The two key ways we interface with our Camaros is through the gas pedal and the steering wheel. In essence, a lot of thought and effort are put into the throttle side of the equation. After all, going fast is fun, but if no love is given to the steering side, the results could be a fast car with a sloppy feel. It’s a situation that can also be dangerous as you’re zipping down the highway. Imagine a new Z06 ’Vette with cruddy steering; what fun would that be?
One popular option is to replace the recirculating-ball steering box with a rack-and-pinion system, but this can lead to a lot of work and a much lighter wallet. Switching to a rack and pinion on a stock subframe can also cause fitment issues and undesired changes to the car’s suspension geometry if it isn’t done just right. Fortunately, companies like AGR offer replacement gearboxes that can give your vintage Camaro the feel of a new car. Best of all, the swap is easy and there’s no need to sell family members to medical science to afford it.
This time-tested steering system is very rugged and preferred in racing organizations like NASCAR. The install isn’t rocket science and your car will retain its factory look.
Recirculating Ball Steering Box
From about 1950 until sometime in the 1980s, the recirculating ball system was the standard in steering technology. In fact, it’s still used in some heavy-duty truck applications. Gearboxes are set up with ratios that affect the number of times necessary to turn the steering wheel to get the front wheels to pivot.
A wide-ratio box may require up to 4.5 revolutions of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock, whereas a close ratio box of 12.7:1 only takes about three revolutions of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock. So, what difference does 1.5 revolutions make? Answer: a lot! You may not notice it that much driving down to the grocery store, but if you ever find yourself on a long and twisty road, the wide-ratio box will make you work much harder than the close-ratio box. More work tires you sooner and affects your driving performance, in turn taking a lot of fun out of the experience. Whereas the close-ratio box will make your car more responsive since it requires less driver input to change course.
In addition to the steering ratio, gearboxes can be adjusted for the amount of effort, or resistance you feel while turning the steering wheel. In a car set up with low resistance, you’ll have very little feedback, and your car will have the feeling like it is floating around on the road. What’s needed is a happy medium between low effort (when you are moving slow or sitting still) and a higher effort setup that would be good at speed. After all, you don’t want to sneeze at 70 mph and end up in another lane.