Ford Falcon Rack and Pinion Install

Here’s a warning:  There may be several posts on this ass pain, so be warned.  To begin with the specifics, I went against a large quantity of advice from ill-equipped and informed sourpusses on many hotrod sites, and bought a Unisteer kit.  If they’re stock equipment on Factory Five’s Cobra kits, how bad could they be?  Exactly!

As mentioned previously, I’d already put on all new steering gear, short of the box.  After taking the lateral movement out of the back end of my Falcon, the steering box suddenly felt way more sloppy, especially on center (or off, as it were).  I had a manual steering set-up with a power box (all of which is now for sale on C-list, if you’re interested locally), so slop was quite minimal.  That said, things did feel a bit hairy on the freeway at times; at anything under 65 or so, in a straight line, things felt okay.  Then, they’d start to wander.  I’d considered the rack and pinion setup at first, but I thought that since my box felt fine, I’d get away cheaper with only all-new linkage.  It was fine for a while…

And then there’s the trick angle:  I couldn’t let the much cooler (looking and functioning) rear end junk outshine the front…  This is a really lame reason to go to a rack and pinion setup; don’t be seduced by trick-looking equipment.  I’ve ranted about this before, as much of it is worth no more than the shine it throws off.

Moving forward, what I got was the latest version (if they’ve ever actually had more than one) of Unisteer’s Ford Falcon Manual Rack and Pinion kit. (I do not enjoy much to do with power steering junk; this car is about light weight and simplicity, most of the time.) After waiting a month for some supposed “improvements” to the equipment, I finally got it.  All was very pretty upon opening the box.  Everything I needed was there, from the column shaft to the u-joints to the nylock nuts, and it was packaged quite nicely.  The rack came pre-installed on the mounting bracket/cradle; this heavy-duty steel bracket and rack setup immediately told me that I would not be saving any weight on this operation.  (The mounting bracket did however replace my nearly-new belly bar, which seemed ridiculously inadequate in contrast; the belly bar’s on Craigslist…)  I could call this lack of weight savings strike one, but I didn’t really care about saving weight; I was saving parts, and I wasn’t really adding any weight…

I took a few days to think about how I’d approach the install, rather than jumping right on things.  The tie rod ends (only outers now), for example, do not make use of adjusting sleeves (they are female ends); on one hand, this makes one wonder how they are adjusted without being popped out of the spindles.  Well, some of the tie rods on these racks actually have flats on them for adjustment (Cobra?); my Falcon rack did not come with this provision.  Busting ball joints to adjust toe is moronic.  I came to the conclusion that by adding another lock nut to the tie rod threads, I’d be able to adjust toe without flats, or doing something stupid like putting a Vise Grip (proper noun!) on the tie rod (to turn it in or out of the end).  Problem one solved (but maybe not in this order)!  Toe is now easily adjustable with just one open-end wrench, and yes, there is plenty of room in there for the tie rod ends to avoid cutting.  All was perfectly sized and allocated in this department–the extra nuts were actually provided, although I’ve yet to find anyone who’s taken (and talked about) this approach.

After some thinking and a few days of regular life, I began the butt pain of taking out all of the old (not so much) steering stuff.  I took out all of the linkage as one piece, by only removing the Pittman from the sector shaft, the idler (2 bolt) from the frame, and the outer tie rod ends from the spindles.  Job done.  Then came the box:  The spear of death does not make this easy.  Since I’d been wanting a legitimate export brace for some time, and since I did not want to take off any exhaust parts, I came to the conclusion (after taking out the brake master and the steering wheel/column) that the easiest way to remove that whore would be through cutting out the driver’s side shock tower brace with my Harbor Freight reciprocating saw.  Before doing this, I of course called Falcon Parts in Sacramento to see if they’d finally gotten some new export braces…  Money spent and job done!

For some good news, the rack and its bracket installed perfectly, especially with the one-inch standoffs that go behind the motor mounts.  I had to modify absolutely nothing to mount the rack to the car.  To clarify, I have a stock small block-configuration oil pan, Hi-Po exhaust manifolds, and an early-90s mini starter.  I now have about 1/4 of an inch of clearance between the top of the rack bracket and the bottom of the oil pan–it’s plenty.  It is very snug, and quite attractive!  The tie rods were also the perfect length; I had to make no change whatsoever to the length of the tie rods or the ends that were supplied with the kit.

Here’s the stupid part:  I have an auto transmission column.  The kit’s instructions, pretty much for every car, GMs included, state that you must have a manual trans column for a car that came with a floor shifter.  I ignored this detail.  So to my surprise, everything but the steering wheel bolted right up.  I wired the turn signal switch back up.  I hooked the tie rods up for an initial setting.  I drilled new holes for the new column bracket at the firewall, and screwed it on (looks nice!).  I hooked up the u-joints and steering shaft to the bottom of the column, after hammering in the new bottom bearing/column shaft support.  Then, I tried the steering wheel…  The fucking column was too long!

So, yada, yada, yada, I wound up cutting an inch or so off the bottom of the column (this is only suggested for the Mustang kit, not the Falcon).  Before this, I actually had to cut the bottom bearing out with my angle grinder, then finish up the bottom of the column (after removing everything, ahhhh!).  The bottom bearing re-installed nicely, and I got the column to a length that allowed me to finally reach the splines on the shaft.  I got the nut on, and everything was almost there…

The stupid directions said to tighten the u-joints to 15 ft. lbs.  This made for lots of slop and clunking.  A phone call brought the realization that the u-joint bolts should be at 50 pounds…  That helped a lot.  Another new realization is that given my current column length, the steering wheel nut now applies preload to the bottom bearing–I have to be careful tightening it (not 35 ft-lbs), so it doesn’t create unnecessary friction.  I found this last detail out on the first test drive–the wheel would not spin back after a turn…

The first drive sucked, based on both the above problem and the fact that my old steering wheel cracked to shit (around the base) after a few good turns; it had to sit at a different height than it used to, because it’s just wrong.  I made it work, but now you can see the whole turn signal switch set-up from the side, top, or bottom.  Anyhoo, the second drive was much better.  It did confirm the fact that my turning radius is slightly reduced, but I only found this out because my current garage entry is perpendicular (and small).  The radius issue would be a non-issue in any other circumstance.  The freeway tracking is hugely improved–the thing has no wander anymore.  Overall, I think the ratio is about the same as my old power (assist) box, but it may be progressive, in the sense that it might speed up the further off-center it gets; what’s weird is that the initial effort is not at all stiffer than that of the old box.

Suffice to say that I have a few more adjustments to do (none of which will include removing the column or tightening u-joints again).  I’ve got to set the toe again (which is really easier now), and I’ve got to pull the wheel off to realign it and adjust the nut tension a bit more.  Maybe I’ll get a new column some day; presently, I’m glad to see that I’ve somewhat beat the directions by using my crappy old auto column…  As yet, I’ve only driven the thing twice with the new steering goods (and new export brace).

I’m surely forgetting something here, but this is what you get for my 45 minutes of typing.  Pics follow:

Update after about 150-200 miles:  I’m liking the Unisteer setup more and more.  It seems like I may need to remove the U-joints at some point down the road and check them for notching/scoring, then maybe grind some edges, just to relieve the slight notchiness.  Really though, my only complaint at this point is that the steering ratio did not speed up at all (not to say that this was an absolute goal or expectation–it was just a hope); it is very easy to steer at low speeds.  Then again, at a certain angle of steer (especially under speed/pressure), the ratio does seem to pick up a bit.  I really need to check my speed now, as I’m doing 35 mph (recommended) turns in 5th gear in some cases (2000 rpm); 4th gear in such turns is almost putting me in a power band where I can feel the option of a drift (with a very mild motor).  With my lame 60-series tires not making any noise under such pressure (they do fit correctly, which makes all the difference), I’m thinking that I’ve really done something right with the setup of this car…  I do tend to have a decent amount of negative camber in the front wheels…

1 Comment

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One response to “Ford Falcon Rack and Pinion Install

  1. ray

    if you had to do it again would you go with the same make or try someone elses rack.i am looking at rrsonline rack but it does seem pricey

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