It's easier than you think to get rack & pinion precision in your classic Mustang or Cougar!
We spend a great deal of time focusing on the multitude of ways to improve the suspension and chassis on vintage cars since it’s by far the best way to increase the overall performance and driving enjoyment, but there’s a symbiotic system that also needs attention on any car to truly get modern handling characteristics; the steering.
Almost all cars prior to themed 1970’s used a recirculating ball type gearbox. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that method (it’s still used on trucks and SUV’s today because of its inherent strength), the problem is that they are often equipped with slow ratios. Couple that with the larger diameter steering wheels typical of the day and you get steering response that’s lethargic at best. That may be acceptable on mediocre stock suspension with skinny stock 14 or 15-inch tires since it helped keep drivers within the car’s limitations, but it quickly becomes a major blockade to spirited driving once you’ve begun updating your car.
In some cases that problem is only amplified by stock power steering systems that are overboosted or just offer vague feedback for the driver. We can attest that that 1960’s Fords fall into that category; plenty of assist for slow motion moving, but too much for high-speed maneuvering confidence and less than ideal feedback. That’s partially because of the hydraulic ram style system used that essentially links onto the manual linkage and provides push and pull. It’s a strong type of system; 4x4 guys with huge off-road tires convert to something similar all the time for its mechanical advantage. But those guys don’t need the sensitivity and feel that we prefer for performance driving. It’s one of the reasons you’ll see most FoMoCo muscle on the track reverting to manual steering.
We’d been pondering the situation for our ’68 Mustang project ever since we were underneath it installing the Hooker headers for the Day 2 Power Parts bolt-on in the July issue. Drips and crusted grime told us the original hydraulic ram system wasn’t in great shape, and then then the growling power steering pump burned up during dyno testing. On top of that, we knew the linkage itself was getting a little sloppy. So we were faced with the same situation every vintage Mustang builder finds himself in; stick with stock, or go for the gold and do a modern performance steering upgrade.
Luckily the aftermarket has been kind to Mustangs and there are a plethora of options. Like our suspensions, we’re pretty particular about our steering upgrades, so we did our homework and decided that a full power rack and pinion conversion from Unisteer was an ideal solution. The kit would give a modern, more efficient pump, a rack with a stronger than stock integrated frame crossmember, and new tire rods to replace and upgraded steering shaft to replace the aged stock stuff. All that, plus the precision of a rack. While it sounds like a big job, the Unisteer swap is surprisingly simple and something most hot rodder can handle easily in their garage. We managed to do it in a couple days in the shop by ourselves. Since you don't have to stop and take photos along the way, you can probably do it even quicker!
Our initial impression after install is that the steering feel is night and day different. The response and precision is terrific, and the rack provides much better feedback about what the tires are doing. The only drawback so far is that you will lose some turning radius, but you'll likely never notice it while driving. Low speed maneuvering, such as parking, is where some points may need to be added to a turn. Overall, we're quite pleased with the install and would recommend it as a well-thought out kit.
What to see all the particulars of the install? Watch for the full story in the August issue of PHR, and for video on our YouTube channel