Power steering was not available on Corvettes for the first 10 years of production. Equipped with skinny tires and small-blocks, the lack of power steering wasn’t a big deal for the first generation. However, wider tires, big-blocks and increased weight were in the future for the C2 and C3 Corvettes. In 1963, Chevrolet bolted on a power steering system comprised of a cylinder, valve and pump. This system remained relatively unchanged through 1982.
On the plus side, it’s easy to replace parts. It’s also fairly easy to add factory power steering to a C2 or C3 if not so equipped. This system is also very reliable. The control valve is the component most likely to eventually wear out and the rubber hoses can simply deteriorate after decades of use. If you are seeing drops of red fluid on your garage floor, inspect these parts first.
The only negative to the early Corvette power steering system is that it can have a little more play, in part because the control valve is external to the steering box. Aftermarket power steering boxes that don’t need an external valve can tighten up the steering but may need steering column modifications.
The power steering fluid deserves a little attention. Initially, GM automatic transmission fluid was used, which was dyed red to make it easier to determine the source of leaks. By the middle of the C2 generation, Chevrolet specified Dexron, Dexron II or GM power steering fluid. Today, there are more choices such as AMSOIL power steering fluid, which yields greater performance and fluid life. One difference in this fluid to be noted is that the level changes significantly with temperature. Unlike the engine dipstick, the power steering has markings for COLD and HOT. Typically, less than a quart is needed to fill the system.
Follow along to see how the valve and hoses can be replaced in an afternoon. No special tools are needed except for an inexpensive pickle fork that some auto parts stores provide for customer use. Replacement of these parts is straightforward. It is essential that a freshly installed and replaced valve be properly adjusted. The balance adjustment is also worth checking if the steering wheel turns easier in one direction more than the other. Also note that correct routing of the four rubber hoses is critical. If these hoses are even slightly out of position they will rub, potentially even rupture; then bye-bye steering (unless you have gorilla arms).
1. Removing the passenger-side front wheel is not essential but it makes things easier when working without a lift. Note how the two hoses going to the cylinder are crossed. Remove them with a 7/16-inch wrench and let the fluid drain.
2. Tip: bend the old cylinder hoses down to the drain pan and then turn the steering wheel all the way to the right and to the left. Draining the cylinder this way will make less of a mess during the rest of the work.
3. Remove the pump hoses from the valve, starting with the smaller hose. Turn the wheel all the way to the right for better access.
4. Remove the pump hoses from the pump. After removing the hose clamp from the return hose, grab it with a pair of pliers to twist and break it loose. If it doesn’t break loose easily, slit the hose to prevent damaging the pump during removal.
5. Place the old hoses next to the new ones to compare their length and their pipe bends. It’s better to know now if the hoses are not the correct parts.
6. Remove the clamp bolt from the power steering valve with a 9/16-inch wrench.
7. Remove the cotter pin from the steering valve stud and then loosen the nut with a 3/4-inch wrench.
8. Use a narrow pickle fork, like the one used for tie-rod ends, to break the connection between the steering valve and the pitman arm. Tip: insert the pickle fork from the rear so that the necessary hammering places less strain on the steering box gears.
9. Unscrew the power steering valve from the drag link. Push the valve and link down far enough so that the valve stud does not hit and scratch the cylinder shaft.
10. Corvette America offers completely new power steering valves in addition to rebuilt valves.
11. Screw the new valve on until it runs out of threads. Turn it back until the valve stud lines up with the pitman arm. Note that there is a recessed area on the underside of the drag link threads. This recess must be aligned with the bolt hole to allow the clamp bolt to go through the valve.
12. Turn the valve to find the approximate midpoint in the stud’s movement and then tighten the clamp bolt. This prevents the valve stud from being held all the way over during use. Install the valve stud nut and cotter pin.
13. Install the pump hoses, starting with the high pressure hose. That’s the hose that has the large flare nuts on both ends.
14. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the left. Inspect the pump hoses to make sure they are not binding or hitting anything. If you need to tweak a hose a bit, bend the pipe portion of the hose. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the right and check hose clearance again.
15. Install the cylinder hoses. These hoses are very similar and the flare nuts are the same size so these can be installed incorrectly. One hose has a larger radius bend than the other.
16. The hose with the smaller radius goes from the top of the valve to the bottom of the cylinder. The hose with the larger radius connects to the bottom of the valve, crosses over the other hose and connects to the top of the cylinder.
17. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the right. Inspect the cylinder hoses to make sure they are not contacting anything, especially the cylinder’s frame bracket. Many a power steering hose has worn through because this wasn’t checked.
18. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and check hose clearances in that position. Again, bend the pipe portion of the hoses a little if needed. Turn the steering wheel straight ahead and check all the hoses again. That’s where they will be most of the time. On these new hoses it was necessary to tighten the flare nuts very tight.
19. The location of the power steering pump on early Corvettes was not Chevrolet’s greatest design. It’s necessary to use a funnel or a hose and funnel to fill the pump reservoir. And it’s hard to see the fluid level as you’re filling it. Only add 8 ounces of fluid or less at first. Then use a flashlight to see the level during refills. It’s easy to overfill (and that makes leak checking more difficult later).
20. Start the engine for 10 seconds and then top off the fluid level as necessary. Start the engine again and slowly turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and to the right. Top off the pump as necessary to the COLD mark on the cap’s dipstick.
21. Remove the cotter pin and nut from the cylinder’s shaft. Hold the shaft from turning with a 7/16-inch wrench. Push the shaft out of the frame bracket. Note for later assembly that there is a steel sleeve inside the rubber bushing to prevent it from being overly compressed.
22. Remove the cap on the end of the valve and then start the engine. If the shaft is extended, turn the adjustment nut counterclockwise until it begins to move in. Mark that location and turn the nut clockwise until the shaft begins to move out. Mark that location too and then turn the nut midway between those two positions. The power steering valve is now adjusted and replacement is complete.
23. The pump return hose has almost no pressure inside so its hose clamp doesn’t need to be overly tightened. Band clamps with machine screws are easier to tighten and remove in this cramped application.
24. Corvette America makes it very clear that grease should not be pumped into the Zerk fitting on the power steering valve. I’ve never seen these valves worn out by a lack of grease, but they can be damaged by pumping in too much grease.
25. ASMOIL makes a synthetic power steering fluid that is both long lasting and has excellent lubrication features.
Photography by the Author