There’s nothing better than getting into your Corvette and heading out on the open road to experience the exhilaration of driving across all types of challenging thoroughfares. The performance felt as you drive translates through a combination of acceleration, handling and braking, all of which need to work in harmony to create a perfect balance. If any one of these systems fails to keep up their end of the bargain, the experience gets compromised.
As with any vehicle, as they age these systems and components become susceptible to wear and in many cases require either replacement or a rebuild. On a recent visit to Competition Specialties in Walpole, Massachusetts, we met with shop owner Peter Newell who had just been brought a 1972 C3 Corvette for a steering column replacement since its electronics were starting to fail. Instead of refurbishing the stock tilt and telescopic column a decision was made to update the car with a fresh tilt column.
Flaming River offers a multitude of replacement steering columns for Corvettes, ranging in years from 1953 through 1982, along with installation kits and numerous accessories to complete the fitment to your particular model. In this case, Newell selected their C3 Corvette Classic Series tilt column in a mill finish since he was going to paint it to match the interior. The column is also available in a polished finish as well as black powdercoat. The Classic Series features a one-piece key at 3 o’clock housing complete with an integral ignition switch in the original location. To make the job seamless they also offer an installation kit packed with all the right goods, including their exclusive swivel floor mount, Corvette-style factory column drop, female wiring connector kit and a billet-joint universal joint. Plus, it comes with a three-year warranty from the date of purchase.
Taking on the installation, it’s always good to have a game plan starting with disconnecting the battery. After evaluating the job it was determined to be very straightforward and Newell began with removing the steering wheel cover on the lower dash followed by disconnecting the turn signal switch wiring. He proceeded under the hood in a very tight work area to disconnect the column from the coupler at the steering box then moved inside to unbolt the column from under the dash and at the firewall. After disconnecting the ignition wiring at the top of the column he easily removed the unit from the car.
Once on the workbench to remove the steering wheel a number of related components were disassembled, noting that some of the parts would not get reused since the new column was not telescopic. The new unit was then prepared for installation by adding the swivel floor mount to the bottom of the column while the drop was also installed along with the new universal joint. When taking on the reinstallation it’s important to have help to mount the universal joint to the steering box when the new column end is fed through the firewall. Once secured, attach the related wiring for the turn signal switch and ignition before bolting the unit in place at the firewall and under the dash.
To complete the job, install the provided large 5/8-inch aluminum spacer over the column shaft followed by the cancelling cam spring. Then install the cancelling cam over the column shaft and cancelling cam spring and complete with the provided 3/16-inch aluminum spacer. For proper operation of the cancelling cam align the stem between the 10 and 11 o’clock position. Finally, place the new polished aluminum adapter with factory steering wheel onto the column shaft and tighten the retaining nut to 50 ft-lb. The completed tilt column looks awesome and will deliver many years of great driving.
01. Flaming River offers everything you need to update the tired steering column in your 1969-’82 C3 Corvette with a new tilt model, including all related installation parts pictured here.
02. Selecting their Classic Series column with the paintable mill finish, Peter Newell of Competition Specialties prepares it for paint by first masking off all key components.
03. To prep the surface for paint, Newell first gave it a thorough sanding with 220-grit dry sandpaper and followed by blowing the surface clean of debris and a wipe down using prep solvent.
04. After applying and letting dry a coat of etching primer, Newell treated the surface to a coat of semi-gloss interior tan.
05. Here you can see the factory tilt/telescopic column in place. Before getting started on its removal, be sure to disconnect the car battery.
06. To access the column, use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the steering column cover on the lower dash.
07. Follow that by pulling back the carpeting and removing the section of insulation where the column mounts to the firewall.
08. With the lower dash panel removed, now disconnect the turn signal switch wiring. The existing female plug section will need to be reworked during the new column installation.
09. First, from the engine bay use a 7/16-inch 12-point socket to disconnect the column from the steering box at the coupler. Then, inside use a 9/16-inch socket to remove the two column support bolts.
10. Newell then proceeded to remove a pair of 1/2-inch bolts from the floor mount of the column at the firewall.
11. With the column dropped, it allowed access to then unplug the ignition wiring located at the top of the column.
12. With the column completely lowered and disconnected it can now safely be removed by carefully pulling it straight back and out of the interior.
13. This close-up of the floor mount lets you see where it meets the firewall (arrows) and where it was connected on the engine compartment side to the mounting bracket.
14. With the steering column out of the car and on the workbench it was time to prepare to remove the steering wheel starting, first, with carefully taking off the horn button.
15. This particular column features both tilt and telescoping functions. Next, using a Phillips head screwdriver remove the horn contact lock ring spacer and retainer ring.
16. Newell then followed by removing the Phillips head screws of the telescopic column locking ring followed by the removal of the lock star screw.
17. Follow by removing the steering wheel mounting nut and washer.
18. Using a steering wheel puller, the steering wheel was removed from the column and set aside for reinstallation to the new column.
19. With the steering wheel now removed from the column you can see all the parts that were involved to secure it in place.
20. This gave us the perfect opportunity to show you the original column (top) alongside the new Flaming River unit. Note that the factory column is slightly longer due to its telescopic option.
21. In order to install the Flaming River column swivel floor mount, the bottom column retainer plate must first be removed using a 1/8-inch Allen socket.
22. Once the swivel mount is slid into place on the column the retainer plate can be reinstalled. Here you can see the difference in the bases of the Flaming River and factory columns.
23. The new Flaming River column drop was secured in place after measuring its placement based on the factory column mounting area.
24. Flaming River supplies a new universal joint to secure the column to the steering box, thus eliminating the need for the original-style steering column coupler and flange.
25. The new universal joint was installed onto the splined shaft of the steering column and secured in place.
26. Here you can see the freshly painted Flaming River tilt column with the new column drop, swivel floor mount and universal joint all ready for installation.
27. With the column assembled, Newell carefully started the installation by first feeding the end through the firewall. It’s good to have some help at this point to link the new universal joint to the steering box and tighten it in place.
28. The new updated female plug adapter was wired and secured to the turn signal switch wiring. At this time you also connect the ignition wiring back into the top of the column and follow by tightening the swivel floor mount to the firewall and bolt the column to the lower dash.
29. Newell then installed the new billet aluminum dress-up kit, which included the turn signal and column tilt arms.
30. The new Flaming River cancelling cam was set into place with the horn wire pre-installed into the unit.
31. To mount the original Corvette steering wheel to the new column this polished aluminum Flaming River adapter does the trick to complete the installation.
32. The new Flaming River tilt column looks great and should provide plenty of awesome driving in the car for years to come.