When you own a race car, or even a street car for that matter, you perform modification after modification, always in search of going faster, cornering better, or whatever your goal may be. However, speed does not always require powerplant or drivetrain modifications. Sometimes simple items such as removing weight or stiffening your suspension can make a world of difference.
For this particular installation, we were looking to save weight, facilitate better suspension geometry, and gain more control of the steering. If you've ever drag raced, you know you don't want to be headed down the track at over 100 mph in a loose goose. To help prevent this we'll install a Flaming River manual rack and pinion, and PA Racing's chrome-moly tubular K-member with adjustable A-arms. The installation will be performed on a 1992 Camaro RS drag car owned by Alex Rodriguez.
Flaming River is one of the industry leaders in steering components. We used the company's custom Pinto-style rack and pinion, along with its steering shaft kit. The rack and pinion features a steel center tube, and lightweight aluminum casting on the ends. It also features a quick 15:1 ratio. The steering shaft is manufactured using pre-ground alloy steel, and comes with CNC-machined, aircraft quality joints. This shaft provides positive steering response with no backlash, as present in a stock shaft, containing a rag joint.
PA Racing is a specialist in custom front-end suspension systems. It offers many custom applications, such as the K-member we are installing here, which comes with mounting points built right in for the Pinto-style rack. Most products can be obtained in either mild steel or chrome-moly. No matter which route you take, consider the weight loss advantages and improved steering and suspension geometry. According to Jason Smith, owner of PA Racing, the weight savings from a stock K-member to a mild steel tubular unit is around 35 to 40 pounds. A chrome-moly unit saves an additional 6 to 10 pounds. This will dramatically improve your launches at the strip, and knock precious time off of your 60-ft clockings.
The first step, as always, is to disconnect the negative battery cable. Next we proceeded to support the engine since we are going to pull the K-member out. This was achieved by the use of an engine cradle. Slight pressure was applied in the upward position.
Once the vehicle is raised, the outer tie rod ends, center link, and idler arm are unbolted and removed as an assembly. Shown on the right are all steering components to be removed.
The next order of business is to remove the steering shaft. To do so, the upper shaft bolt is removed, followed by the lower splined flange bolt. The upper part of the shaft contains a slip joint to aid in easy removal.
The final steering component to be removed is the steering box. This vehicle contains a manual unit from an S-10 pickup truck, and the three bolts going through the driver side frame rail need to be removed. If your vehicle has power steering, you will also need to remove the power steering lines and the pump.
Now that all necessary steering components are removed, we can work on getting the K-member out. First, the lower ball joints need to be removed from the spindles. Once the nut is removed, you can use a hammer to shock the spindle (in order to loosen and remove the ball joint).
Remove the fasteners holding the engine mounts to the old K-member. Notice that this vehicle already contains an aftermarket K-member. This K-member doesn't contain the needed mounts for the Pinto style rack, and it is made of mild steel, not chrome-moly. Also take notice of the scuffmarks on the K-member; this is a result of a clearance issue with the old inner tie-rod end.
OK, now for the scary part. The K-member contains three bolts on each side in order for removal. Once removed, the K-member can be wiggled out. Look ma, no hands!
Alright, now that the engine has not fallen on our heads, we will perform a quick oil pan change. The Milodon pan was damaged from a bumper-dragging wheelstand. Inspection of the oil pick-up tube and engine internals showed no damage. We didn't expect any due to consistent oil pressures.
Once the oil pan was buttoned up, the new K-member was installed. We advise leaving all bolts loose until all six are started, then tighten them up. This aids in lining up the K-member properly.
We're now ready to install the new adjustable lower control arms. Aluminum spacers need to be installed-large ones in front and smaller ones in rear. Then attach the ball joints and tighten. Don't forget the cotter pins, grease fittings, and grease.
Now for what we thought was the easy part. We're going to install the engine mount bolts back in. Piece of cake, right? Not really. Due to tight tolerances of the solid engine mounts, it took a better part of an hour to get all eight bolts in. Once again, loosen all bolts to aid in adjustment. Patience is necessary.
Next step is to begin installation of the steering rack. Once laid upon the rack mounts, install all the mounting bolts. On the passenger side you're required to install this billet clamp. Once all is aligned, tighten all fasteners.
Next, the rack must be connected to the spindles. In order to accomplish this, we opted for PA's bump steer kit. You must drill out the spindle first to accommodate the large 11/42-inch bolt.
Once the Heim joint-style tie rod ends were installed, we installed the 11/42-inch bolts with the provided spacers. The key to the spacers is to have the rod-ends close to level with the ground once suspension is loaded.
Here's a shot of the bottom half buttoned up. We had plenty of clearance between the oil pan, K-member, and rack. With the removal of the steering box we also helped center weight within the front end.
Last, but not least: the steering shaft. We tried to install the shaft with two joints (once up top, and one at rack) until we found the header tube was right in our path. A quick call to PA and a Heim joint kit was on the way to remedy the situation. Pictured here is a bracket that we fabricated in order to mount the Heim joint. It was welded to the K-member.
Take your time. Measuring and fitting of the steering shaft is very time consuming. Once all was measured, we used a cut-off wheel to cut down the shaft. Measure twice, cut once. Once all shafts were cut to size, they were test fit several times. We then proceeded to set the vehicle on the ground and turn the steering wheel to check for binding or deflection of any kind. Luckily after our second test fit everything worked out and there were no problems. It's advised that Loctite be used on the universal joint set screws for added insurance.
Finally, here's the end result of our problem-child-turned-honor-student. Not only does it look good, but it actually turns too. Next, the Camaro will be treated to a full-blown front-end alignment and, hopefully, a track test.