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56 Buick Steering

Robert G. Smits

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I'm trying to help a friend get his 56 Buick ready for the Sentimental Tour. The car has sloppy steering and tends to wander on uneven roads. The front end was supposedly rebuilt during restoration by the PO. He has been told that this was common in cars with power steering of this vintage. Is that true or where should he begin looking? Tie rods and king pins are apparently solid. Car has 83K. Thanks, Bob smits

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One contributing factor could be the rubber bushings in the system, at the pivot points. Even if they were NOS at the time of replacement, consider what "New Old Stock" means . . . "not produced recently", which means the rubber might be closer to the end of its "non-settling out" life than suspected. So, be sure to check these areas.

If you haven't done so, you might also post this in the Buick Forums Post-War section. There are some very knowledgeable restorers/owners of 55-56 Buicks in that forum.

In reality, it could be a combination of issues. First, the age and such of the rubber bushings in the control arms. Generaly, these were somewhat soft to absorb road impacts and such. Each bit of movement can be amplified into the steering. Ball joints/kingpin bushings can be another area where wear can creep in. Then, the steering linkage itself. What might look "solid" might not really be. Lastly, the steering gear adjustment.

Many would head toward the steering gear adjustments FIRST, but that really should be the last thing touched, in my orientation. Just to make sure that it really is the culprit, rather than items in the front suspension. Granted, it can be a wear-related issue, too AND the easiest one to address . . . with the proper Buick service manual for instructions. ALSO, don't forget the part that shock absorbers and sway bar link bushings might play in any vehicle handling scenario!

Many will blame bias-ply tires for all of the noted ills. But, remember, too, when these cars were new, we drove them on substandard (by modern standards) roads and highways at 60mph+ and didn't think anything about it. On those older, generally narrower and more crowned roads, ANY wandering would have put you "off road" quickly! Compared to a modern steering system, though, it will be "different" in how it feels.

That was ALSO back when front end alignment mechanics knew some tricks in how to set things up to make things work better than just "setting them to specs". So, in more modern times, as most of those "tricks" went with their owners to their graves, unfortunately, getting things back to "factory specs" would be the FIRST STEP to getting things where they might need to be. "Specs" as to equipment condition and "Specs" as to alignment settings. I'd also recommend tire pressure of 30psi cold, rather than the "soft ride" spec of 24psi (or lower) on the 1955-56 OEM spec tires. Maybe even 32+psi cold?

Just some thoughts,


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You can check your steering gear to see how much play it has simple enough. First make sure your gear is centered. Then have a friend turn the steering wheel. The input and output shaft should turn at the same time while the gear is centered. If your gear is not on center you will have some play even when your gear is perfect so be sure to check at center.

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