through the process of removing all the obsolete parts from your car in preparation for the installation of the new rack and pinion plus the cradle it bolts to. In this article, we’ll continue by flushing the power steering pump, if you have one, to get rid of all the old fluid and contaminants that can damage your new rack and pinion. We’re also going to show you how to install the new pump that many kits come with or if your car isn’t a power steering vehicle yet, as it is recommended to do so. We’ll then go through mounting and connecting the new rack and pinion and adjusting the toe.

Saving the Old Pump? Flush It Now!

If your car was already equipped with power steering, you will at least need to flush the pump and lines to get rid of any contaminants that can damage your new rack and pinion assembly. I plug the gear/rack end of the lines, fill the pump with fluid and, after loosening the belt, rotate the pulley by hand for about a minute, then uncap both lines and allow the yuck to flow into the catchpan under the car. Don’t worry about flushing the lines, as most (but not all) power rack kits will come with new lines.

Installing a New Power Steering Pump-Replacing the Old Pump

I’m going to tell you right now: You really should save yourself possible migraines down the road and either buy a rack and pinion conversion kit that comes with a new pump or buy a new pump. Flushing an existing pump with tens of thousands of miles on it won’t get all the crud out of the pump that’s built up over time. The only way to really guarantee that no contaminants get into your new rack is to install a new pump.

Just to be safe, disconnect the battery negative cable. Locate the alternator and loosen both the lower pivot bolt (9/16 inch usually) and the upper adjuster bolt (1/2 inch usually) and slip the belt off the pulley. Now, remove the power steering hoses from the back of the pump. Set them in the pan under the car. We shouldn’t need them anymore. If the kit you bought doesn’t have new hoses, flush the old ones with alcohol or solvent and then run power steering fluid through them to clean them out.

Install the Replacement Pump

Some power steering pumps have three bolts securing them to the engine - one goes to the block, one goes to the pump bracket and the last one is the adjuster bolt. I’ve also run into pumps that only have the bolt into the bracket and the adjuster bolt. They all have to come out.

Hang the new pump in place and install the bolts you removed. Slide the belt over the pulley and tighten the belt, making sure it has no more than one inch of deflection when you press in the middle of the longest gap between pulleys. Tighten all the bolts. Reinstall and adjust the alternator belt and tighten the bolts.

Installing a New Power Steering Pump-No Existing Pump

Disconnect the battery. Remove the two bolts securing the alternator-pivot bolt at the bottom and adjuster bolt at the top. Pull the alternator out carefully and set it on top of the engine. There’s no need to remove it from the car. If your car has A/C, chances are you’ll also need to remove the belt on the compressor as well. There’s also a very good probability that you will need a new pulley for the crankshaft to run the power steering pump.

Bolt the Bracket

Bolt the new power steering pump bracket to the block and the head on the driver’s side of the engine. Hold the pump in position and install the two or three bolts that secure the pump to the block/head/bracket. Don’t tighten these yet.

Install and Adjust the Belt

Install and adjust the power steering belt, tightening the pump bolts when done. Reinstall and adjust the A/C belt(s), if so equipped. Finally, reinstall the alternator and adjust the belt, tightening its two bolts when done.

Install the Reservoir

Some newer power steering pumps have external reservoirs. If this is the type you’ve got, install the reservoir as per the directions that came with it. Don’t worry about installing the hoses just yet. Leave them for last, as doing so will keep them from being a pain in the butt as you install the rack and cradle assembly. Speaking of which…

Installing the New Rack and Cradle Assembly

You’re either going to need the help of a friend, a jack with a block of wood or a third hand for this step. Grab the five Grade 8 bolts that came with your rack and pinion conversion kit, slide a washer over each of them and slide them through the holes in the frame rails where the idler arm and old steering gearbox were mounted.

Remove Two Bolts

If you haven’t already, remove the two bolts securing each sway bar frame mount to the frame and allow the sway bar to hang down. This will make it much easier to get the rack and cradle in place.

Position the Rack/Cradle Assembly

Raise the rack/cradle assembly into position and push the bolts the rest of the way through the frame rails and through the holes in the cradle. If you have a conversion kit similar to the Unisteer kit, install the steering shaft support bracket and then slide washers onto each of the bolts.

Hang the Rack and Cradle

Thread the nuts (usually Nylock fasteners) loosely onto the bolts without tightening them. Eyeball and measure to make sure the rack and cradle are centered in the car. Apply some red Threadlocker to the bolts and tighten the fasteners to the spec listed in the instructions (45-60 lb-ft usually).

Mounting the Unisteer Rack

The Unisteer kit for 69-69 Camaro and 68-74 Novas is quite a bit different from the Flaming River kit. To install the Unisteer kit you have to remove the existing rear mounting bolt from both lower control arms. These are replaced by longer bolts that come with the kit. There are bosses in the frame (A and B in the next slide) that the rack is bolted to that slide over these longer bolts after spacers are installed. Large washers and locknuts secure the rack to the lower control arm mounting bolts which are torqued to 85 lb-ft.

Unisteer Kit

This kit also requires you to have compatible spindles that let you replace the steering knuckles with the steering arms in the kit (Numbers 1 and 2 in the image above). The original steering knuckles have to be removed and the supplied arms torqued down to 85 lb-ft.

Install the Steering Shaft

Most rack and pinion conversion kits come with replacement steering shaft assemblies, while others might require you to supply the steering shaft. Make sure both wheels are pointed straight ahead and the steering wheel is centered. Kits like the one from Flaming River have you custom-build the steering shaft to fit your needs. This is shown in the following images.

Keyed Ends

The end of the steering column and the input shaft on the new rack are both keyed, with the keying being different for both. The universal joint couplers are keyed to match. One will only go on the column, while the other will only go on the input shaft.

Install Shaft Support

If your installation requires a steering shaft with more than one piece, you’ll need to install a steering shaft support bearing to keep it from binding while turning. Flaming River’s kit comes with one and an adjustable bracket for it that is bolted to the frame with the cradle. Slide the support bearing over the shaft prior to final installation of the u-joint couplers with Threadlocker.

Install Outer Tie Rod Ends on the New Rack

This is a step that not all rack conversion kits will require. On those that do require you to install outer tie rod ends, some require you to use the old adjuster sleeves like you had on the old steering gearbox/parallelogram steering assembly, while others have you threading the rod end onto the ends of the shafts coming off the new rack.

Leave the Tie Rod Ends Alone

Do not tighten the tie rod ends yet.

Install the Tie Rod Ends in the Steering Knuckles

Grab whatever you wrote the zerk fitting to car centerline measurements on and adjust the tie rod ends to match those measurements. Slide the rod end shafts into the holes on the steering knuckles and thread the castellated nuts onto them. Torque these to about 50 lb-ft and run a cotter pin through the stud. If the pin won’t go because the hole is blocked, tighten the nut slightly until the pin will slide in. Lock the cotter pins in place by bending them either over the top of the studs or bending the around the two sides of the nut/stud.

Adjust Toe In/Out

Toe-in and toe-out describe the orientation of the tires in relation to the car’s front-to-rear centerline. For example, of a tire is described as toe-in, it means it points inward toward that centerline. Conversely, a tire that is toe-out points outward. With a rear drive car, we want a slight toe-in condition because as the car is being driven, the tires will be forced out a little at the front.

Toe HAS to be adjusted with the car completely on the ground, so take it off the stands before doing these measurements. Again, a friend’s help is very handy here, unless you happen to have an alignment rack you can walk or slide under.

Grab that piece of paper that you write your measurements from the preparatory steps in the previous article on and adjust the tie rod ends so that each side’s zerk fitting to centerline measurement is the same as what you wrote down. Now you can lock down the rod ends, either with a locknut or by tightening the two half inch nuts and bolts on each adjuster sleeve.

I like to set my toe from scratch whenever I replace suspension parts. Measure to and from the same spot on both the front and rear of both front tires to the car’s centerline and adjust accordingly. The toe spec for Camaros from 76-81 is ¼-1/2 inch toe-in. I like to split that to 3/8 (6/16 inch) inch toe-in.

With the car on the ground and the steering wheel centered and locked, measure from the centerline to one tire and set it to 3/16 inch toe-in. Lock that side down. Move to the other side and lock it down after setting it to 3/16 inch toe-in. Remember, you have to measure from front of the tire and then measure from the back of the tire and subtract.

Let’s take an example: The front width of a 1969 Camaro is shown to be 72.5 inches. That means the distance from our centerline to the edge of a front wheel is about 34 inches, give or take a bit. Now let’s say that your measurements you get are 34 inches in the front and 34 ½ inches at the rear. You could simply lock that side down and go to the other because the toe is set to ½ inch toe-in as the rear of the tire is ½ of an inch farther away from the centerline than the front of the tire.

However, as I said, I like to split the spec in half to 3/16 inch toe-in. Thus, I would crank the adjuster just a bit until my toe is set at that 3/16 inch toe-in I like and then lock it down. I would then move to the other side and measure and adjust until I get my 3/16 inch toe-in there as well.

Installing the Power Steering Hoses

Jack the car back up and support it with the jack stands again. Slide the lo-side hose over the nipple on the pump (or reservoir) and tighten the clamp. Let the end of the hose hang into the catchpan. Attach the hi-side hose to the back of the pump, letting the other end hang in the catchpan. Remember, use a line wrench or crow’s foot on the hi-side hose so as to not ruin the fitting.

Now, pour a little more than a cup of power steering fluid into the reservoir and allow it to flow into the pan. This makes sure that no contaminants that got into the pump, reservoir, and hoses during storage and shipment will be allowed to contaminate and possibly damage your rack. They’ll be flushed into the pan.

Check the instructions with your kit to determine which port on the rack is hi-side/pressure and which is lo-side/return and attach the hoses accordingly. Remember to use a line wrench or crow’s foot adapter so you don’t ruin the fitting.

Fill and Bleed the System

Now, slowly fill the reservoir as much as possible. Give it a minute or so to allow the fluid to fill the lines and rack. Once the fluid level stops falling below where you can see it, start the engine and let it idle. Refill the reservoir again. You’re probably hearing the pump growling at you now. That’s to be expected.

SLOWLY turn the steering wheel from side-to-side, lock-to-lock five times in each direction. Check the fluid level in the reservoir and top it off to the “Full Cold” line. Repeat the turning of the wheel from one side to the other slowly until you no longer hear the pump growling at you. Now, check underneath to make sure there aren’t any leaks. Tighten the clamp or the fittings if you see any fluid leaking.

That’s it. Recap the reservoir, drop the hood and the car and take it for a test drive. Unless you’ve been doing alignments for a few years I do highly recommend taking your car to a reputable shop to have them at least check the alignment for you. I would also have them check for bump steer for you. I’ll describe how to check and adjust bump steer to a minimum in my next article.

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About Mike Aguilar 202 Articles
Mike's love of cars began in the early 1970's when his father started taking him to his Chevron service station. He's done pretty much everything in the automotive aftermarket from gas station island attendant, parts counter, mechanic, and new and used sales. Mike also has experience in the amateur ranks of many of racing's sanctioning bodies.
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