- Gerry Masterman

As of:  17 April  2006 

        One of the things I hear complaints about is the 1968 on collapsible steering columns.  It seems, all too often they wear out long before the rest of the car does; or, at least, when the rest of the car is repaired, the steering column is ignored.  That is often because the factory never offered any replacement parts.  So, when they wore out, you either had to find a replacement column or you just had to put up with the worn parts.

        The ball bearings used from the factory were of the worst design possible.  They were cheaply made and of an oddball size that was/is not readily available.  Bearing replacement kits are now available from GEM Enterprises, elsewhere on this site, for a reasonable cost.  So there is no reason to put up with a sloppy column.

        Another of the problems with these columns is the telescopic joint in the steering shaft.  For the column to be able to collapse in an accident, both the outer steering column housing and the inner shaft have to be able to collapse.  The outer housing is perforated to provide for easy collapsing.  The shaft, made of two pieces, is designed to telescope within itself upon collision.  One piece, the outer tube, is basically a hollow tube with a modified socket to receive the inner shaft.  The other, the inner shaft, is solid and threaded to attach the steering wheel.

        The inner shaft has two flats formed on the sides to match the outer tube.  There are also two recesses around the inner shaft in the area where it fits into the outer tube.  From the factory, these recesses were filled with a hard plastic to act as a friction material between the inner shaft and outer tube.  Often, if someone disassembles the steering column, the plastic is broken into pieces and cannot be reinstalled as original.  Reassembling the column without this plastic adds rotational play in the steering shaft and allows metal-to-metal contact between the inner shaft and the outer tube.  Left alone this will eventually wear the shafts to the point of failure.

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One solution is t drill two holes through the inner shaft and outer tube and install 1/16" split cotter pins.  This allows the shaft to hold together as one piece until an impact causes the cotters to shear.  When the cotters shear, the column collapses as designed.  The downside to this method is that the cotters can also shear when you do not want them to do so.  For example, if one uses the steering wheel removal method of backing off the steering wheel nut and hitting the shaft/nut with a big hammer, the cotters will likely shear requiring steering column disassembly and cotter replacement.

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Another solution is to weld the two shafts together; but this would eliminate any possibility of the column collapsing as designed.  I have never believed that safety devices should be over-ridden, so I will not recommend this method.

        The third method is to replace the plastic that was injected at the factory with something very similar.  To do this, I completely disassemble the steering column.  The two shafts are separated and the old plastic is completely removed.

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On the outer tube are four small holes about 1/16" in diameter.  I use a center drill to taper two of these holes to act as a socket for the nozzle of my hot glue gun.  With the two shafts back together and in their proper positions, I heat up the shafts with a propane torch or heat gun.  The idea is to heat the metal to around 165 so the hot glue will flow all the way around the recesses before cooling and solidifying.  Before you do this, be sure that the bottom steering column bearing is in place because, after the shafts are assembled, the bearing cannot be installed.

With the shafts good and warm and the glue gun warm as well, I insert the nozzle into one of the funnel-shaped holes and force the melted glue into the hole and the space between the two shafts.  When the cavity is full, glue will start to ooze out of the hole on the opposite side.

I then repeat the same technique for the second hole.  I allow the shafts to cool then remove the excess hot glue from the outside of the tube.  The steering column can now be reassembled with new bearings and will be as good as new.