We believe there are three main areas of the interior in an old car that can dictate how comfortable or uncomfortable it is to drive: the pedals, shifter, and steering. The seat comfort and how your body is positioned are important too, but it all goes out the vent window if your thin-'n'-wide steering wheel feels like it will come off at any moment and the shifter won't engage. Although these cockpit-controlled things don't have the wow factor like a new power adder or stylish wheels, it's these comfort items that make the feel of an old car more enjoyable.
Mark Ceccarelli, '55 Chevy 210 owner and bicycle enthusiast, was dealing with a worn-out stock steering column for years. As his first restoration, we'd say Ceccarelli built a very nice ride, but he admitted that he felt disconnected from the road when driving it. Besides allowing the steering wheel to slop around all over the place, the stock column's turn signal and cancelling cams were worn down to nubs and could no longer function with that stiff and confident click they're supposed to have. Finally, what we think was reason enough to revamp this whole area, was the beige leather steering wheel that stuck out like sore thumb in his blue and gray interior.
To remedy the sloppy column, we contacted Flaming River of Berea, Ohio, for one of their tilt columns for Tri-Five Chevys (PN FR2003IN). We ordered a polished column without gear indicator since Ceccarelli is planning to retain the factory unit, however other models are available for Tri-Fives in various finishes and configurations. We also opted for a nice new billet steering wheel from Danchuk, instead of the former leather-bound piece. For the install we headed over to Hot Rod Specialties in Upland, California, and followed along as Joel Rode handled the upgrade. We should note that it takes some cutting and grinding on the factory steering shaft, but even so, most enthusiasts should be able to reproduce our efforts in their garage; you just need a grinder and a table vice to modify the factory shaft.
Even though that disconnected-from-the-road feeling can be totally eliminated by swapping over to a rack-and-pinion steering conversion kit, which Flaming River also offers, the new column felt solid and turned smoothly over the free-floating beige steering wheel. Best of all, gripped between Ceccarelli's fingers, is a much nicer Danchuk piece to control the turns.
Here's a shot of the original wheel and column setup Mark Ceccarelli was running in his '55 Chevy. What you can't see is that the wheel, even though it's bolted to the stock shaft, was not centered in the column and would shimmy while driving.
A quick call to Flaming River and we had everything needed to convert the Tri-Five steering column to something much sturdier.
When it came to the shift levers and column, Ceccarelli went with the polished look, which looks much nicer than the pitted chrome one he started with.
This beefy, stainless steel universal joint needs to be mated to the stock steering box before you can install the column. Since the steering shaft is permanently attached to the box, you have to cut and grind the sides flat so that this piece can slide onto it, allowing you to adapt the column.
Danchuk provided the billet steering wheel and adapter for the project, a much nicer alternative to the dirty leather wheel that was previously controlling the turns.
Here's a shot of the stock unit that was removed. Ceccarelli opted to keep the column shifter instead of going with a floor mount; luckily both versions are available from Flaming River.
This shows the column shift bracket that engages the linkage underhood. As you can see, Flaming River offers the bracket with various mounting holes so you can position it to your own preference.
This car runs the stock steering box, however for better road feel, a rack-and-pinion setup would be ideal if you want the turns to feel as tight and controlled as possible.
To make the installation easier, Hot Rod Specialties' Joel Rode put the '55 on the lift, disconnected the Pitman arm, and removed the stock steering box.
This triangular-shaped swivel floor mount makes installation of a new tilt column in your Classic Tri-Five Chevy simple and attractive. The machined aluminum ball swivels for easy positioning of the column at virtually any angle.
Here, Rode chops the stock steering shaft, which runs the length of the column. After it's cut down, the stainless universal joint can be attached. If you're considering a steering column upgrade, here's something else to think about. The original design has a thick spear-like shaft that connects to the steering box that could potentially impale a driver in the event of a crash, whereas the newer columns are made to collapse as a safety precaution.
With the column bolted down and Danchuk steering wheel put on, the interior not only looked much better, but the column turned much smoother than the previous setup.