The Bendix-designed power steering that Ford used on practically every car from 1956 to 1970 looked great on paper, and it worked well enough in the real world in passenger car applications. It was a cheap to engineer “add-on” type power-assist, in which a control valve and a power assist ram could practically just be slapped on to the drag link of any car and, viola, you have power steering!
But “working well enough” is pretty much where functionality of the Ford-Bendix power assist steering system ends. Straight from the factory, its flaws were many. Road feel is non-existent, it has more play in it than kindergarten, and if you look at it crooked it leaks like a mop bucket blasted with a shotgun.
This is not to mention that it was never intended for performance applications where it would be pushing around giant modern performance tires, and it is impossible to route the moving hoses around long tube headers. Building a hot car out of a Ford that is cursed with this power steering usually results in a manual steering conversion to avoid the headaches, which you then end up exchanging for arm-aches.
Mustang owners have long had options to remedy this, from rack and pinion conversions to integrated power steering boxes, but the rest of us with mid-to-full-sized Fords were left wanting. Even properly rebuilding the stock power steering with new components costs around $2,000, and you are left with the same crappy, loose steering that fries hoses on your headers and leaks endlessly. It is not exactly worth the cash.
Borgeson Universal has finally come to the rescue with an integrated power steering box for 1956-73 mid and full-size Fords, and not only does it cost a small pile of cash less than rebuilding the stock power steering, it actually bloody well works.
I put Borgeson’s integrated power steering box in my 1966 Ford Fairlane, and it works like a charm. The steering is tight and on-center and there is actually some road feel and feedback now. It does not quite have rack-and-pinion quality tightness and feel, and the steering is still a little light; but it is damn good if you do things right. And that is where things start to get tricky.
The big down shot to the Borgeson ‘box install is that it comes with absolutely no instructions. I am talking nothing, not even a slip of paper with some helpful hints comes in the box. Have no doubt in your mind that it should be installed by a professional, or at least a very seasoned gearhead because there is a lot to figure out on your own. While the steering box bolts right to the frame, the column and shaft have to be shortened, and the firewall has to be cut to accommodate the rag joint, which due to the larger size of the power steering box, sits just past the firewall seal.
Some of these modifications are briefly discussed on Borgeson’s website, and they have some links to some magazine articles on Mustang installs that are pretty helpful. And if you get stuck, the customer service folks at Borgeson are very professional and super-knowledgeable.
I am not going to do a complete step-by-step on the install (plenty of mags have done this), but I can offer some very helpful hints that you will not see on the Borgeson website or in any of the other install articles out there.
- Do not use the manual steering adapter that Borgeson recommends, which basically screws on where the power valve was and bolts to the pitman arm. Yes, it will work, but the ball-and-cup design will leave you with the same play that was in your old power valve, it requires constant lubrication, and it tends to wear out quickly. Even in mild-performance applications, it is best to use a manual steering drag link and pitman arm, which eliminates the sloppiness you get in the adapter. Manual steering drag links are out there, and they usually run from $200-$280 (For 1966 cars). Pitman arms can be had for about $70. The manual steering adapter costs between $175-$220, so you aren’t saving a ton of cash here, and the performance gains are substantial. I managed to snipe a bid on a drag link on eBay, and scored it with a new idler arm for just $75. If you car already has factory manual steering, you don't have to worry about this.
- One of Borgeson’s installation recommendations that you should follow is using a GM Saginaw style power steering pump. Your stock Ford Thompson (TRW) or Eaton pump will work, but not very well. The Ford pumps tend to be noisy and put out inconsistent pressure at low RPM, and good rebuilt ones are impossible to find. All-new Thompson pumps are not available at all. Even with the Saginaw pump, don’t settle for some chain parts store reman pump—they are garbage. I found an all-new Saginaw pump on eBay for $99, a billet pulley from Summit Racing for about $30, and I used Borgeson’s pump bracket, which runs about $70 and is also available at Summit Racing. It is worth the extra money for your car not to sound like a T-Rex eating a cat every time you turn the wheel.
- Don’t do it half-assed—replace everything steering related. You think those old tie rods look good enough, and hey, they don’t make any clunky noises, right? Don’t take the chance with catastrophic steering component failure: replace all of them. Same goes for the rag joint. Your steering will be much tighter for it, too. I also used solid steel tie rod adjusting sleeves from Global West. They cost about $50 and they are much more substantial than the split, stamped steel stock ones. These are a must in performance applications, as the stock sleeves slip under heavy cornering loads and flex when pushing around big tires.
- Get your alignment done right, and go to a shop that does a lot of them on old cars. I take mine to Tech One in San Francisco and have Jose take care of it. He knows his way around the old-school rides.
- Good general performance alignment specs on old Fords are pretty simple: 1/32” of total toe (1/16” on each side), ½ to ¾ of a degree of negative camber, and 1to 3 degrees of caster. The stock alignment specs are absolutely no good for modified cars, as they were intended for a car at stock ride height with bias-ply tires. Dialing in some caster substantially enhances steering feel and high-speed stability, and the extra camber will save the outside edges of your tires if you bang around turns a lot.
Keeping all this in mind, the Borgeson power steering conversion is a worthwhile and inexpensive alternative to the leaky, sloppy stock power steering.
Tech One Automotive
1460 Illinois St
(between 24th St & 25th St)
San Francisco, CA 94107