The old steering system on our ’68 Camaro was getting pretty tired and we were becoming less enthusiastic about its vintage handling characteristics. So we got to thinking that a power rack-and-pinion steering system would make a nice upgrade. Besides, we have plans to do some custom work on our frame and oiling system in the near future, so we could use the extra room that a rack system would leave in the engine compartment.
One call over to the folks over at Unisteer Performance Products and we were on our way to installing their ’67- '69 Camaro power rack-and-pinion kit. We’ve had positive experiences with their products in the past, and heard this system works well with the first-gen Camaro suspension. As a bonus, we liked the compact design of their kit.
This installation takes place on a modified ’68 Camaro equipped with a big-block engine. The car was already loaded with Hooker Competition Headers and a high-performance steering pump. The car also has no fenderwells and is armed with four-piston Baer brakes, so installation of this kit may be slightly different on your car, be it stock, or with some different modifications. Just keep in mind that the instructions that come with this kit covers the installation in a basically stock Camaro.
Also, take note that there’s a good chance you won’t encounter fitment issues with your big-block Camaro headers like we did with our Hooker Headers (PN 2457). We knew going into this rack-and-pinion upgrade that header modifications would be a necessity. Although we could have opted to purchase a new set of headers that would fit properly with the rack-and-pinion upgrade, we instead chose to bank the extra cash for future modifications. It’s also the reason we took our car to Pacific Fabrication in Morgan Hill, California. They have a great facility and their crew posses the skills to get the job done right.
With that being said, the modification was quite simple. By just cutting up one U-bend in the header we gained the proper clearance necessary to install the new rack system.
After all was said and done, the Unisteer rack-and-pinion kit looks attractive with great fit and finish (it comes in black or chrome). We didn’t put a bumpsteer gauge on it, but on the initial post-install drive, the steering felt firm and sturdy, and we enjoyed the added feel of safety and confidence when making sharp turns, especially going into a corner a little hot. The car was able to take the uneven road surfaces with grace, and there’s a ton of ground clearance. On top of that, it now takes only 2.5 turns, whereas our stock standard box took more than four turns of the steering wheel to get to the same place. And the rack-and-pinion feels much more responsive to input but not overly aggressive, twitchy, or overpowered.
All of us performance-minded individuals are constantly looking to shave a few pounds off our cars. This is especially true for us big-block Camaro owners. The stock steering box and all the steering linkage weigh in at 50 pounds. By installing the Unisteer rack-and-pinion kit and the steering shaft kit, we were able to shave off 20 pounds.
Even though the installation was pretty straight forward, you’ll want to read through the instructions before jumping in with both feet.
Next, we installed the new longer lower control arm bolts. Be careful not to drive the bolts out more than 1 inch until after the rack and bracket are ready to be installed all the way. We then placed the large spacer over the lower control arm bolts on the left and right side. We temporally installed the rack on the two lower control arm bolts and just hand-tightened them to test-fit the steering shafts.
Depending on what size engine, and which headers your Camaro has, you may need some header modification. The Hooker Headers on this car had to be modified for clearance. Unisteer built the big-block steering shaft kit (PN 8050540) to work with Patriot headers, but we opted for making ours work.
Unisteer offers a special adapter hub for use with a stock steering column. You’ll need one of their steering shaft kits (PN 8020820) for your small-block or big-block application.
If you experience header interference problems like we did with this particular header, you’ll need some additional tubing in the form of mandrel U-bends, elbows, or a donut. We picked up all these Pro-Werks products from Goodies Speed Shop in San Jose, California just in case, but we ended up using only one U-bend.
We then installed the steering support bracket with the shaft support bearing at its highest location to keep the bind out of the shaft. We finger-tightened the bracket to allow for easy removal while trial-fitting and trimming of the steering shafts.
With the header removed, we were able to attach the U-joint to the shaft sticking out of the rack-and-pinion. Then we installed the upper steering assembly. We test fit the center U-joint to find out how much we needed to trim. Measure two, or even three times, then cut once.
Next, we measured the lower shaft and cut it to fit. When you’re all done cutting the shafts to size, you may need to bevel the edges of the Double-D (not the splined) ends of the shaft for the U-joints to pivot correctly.
To correctly phase the U-joints for bind-free operation, we were sure to line them up properly. Unisteer instructs you to line up the U- joints on each end of the shaft phased 45 degrees from each other.
Now that we’ve trimmed and lined up all the shafts and U-joints, we installed them without any of the locking nuts and bolts. We cut the primary tube out of our header and temporarily re-installed the header so we knew where to make modifications.
Kevin Stearns of Pacific Fabrication performed all the header modifications. He cut up one of our U-bends and tack-welded the pieces into place.
We removed all the steering joints in one piece then took out the header for complete welding. After that was done, we painted the header with some silver heat paint.
We then torqued down the two lower control arm attaching bolts that hold the steering rack to the subframe to 85 lb-ft. Don’t forget to make sure the spacers are sandwiched between the bracket and subframe.
It’s easier to plumb the power steering line to the rack before you re-install the steering linkage and header. Because of space constraints, we test-fit the lines and tightened the -6 AN banjo fittings for the rack to the low (aluminum hose end) and high-pressure (steel hose end) hoses.
The two banjo fittings attach to the inside face of the rack on the side closest to the oil pan. The high-pressure port on the steering system has larger threads (shown with wrench on it) and the low-pressure, return fitting is the one with smaller threads. Torque to 20 lb-ft.
We installed a new set of Remflex graphite header gaskets. We’ve had huge success with graphite gaskets in the past, so we thought we’d give theirs a try.
With the header installed, we performed final fitment for the steering shafts and U-joints. It’s necessary to grind a relief in the steering shaft in order to thread the locking allen bolt through the U-joint. It’s easiest to test-fit the steering joints on the car and use a black permanent marker through the bolt hole to mark the shafts in order to find where the bolt relief needs to be cut. Safety Note: If you don’t have ¼-inch between the relief slot and the end of the shaft, you’ve cut the shaft too short. If you can’t get more material by moving the U-joints on the rack or steering column, you’ll need a longer shaft. Mark and dimple the steering column adapter shaft for the safety set screw to safely hold it in place while driving.
After confirming we’ve properly phased all the U-joints 45 degrees from each other, we turned the steering from lock to lock by hand. It’s important that the operation is very smooth and doesn’t bind. If it does, find the culprit and you may need to re-phase the U-joints a little and confirm the shafts aren’t protruding too far into the U-joint, interfering with its operation. Adjustment of the steering support bearing may be necessary too.
With the steering operating smoothly, we tightened the allen bolts in the U-joints, the steering shaft support bearing and bracket, steering column adapter, then re-confirmed smooth operation.
It was time to remove the stock steering arms from the spindle.
To fit in the recess for the tie-rod end we used a thin-walled ¾-inch socket to install the new steering arms onto the spindles and torque them to 85 lb-ft.
We put on the tires and hand-tightened the tie-rod nuts, then lowered the car to the ground and checked the alignment by using our original measured specs that we took before we got started.
We raised the car back up and torqued the tie rod to the steering arm to 35 lb-ft, while the tie-rod end jamb nuts were torqued to 40 lb-ft.
With the steering rack completely installed, we double-checked every nut and bolt to make sure everything is tight. We then added steering fluid, and with the car running, turned the steering system from lock-to-lock in order to get the air out. If the steering does not turn when the engine is running, you’ve installed the hoses backwards. Remember, measuring alignment with a tape measure is not an exact science, so take your car to the alignment shop so it can be properly aligned for proper function and safety.