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Safety And Reliability Of Our Vehicle's Steering - We Owe A Debt To Early Hot Rodders And Auto Racers

Dec 14, 2007
We owe a debt of gratitude to early "hot rodders". Those who modified and raced cars in their day pushed along the development and evolution of cars and vehicle steering mechanisms so now we can count on precise, safe and reliable steering mechanisms and units without question.

It is always interesting that is usually not the factory design teams, with all their resources, that push along developments and modifications in the automotive industry. It is often the hobbyist, the guy in his home garage, who under competition leads to the development and progression of what becomes improvements and modifications in the automotive. At a later point the automotive industry will step in to mass produce the improvements into features and options that gain widespread use in our vehicles and on our highways.

Just before and after the 1940's vintage car periods most sport car enthusiasts and hot rodders were driving pre-1935 Fords. The most popular steering gears swapped among speed and hot rod enthusiasts was the pre-1934 Ford steering gear units. It had a very fast steering ratio and could easily fit the Model "A" and "32" car frames. Parts were readily available, the cars were lightweight and few rodders felt the need to look any further.

By the early 1950's, the 37' - 1948 Ford steering mechanisms with the transverse drag arrangement gained popularity and a following over the previous preferences. The steering was a near perfect built in for 1935-36 Ford frames and its major advantage over the older units was it was self centering. After a turn in completed, the worm sector "floats" back to center. However if the steering was mounted normally in a pre-1935 chassis , a mount had to be built on the inside of the frame rail and boxing the frame was necessary to eliminate rail flexing.. Naturally since the pitman arm swung horizontally (cross steering) and was tied into the right front spindle. 1940's era Ford spindles had to be used. But it was no big deal and the most "modern" rods of the era went this route, even to the extent of adding 1940 Ford steering wheels, shift linkage and dashboards.

The "Gemmer" box was also turned on its side and mounted through the frame like the original. Usually a horizontal plate was welded on top of the rail to hold the steering, and the pitman arm was rotated 90 degrees so that it could be pinned up. A parallel drag link could then be used with a dropped front axle. But the evil bump steer was ever present.

In the late Fifties, another steering box started to gain popularity with street rodders. This was the parallel drag line steering from the 1954 and later Ford and Chevy pickups. (The Ford F-100 being the most popular of all). To install the Ford box in a Model "T" frame it was easiest to run the column down thought the floorboard almost between the driver's legs. Mounts for the gear box were fabricated and the pitman arm was modified to point straight down or was replaced with a new one flame cut out of half inch steel plate. Only minor modifications to the box itself were needed to bolt the pickup steering into the 1928-34 frames.

The Ford pickup box became the standard hot rod steering gear for many years to come, but the Chevy pickup steering was the easier of the two to install. It required only minor frame trimming to fit, but it never reached the level of popularity of the Ford box.

Then along came the time of the mid 60's Dearborn introduced the Ford Mustang. The steering box of the Mustang car was a great toy for the hot rodders.

This was the final step towards the evolution of steering gears.

All in all although our steering mechanisms in our cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicle are now of more modern designs we owe a debt of gratitude to the hot rodders of their day for pushing along the evolution of precise and reliable steering gears and mechanisms for our vehicles.
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