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1932 Buick 50 Series steering gear help


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Some help needed about steering box.   I’m working on a recently acquired a 1932 Buick 50 Series sedan.     There is excessive play in the steering.  I have made the adjustments per the service manual on the roller shaft and worm shaft end play but it had no impact on the amount of play.  There is also mentioned that “backlash between the worm and sector is adjusted by shifting the housing cover” page 109-110.    I made this adjustment and was able to eliminate some of the back lash but need to fine tune the adjustment, with the wheels jacked up it seemed improved but once the car is back down and under load, I get some binding so I need to back off the adjustment some.  So far, I have not been able to get acceptable results.   The excessive back lash causes what in Jeep circles is called the “Death Wobble”, a severe wheel shimmy.   Second question is whether the steering box can be removed without removing the steering column/shaft.  It looks like the box could be unbolted from the frame, remove the electrical from the end of the column and if the steering column shaft is splined then it could be detached from the steering box.   I was unable to fine a reference in the manual on removal.  Bob Engle had some pictures of a steering box in response to a light switch question back in May 18, 2018 but they only showed the steering box and not how it is attached to the shaft.   If further adjustments don’t solve the problem I will either need to get the steering box rebuilt or find a replacement.  As Always, I appreciate any help and insight.

 

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Normally one does that last adjustment for worm and sector with the wheels on the ground. In fact, the whole thing should be done that way so you can feel the movement. I suggest you go over it again for each adjustment with the wheels grounded.

 

What are the drag link ends and tie rod ends like? Get your assistant to work the steering wheel back and forth over the range of the slack plus a bit while you look at all ends for movement. Also, check where the shaft comes out of the steering box, where the Pitman or steering or drop arm attaches. If that bush inside is worn, you will get slop as the shaft moves around in the bush. Worn king pins and even suspension mountings, depending on type, can also give slack in the steering.

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Follow Spinneyhill suggestions.   One other thing to check is the toe in.  sometimes the "death wobble" can be eliminated with just a little more toe in.  I think you will find that it is much easier to pull the steering assembly from the car rather than disassemble in the car  Remove the pitman arm, disconnect the wiring from the switch. disconnect the throttle linkage, disconnect the ignition switch wiring  roll up the front mat and remove the plate where the column goes thorough the floorboard. remove the 2 bolts where the column mounts to the dash.  remove 4 bolts at the frame and with a helper, pull the column out through the passenger compartment.  I can post some photos of my spare column if you want to see how they are put together.  Be very careful with the diecast throttle parts at the bottom of the column.  They break easily and spares are rare parts.

 

Bob Engle

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Bob and Spinneyhill

 

First checks I did was to inspect kingpins while servicing the front brakes and repacking of the wheel bearings.  All good there.  Also checked the tie rods ends, drag link, pitman arm, etc.  I haven’t checked the toe in yet, I will but don’t think that’s a major contributor.  All else looks good.  I would estimate I had 10-12+ degrees of steering wheel rotation before I would see any movement in the pitman arm.  So, I figured the source of the play is in the gear box.    After adjusting was about 5 degrees but I need to back off due to binding.  Which I will do when I get back from a 4th of July get away. I suspect the gearbox never was greased in its lifetime and fear the worm gear is worn out. 

 

I previously put all new extension wiring to the light switch so I’m somewhat familiar with the delicate nature of the switch and its components.   Is the steering shaft all one piece up through the column housing?   Also does the horn button push in and turn to remove?  I take it the steering wheel is retained by a nut on a splined end of the steering shaft.  Does the locking key switch have to be removed to separate the column from the shaft assembly?    Pictures of your spare column would be a great help.   In the end I hope some further tweaking might solve my problem but I am not too optimistic.  Can the gear box be rebuilt, it so any resources for parts, etc?   I can say enough about how great this forum is.

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To get to the inner parts on the steering column, you need to loosen the diecast piece at the bottom of the column and there is a small stamped metal clamping collar on the bottom. remove the switch from its mounting and then you can push the center tube Lights) up and pull it out from the inside.  You can then push the next tube (throttle) out the top also.  The steering shaft is one piece Once the two tubes are out you will see a set of filisterhead screws that hold the steering wheel in place.  to remove the bell that the steering wheel is mounted to you need to remove the hex head nut.  the hub is mounted on a taper  with key on the shaft.  They can be very tight and you need to use care not to damage threads and the hub.  You do not need to remove the lock assembly to remove the shaft and worm gear.  The column  can be separated by loosening the clamp ring at the gearbox.

 

All of the above is easier doing with  the entire assembly  removed and done on a bench.

 

I'll get some photos tomorrow.

 

Bob

 

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The horn button is held in place by a large Hair pin clip.  You must push the light tube up from the bottom and then you can remove the clip and take the button out.  There is no need to remove the button though, you can remove the entire tube, housing and and light switch as an assembly.

 

Bob Engle

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Here's photos fresh out of junk pile.  first two are the gearbox and shaft with worm gear

3rdand fourth  photos are  the throttle shaft ass'y .  It the larger of the two tubes.

5th and 6th are the light switch with the smaller tube inside the throttle tube.  Blue tape on broken plastic ring.5th photo shows the brass bushing that keep tension on the tubes.  6th photo show the brass pieces that keep tension on the shafts.  Both tubes have these pieces.

Last photo is the horn button with the hairpin clip and the center horn contacter.

 

I hope this helps. let me know if you have any further questions.  When there is wear in the gearbox, it is often on the sector shaft and not on the worm gear.  That;s why when the lash is set on dead center, it usually is tight when moved off of center. 

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Edited by Robert Engle
incorrectly numbered photos (see edit history)
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Bob,

 

Really a big help.   Interesting about the sector shaft verses the worm gear wearing out.   From your picture of the shaft and worm gear I'd say that worm gear looks to be serviceable to me.   If I have to pull mine apart maybe it will be the sector shaft as the source of the excessive play.    Still will re-adjust gear box when I get back home in a couple of days to see if I can get rid of the binding without such an excess of play.   I will follow up with results of that effort. 

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I think if the wear is on the worm gear, you could put shims under the bottom worm gear timkin bearing to move the steering shaft up to get to a different contact area on the worm gear and sector shaft.  The wear occurs because most all driving is with the wheels going straight forward  and any play in the system shows up at the gear contact spot.  

 

Bob Engle

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Very interesting thought on shimming up the worm gear.    They must machine the worm gear separately and then attach it to shaft.   How do they attach it to the shaft?   Welded? Pinned? Crimped in some fashion?

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In Gemmer boxes the worm is pressed on with a woodruff key to prevent it turning on the tubular shaft.

 

I think you will find both worm and sector worn. I believe that in Gemmer boxes, maybe others, the worms were made slightly tapered so they were tight in the middle and looser at the ends. As wear occurred, they would become more even. After a lot of wear, they became loose in the middle and fitting or tight (binding) at the ends.

 

Mine is like that and the worm looks "serviceable" as you say, but the wear is even and it is really not. You try finding a NOS RHD 1930 worm and sector!

 

Someone will have to help me with how moving the worm up with shims will improve the situation. I can't see how this will help. The problem is that the space between the worm turns is now bigger than the width of the sector teeth and you can't push the teeth far enough into the worm to fill that space without it being tight at the ends.

 

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Wear in the gearbox generally is only a problem going straight ahead.  There is no loading in either direction.  When turning, the gear will load in one direction only so there will be no death wobble while turning.  The wear occurs in the neutral position.  

Now think if you lock the sector shaft so it can't turn. and could move the worm gear up, the steering wheel will turn off center to a new less worn contact  area on the worm. If you then change the length of the steering connecting rod, the sector shaft will rotate to a new contact area with the  worm and then allowing the steering wheel  to come back to center.  If you assume half the wear on the sector shaft and half on the worm, You will reduce the lash in half when in the neutral center position..  It will change the lock to lock steering so it is not equal left to right. 

 I'm not proposing this as an ultimate solution, but recognizing that there are no NOS worms and sector shafts,  and any available used steering gears will most likely have the same wear problems.  Reducing the lash will help reduce the potential death wobble effect.  The alternative is machining a new gear and sector shaft or welding and grinding the gear and sector shaft.

 

 

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Thanks Robert for the explanation. But if it uses pretty much all the worm, you can't move it! Same with the sector, if it uses pretty much all of it, you can't rotate that a little either. That is my thinking, anyway!

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As an experiment, you can do the same thing by changing the heighth of the steering wheel.  To center the steering wheel you change the length of the connects steering rod which will put the straight contact of the gear and sector on a different location.

 

Bob Engle

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Will have to study what's involve in changing the height of the steering wheel.   As to the worm gear regarding it's taper.  Can you put a straight edge on yours to see if the center has a high point.  If it does then indeed they may taper toward the ends.  If not then chances are they're not.  Could also mic the worm in several place from end to end for variations.   As you say the part number is for the shaft with worm gear.  However I think the two pieces were made separately and joined as suggested.   I wonder if a new worm could be machined and put on a shaft if the old worm could be removed?   Can you provide the part number for the shaft and sector in case there are any other GM cars of the era that use the same components?   Probably would never find good usable parts but one never knows.   I'll certainly know more once I try to re-adjust or dissemble as the case may be.  

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I pulled another gear box apart to look at the sector shaft.  As seen in the one poor quality photo, the gear is on a spline.  You can see the wear on the gear and sector shaft.  The timkin bearing inner races appear to be part of the worm gear.  

 

Bob Engle

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Good pictures explain a lot.   Do you happen to have the part numbers for the sector and the steering shaft?    I see the Ford guys can get an after market replacement:

 

Steering Shaft Worm Gear - Ford Only

 

 

 

 

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There were 2,000,000 Model A fords built.  There were only 25,698 50 series 1932  Buicks built.  You can build a model  A from repro parts.  

 

The steering  shaft assy, is style 6, pn 260853, 42  3/8 ' long.  11 1/4" to locking collar.  The worm gear pn is 261102.

 

The sector shaft is not listed in my parts book.  

 

Bob Engle

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Thanks Bob.   Odd there was no part number for the sector.  Could you do me another favor and measure the worm gear length and the steering shaft diameter?   Would help in seeing if I can get another GM piece to adapt.   

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I have found a number of omissions and errors in the parts manuals.  I did go back and look and found pn 259457  Sector, steering  gear 1931.  I believe that this is where the omission ocurred.  Most 32 and 31 parts are the same.

 

I would also comment that there is very little use of parts across the GM platforms except for Parts from Delco, Klaxon etc.  There was much autonomy at the divisions within GM.   

 

The dimensions you were looking for are:  Steering shaft diameter 0.985".    Spec manual say 1.  "Measuring from the open end of the worm gear, The large inner diameter  is 0.85" ( same as shaft O. D.)  The small diameter  ( splines) is 0.965"  This means the spline depth is 0.010".

 

The overall length of the wormgear is 3.635"  This includes the inner races for the timkin bearings.  The O.D. of the worm gear is 2.120" dia.   

 

The sector shaft diameter is 1.121" .  Spec manual says 1 1/8" dia. I was surprised at how tight a fit there is in the sector  bushings.  Most all of the wear that I found is on the center tooth of the sector shaft.  Wear point is about 7/8" from the shaft center.  Any lash from this wear would be about would be about ten times greater at the steering wheel.   The sector shaft appears to have been made from a forging and is one piece .  Most of the wear is on the sector shaft center tooth.  

 

If you plan to pull your steering column from the car, I have a few ideas that you may want to try to remove the lash in the gears and eliminate the death wobble.  

 

I hope this helps.

 

Bob Engle

 

 

 

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39 minutes ago, Robert Engle said:

I have a few ideas that you may want to try to remove the lash in the gears

Ooooohhhhh, please share! I would like to see them too.

 

The main change in mine was to re-bush and grind the sector shaft to a very close tolerance. Oil still gets in but I could feel no movement. This took out maybe 1.5" of slack at the wheel rim. There have been no bearings available for my Gemmer box for years but they were in good condition and adjusted up well. You can't put anything on the sector tooth or teeth to build them up because they are subject to heavy shearing action and any coating or add-on will just peel off. Well, that was the case when I did mine in 2001.

 

You can tell if the sector bushes are worn by looking at the end of the shaft where the Pitman arm is mounted. If it moves laterally on steering wheel swinging back and forth (wheels on the ground), it is worn and creates lost movement.

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Bob,

 

You responses have been admirably succinct.  Without the information and guidance you’ve provided I’d be up against the wall with a blindfold.    I made several adjustments today without any meaningful progress; each test drive resulted with the same “death wobble” at the slightest provocation.   I don’t believe there is any option but to pull the steering assembly and inspect the internals.    I’ve been doing some research on various components and history of steering gear boxes.   It seems that Gemmer was an early manufacturer of gear boxes primarily for Ford.   They may have held the patent on this type of worm and sector design.   I am assuming that GM boxes were made by Saginaw.    I wonder if they were a knock off and if they paid a royalty for using the Gemmer design?    The spec book says the 50 series gear boxes are a 17:1 ratio.  Is there a reference to the Buick boxes being Saginaws?   I also see some early ford boxes are also 17:1 ratios.   Coincidence?   Or was the Saginaw box a hybrid.    I am resigned to start the removal of my steering assembly.    I’ll review your previous instructions on the process and get ready to gut it up.   I pretty sure I’ll find that there is pretty severe ware in the worm and sector.   The saga continues.

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Gemmer is in Dodge Brothers motors.

 

The other cause of a "death wobble" might be incorrect king pin inclination. This is set with wedges between the front axle and the springs.

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Before you pull the steering, run one test by adding more toe to the front.  You may be at correct setting, but a touch more may help the wobble.  More toe can have a slight negative effect on tire life.  But in reality, not many of these cars get  a lot of mileage and good driving manners is more important than trying to get maximum tire wear.  It's an easy test.

 

Bob 

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caster.thumb.JPG.64fa017f948014e842d31db3b534836d.JPGSpent the better part of the day doing a few more adjustments and took some readings.   Caster was right at 2 degrees.   Camber was 1 ½ degrees.   So those are in line with specifications in the manual.  Measured the toe.   Looks like someone else tried to cure the wobble by increasing the toe in.  However I would say a little overboard, it was  ¾ inch toed in.   Reset to ¼ inch.   End result was no improvement.   Even after backing off lash adjustments for testing purposes seems like gear box is still binding and makes it very hard to steer.   

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Steering update.   Started the removal of the gearbox.  Removal of the splash panel was fun since none of the nuts are captured and holding them is a little difficult while trying to loosen the old slotted screws.  I don’t think the panel had ever been removed before.   Removed the Wizard control valve and linkages, carb and riser along with exhaust piping for access.   Found that the carburetor riser is badly cracked in two places.  The diverter off of the exhaust manifold and heat transfer tube all in pretty poor shape.   Might be time to think about a down draft mod. Will have to start a new topic on that one.   Once the area was cleared of the obstructions I followed Bob’s removal formula.   Carefully removed the light switch and throttle pieces.  The light control tube was removed without any difficulty.   The throttle tube was a bit of a problem.  It would only extract about 3 inches before becoming stuck.  I kept working it back and fourth applying some WD40 from up top and letting it work its way down.  It became evident that a shellac like coating had built up, might even have been some rusting.  In any event after a lot of coaxing it came out.  The problem now is none of the little centralizers came out with the tube.  So they are still in the steering shaft and probably contributed to the removal problem.  I’ll have to deal with that once I get the shaft and gear box out.  The pitman arm took some persuading with a large pickle fork but came off after a few blows with a trusty 3 pounder.   Will tackle the steering wheel removal and final push in a couple of days.  In the course of cleaning up under the car I found an interesting little piece.  Not sure if it is something that had been lurking on the frame for years and just now fell off or if is part of something from the column.  It’s non metallic, about 3/16” in diameter and maybe 3/8” long.  Any ideas on what it is?    

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You are lucky with the engine side pans.  Many got thrown away long time ago.  On your heat riser, put new tubes on the inside and block off the exhaust tubes.  Remove or set the diverter plate in the exhaust diverter to on open position,  the cracks won't be a problem with the exhaust sealed out and new tubes for the Air/fuel to pass through.

The steering wheel removal won't be a problem.  Removing the cone piece that the wheel is mounted to if a challenge. 

 

32 Buick Trivia question.  Where did they use allen head set screws on the 32 Buick??

 

Answer:  on the steering wheel ignition lock ring.

 

Bob Engle

 

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Bob,

 

The tubes look to be in perfect shape.  The problem is the riser casting itself.   It's cracked in a couple of places.   When I get back home in a couple of days I'll post a picture.  Results in basically a huge vacuum leak.  Doubt it can be repaired.  Maybe someone replaced the tubes and cracked the housing doing it.

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Bob,

 

I found the allen head set screws you mentioned.   Got the gear box out last night and disassembled today.   I think everything you had pictured from your so called junk pile is better than what I’ve got.  The sector has pitting and wear but still might be able to be used.  Bushings in the box looked good.  Timken taper bearings have some pitting but I think they could be used. The worm gear looks pretty poor.  Lots of pitting.  I think this was the source of the binding and extremely hard/rough steering.  Take a look at the pics.   What are your plans for the gear box parts you have?   I wonder if something could be put together that is better than what I’m looking at that might be usable?   I’m planning on going over to my buddy who has a press and see how hard it is to get the worm gear off of the steering shaft. 

 

After a little study came up with a way to remove the cone piece from the steering column that worked like a charm.  Might not be the most acceptable way for some but made short work of the task.  Happy to share the idea.

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