Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers have a reputation for being tough as nails, but the steering system leaves something to be desired, to put it nicely. A gearbox at the base of the steering column controls a drag link, which seems simple enough. But a bellcrank is mounted on the front crossmember and uses a push-pull effect for steering. This assembly uses six tie-rod ends, which allow excessive free play and backlash. The result is sloppy at best, and can result in a ton of bumpsteer in lifted applications.
While it may pain Toyota purists to hear it, the solution is to take a page out of the Jeep playbook with a Saginaw steering box that eliminates two of the six tie rod ends, resulting in a 33 percent reduction is play between the steering wheel and the tires. While you could piece together the components necessary to perform this conversion yourself, Advance Adapters has everything you need (minus the steering box) packaged under one convenient part number (PN 716808). That’s right, the same company that created the Atlas II transfer case and makes bellhousings and tailshafts to mate nearly any engine to nearly any transmission also offers steering components and steering solutions for early Jeep and Toyota vehicles.
After speaking with Advance Adapters’ Steve Roberts, we chose a manual Saginaw conversion for our Land Cruiser. Initially we had intended to install power steering, but there is no commercially available power steering pump bracket for the original Toyota F engine in our Land Cruiser. “We make brackets for 2F engines, but most of our customers have swapped out the F engines for Small Block Chevys,” says Roberts.
Advance Adapters is best known for its Atlas transfer cases and transmission and transfer case adapters. The company’s catalog is much more diverse than that though, with conversion radiators, exhaust headers, and even steering components for older vehicles.
While we could have made a custom bracket, Roberts assured us that a manual Saginaw box would be a big improvement over the factory steering. And since our FJ40 has an open front differential, skinny 33-inch Toyo tires, and will see mild trail use, he didn’t think that manual steering would be an issue. After installing the Advance Adapters Saginaw conversion we must say he didn’t steer us wrong.
The stock steering is a push-pull configuration. But unlike older Chevy pickups and Toyota mini trucks, instead of the drag link connecting to the driver-side knuckle it attaches to a bellcrank that has a relay rod to the passenger-side knuckle.
The bellcrank on our FJ40 was over 40 years old, and replacement parts are hard to come by. The use of a bellcrank minimizes the bumpsteer common with push-pull steering but complicates the steering with more moving parts to wear out. The more parts wear out, the more points of wear and play within the steering system.
Step one involved measuring the steering column, then cutting through the column and the steering shaft. We used a reciprocating saw and went through a few blades, but the cut was straight. Make the cut as close as possible to the steering box so that an adequate amount of the steering column shaft will be available.
Since a plate will be welded to the steering column to hold it in place, we measured the distance from the wheel to the firewall. This distance was then marked on the column with a paint pen, but using a piece of tape would work as well. Just don’t forget the length.
If your Land Cruiser still has the column shifter, it will have to be converted to a floor shifter in order to upgrade to Saginaw steering since the shift linkage runs down the steering column. This wasn’t an issue for our specific vehicle since a floor shift conversion had been performed by the previous owner.
You can see how much simpler the new drag link is (top) compared to the old drag link, bellcrank, and relay rod (bottom). Advance Adapters retains the relay rod as the new drag link and provides a conversion tie rod end to mate the drag link to the included pitman arm.
We ordered a remanufactured manual Saginaw steering box from Rock Auto. We specified a box for a 1989 Jeep Wrangler YJ. The box has three mounting bolts and is six turns lock-to-lock. Four-bolt boxes and faster ratios are available for other applications such as 1960s GM cars.
We welded the included steering box mount to the frame with our Millermatic 190 MIG welder. To avoid any warping, we chose to stitch the plate to the frame rather than fully weld it.
A hole must be cut in the front crossmember in order to allow the steering shaft to connect to the box with the use of a spud shaft. There is little margin for error here if you hole-saw a 1 3/4-inch hole in the crossmember, as we did.
You can see here how low the output of the box is relative to the hole we put in the crossmember. While this was functional, it looks odd. In retrospect we should have put the hole in the crossmember first and then welded on the bracket to center the steering box in the hole.
The steering column originally just passed through the firewall, but with the new steering configuration the column is welded to the included plate and then bolted solidly to the firewall. This is why your measurements during disassembly were so important.
The factory steering shaft is retained but must be cut to the appropriate length and have flats added to accept the new steering joint. We did this with an angle grinder and were happy with the results, but a mill would be a more elegant tool to use.
Here you can see the bronze bushing that Advance Adapters includes to center the steering shaft in the steering column. The 1973 and newer FJ40s use a pillow block on the firewall instead of this bushing. The fit was tight. We used Emory cloth on the bushing to get it to fit in the column.
Advance Adapters includes two of these high-quality Borgeson U-joint yokes to connect the factory steering shaft to the Saginaw steering box. Set screws are used to hold the U-joints in place to the collapsible shaft. After determining where the screws sit, small recesses were drilled into the shaft to locate the set screws.
The installed steering shaft ran right next to the motor mount, making slight contact. We used a grinder to take a modest amount of material off the motor mount where they were touching, resulting in smooth steering from lock to lock.
The completed installation resulted in less play in the steering system and quicker turning from lock to lock. We would recommend the manual Saginaw steering conversion for vehicles with open front differentials that are used for mild four wheeling. If you have bigger ambitions than that, a power steering conversion likely makes more sense.