Rack and Roll

Flaming River's New Easy-to-Install Rack-and-Pinion Gives First-Gen Camaros a Modern Steering System

Terry Cole Feb 22, 2005 0 Comment(s)

Can you guess what Pintos, Mustang IIs, water-cooled Volkswagons, Corvettes, Omnis, and virtually all late-model foreign imports have in common that is lacking on the performance-oriented First-Generation Camaro? If you whispered a rack-and-pinion steering system, give yourself 100 points and pay close attention to the following story. What you're about to learn about is a basic, easy-to-install, and fully bolt-in, rack-and-pinion steering setup that will give a '67-69 Camaro owner a new feel for the road.

Flaming River Industries has become well known in the performance aftermarket as an innovative company, both among street rod fans and muscle car enthusiasts alike. From cool steering columns to quality universal joints, Flaming River is a continually forward-thinking firm. At the recent SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Flaming River's Steve Cole (no blood relative, but a "bro" nonetheless) grabbed a hold of my arm and directed me to a new display that featured a pre-production rack system for First-Gen F-bodies. Wow, was my first reaction. Not so much for the idea of putting a rack in the car, that's been done before, but more for the intended ease of installation, and ability to revert back to the stock system if so desired. Bingo, a great idea.

Flaming River arranged to ship out a complete kit for me to spend the holidays installing in a '68 Camaro with a standard power steering system. Once again, I felt privileged to have the chance to do this exclusive install and help in the final product development after doing the step by step. Let me say, other than a couple of touch ups on the dimensions to the rack's bolt-in cradle, the complete Flaming River kit delivers exactly what it promises--a true bolt-in conversion to a manual rack-and-pinion steering system. No cutting or welding of any factory part is required (you do have to cut the double "D" shaft to length, but other than that, basic wrenches and sockets are all you need).

The Flaming River kit is designed to work with a stock dimension small-block oil pan. Our donor car had a deep sump aftermarket pan that we had welded a skid-plate to in order to protect it from speed bumps and such. We really wanted to keep the added oil capacity, so we contacted our good friend Jeff Johnston at Billet Fabrication and he built us a shallow pan with basically stock dimensions, except that it had a kick-out on the passenger's side. This allowed for the added volume of oil, but left plenty of ground clearance (even in this lowered car) and space for the rack system to fit. But in most instances, a stock small-block pan works just fine.

As mentioned above, we took some time out during the holidays amidst caroling and assembling the kid's toys to do the install, which went pretty smoothly. Unfortunately, though, our donor car was having a couple of other things done to it while up on the lift and we weren't able to take the car for a ride (with all the rain we got, it was just as well). Rest assured, however, the rock-solid kit should prove to be an improvement when navigating the winding roads on the way to work. We'll keep you posted on the seat-of-the-pants improvement. For now, take in on how simple it is to add this modern system.

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The Flaming River bolt-in, rack-and-pinion system comes complete with all the hardware, universal joints, and mounting components to install their own manual rack in a '67-69 Camaro. The polished steering column is optional, as is the billet mount with a bracket to relocate the ignition key on a '69 model.

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Before taking anything apart, the first step is to measure the width of the stock front end from left outer tie rod end Zerk fitting to the same spot on the right side. The measurement on our donor car, which had just recently undergone a front-end alignment, was 48 1/2-inches.

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Note the deep sump oil pan and the protective skid plate welded to its bottom. The skid plate caused a slight interference with the rack's new mounting cradle, so we were forced to replace it. A stock-depth small-block pan such as that of a late-model crate engine fits perfectly.

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The first step of disassembly under the car was to remove all of the old steering components...

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...such as the Pitman arm, idler arm and center drag link.

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Note that our donor car had power steering. Remove the lines and plug them off or you'll have a fluid puddle to dodge when working under the car. We also loosened the bolts through the rag joint that connects the steering box to the column. The instructions call for the column to be removed before putting a wrench on a bolt underneath. But we took advantage of the car being on a lift first.

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Steering column removal was straightforward.

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With the rag joint removed, loosening the collar at the floor, the three bolts holding the column's bracket to the dash...

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...and unplugging the electrical connector allowed the column to come right out.

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Back up in the air, we next proceeded by loosening the large bolt holding the drag link to the Pitman arm extending from the steering box.

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Once removed, it was simply a matter of popping the tie rod ends out of the steering arm on the spindles and lowering the complete assembly.

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Save the outer tie rod ends (as long as they are they are part # ES381RL for '68-69 cars),...

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...as they will be reinstalled at the end of the rack steering rods.

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Two more things to remove before the rack cradle gets installed. First, we unbolted the two through-frame bolts that attaches the idler arm to the Camaro's subframe.

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Next, the three bolts holding the steering box on the left side frame rail were removed and the box was lowered and put aside. We saved all of the stock parts as if there ever comes a day when we want to reinstall the factory steering, which we'll be able to do with no problems.

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Our jack-of-all-trades installer, Mark Newberry, holds the custom cradle that will bolt to the stock holes where the steering box and idler arm used to reside. Flaming River states that they want to help make your installation work to your specs, and in our case, ground clearance was a concern for the bottom of the rack's cradle. No problem as the cradle they sent us lined up almost flush with the bottom of the factory frame's K-member.

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Aligning the bolt holes in the cradle's mounting plate with those in the frame required using a drift. Once one bolt was in, the other hole was easier to locate. This side received two new 3/8-inch nuts and bolts that were torqued to 45 lb-ft.

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