Power Steering Upgrade for a Task Force Truck
(or what they didn't tell you when you bought the kit)
By: Carl Ham
This is a first-hand account of converting a Task Force (TF) series pickup from original manual (non-power) steering to power assist steering using a late model steering gear box and power steering pump. There are vendors that sell conversion kits allowing you to use the original steering column and steering gear box with power cylinder assist, but I replaced my original steering column with a late model tilt column as part of the conversion for convenience (self-canceling turn signals, headlight dimmer switch on column, ignition switch on column and etc.).
Buying a conversion kit After checking several catalogs, I chose the power steering conversion kit from Chevy Duty (#76-977 @ $95). This included a bracket to be welded on the frame, spacers for mounting the steering gear box, new adjustable steering arm with tie rod ends and replacement steering bracket for the driver's side front wheel. I also bought the Chevy Duty power steering conversion Pitman Arm (#76-986 @ $50). The instructions with the kit were so-so, had some pictures and generally showed you how to install the brackets but wasn't all that detailed.
However, this was just be beginning…
Identifying and buying the 'other' needed parts There were no recommendations for locating and buying the power steering pump (belt-driven off the engine crankshaft pulley). I quickly found out there are many types of GM pumps with different belt pulleys, mounting locations, and high pressure fitting connections. Fortunately, a visit to the local salvage yard yielded a 1974 Chevy ˝ ton 2-wheel drive pickup with steering pump and gearbox intact (the instructions recommended using a 73-78 GM pickup 2WD gear box). I bought these two items plus the engine mounting brackets (which I found out later didn't fit) for $85. Brought the parts home, cleaned them up and thought I was ready to go.
The '74 pickup steering pump engine mounting bracket (350 V8) wasn't even close. No matching holes on front of my 283 V8 engine block or cylinder head for the bracket. Even if they did, the pulley groove didn't line up with anything on the crank pulley. Finally bought an Allen Grove bracket (#400L @ $65) for mounting the pump on driver's side lower of engine. Grove brackets are good quality; fit well, came with related hardware, and had excellent instructions (even gave me some help with the steering pump types and fittings needed for hoses).
Mounting the steering pump on the driver's lower side made for a tight fit with the alternator. I decided to relocate the alternator from driver's side to passenger side above the valve cover. Again, Allen Grove to the rescue! Their alternator bracket (# 200R @ $85) had just what I needed.
I originally had a single belt crank pulley and 2-groove water pump pulley (short water pump shaft). After about 3 trips to the salvage yard and 3 catalog orders (which I had to return because spacing and/or diameter wouldn't fit), I came upon the best combination of 3 belt crank pulley, single groove water pump pulley that allowed me to run a single belt from the crank to steering pump and a 2nd belt from the crank to the water pump and alternator. This part of the process took over 3 weeks while I waited for ordered parts to arrive, tried and found they wouldn't fit, returned and reordered more pulleys. Don't rely and your local parts store for help, remember you are custom-building this conversion!
The hoses on the original steering pump were deteriorated, so I thought a quick trip to the parts store would fix that. Wrong again! There are several types of fittings for the pressure side of the pump (not to mention a like combination for the steering gear). After several tries I finally found some hoses with the right fittings, bends and lengths to do the job.
Some catalogs recommend replacing your original 'ball-bearing' front wheel bearings with tapered roller bearings and new grease seals (approx. $145 to $175 depending on vendor). This recommendation is due to the increased loads placed on the wheel bearings by power steering (turning when parking and etc.), not to mention that most ball-bearing type wheel bearings weren't intended for today's highway speeds. I had just repacked my 'ball-bearing' set the fall before so I decided this could wait until another day. About 700 miles later the driver's side set wore out and I had to replace. If you weren't sure about your wheel bearing condition, I'd recommend replacing them with new tapered rollers just for peace of mind.
I still have the original tie rod and tie rod ends on my truck. Again, some vendors recommend replacing the original with newer and stronger modern tie rod, ends and etc. for the same reason as the wheel bearings (increased stress). Be aware! Changing from original to newer style tie rod ends is not as simple as unbolt and replace. There is some grinding, cutting and drilling involved to make the new tie rod ends fit. I'd suggest looking over your tie rod and ends carefully (or having a professional front end alignment shop check) before deciding whether to update or leave alone.
If you want to retain your original steering column and wheel, there is a conversion lower bearing kit available (Chevy Duty #76-987 @ $40). You'll have your work cutout for you, as the TF trucks have the original steering column and gear box in one piece. You'll have to remove the whole unit, then cut the column outside casing, inner shaft and install the lower bearing kit. I didn't do this so I can't be of much help here.
For convenience, I decided to replace my original steering column with a late model tilt column from a GM car. I found a late '80s Pontiac Grand Prix column at the salvage yard (from a floor shift donor car) minus the column shift. I bought the column for $60. You can buy column shift styles and later remove the shifter (some vendors sell a replacement plastic cover for the column shift lever), but I thought this to be too much of a hassle so I kept looking for the 'right' column.
A word of caution here, if you plan to use a column shift, I'd recommend finding a column from a GM Astro (mini) van. They are shorter than most car columns, something I found out later when I had to cut almost 8 inches off my Pontiac column (more about that later).
You'll also need a steering column/dash mounting bracket (commonly called a 'drop') of which there are many makes and sizes or lengths/drop dimensions available. Don't buy this until you're ready to go together with the new column (I bought mine too early and wound-up sending it back and waiting for the next one).
A bracket for fastening the column to the floor will either have to be fabricated or purchased (I bought mine for $15) and usually consists of a plate to be bolted to the floor and a collar with clamp for holding the column in place.
You'll also need a kit to convert your earlier wiring to the GM column. I bought a kit from Painless Performance (#30806 @ $35), but I was also rewiring my truck at the same time and smoothing the dash, so rewiring the turn signals, ignition switch and dimmer switch was all part of the rewiring.
Removing the driver's front sheet metal Some instructions don't require you remove any of the front end sheet metal, but it was my experience that removing the driver's side front fender and inner fender gave me the access I needed and saved a lot of headaches as the work progressed. Although there are a lot of bolts attaching the inner/outer fender and front grill/crosspieces, I had it all disassembled in about an hour (with help). Keep track of all the bolts and spacers to make sure your parts fit together as well as they came apart. Also label all the wiring to the driver's side headlight and turn signal. I left the front bumper on and hood in the open position during this conversion and didn't have too much trouble maneuvering around them.
Removing the original steering column/gearbox My truck has a 283 V8 engine and I quickly found that to get the old steering column/gear box out I had to remove the driver's side engine exhaust manifold and emergency/parking brake rod (from dash to front frame) in order to have enough room to slide out the whole assembly in one piece. This included removing the steering wheel, cutting and removing the floor mounting bracket for the column (won't slide off without serious disassembly of the steering wheel 'cup' and turn signal mechanism), and pulling the original Pitman Arm as it comes out through the frame rail from the inside. Steering wheel and Pitman Arm pullers were inexpensive at the local parts store. With all this apart, you should be able to slide the column/gearbox out between the frame and front axle (it will require some jockeying).
While you're at it, it's time to remove the original cast-iron steering arm that connected the Pitman Arm to the driver's side front wheel. Rather than disassemble the whole driver's side wheel, brakes and mounting plate, I used a grinder and cutoff wheel to cut though the cast iron arm as it wraps around the front axle kingpins and connects to the backing plate.
The driver's side front shock must be relocated because the new steering gear box bolts on the frame exactly where the top mounting bracket is. I ground-off the heads of the rivets holding the bracket to the frame, then used a punch and hammer to drive the rivets out. Do not reinstall the top shock mounting bracket until the new steering gear box is mounted on the frame to assure adequate clearance. I tilted the driver's side shock towards the back of the truck (slightly behind the centerline of the front axle), then made sure I placed the bracket high enough on the frame to permit full shock travel. Redrilled new holes through the frame and used grade 8 bolts and hardware to complete the relocation.
Mounting the replacement steering gear box Position the box on the outside of the frame rail per the instructions and drill the first mounting hole (check the inside frame rail to make sure you are drilling in a location you can get to later for the lock washer and nut AND you're not drilling through any brake lines or wiring). Then using the spacers provided in the kit position the steering box and bracket for welding. Tack weld the bracket for location, then remove the box and finish weld the bracket to the frame. Drill the remaining holes; install new grade 8 bolts and the spacers (to keep the box the correct distance from the frame)
With the steering gear box mounted, you can install the new Pitman Arm (make sure the gear box output shaft is centered in it's travel). Per the instructions, install the new steering arm to the driver's side wheel backing plate by removing the 2 top bolts and reinstalling using new grade 8 bolts and lock washers. If you haven't jacked up the truck and removed the front wheel, you can install the adjustable steering arm and tie rod ends making sure everything is centered correctly. Make sure you have the truck sitting in its 'normal' road position with the tires on the ground before adjusting and tightening the steering arm.
Steering column, shaft, and u-joint installation Because the steering column exits the floor on the inside of the frame rails, and the 'new' steering box is mounted to the outside of the frame rails, you'll need two steering universal joints and a length of either mild steel or aluminum round stock to become your new connection between the column and gear box. Steering universal joints come in many sizes and shapes, measure and order them carefully or you'll be sending them back. I ran into trouble early when I installed the universal joints and connecting shaft. The universal joint instructions say not to exceed a 30-degree angle when installing or the joints will not function properly (they'll turn hard or feel like they 'catch' when turning the steering wheel). Because I selected a car steering column, almost 10 inches protruded past the cab floor and into the engine compartment. When I connected the universal joints and shaft, I exceeded the 30-degree angle on not one but both joints. This caused me to remove the steering column several times until I had cut off 8 inches of length (this left only 1-2 inches of column showing through the floor). Fortunately I have a floor shift automatic trans and cutting the column off did not interfere with a column mounted shifting mechanism that many columns have. Each time I cut the column I had to cut the casing first, reinstall the lower shaft bearing, then cut and reform the inner shaft to match the contour (commonly called the "D" shape) of the universal joint. Make your final installation of the steering shaft and universal joints with the wheels on, truck setting at normal height, and both wheels and steering wheel centered (don't want the steering wheel 'turned' in anything but absolute center when you're parked do you?)
Steering Pump mounting, pulleys and radiator As mentioned before, one of the most trying parts of this conversion was getting parts to match up. After several tries with the steering pump mounting brackets, I found the right combination of belt pulleys, belt lengths and brackets to make everything line up. It was then I discovered that the fan wouldn't fit without a spacer between pulley (interfered with new crankshaft pulley) and fan, and the radiator was now too close to everything on the engine. I was lucky in that the original radiator mounting brackets would move forward 4 inches, allowing me to put the fan, pulleys and shroud in place. This unexpected problem cost me several days not just pulling and remounting the radiator, but now I needed new upper and lower radiator hoses, and had to reconfigure (lengthen) my transmission cooler lines from the bottom of the radiator to the transmission. Keep track of the new belt and hose numbers, your local parts store won't have a clue which ones are right after the changes you've made (oh, the joys of fabricating your own vehicle!!)
Start-up and debug With everything in place, new belts and hoses checked, fluid in the radiator and power steering pump, I was ready for the next step (notice I didn't put any sheet metal back on yet, guess by this time I was too much a pessimist). Started the engine, turned the wheels lock-to-lock, and added power steering fluid until the pump reservoir showed full. Then carefully lowered the hood and went for a short drive around the block to make sure everything was O.K. Tighten up any loose bolts or leaking fittings, and I recommend making a quick trip to the front-end alignment specialist to make sure the alignment settings aren't messed up.
Reinstalling sheet metal At this point you're probably in a hurry to get your ride back on the road so you figure you can just breeze-through the rebuilding of the front fender and inner fender well. Save yourself some grief later on by spending the time to do a quality job. The inner fender well will require some minor cutting for the new steering shaft and power steering hoses. This is the cut-and-try method as each install will be slightly different based upon the shaft and hose location. Grind the cut edges smooth or install a small length of hose cut lengthwise around the inner fender cutout to keep the hoses from chafing or wearing-through.
Another suggestion, install new rubber grommets, weather-stripping and take your time installing these parts. Nothing is more frustrating than spending all this time and having a squeak or rattle develop because you were in a hurry.
After a few days or weeks of driving, check the fluid level and retighten the steering pump belt to account for new belt wear-in or stretch.
I planned only 2 weeks for my power steering conversion and it took me over six weeks. I'm glad I made the change and my truck drives and handles well. It was worth the effort. Hopefully some of the detail in this article will help you foresee and plan your conversion minus the pitfalls I encountered.
Good luck and enjoy! Carl Ham '56 Chevy TF Stepside Pontiac, IL