The Ross cam and lever steering system was used on CJs from '46-'71. While functional and 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. Even when factory fresh, the design allowed for a lot of wander.
(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 crossmember 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 felt would be 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. At left is a picture of the mounting bracket attached to the Ford steering gearbox. 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 reverse-rotation steering box setup avoids these issues altogether.
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 its travel. The pictures below 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, exhaust, and engine components between those narrow frame rails. Herm also offers steering shaft kits utilizing Borgeson steering joints (optionally with a pillow block) that provide multiple options for steering shaft routing. In my case, the V6 exhaust header and steering shaft will need to accommodate each other, along with fuel lines, power steering lines, and brake lines. Needless to say, the space between the driver side firewall and the frame crossmember got pretty crowded, and required creative packaging. When it comes down to it, Herm's kit was probably at least as much work as a Saginaw conversion, but I like the overall packaging better and it leaves the area behind the bumper free to accommodate a winch.
In the Engine topic, I cover retrofitting the power steering pump onto OEM Buick brackets, and the customization that was required. When it came to plumbing the pump into the Ford steering box, I decided on a braided stainless high-pressure hose on the supply side, and a standard rubber hose on the return side. I had never crafted a braided stainless hose before, but I bought a kit (that came complete with the necessary tool) because it was pretty unlikely that I'd find an off-the-shelf hose to fit. It took some patience, but when complete I had a hose that was the correct length, an abrasion-resistant stainless shell, and a high-pressure hose that also looked great.
In the picture to the left, you can see the final layout of the mounted pump and the routing of the supply hose down to the Ford steering box. You can also see that, with the use of the Buick brackets, the power steering belt aligned perfectly with the water pump pulley.
In the Body topic, I cover the installation of the steering column and steering wheel. It's worth mentioning the decision making process and the factors that helped determine the components I selected. I originally intended to use the original steering column from the CJ-5 chassis, because I liked the simplicity of the old-school look. However, I soon realized that it would take some custom fabrication to adapt that column shaft to my steering setup. I also realized that there is very limited space for entry to and exit from the driver's seat, and a tilt steering column would probably be a necessity.
Oddly, my search led me to Speedway Motors, a performance/speed shop that has an extensive catalog of unique parts perfect for building one-off and custom vehicles. I purchased an ididit GM-style, 33" tilt steering column with a brushed stainless finish, integrated turn signal and hazard provisions, and a pre-terminated wiring pigtail that plugs directly into my fuse block. They also had the perfect floor and dash mounting brackets to fit the CJ. To top off the column, I purchased a Grant steering wheel that resembles an early Jeep unit, and used a Grant GM-style adapter and horn button kit.