Overland Vehicle Outfitters

Project Flatfender: Steering

The Ross Cam & Lever steering system was used on CJs from '46-'71. While functional and marginally effective for its time, it has some distinct disadvantages when compared to the modern steering systems used in later vehicles. The Ross system relies on a manual steering box (mounted to the frame below the firewall) and a complex mix of bellcranks, pivot points, and linkages that allows for excessive play and wandering. The multiple pivot points are wear items that frequently need to be rebuilt or replaced. Note the Ross system's multiple pivot points (arrows) in the picture below.


(Sidebar: With the removal of the Ross steering, I wanted to also remove the obsolete bellcrank mounting bracket for a cleaner-looking frame.  The bracket was mounted to the frame via several large OEM rivets.  It was time consuming, but I ground down each rivet head flush with the frame and then heated them with a small torch and drove them out one by one.)


The Saginaw steering gearboxes, introduced to the Jeep line in 1972, have proven themselves to be extremely rugged and durable. Add to that the simpler steering linkage design of later CJs that use a single tie rod and a draglink, and the benefits are clear. The most common replacement for the Ross system is a later model Saginaw steering box (manual or power) mounted out front on the driver side frame horn just behind the front bumper, and there are several kits available to facilitate this. This is a stellar improvement over the Ross system, but while researching options I stumbled upon an alternative that I feel is ideal for my application. 

Herm the Overdrive Guy offers a kit that facilitates mounting of a Ford reverse rotation steering box behind the front crossmember. The kit includes a heavy duty mounting bracket, required hardware, and a pitman arm with the correct taper. The Ford reverse rotation steering gearboxes were used on F150/250/350 full-size pickups, vans, and compact Rangers, and they are heavy duty, plentiful, and relatively inexpensive. This setup mounts the steering box to the strongest part of the frame, where it is fully boxed, providing a very solid mounting point.  Below are pictures of the mounting bracket attached to the Ford steering gear, and the bracket/steering gear when installed on the frame.  The front of the steering box butts up against the front crossmember - I left about 1/16" of clearance - which leaves plenty of room at the rear for the steering shaft to clear the motor mount.  

When mounting a Saginaw steering box out front, it puts additional stress on the frame rail where it is prone to cracking near the spring mount, so additional reinforcement is required. Another hurdle with the Saginaw system is the steering shaft routing, which can interfere with engine components and typically requires modifications to the frame crossmember. Lastly, the forward mounting of a Saginaw box can place it in the way of bumper and winch components, requiring clever positioning (i.e. additional work).  The Ford steering box setup avoids these issues altogether, simplifying the steering upgrade. 


Having tossed the old Ross steering with its multiple links, I also ordered Herm's heavy-duty tie rod and drag link kit to tie the Pitman arm and knuckles together on the later open knuckle Dana 30. Tighter steering control with much more durable components will translate into better control both on-road and off. Reduced routine maintenance is also a nice benefit.

In the pictures below you can see the process as I test fit the steering linkage components together. I started by installing the new tie rod ends in the heavy-duty tie rod using the measurements from the original that I'd removed. I'll have an alignment done when it's drivable, but for now this gets me in the ballpark. Once the knuckles were tied together, I could cycle them back and forth to check for clearance with surrounding components. It immediately became apparent that the oversize tie rod contacted the shock body on each side about 1/4" before the steering stop bolts contacted the knuckles. I backed out the existing steering stop bolts, which were bent and contorted into odd shapes from years of hard use. I installed the new steering stop bolts, nuts, and lock washers and adjusted them to 1/4" of shock clearance at full steering lock. 


The Ford steering gearbox has approximately four full turns lock-to-lock, so as a starting point I set it at two turns (the middle position) to determine the Pitman arm mounting position. I set the steering knuckles to straight by aligning the protruding axle shafts with the axle tubes. I had to "clock" the Pitman arm to several positions on the steering box output shaft before finding the sweet spot where the knuckles could cycle fully and the steering stops would engage before the steering gear reached the end of it's travel. The above two pictures depict the final configuration with everything tightened. Note that the angle of the drag link seems extreme compared to the horizontal plane of the tie rod; this is because the suspension is in full droop. Once the weight of the engine, transmission, transfer-case and body are added, the drag link angle will be much more appropriate. 

Any way you cut it, the engine bay of a flatfender presents some challenges when packaging steering, exaust, and engine components between those narrow frame rails. Herm also offers a steering shaft kit with a pillow block that provides multiple options for steering shaft routing. In my case, the V6 exhaust header and steering shaft will need to accommodate each other. 

E-mail us at:  rmiller@ovoonline.com

Overland Vehicle Outfitters
Marysville, OH 43040