Wrenching on a project rig like our ’95 Jeep YJ (aka the Rescued Wrangler) can be a rewarding, but sometimes slow endeavor. As with any build, there are challenges that must be overcome. With 2½-ton Rockwell axles affixed under the Jeep, one hurdle we had to get over was what to do with our steering. As you may recall from our previous installments, we extended the front axle substantially from its original location.
The wheelbase stretch not only increased the approach angle of the Jeep, but subsequently provided more breathing room for our 44-inch Pit Bull Rocker tires. Mix in the new axle location with the custom multilink suspension and Ouverson Engineering and Machine pinion brake, and we rapidly lost space for a conventional steering configuration. Luckily, our steering solution is one that is commonplace on mud runners and rockcrawlers alike, fully hydraulic.
Unlike a traditional steering configuration in a solid-axle vehicle that uses a steering gearbox and mechanical linkage (such as a draglink and tie-rod assembly), a fully-hydraulic steering system uses an orbital valve and steering cylinder, which communicate via hydraulic lines. As you can imagine, fishing hydraulic lines through a maze of tubing is much easier than attempting to package a series of heavy-duty steering links. Although fully-hydraulic steering is designed specifically for use off-road, tuning the system to work at high and low speeds is completely achievable. In fact, many fully-hydraulic steering systems have a return-to-center feature to give you a more traditional steering feel. Our rig is primarily a trail toy, so we don’t mind putting on-road handling and performance on the backburner to extend our rig’s off-road potential.
For our 2½-ton Rockwell-equipped YJ we opted to go with a Rockwell-specific steering system from PSC Motorsports. PSC builds steering for everything from daily-driven 4x4s to competition-only monster trucks and Ultra4 racers. We were able to work with PSC’s team of experts to create the right steering setup for our need and have always been impressed with the company’s service (something extremely important when dialing in a custom steering system). To mount our custom steering system we headed back to Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Kelly Carter and his crew helped create a heavy-duty steering setup for our low-buck, big Jeep.
We still have plenty to complete on our YJ, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Step By Step
1. The Rockwell-specific fully-hydraulic steering system from PSC Motorsports includes all necessary steering components, sans the pump, since it is application specific. Our ’95 Jeep Wrangler is still running the factory 4.0L, so we opted for a high-flow steering pump that bolted into our factory mount.
2. To create a mount for our steering ram, Low Range 4x4 owner Kelly Carter devised a cardboard template of the intended design. Using cardboard helps to fine-tune the fitment before trimming the heavy 3⁄16-inch plate steel.
3. Using a mix of 1.750-inch-diameter, 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing and the 3⁄16-plate steel, we welded the custom mount to the backside of the Rockwell axle. Additional gussets span the top portion of the mount, and make for an extremely durable steering shelf that can take a lick if we happen to hit it on the trail.
4. The 3x9 double-ended steering ram included with the PSC Motorsports Rockwell kit is equipped with a three-inch bore and nine-inch throw. One of the advantages of running a double-ended ram is that they require a lower amount of fluid volume to operate. In addition to a more balanced throw from side to side, the PSC ram is fitted with heavy-duty 3/4-inch clevis ends that are much stronger and less likely to break over cast ends, which are found on most agricultural-use hydraulic rams.
5. The reason we are able to easily place our steering links behind the axle is due to the fact that the 2 1/2-ton Rockwell kingpin knuckles can be easily swapped from one side to the other. Two pre-cut 10-inch sticks of DOM tubing, weld-in sleeves, knuckle inserts, and premium rod ends are all included with the PSC Rockwell kit.
6. The Eaton orbital valve acts as a steering gearbox of sorts, in that it is what transmits your steering inputs as you turn the wheel. Atop the four-port orbital are lines controlling left and right inputs, a feed line from the pump and return to the fluid reservoir. This particular orbital is set up for a 4.2 lock-to-lock tuning ratio. Matching the correct orbital and pump gpm (gallons per minute) is often application specific and may take some fine-tuning to get right.
7. When mounting the fluid reservoir, you ideally always want it fixed as close to the pump as possible. Given that it is a gravity-feed system, the reservoir also needs to be placed above the pump as well.
8. One of the missing pieces on our YJ was the stock steering shaft. We sourced a replacement from Omix-Ada as the company specializes in factory-replacement Jeep parts. With the placement of our steering orbital, we had to cut four-inches off of the Omix-Ada ’shaft. To attach it to the orbital control, we located a larger end joint from a Borgeson steering shaft.
9. Running through the full-hydraulic steering system is synthetic power steering fluid from Royal Purple. The non-foaming synthetic formula is designed to run cooler and fight heat-breakdown more efficiently over traditional power steering fluid.
10. Since each of our Ouverson pinion brakes are a bit exposed sitting both before the axle on the front and aft on the rear, we wanted to give them a little protection. We used a manual tubing bender to craft these brake guards out of 1.750-inch-diameter, 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing. A few passes with the MIG welder quickly set them in place.
11. One small part that couldn’t be overlooked was the non-CV-style front yoke that is factory on the YJ’s NP231 transfer case. Since we were having custom drivelines crafted from Tom Wood’s, we added a 1310 CV-style yoke to our order list.
12. The clearcoated Tom Wood’s drivelines are more than just eye catching, but quality and robust drivelines that are built with abuse in mind. We requested the front driveline be a 2-inch version since clearance was tight between the powertrain and our massive steering ram. This required us to use 1310 U-joints which may seem small, but they are one of the most common and durable automotive joints. We suspect that our stock NP231 transfer case might be the weak link in our drivetrain, but only time will tell.
13. Out back, the massive Tom Wood’s driveline is fitted with a 1350 CV flange at the transfer case and a 1410 U-joint at the axle. Given the slight angle and offset of the driveline, the 1350 CV was necessary to quell any driveline vibrations.