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Tilt Column Installation

"I don't think the Empire had Wookies in mind
when they designed her, Chewie"  - Han Solo, Return Of The Jedi

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Being someone who is over 6 foot tall, one quickly learns that these old Falcons can be a tad uncomfortable when behind the wheel, especially for long trips.  Even with an aftermarket steering wheel installation, legroom is sorely lacking in our little birds.

So what to do?  A tilt column sounds like a great addition to our cars, so why don't we see more of them?  A few reasons:

1.) Falcon columns are fairly short, and finding the same length tilt column can be tricky

2.) The Falcon steering box (pre 1967) had an integrated steering wheel shaft (a.k.a the spear of death)

With some research, time, parts house inquiries, and junkyard raids I was able to get the tilt column in my car.  Stick with me as I tell my tale...

What To Do First?

Before the tilt column can even be installed we need to do something about the Falcon steering box's long steering shaft.  Apart from cutting and finding a machine shop willing to spline it for you, you have several options:

Option 1:   Mustang Tilt Column
- Flaming River offers a tilt column for the 1964 - 1966 Mustang that will work with the stock steering box.  This is a viable option to get your tilt column: However, the cost might be high for some, and the Ford Falcon column is about 1/2" shorter than the Mustang's column, so this new column will be a bit longer than stock.


Option 2:   Mustang II Front End
- The silver bullet for early Ford suspensions.  Not only do you get a way to attach a tilt column to your car, but you get more engine compartment space, better suspension geometry, a reinforced front end, and several front brake selections as well!

Much on the same line as the Mustang II front suspension, a rack and pinion steering unit can also be had by installing a Fat Man Fabrications Strut Suspension Kit.


Option 3:  Aftermarket R&P
- Aftermarket companies are beginning to offer rack and pinion kits for 60s Fords.  One of the more well known setups is Total Control Product's Rack and Pinion kit.  This kit has been featured in several magazines and has been installed on several 60s Falcons, Mustangs, and Comets. 


Option 4:  Graft On An OEM R&P
- Why not find an OEM rack and pinion from another car?  Not only will you get more responsive steering, but you'll get the ability to use a tilt column as well.

I have heard some reports of using Sunbird or attempts at Windstar rack and pinion steering on the Ford Falcon, with mixed success.  First off custom brackets will need to be created, or factory brackets will need to be modified.  Second, custom pressure and return lines will need to be found out or built by a hydraulic shop, and third be sure the rack is the same length as the distance between the frame rails!  If not, the car will experience bump steer and suspension problems!


Option 5:  Use another car/truck Steering Box
- There are several vehicles out there that have small, compact steering boxes that will work in a Falcon with modifications.  Steering boxes out of Mavericks and import cars/trucks can be used.  These more modern boxes use rag joints or have shorter input shafts to make a tilt column install a reality.

The caveat to this approach is VERY special measuring and attention must be made to mount the box and graft it into the steering components of the car as not to create binds or unsafe steering systems.


Option 6:  Use a late 60s Ford Steering Box
-  A fact many do not know is the steering boxes for 1960 - 1970 Fords using the Falcon platform share VERY similar steering boxes.  In fact, from 1963 to 1970, Falcons, Comets, and Mustangs used the same steering box body.

Because of this fact, it is fairly straight forward to interchange steering boxes between these cars.  But why would one want to do that?  Good Question.

In 1967 Ford began to ramp up safety features on all Ford cars, mainly because of the scare fueled by the book Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader.  One of the first safety additions to the Ford line was the collapsible steering column, greatly reducing the injury in front end collisions.

To incorporate these columns, Ford modified the old reliable Ford Falcon steering box and replaced the long steering wheel "spear" with a rag joint.  The steering column would now attach to the steering box via a rag joint.

This new feature opens up the possibility to have that tilt column in our Falcons!  All one needs to do is replace the Falcon steering box with a unit from a comparable 1967 - 1970 unit with a rag joint!

So what's the catch?  Well, you need to pick a steering box that will have all the same characteristics as your Falcon steering box:

The Same Sector Shaft Size:  This is the thickness of the steering box output shaft that the pitman arm fits onto.  They came in two sizes, 1" and 1 1/8".

The Same Steering ratio:  There were three ratios used: 22:1, 19:1, and 16:1.  The 22:1 and 19:1 ratios are for manual steering cars.  the 16:1 ratio was used for power steering equipped cars (also used on late 60s Mustangs as a "Sport Steering Package")

You need to match these criteria when selecting a new rag joint equipped steering box.

What Steering Box Do I Get?

First a bit of Ford Falcon steering box history:

1960 - 1962 Falcon steering boxes has 1 1/8" sector shafts.  They also has either 22:1 or 19:1 steering ratios.  All of these years used the long "spear" type steering wheel rod.

1963 - 1964 Falcon steering box used a 1 1/8" sector shaft as well, but used a shorter "spear" to improve legroom.  These boxes also came with 19:1 steering ratios for manual steering cars, but also could be had with 16:1 ratios for cars equipped with power steering.

1965 Falcon steering boxes are just like the 1963-4  units in size and steering ratio, HOWEVER, the 1965 steering boxes have 1" sector shafts, NOT 1 1/8".

1966 Falcon Steering boxes also use the "spear" type steering wheel rod, however the rod is longer than the 63-65 unit's steering rod.  The 66 box uses a 1" sector shaft as well, and comes in either a 19:1 or 16:1 steering ratio, depending upon application.

1967 - 1970 Falcons use a rag joint style box as well (also used on same year Fairlanes) - However, the box is different from the Mustang box as the steering wheel output shaft that the rag joint attaches to is longer than the Mustang's.  Because of this, a Mustang unit makes a better candidate for a swap as it allows you to use a longer steering column, and opens up the possibility of using a collapsible column.

For my tilt column installation I decided to use the late 60s Mustang steering box.  The decision was quite simple as Mustangs are popular cars and the restoration and aftermarket parts market for them is very comprehensive.  I had a better shot of finding a good used, or cheaper rebuilt unit for a Mustang compared to other 60s Fords.

Below is a listing of Mustang Steering boxes with rag joints and their attributes:

ID Description
SMBE 1967 1" sector 16:1 power steering
SMBJ 1967 1 1/8" sector 16:1 power steering
SMBH 1967 1 1/8" sector 19:1 manual steering
SMBC 1967 1" sector 19:1 manual steering
SMBD 67-70 1 1/8" sector 19:1 manual steering
SMBK 67-70 1 1/8" sector 16:1 power steering

As the list shows, its good to be any 1960-1964 owner as a majority of these steering boxes utilize the 1 1/8" sector shaft size.  Unfortunately, the 1965 Falcons use the 1" sectors, so they're choice of boxes is limited to two (SMBE and SMBC).

What About Column options?

Option 1:  To The Junkyard!! - An expedition into the car graveyard nether regions can yield exactly what you need.  When selecting a tilt column out of a donor car/truck, a few things must be kept in mind:

Column Length: It has to the same or a close match in length to your original column.

Connection to the steering box: The steering column should have the ability to connect to the chosen steering box (usually by use of a rag joint or heim joint). 

After some searching I found a 1967 Lincoln with a tilt column.  The tilt column uses the standard Ford rag joint, and was the same length as my 1965 Falcon steering column.


Option 2:  Aftermarket - There are several aftermarket companies that build or supply remanufactured tilt columns.  The same criteria must be followed as in option 1, but turnaround time for a column that will work for your car is much faster; often, aftermarket companies can supply superior columns, in several lengths, and in several finishes.  A few options are listed below:

http://www.haneline.com/mustangcolumns.html

http://www.flaming-river.com/tilt-steering-price.htm

http://www.ididit.com/welcome1.html

The catch with going aftermarket is the cost - usually you can't touch a tilt column for under $300, and that's in paintable steel.  With option 1, more work might be needed to find and modify a column, but often one can walk out of a recycle yard with a tilt column for under $50.  It all comes down to your timetable, fabricating ability, and budget.

So What Did I do?

Continue >>

 

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