Tilt Column Installation
"I don't think the Empire had Wookies in mind when they designed her, Chewie"
- Han Solo, Return Of The Jedi
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:
Steering box code SMBE: 1967 1" sector 16:1 power steering
Steering Box Code SMBJ: 1967 1 1/8" sector 16:1 power steering
Steering Box Code SMBH: 1967 1 1/8" sector 19:1 manual steering
Steering Box Code SMBC: 1967 1" sector 19:1 manual steering
Steering Box Code SMBD: 67-70 1 1/8" sector 19:1 manual steering
Steering Box Code SMBK: 67-70 1 1/8" sector 16:1 power steering
As the list above 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 companies that provide options are listed below:
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?
The whole idea of a tilt column came to me after a stint out to the junkyard. I found an old 67-8 power steering Mustang and noticed that the steering box looked exactly the same as my Falcon's box except for the use of a rag joint. Marveling at this I continued to look around until I found an old 67 Lincoln; black on black with the suicide doors. I noticed the tilt column, and a quick view of the column in the passenger compartment and under the hood had me thinking "This could work!"
So I grabbed the column and Mustang steering box, picked them both up for $40, and headed home to do some measurements/research.
Upon getting home I found that the column would need some work, but was almost exactly the same length as my stock Falcon column. Unfortunately, the good news didn't carry onto the steering box, which turned out to have an ID number of SMBK. Rats! I had a box with the right steering ratio, but the sector shaft was too big!
(An example of how easy it is to misjudge sector shaft size. On the left is a 1 1/8 sector. On right, a 1")
After a bit of research I found the a good idea when looking for a steering box with the right sector shaft is to either have the steering box codes on hand, or simply bring a 1 1/8" socket. If the socket fits on the pitman arm nut, its 1", if its too small, the box has a 1 1/8" sector.
I ended up buying a rebuilt steering box from Classic Mustang Parts of Oklahoma. Installation of this new box was very straightforward. It shares the same mounting points as the stock Falcon box, so all the is needed is to remove the old box, and install the new.
On To The Tilt Column
With the new steering box in place, its time to turn attention to the tilt column. There were a few issues that needed to be hashed out with the tilt column to make it work on my car:
Brackets: The column had two brackets that needed to be removed. A chisel and grinder made quick work of those.
Column Shifter: This column had a column shifter for an automatic transmission (well it WAS a Lincoln column). My car had a floor shifter, so not only does the column need to be removed, but replacement or original modified pieces will be needed to modify the column to look correct for my car.
After removing the brackets, I disassembled the column and wire wheeled all of the parts to remove all of the old original paint. Some parts of the column I plain tossed out, like the transmission lever piece that actuates the transmission linkage.
To remove the rest of the transmission shifter components, two column pieces will need to be modified, the shifter column that housed the arm and rotated to allow a gear to be chosen, and the lower collar piece that joined the former piece to the tube part of the column. I started by using a cutting wheel to remove the transmission lever pieces.
My original intention was to simply tack weld the shifter pieces together and then top top dress them with glazing putty, but ran into a problem: the column is made of pot metal! Unless I wanted to try my hand at welding/brazing with an aluminum rod. Double rats!
So off to the internet to find some answers, and a quick search found that epoxies are the way to go on pot metal. So, I ran out to my local Home Depot and picked up some 5 minute epoxy and epoxy clay.
Using the clay on the large hole that once housed the shift lever, and the 5 minute epoxy to weld the loose parts together, I ended up with a single strong, but rather ugly column piece.
(Left: the lever housing with gear indicator ring below it, the long cylinder was cut from the trans linkage actuator. I did this to create a closer tolerance between the lever housing and the steering shaft that runs through it.)
After waiting the proper cure time, a quick grinding wheel smooths out the epoxied piece. It came out rather smooth, but not smooth enough for glazing putty to fill in all the imperfections. So the shade tree mechanic's best car body repair item is spread in a thin layer around the shift lever housing.
After some sanding the shifter housing looks much better. Now to get the column back together, and top dress the column and prepare it for paint.
(Right: The first piece is this plate - it helps support the upper column components)
(The collar that connects the upper column to the column tube. This piece has a small plate that completes it, and will need to be smoothed and blended into the upper column/lever housing)
(Notice how the steering shaft runs through the lever housing's center section. In the middle pic starting to look like a column again! And on the right, Ready for final sanding and paint!)
After sanding, top dressing with glazing putty, and finish sanding, a quick few coats of primer and satin black finished up the column.
Installation was also straight forward. Using the original Falcon column steering column mounting hardware, I mocked up the steering column, drilled a small hole to allow the "tang" in the column collar mount to fit into the column itself, then fastened the mount and column to the underside of the dash.
After that 2 bolts with washers and lock washers attached the column to the steering box's rag joint, coupling the column and steering box.
Mike in Chicago