In the previous segments, we fitted our ’85 Chevy 1¼-ton CUCV ex-military truck with a 6-inch-lift, 39-inch tires, and 15x12 wheels. What we needed now was a streetable way to steer this ultra-wide mess of a combination. For that, we made a call to Stephen Watson of Offroad Design (ORD). Watson and ORD specialize in turning fullsize trucks into awesome trail rigs, so we knew he could help us. After subtly poking fun at our monster truck, Watson gave us some great steering advice before we spun any wrenches in our garage. His solution came in the form of an ORD crossover steering kit and an ORD-spec’d PSC Motorsports ram-assist system.
A ram-assist steering system is a great addition to any 4x4 with tires larger than 35-37 inches tall, especially if the vehicle is used in slow-technical or high-speed off-road situations. The ram and high-performance pump not only make steering the large tires easier, they help absorb some of the trail punishment that is fed back into the steering box. Adding a ram-assist can increase the lifespan of a steering box and help avoid a broken sector shaft in extreme cases. Before the addition of the ram-assist system, we could only turn the steering wheel with our truck moving forward or backward. Now, we can saw the steering wheel back and forth with the truck parked using only one finger. And, unlike the vague feel of a full-hydraulic steering system, our truck still drives down the street like it has a conventional steering box.
Rather than move the tie rod to the top of the steering knuckles for added clearance, we decided to leave it in the factory location and beef it up a bit to keep it from bending when (not if) it hits trail debris. Moving the tie rod to the top of the steering knuckles (high-steer) can cause additional stress on the factory components, which can lead to failure, especially with the added leverage of a large and wide tire and wheel combo like ours. The good news is that with the system we have now, we can always upgrade our steering knuckles down the road if need be, and all of our existing steering parts will still work.
Step By Step
The ORD crossover steering includes this steering arm that bolts to the top passenger-side of our factory Dana 60 knuckle. Ours came complete with ARP studs, pre-drilled with tapered holes and ready to bolt on. Follow the instructions carefully as the hardware should be cinched down and torqued to 110 lb-ft multiple times to make sure the arm is seated properly. The ORD crossover drag link bolts directly to the arm.
1. Our factory push-pull steering box is replaced with a 2WD steering box that has been rebuilt and upgraded by PSC. Our new box also has –AN ports to feed our ram-assist. It bolts to the frame using the factory holes and hardware. Be sure to check the frame closely for cracks in this area. The ’73-’87 GM square body 4x4 (up to 1991 for Blazer, Jimmy, Suburban and 1-ton) steering box mounts are notorious for cracking under the stress of larger tires. ORD offers a weld-on repair/gusset kit if your frame is damaged.
2. An ORD steering box brace kit is a good idea for any ’68-’91 solid axle GM 4x4. It will help keep your steering box attached to the frame. It includes all the necessary hardware. We only needed to drill one hole and push some tranny and brake lines out of the way to mount it up.
3. Our ORD-spec’d high-performance PSC P-series pump features a larger-than-normal intake port (-8 AN) that the aluminum PSC remote reservoir feeds into. The reservoir features a built-in filter and all the ports and fittings we needed to work with our hydro-boost brakes. Location of the reservoir is critical. It should never sit below the pump or the fluid will not feed properly. The reservoir features several mounting options. We simply welded a small mounting bracket to our factory alternator mount and used the threaded holes on the PSC reservoir to secure it.
4. The factory 1-ton GM tie-rod ends are pretty stout and great for wet and dirty conditions because they have seals and grease fittings. However, the adjuster sleeve and tie rod itself are prone to bending when abused off-road. We decided to add some better metal to this area to keep all the parts inline.
5. There are lots of options when upgrading your tie rod and ends to something stouter. Real abusive bashers that still want easy toe-in adjustability can upgrade to a Synergy Manufacturing 7⁄8-inch double adjuster (bottom) and heavy-duty tie-rod ends (right). These parts dwarf an already-beefy high-quality 3/4-inch rod end (left).
6. We decided to keep it simple and went with some quality 3/4-inch rod ends from Off Road Evolution and 3/4-inch threaded weld bungs from Synergy Manufacturing. We like to use common right-hand threaded rod ends on both sides. This makes finding a replacement easier if need be, but it does make adjusting the toe a more difficult task. It’s a tradeoff we can live with because we really only need to carry one spare rod end.
7. We built our tie rod from super heavy-duty Synergy Manufacturing 13⁄8-inch, 0.188-wall, 4130 heat-treated chromoly. Our factory tie rod measured 56 inches long (center-to-center), so we needed to compensate for the added length of both threaded weld bungs and rod ends. Before you cut the tube, be sure to leave enough threads to allow for toe adjustment.
8. We cut the Synergy chromoly tubing to length, cleaned the ends and drilled two 3⁄8-inch holes on each end. The holes are used for rosette welds on the threaded bungs. The bungs are also welded around the circumference. We insert a cruddy bolt into the bungs during the welding process to keep weld boogers out of the threads.
9. With welding and painting done, we used a liberal amount of antiseize on the rod ends to keep them from rusting in place. Don’t forget to install the jamb nuts, too.
10. To run the 3/4-inch rod ends, we needed to drill out the tapered tie-rod end holes in our Dana 60 steering knuckles. A 1/2-inch drill loaded with a 3/4-inch drill bit makes quick work of the task. Make sure the hole is straight and true.
11. Each rod end is cinched in place with a McMaster-Carr sourced 3/4-inch-diameter, 2 3/4-inch-long, fine thread Grade 8 bolt with a steel lock nut soaked in thread-locking compound. A Synergy safety washer over each rod end makes sure the tie rod stays in place, even if the rod end ball pulls out of the body.
12. Stephen Watson at ORD recommended a 1 3/4-inch-bore, 8-inch-stroke PSC ram for our Dana 60 front axle. Ours came complete with the rod ends, weld tabs, and mounting hardware.
13. On the tie rod side of the ram, we opted to weld the mounting tabs to a Synergy clamp instead of simply welding the tabs directly to the tie rod. This offers us more adjustment and mount flexibility.
14. On the axle-side of the ram, we could have welded the mounting tabs to the factory 1⁄8-inch-thick diff cover, but we figured it was a good idea to upgrade to a thicker cover. Our heavy truck will likely make contact with sharp rocks at some point. We called West Coast Differentials, ordered a 3⁄8-inch-thick Ruff Stuff Specialties Dana 60 diff cover, and bolted it in place with some silicone and the factory hardware.
15. We wrapped the PSC ram in a couple layers of masking tape to protect it from weld spatter. With the trucks steering and the ram centered, we positioned the ram on the diff cover and tie rod where it had plenty of clearance all around. Once we were sure of the location, we tack-welded the mounts in place and removed the ram for final welding.
16. Here’s a quick tip. Lightly insert a bolt and nut to keep the tabs from warping out of position when fully welding. A spacer that is the same thickness as the rod end would be useful too.
17. With the mounting tabs burned into place and everything freshly painted it was time to reassemble the steering. We refilled the front diff with AMSOIL Severe Gear synthetic 75w-90. By adding a threaded NPT fitting to the oil bottle cap we were able to simply squeeze the oil in trough the fill hole.
18. The ORD spec’d PSC ram-assist kit can be ordered with hoses and fittings. Because of our extra-tall lift and hose routing, we needed a few additional feet that we picked up at the local heavy-truck parts store. The hoses can be cut with a chop saw or cutoff wheel and the threaded reusable fittings can be assembled at home, no press needed.
19. Carefully measure and route the ram-assist hoses away from bumpstops, exhaust, tires, and moving suspension parts that can damage or pinch them. We found that routing the hoses around the back of the bumpstop worked best in our application. An insulated steel mounting clamp on the bumpstop keeps the hoses in place.
20. We filled the power steering system with AMSOIL synthetic fluid for heat resistance and to improve component life. To bleed the air out, put the frontend on jackstands and slowly turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock several times with the engine off. Add fluid as needed. You can start the engine and check for leaks when the fluid level remains stable and there are no air bubbles surfacing in the reservoir.