Why did most big cars of the '50s and '60s come with overly large steering wheels? Because power-assisted steering was either a (costly) option or simply not available, leaving the driver to rely more on his arm strength and the large wheel's ratio to turn the vehicle. Therefore, when we think of a modern conversion for these classic behemoths, one of the first things that comes to mind is an upgraded power steering system. But when reading about cool Tri-Fives in magazines (or checking them out at the local car show), it's not overly obvious, but not everyone is converting their '55-57 Chevys to power steering.
For some it's the expense, for others there is simply no room for the requisite pump to fit. That doesn't mean you have to settle for using that oversized steering wheel just to maneuver your ride around the local cruise night. There is another solution.
Classic Chevy International has a simple kit that will replace the two bushings on the idler arm with two bearings. These bearings allow the idler arm to work more freely making it feel as if the car is equipped with power steering, hence the nickname, Poor Man's Power Steering. Follow along as we show you just how easy this upgrade can be on a '55 hardtop's steering that has seen better days and is ripe to have everything tightened up.
On the left and right sides of the steering column at the dashboard, we removed two 1/2-inch nuts. These hold the top of the mast jacket to the dashboard. The lower half of the clamp that holds the mast jacket to the dash has a tab that keeps the column in place. At the firewall, we removed the clamp that holds the bottom of the mast jacket in place. The clamp was bolted to the firewall with two bolts. One bolt squeezes the clamp to the mast jacket, and once it was removed, the clamp slid off of the end of the mast jacket.
The Pitman arm was held to the Pitman shaft with a 1 5/16-inch nut and lock washer. We removed the nut and lock washer and then removed the Pitman arm using a Pitman arm puller.
Once we removed all of the clamps and unplugged the wires from the turn signal to the under-dash harness, the mast jacket slid up and away from the dashboard.
Next, we removed the three nuts that held the steering box to the frame so the box could be removed from the top through the engine compartment.
It was now time to install the restored steering box. Chevrolet changed over to grease in late 1957, so the box will be filled with grease, not gear lube. We started by installing the lower mast jacket felt seals and retainer spring kit on the shaft from the box. This felt seal and spring kit keeps the trash out of the bottom of the steering column. The restored steering box was then slid back into place. The Pitman arm was reinstalled and torqued to 75 ft-lbs.