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Rack and Roll
Flaming River's New Easy-to-Install Rack-and-Pinion Gives First-Gen Camaros a Modern Steering System
Feb 22, 2005
Jeff Johnston's Billet Fabrication
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Rack and Roll
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.
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.
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.
The first step of disassembly under the car was to remove all of the old steering components...
...such as the Pitman arm, idler arm and center drag link.
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.
Steering column removal was straightforward.
With the rag joint removed, loosening the collar at the floor, the three bolts holding the column's bracket to the dash...
...and unplugging the electrical connector allowed the column to come right out.
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.
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.
Save the outer tie rod ends (as long as they are they are part # ES381RL for '68-69 cars),...
...as they will be reinstalled at the end of the rack steering rods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our Billet Fabrication oil pan is a work of art. Configured to a stock oil pan's dimensions, this beauty features a kick out on the passenger's side for added oil volume.
It comes complete with a custom pickup for the stock oil pump. Note how the pan's bottom is roughly the same depth as the bottom of the rack's cradle.
The driver's side mounting plate receives three new 7/16-inch bolts (which are torqued to 50-65 lb-ft). Again, using a drift helped to align the holes in the plate with those in the framerail.
A slight tap with a dead-blow hammer helped to move the cradle a bit over to line the holes up. The cradle fits snuggly between the rails.
Here's the steering shaft's support bearing. A special bracket mounts a large Heim joint perpendicular from the frame rail so that the double "D" shaft is supported between the special Flaming River universal joints.
Mark shoehorned the rack in from the driver's side.
We found it easy to mount the rack in after the cradle was already in place, but the instructions call for the rack to be placed in the cradle before it is installed. Either way works fine, according to our experience.
The right side of the rack simple bolts in place around the pinion gearbox. The left side, though, uses an assembly to dampen the rack.
Included are two metal brackets that surround a rubber bushing that encircles the rack's shaft.
Instead of the grade-8 bolts included in the kit, we chose to use grade-8, stainless steel, button-head Allen bolts in their place for bolting the rack to the cradle. We figured that in the case of the car being so low, that any added ground clearance we could attain would be better in the long run. Of course, we may end up building a steel skidplate that covers all of the exposed components.
Here's one of the three Flaming River universal joints required to get the end of the steering column attached to the new steering system's pinion shaft. Note the double "D" that will receive the connecting shaft.
Remember to reuse the correct factory tie rod ends. If you don't have part # ES381RL ends that were designed for '68-69 cars, go get 'em! The kit does include a large jamb nut that needs to be installed prior to the tie rod ends going on the rack.
After both tie rod ends are in place (at the correct width, based on your original measurement), they can be installed back in the spindle's steering arm and the castle nuts and cotter pins installed. Here's how clean our Flaming River install turned out. Final steps are to install the new stainless steel column and cut the double "D" shaft to its correct length.
Since our donor car is a '68, it has the ignition key in the dash. For those of you installing the rack-and-pinion kit in a '69 with the key in the column, Flaming River makes this cool billet bracket for hanging the column in place and housing a new ignition key.
We used the small billet hanger, which simply clamped around the column's shaft and attached to the underside of the dash with two nuts.
A center set screw allows you to rotate the column to the desired position and fasten it in place.
Only thing left after the clamp at the firewall is reinstalled with a new rubber isolator is to plug in the electrical connection. Our car had previously had a tilt column installed that happened to use the same connector, so it was a simple plug-in.
Back underneath, after the column was in place, we set out to make the final link between the rack-and-pinion and the steering column. Flaming River recommends using a wooden 3/4-inch dowel to determine the length of the double "D" steering shaft. Here, after cutting the wooden dowel, the double "D" shaft is installed through the center bearing support and measured. Measurements are crucial, so take your time and be precise.
The final dimension was about 4 1/2 inches, and it fit perfectly between the universal at the end of the shaft protruding from the support bearing and the universal coming off the rack's pinion shaft.
Note how nicely the shaft assembly fits and clears the cradle, frame, and headers.
The final adjustment before grabbing hold of the wheel is to make sure all of the setscrews are secure and the lock nuts are tightened down. The instructions call for you to take a drill and countersink a spot on the double "D" shaft where the setscrews will rest. This will aid in preventing them from coming loose and shifting. Don't forget to add a drop of thread locker, too!
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