How Tos / Tech

One Good Turn: How to Convert to Manual Steering

In these days of cars with power everything, the idea of converting a car to manual steering might seem quaint. But there are instances where manual steering is better than a power setup. For example, manual steering on a drag race car will save weight and free up a couple horsepower (no power steering pump to turn). Cars with engine swaps in tight engine compartments (think street rods with V8s) are also candidates for manual steering.

Manual steering on a drag race car will save weight and free up a couple horsepower…cars with engine swaps in tight engine compartments (think street rods with V8s) are also candidates for manual steering.

A few decades ago when manual steering was usually standard equipment on American cars, converting to manual steering was as easy as getting the necessary parts from the local wrecking yard. For vintage iron like Camaros, Novas, Chevelles, and Mustangs, you can still find manual steering setups at swap meets or from aftermarket sources like Summit Racing.

But what if your car never came with manual steering? If you have a GM G-body (Regal, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Cutlass, Grand Prix, etc.) or a third-gen Camaro/Firebird, you’re in luck. Borgeson manufactures power to manual conversion kits for these cars. Summit Racing offers the Borgeson kits and the necessary small parts to complete the conversion.

The heart of the Borgeson kits is a new Saginaw Model 525 manual steering box. GM used this cast iron box beginning in the 1950s and installed it on ‘60s muscle cars. It was available with a 24:1 or a “quick feel” 16:1 steering ratio and a 3/4-inch diameter, 30-spline input shaft. Even though it’s beefy, the 525 box shaves approximately 28 pounds of weight compared to a factory power system. Borgeson now manufactures brand new versions of the 525.

The swap is a basic remove-and-replace deal. Three bolts hold the steering box to the vehicle frame—just unbolt the power box and bolt on the 525 box. You’ll have to replace the pitman ar, and swap the rag joint for certain applications, but no fabrication is required. When you’re done, that mess of hoses, fluid reservoir, bulky power steering pump, and power steering box are gone, replaced by a clean, simple steering system.

Check out the photos below to see how it’s done on a 1986 Buick Regal T-Type.

 

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The 525 is probably the most common manual steering box style ever produced by GM’s Saginaw Division. GM has used variations of it since the 1950s. It’s far beefier—and isn’t much bigger—than the Vega manual box that is commonly used in steering swaps. That makes it far better than a Vega box for use in heavier cars like GM mid-sizers and Camaros. This is a brand new, 24:1 ratio 525 steering box from the Borgeson manual to power steering kit, available at Summit Racing.

At three-quarters of an inch in diameter, the 30-spline input shaft is nice and beefy. By comparison, the Vega box has a 13/16 inch input shaft.

Here’s a before of the 1986 Buick Regal T-Type with the engine, power steering pump, hoses, and reservoir out of the car. You can see the power steering box at the right, tucked under the mass of hose and wiring loom.

The mounting bolt pattern on the Borgeson 525 box is identical to the original equipment power steering box, making it a direct swap.

This is the pitman arm included in the Borgeson kit. GM never considered the pitman arm to be a service item, so searching for the correct used one is often like searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack. If you need a different pitman arm for your swap, Summit Racing has Borgeson arms in stock. Installation is the same as a stock OEM part—line up the splines and the indexing flat and tighten. A half-inch drive impact wrench will help considerably.

A flexible joint (more commonly called a rag joint) connects the steering column to the steering box. It provides a small amount of flex between the steering column shaft and the steering box input shaft, and allows for a minute amount of misalignment between the two. This lets the rag joint accommodate minor shifting and movement between the body and frame (or subframe) and provides vibration damping to keep the steering wheel from jumping around. Lastly, the rag joint provides an electrical ground for the horn circuit. The Borgeson kit comes with a new rag joint.

Here’s the new Borgeson 525 box bolted into the Regal without the pitman arm or steering linkage installed. With the box in place, you simply fasten the OEM steering shaft to the steering box input shaft using the factory hardware.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Lee Budreau says:

    Re: “Beefy” input shaft: Last time I checked, 13/16 was bigger than 3/4 (12/16). So the Vega input shaft would be “beefier”, eh?

  2. Wayne, is there a lighter bolt-on alternative to the S-525 for a 65 Chevelle? The current box needs replacing anyway. This is for a drag only application and don’t want to go to a rack and pinion yet. “A pound saved is ET in the bank”!

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