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You are here: Home Tech Articles & Tutorials Steering / Suspension / Brakes How to Shorten Your Manual-Steering Column
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How to Shorten Your Manual-Steering Column



NOTE 1:  This tutorial is a companion to How to install power steering in your 2WD '67-'72 Ford pickup.

NOTE 2:  PS = power steering;  MS = manual steering

As noted in the above-mentioned tutorial, Ford started putting the Saginaw power steering box (which replaced the Bendix style box) into their trucks starting in '68 and by '69 the Saginaw box was used exclusively for all power steering applications. The Bendix box was was prone to overheating and seal failure, issues eliminated with the introduction of the Saginaw. However, while the Bendix box was dimensionally identical to the manual steering box, making it an easy upgrade, the Saginaw was 2 inches longer, which meant the steering column for PS-equipped trucks needed to be 2 inches shorter to compensate. Just so that you're up to speed, you simply have to remember that there are three different steering column shaft lengths:

  • Manual steering: 35-5/8" ('67-'70) or 36-1/8" ('71-'72)
  • Bendix: 34-15/16"
  • Saginaw: 32-7/8" ('67-'70) or 33-3/8 ('71-'72)

Since a good percentage of '67-'72 trucks have manual steering, one of the first modifications new owners often make is to convert their trucks to PS. Normally this is a simple swap, by finding a PS-equipped truck and swapping in the shorter PS column and the Saginaw box as a pair. However, it IS possible to shorten your existing MS column if you're having problems finding the right parts, and you're handy with a welder. This article will show most of the details for what needs to be done and begins after the steering column is removed and on the workbench. For the purpose of this tutorial, I completely disassembled a '67 MS/automatic column, a '71 PS/automatic column, and a '68 MS/4-spd. column.

The steering columns shown in Fig. 1 reveal the problem: the MS column is obviously longer, to reach the shorter MS (or Bendix PS) box. Let's fix that.

Steering Column Disassembly

1) Remove the steering wheel with a puller.

2) Remove the spring under the wheel and then pull the main shaft out. When you do, the upper shaft bushing will be slid off the shaft. Don't lose it if you're planning on reusing it.

3) Remove the turn signal switch. In order to slide it out of the column, you will have to first remove the harness connector from the wiring at the base of the column. You'll need a special tool to release the clips holding the pin connectors in the switch's wiring harness, like the yellow-handled tool in Fig. 3. This set of three cost me less than $7 at the local parts store. Make a diagram showing the proper position for each colored wire in the harness connector (so they can be reinstalled correctly) and then use the tool to release each wire from the connector.

4) Remove the three Phillips-head screws holding the turn signal switch retaining plate (Fig. 4), and then pull the turn signal switch out of the column.

5) Remove the two 3/8" nuts holding the turn signal switch housing and shift collar to the shift tube (these bolts can be seen in the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions in Fig. 4.) and then set the turn signal switch housing and shift collar aside. (It is not necessary to remove the shift lever from the collar.) When you remove these pieces, the two bolts will probably drop sure not to lose them. These are each held in place in the shifter tube by a gob of thick grease for installation (Fig. 5).

6) Slide the shift tube out of the column housing. When it's removed, you'll be able to remove the shifter linkage lever at the base of the column. Make a note of how it's oriented to the column (see Fig. 11). Turn the housing upside down and dump out the shift tube return spring.

7) Slide the firewall mounting plate and gasket off the housing.

That's it! Your steering column is disassembled and ready for modification. Let's take a few moments and compare the pieces from a MS column and a PS column.

Fig. 1 - Top: MS column; Bottom: PS column

Fig. 2 - In this photo you can also see the difference between the shifter arms. (Left: MS; Right: PS). The steering wheel end of these columns are perfectly lined up with each other for this shot.

Fig. 3 - This is a set of wire terminal removal tools. The yellow-handled tool is needed to release the pin connectors from the turn signal switch harness connector.

Fig. 4 - Removing the turn signal switch retaining plate screws.

Fig. 5 - This shot shows one of the two bolts which hook onto the shifter tube and are held on with thick grease, to hold them in place during installation.

Fig. 7
- Here's a shot of the plastic bushing on the flange-end of the steering shaft, and the steel race it rides on, in the end of the column.

Fig. 8
- Just another FYI reminder, repeated from the PS tutorial: '71-'72 column shafts have some extra material on the end of the shaft that will need to be removed if using a '67-'70 3-spoke steering wheel.

Fig. 9 - Here's a comparison of the shift linkage levers at the base of the columns. Since the PS column is shorter, it's lever (top) has to have a more-radical bend to reach the shifter linkage than the MS linkage (bottom). The MS lever can be bent to match the PS lever, if an appropriate PS lever is unavailable.

Fig. 10 - Here's a comparison of the two shifter tubes. The main steel steering shaft runs down through these. The MS shifter tube is on top, the PS shifter tube is on bottom. The PS tube is exactly 1-9/16" shorter than the MS piece. (See table of measurements below.)

Fig. 11 - The shifter linkage lever slides onto the end of the shifter tube. A large spring at the bottom of the column housing slides over the end of the shifter tube and pushes against this lever. There is a similar locating tab on the other end of the shift tube, to properly locate the shift collar.

Fig. 12 - The flanges on the end of the column shafts are slightly different between early and late columns. The early shafts (right) use one large and one small locator pin, whereas the later shafts (left) use two large pins. Make sure you use the pin setup which matches whichever shaft you decide to use, or modify the flange with a die-grinder as needed.

Fig. 13
- Shown here are the two slightly-different styles of inner firewall retaining plates. The plate and gasket for a MS setup is on the left, the PS pieces are on the right. Because of the different angle of the PS steering column where it comes through the firewall, the PS plate had to be heightened a bit. If you're handy, you can either modify your existing MS piece or just cut a new one from flat sheetmetal and reuse your existing gasket.

Fig. 14 - This picture shows the amount the longer shifter tube will have to be sectioned and the best location for the cut. Using a chop saw will make this cut quickly and very square with the tube.

Fig. 15
- Once you section out the necessary amount from the shifter tube, clamp them together onto a piece of angle iron, to hold them square to each other when welding them back together.

Fig. 16
- Shown here are the Late style of lower bushing retainer (top) and the Early style (bottom).

Fig. 17 - Here's a view of the slot for the shifter linkage lever. You can see the spot welds holding the insert in the end of the main housing tube.

Fig. 18 - Reinstalling the turn signal switch.

Fig. 19
- Here's a view of the channel that the turn signal wiring harness is fed through, along the bottom of the main column housing.

Sectioning the Shifter Tube, Main Shaft and Main Housing

What we're looking to do now is section the three pieces that are too long: the column housing, the shift tube and the shaft itself. Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds. Sectioning simply involves cutting a chunk out of the middle, discarding it, and welding the two halves back together. If you've got a welder and know how to use it, you can easily accomplish this in an afternoon. Here's a chart that shows the factory dimensions of the various column pieces:

  Power Steering Column Manual Steering Column
Shift Tube 26-11/16" 28-1/4"
Shaft (1) 31-1/4" 34"
Column Housing 28-1/16" 30-7/16"
(1) - Measured from top of splines to top of flange lip

The shaft and the hollow column housing and shift tube each need two things done to it: the appropriate amount of material sectioned from the middle, and to be welded back together.

In Fig. 14 I've laid both MS and PS shifter tubes next to each other, and you can see the amount of sectioning needed and the best location for it. The holes in each each tube just at the left side of the picture are for the neutral safety switch actuator, so your cut will have to be between those holes and the rib which holds the shifting linkage arm.

For cutting each piece, keeping the cut perfectly square is very important...therefore you should use something like a chop saw or band saw (if the band saw has guides which hold the piece perpendicular to the blade). After making the two cuts, clamp the two pieces together onto a length of angle iron (as shown for the shifter tube in Fig. 15), which will not only hold them steady for you for welding, but will ensure that the two pieces are square to each other, and will prevent them from warping while you're welding. However, it's probably best to put at least three quick spot welds around the circumference of each piece before completing the weld.

Repeat this process for the main steel shaft. With the shaft, your section can be cut out pretty much anywhere along it's length. After you make the cut, bevel the two ends a little which will be welded together, for best weld penetration. After the weld is made and cools off, you'll need to grind it down smooth, since the bottom shaft bushing and bushing retainer will need to be slid all the way down from the top. The plastic bushings are slit, so they can give a little in case the weld isn't ground down perfectly smooth. However, there is either a clamp or a collar at the end of the shaft which holds the plastic bushing, depending on if you're using an early or late main shaft (Fig. 16), and the weld must be smooth to allow the collar (on the Late style) or the bushing base (Early style, see Fig. 7) to slide on.

And finally, on to the main housing. There are two ways to do this. The easiest way is simply to section out 2-3/8" of the tube, between the shifter linkage lever's slot and the dash bracket, and then weld the two halves back together.

As seen in Fig. 17, the end of the main housing has an insert, which is spot-welded into the end of the housing, in 8-10 different spots. (You can see these spot welds in Fig. 17.) The insert holds the lower bushing race and also serves to hold the shifter tube spring. If you wanted, you could simply cut off the last 2-3/8" of the housing's tube and then use a spot-weld drill bit to drill through the welds in the outer tube but not going through into the insert. Then you can slide the insert out, drill a few new holes in the new end of the housing, slide the insert in the end of the main housing, and re-weld it using the holes you just drilled. You'll also have to cut the 5/8"-wide slot for the shifter linkage lever. This second method does require more work, but less welding. However, I'd suggest simply sectioning it like you did with the main shaft and the shift tube....and be done with it.

Steering Column Reassembly

Once the main housing is welded back together, cleaned up and the main housing painted (if applicable), you're ready to reassemble...which is basically a reverse order of disassembly:

1) Install the firewall retainer plate and gasket onto the main housing.

2) Drop the large return spring down into the bottom of the main housing.

3) Slide the shifter tube down from the top to the point where you can see the end of it through the shifter linkage lever slot. Insert the lever into the slot and rotate the shifter tube to align the tab on the tube with the notch in the lever (see Fig. 11), and then continue sliding the shifter tube down against the spring. (You do have it oriented correctly, don't you?)

4) Using some very thick grease (or similar substance), hook the two bolts (which will hold the turn signal switch housing and the shift collar) onto the holes in the shift tube (see Fig. 5). You could also use something like masking tape to hold the two bolts in place. Then install the turn signal switch housing and the shift collar. The end of the shifter tube has a locating tab that slides into a groove in the shift collar.

5) Slide the turn signal switch wiring down through the appropriate hole in the housing and shift collar. Continue working it through the channel along the bottom of the main housing (Fig. 19) and out the end of the channel. Reinsert the wires into their respective place in the harness connector.

6) Install the lower clamp/collar and plastic bushing (if removed) onto the main shaft. Slide the shaft into the main housing from the bottom.

7) Slide the upper bushing down onto the main shaft, against the race in the turn signal switch housing.

8) Re-install the steering wheel.

9) Loosely re-install the entire column into the truck. Once you have the column connected at the rag joint and the bottom of the dash, slide the main housing as far into the cab as possible to seat the upper bushing, then slide the lock collar/clamp at the flange end of the column up as far as it will go, and tighten.

10) Tighten down all bolts, reconnect the turn signal switch wiring into the main harness....and you're done!

I didn't go into EXTREME detail here, but I figure that if you're at all mechanically-inclined, you should be able to figure out the smaller details as you go. It's actually very basic, and as long as you pay close attention to how things come apart, they'll go back together just as easily.

Another option...using a 4-spd. column

Here's another idea that might be just the ticket for your truck. I also disassembled and measured a floor-shift 4-spd manual steering column and found something very cool...the column is already shortened to the length you need it! If your truck is already equipped with a 4-speed, it's very possible that you've also got the correct column, and all you have to do is section your existing shaft or swap in the main steel shaft from a PS column. If your truck is an automatic and you want to install a floor-shifter, this could very well save you a lot of time as well, since, once again, all it requires is swapping in a PS main steel shaft (or sectioning the existing MS shaft), since there's no shift tube, and no sectioning is needed for the main housing.

NOTE: Be sure to check out 'The Manual 3-spd Steering Column Explored' page, which is a similar photo collection of the teardown of several '3-on-the-tree' steering columns.

If you have any additional information that you feel could be added to this page to help out fellow Ford truck owners, please feel free to e-mail me.

Fig. 20 - Here's a comparison photo of a 4-speed MS column (top) and a MS/automatic column. You can see that the 4-speed's column housing is already short enough to use the shorter PS shaft.

Fig. 20
- Here's a comparison photo of the 4-spd MS main housing (top) and the PS automatic column (bottom). As you can see, the 4-spd column housing is already at the desired length to install the shorter PS shaft.


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