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Steering Box

By Tom Mason

Originally published in the Austin-Healey Magazine, April 1992

Well, you smell like 90 weight oil, and your steering box has to be topped up, which you do several times. Finally, you pull off the pitman arm and replace that little seal, which can be done in an afternoon, and it still leaks. Then you get this tremendous burst of ambition and you pull out the grille to remove the whole steering column. So you replace the bushing in the steering rocker shaft, have it machined or hone it to fit, and put all back together. As you install the wiring harness, you discover that the wire ends for the turn signals want to go into the steering worm, so you tape the ends with masking tape.

It still leaks and is sloppy with lots of free play, and the car drives lousy just like mine. OK. So we go to a boneyard and get a used box and repeat the thrill of taking out the grille, losing the rubber seals that seal the shaft through the firewall, and finishing up by botching the turn signal shaft and break all the little wires. We take the turn signal unit apart and reach utter despair. Austin-Healey Magazine has a recent tech article that I recommend because it saved my bacon.

Well as you can guess by now, the new box leaks worse than the old one, and I am resisting boiling grease and filling it with that substance. So I went away for awhile, then I drove a proper Healey and I came back to this nasty puzzle.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that the steering rocker shaft wears out.

The accompanying picture may not reproduce well but it is "galled" to the tune of 0.006" and also makes your steering sloppy. Healey Surgeons does rebuild boxes for $135.00 plus parts. I'm trying to find a new steering rocker shaft and SC may have them shortly. I am also exploring having the shaft refaced through welding.

I would replace the ball bearings, using the English method of overshiming, measuring the play, and then taking out a shim to equal zero. I cannot find the specs for the belluvue washer's adjustment, but I'm going for minimum clearance without the arm dragging on the worm (check with the peg out, and tape the roller bearings in or they will be all over the floor). I'm going to have a local machine shop hone the bearing to fit whatever shaft I end up using (at 0.0005 clearance).

My estimate for steering box life is 70 to 80K. The steering box on our cars is frankly lousy.

There, I said it and I'm not sorry. But we are stuck with it. I will let you know how this turns out, because as soon as I get the steering rocker shaft it's going back in, and besides, I can do the turn signals right this time with a new wiring harness. I fixed the botched slider on the adjustable part of the tube. Did I mention that I broke the long tube off the turn signal head and had to braze it? I hope that I didn't, because I don't want to own up to that.

So this guy calls me Sunday and he's replacing the seal on his steering box because it leaks and I say.....

Not what you were looking for? Don't forget you can check our back issues using the AHCUSA Magazine Index.

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