Upgrading the steering on my 1973 Jeep CJ-5 sounded like a pretty easy job. The Jeep I call Lemon Pie is a junkyard rescue with a 258ci straight-six. You may recall it from a bygone adventure when I fixed it up (barely) and drove it across America in the “CA to PA in a CJ” road trip (read about it in the March, April, and May 2012 issues of 4WOR). The Jeep has manual drum brakes and manual steering, but these early 1970s CJs were available with optional power steering. I assumed this meant I should be able to just walk into the local parts store, tell them I need everything to reduce my manly manual-steering biceps down to puny power-steering twigs, and leave with an afternoon of wrenching ahead of me as I unbolt old stuff and bolt on new stuff. Simple eh? Yeah . . . nope!
In 1972, Jeep CJs went from the Ross cam-and-lever system with lots of wacky bell cranks and rods to a much simpler Saginaw gearbox. The Ross cam-and-lever system utilized a manual gearbox at the end of the steering shaft near the firewall and three separate links with a bellcrank pivot in the middle stuck under the forward crossmember. The result was tons of slop potential. Upgrading to the Saginaw-style steering meant cutting the column just above the steering gear worm shaft, ditching the bellcrank and linkages, and welding and pinning a new steering shaft U-joint to the old column. Not to mention welding on a box mount. This conversion has been covered multiple times and is not what we are showing you here, but if you have this style steering, you can find complete replacement kits from Advance Adapters and other retailers.
I soon came to find out that although the power steering upgrade isn’t impossible, it will nickel-and-dime you for funky little parts, some of which are rarer than hen’s teeth. (For all you city kids: hens, as in female chickens, don’t have teeth, thus hen’s teeth are rare because they do not exist.) But after searching a multitude of retailers both online and in person, and more than a week of wrenching and spending, I now have a CJ-5 that steers like a Lincoln continental (smooth and with one finger). I only wanted to throw wrenches a few times, and now I can start looking for drum-to-disc brake parts.
Lemon Pie’s steering is a factory Saginaw box mounted under the grille with a simple crossover drag link and tie rod, but it was manual and not power equipped. The steering is fine in stock form with small, skinny tires but can still wear out over the years. Ours had almost a half-turn of steering wheel slop before the tires moved. Plus, off-roading with manual steering can make for a long day of wrestling the wheel. Call us wimps, but we wanted to see if we could find an upgrade to the factory power steering for less struggle steering in the dirt and at the very least tighten up all the steering slop with newer parts.
Our 258ci six-cylinder is unusual in that the factory power steering option had the pump mounted on the passenger side of the engine block because the alternator rode on the driver side. Why it was done this way we don’t know, since the battery and ignition are on the passenger side, but this meant we had to track down the elusive power steering pump brackets for the passenger side. Our Jeepin’ friend Chris Durham happened to have the parts we needed from some early 258-powered Jeep or AMC vehicle. If you can find these passenger-side straight-six power steering brackets in a junkyard, grab them! They might be on early 1970s Jeep CJ, J-trucks, or Cherokees as well as AMC Hornets, Pacers, Matadors, or Gremlins. They are obsolete, and we found no one making replacements, so other 1970s Jeepers will thank you if you rescue them. Once we had the brackets we simply ordered up a steering pump for our Jeep from the local auto parts store.
As it turned out, the power steering pump was wrong and the mounting bolts were in the wrong location, so back we went with our old pump to show the counter guys our dilemma. They tracked down another pump, but this one was without a reservoir, so we rebuilt our junkyard pump using the old reservoir and new pump internals. Then we cleaned out the mounting holes on the passenger side of the block with some parts cleaner and ran a tap down them to get years’ worth of dirt, rust, and gunk out before bolting on the pump.
When Durham sent us the pump and brackets, he included the old belt, which was lucky for us since we were able to find a barely discernible part number on it and get a brand-new belt. A small victory!
Durham also included the additional pulley that bolts onto the front of the crank. You will definitely want to grab this part as well as the steering pump brackets if you come across a junkyard passenger-side straight-six power steering setup. Again we cleaned the mounting holes with some spray and a tap and then bolted the pulley on with thread locker.
The old tie rod and drag link were pretty sloppy and rusty and a little bent. A call to Quadratec had a new drag link and tie-rod ends in hand in no time. But in order to disassemble the old tie rod, we heated the threaded ends with a small torch. After getting the end too hot to touch, we rubbed an old candle along the pinch seam of the tie rod so the melting wax could seep in amongst the threads to help loosen them. We did this about a half-dozen times before the old tie-rod end unscrewed without damaging the threads.
The old drag link (top), new drag link (middle), and repaired old tie rod (bottom) were finally all ready to go. The tie rod had a slight bend in it when we removed it, so we rolled it on a flat table to find the high spot and then gently bent it back straight in the press. This tie rod could have just been replaced with a new one from Omix-ADA or Crown Automotive since both are available through Quadratec, but we opted to fix ours since it wasn’t that bad. We also tracked down a flat pitman arm for a power steering box, which is different than the pitman arm from the manual steering box.
The old manual steering box from 1973 (top) had a bunch of slop in it, but we had ordered up a replacement box (middle) for it from Quadratec before we changed directions and decided to go with power steering. (Get it? “Change directions”? That’s a little steering joke.) We originally thought we would use this PSC power steering gearbox (bottom), as we had it from a prior project. The PSC steering was plumbed for ram assist, which is overkill for our little Jeep on 31-inch-tall 7.50-16 tires, but we had it and it would bolt up to the current frame mount. Plus, PSC makes -6 AN adapters for easy assembly of the steering hoses.
After further consideration we decided to just use a parts store replacement power steering gearbox. We found we could order the exact steering box we needed from the auto parts store already rebuilt and ready to install. We will save the PSC box for a future project that could really use ram assist. The early steering gears use an inverted flare compression-style hose fitting, whereas the later ones use an O-ring style fitting. Again, if you find a junkyard power steering CJ from pre-1979, grab that steering gearbox! Even if it is worn out it could be worth the core charge on the replacement box—we were charged nearly $200 just for the gearbox core.
The steering column of the CJ-5 was in good shape inside the cab, but the steering U-joint at the firewall was clicking and clacking with too much slop. So we pulled it apart and found a replacement joint at the local parts store to put in the yokes and tighten up the steering that much more. Omix-ADA makes a complete replacement piece as well and it’s available through Quadratec.
The steering coupler at the steering gear end of the steering column is not the most robust design, but it is more than adequate for our tired little tired CJ, so we opted to keep the factory-style joint. However, the coupler is different from the manual steering box to the power steering box. A phone call to the Off Road Connection had a brand new Crown Automotive steering coupler kit for the power steering box on its way to our door. Crown is another supplier of many of these hard-to-find Jeep parts.
The old power steering hoses we got with the junkyard pump from Durham were rusty and cracking, so we took them to the local plumbing supply house to have new ones made. They duplicated them perfectly and even added -6 fittings to the middle of the pressure line for easy replacement down the road should we ever spring a leak.
We double-checked all our fasteners, greased the many new Zerk fittings, made sure all the castle nuts had their cotter pins in place, added power steering fluid, and checked for leaks. Old Lemon Pie is now one more step closer to its next cross-country adventure. Plus, our new power steering is just like the factory option.