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steering box question

Guest DeSotoStan

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Guest DeSotoStan

Hello Gentlemen,

I just bought a 1949 Custom S-13 which has many great qualities, & some not so. Among the not so: the steering has a lot of play. The mechanics said that since the tie rods were OK, there is no safety issue. They also said that the steering box was adjusted "all the way." In order to tighten the steering, do I need to have the box rebuilt? Do I need a new steering box? Or just some new parts?

Or, could I just continue driving with the loose steering? Would you say this is a safety issue?

Thanks to anyone who can provide insight.

I think its a beautiful car, & am about to invest a grand or so into welding on new rocker panels & mounting brackets.


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Guest DeSotoStan

Thank you, Keiser 31. I would also have thought it was a safety issue, but 2 mechanics of a well-established & reputable garage said otherwise, despite the fact that it would be in their best interest to identify it as a problem, so that they could repair it.


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2 things you should know, if you adjust the steering box do so according to the manufacturer's instructions from the repair manual.

if you just tighten up the adjustment it may be OK for a while but your steering box will wear out in a couple of months.

The other thing is there are a lot of joints in the steering of your car, I went over my 51 New Yorker and counted 17 wear points. Your car has basically the same suspension.

Check carefully and do not overlook the bolts holding the steering box to the frame, and the idler arm pivot.

If everything is up to spec you could still have 6 inches of play in the steering wheel. For one thing it's a big wheel which exaggerates play, for another they had sloppy steering from new. Factory spec was 4 inches of play at the wheel.

Watch an old movie from the 40s some time. See how the driver saws the wheel back and forth on a straight road. That is not hammy over acting, that is how cars steered back then.

You get used to it with a little practice. The steering is not bad, just more like a bus than a sports car.

A front end alignment and a set of new shocks helps the driving experience a lot. I know guys who wanted to replace the whole suspension in their old car with a Camaro clip, I talked them into fixing and aligning the original suspension and that took away all desire to change anything, once the steering was working correctly.

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Guest DeSotoStan

Thanks, Rusty OToole

I'll consult the shop manual re: any possible adjustments.

I'll also make sure the box is securely attached to the frame, & check the idler arm pivot.

The leaf springs on the suspension are currently very good, so I'll definately get an alignment done.

And yes, I'll still expect a lot of play, even if all's well.

Thank you very much for this helpful advice.


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  • 4 months later...

Having just spent six months on and off dealing with a 1949 Steering box...here are some of my observations.

The box was made by Gemmer. The gears are an "hourglass" worm and roller. The design of the box is such that when the worm is off center by more than about 20 degrees the distance between the worm and the roller grows a lot. The was designed that way so it would not bind on turns.

The issue is that the worm shaft MUST be centered or you will feel slop in the steering. The worm shaft has a master spline for the wheel and must be straight up when the front end is being aligned. I don't care where the wheel itself is pointing.

Many shops will not take the time to turn all the tie rods evenly and I have seen wheels forced onto the spline to get them to look correct. No matter what the master keyway must point up!

The other thing that I noted is that the about of worm bearing preload and the total load once the roller is adjusted is way more then one would think by feel.

Let me say that again for effect...

I purchased a calibrated inch-pound torque wrench and did the calculation to convert from spring scale pounds at the wheel rim to inch-pounds on the shaft nut...

When you feel the shaft it feels too tight. But it is correct. Once the wheel is on you don't notice it, but if I did not set it by the book, and just went on feel I am sure that the worm preload and the total load would be too little.

I found a 1970 Ross Steering Gear book that covers the Gemmer boxes (Ross purchased Gemmer) and the procedure is the same as the factory manual only they use inch-pound torque wrenches. It also listed the torque for the bolts on the worm and side plates.

In these boxes the seal at the bottom is part of the plate. We cut off the seal and milled out the hole and welded in some steel to accept a press in modern seal. Works great.

My 2 cents worth...James

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James gives very good advice.

I have been on the Chevy website for many years harping on the correct adjustment of all steering gears.

Get a factory shop manual and do the 2 main adjustments in the proper order.

The small pitman shaft screw/nut is NOT the first one to do.

A lot of frontend shops used to pull the steering wheel off and put it on "straight ahead" rather than adjust the tie rond ends.

This puts the steering shaft off of the "high point" and will cause looseness.

Adjusted correctly, most steering boxes will work just fine. As long as the bearings and bushings are OK.

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Guest DeSotoStan

James and Coley,

Thank you very much. I'll give this info to a mechanic I can find who'd be willing to undertake this. Until then, I have much more serious problems with the car, and am posting in "Technical". Incidentally, do you think that the loose steering is a serious safety issue, in that suddenly I may lose steering completely? If you could post your reply in "Technical" I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks again,


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