Friday, November 1, 2013

Steering Column ... Tilt / Telescopic Reassembled

Disclaimer : I am not Jim Shea - I do not have his understanding of steering columns, nor could I possibly pretend to do so.  If anyone is looking at GM steering columns from the mid-60's to the late 70's, I'd strongly suggest a visit to, since Jim Shea provided many hours of work to the public.  I believe he worked for Saginaw (the company that built the steering columns for GM during that period), and his hours of labor back then paid off big dividends for the rest of the Corvette community (or anyone rebuilding a GM column for that matter).

Since you are still reading, you are probably wondering what my problem was.  Obviously, it was in the steering column.  On my C3 Corvette, I took the steering wheel off to clean it, realized I had a horn contact retainer broken, and had to dismantle the column to get down to there.  While I was there, I had a lock cylinder to replace (I am re-keying the car as I go), so I had to take things a little bit further apart.  On the way into the dismantling, I thought I'd clean some of the components up, including a "sticking" turn signal.  The turn signal repair resulted in a separate post, and I started to put things back together again.  Unfortunately, after installing the lock cylinder, I couldn't get the key out.  The key-release was failing to allow everything to disengage.  Checking online, a 1977 Corvette steering column is not available.  I can order columns from others that don't match up, but should be close, but that was a $975 price tag I couldn't swallow.

Enter Jim Shea.  His documentation goes well beyond the factory installation manual, well beyond the factory service manual, and so far beyond the depth of the Haynes/Chiltons manuals that it's not even funny.  I knew I had to dismantle it, find what I thought was a broken part, and reassemble the column.  I tore it down to the tilt mechanism :

First, a few things.  In the above photo, you can see the tilt joint for the column.  I had to remove everything on the outside.  You can also see the key-release lever on the right side of the column.  This is simply a rotating (axis is down the centerline of the column, not perpendicular to the column), and it connects to the ignition rod on the left side of the column.  The joint sits in the actual column, with an external piece of plastic called the lower "bowl".

On the left side, inside the bowl but the outside of the column sleeve, is the ignition switch joint.  There are three pieces here, the shaft that connects to the actual ignition switch on top of the steering column (farther down the column), a guide (the ignition rod guide), and a key-like thing (the ignition rack).

So, I looked, and realized that (when I was making a silicon mold almost 10 years ago) I ended up getting silicon into the lower bowl housing, where the key release bar slid - and it was binding everything.  I grabbed my small files and cleaned it out, slapped some WD-40 into there, and ensure it rotated as needed.  Just a word of caution - the telescopic shaft comes right out.  If you don't need it, be very careful with it, you don't want grease all over your carpet.

I reassembled it, and tested (still no telescopic hardware installed, just the tilt, the upper bowl (where the turn signal switch sits) and everything below that.  The key release now works, and the turn signal works, everything is almost installed to the point I can install the telescopic parts of the steering column.  After finishing the telescopic, it's just a matter of cleaning up the steering wheel and putting it back on.  Looking good!