Installing a F1 Steering Box In A Roadster
When I purchased the ‘32 chassis for what would later become my fifties-style ‘29 roadster someone had already begun laying out their hot rod plan but gave up. The '32 frame had a triangulated 4-bar installed in the rear and came with a box of brand new parts including a Vega steering box, mount, and a gorgeous stainless steel pitman arm. A Vega box is an excellent way to steer a hot rod but I wanted something more traditional for my build. Because I hoped my car would look like it was built by my grandpa I decided to sell off the new parts. I removed the rear 4 bar and replaced it with a Model A high arch spring and rear original 29 cross-member. Up front for steering an F1 pickup steering box was the way to go in my opinion. Turns out I had sourced a decent F1 box before I knew I needed it. Ten years prior I removed it from a 49 ½ ton Ford truck discovered on my wife’s family farm. Unfortunately in those days I didn’t know too much about F1 boxes and was rough on this one when I removed it. Now I was kicking myself because I could see the hammer I used to loosen the pitman arm did some damage. Luckily it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t fix the slightly mushroomed shaft, but now a little older and wiser, I know better!
The first order of business was to test fit the box to my frame and see how things would line up with my pedal assembly and engine. I knew things would be close considering a pinched deuce frame for a 28/29 cowl can make things a little tight. I am running an all stock engine, in this case a 241 Red Ram hemi, and it was trickier than I thought making everything fit. I began by cutting a hole in the boxing plate just big enough to get it into place with the mock up engine installed. I used a good frame chart to make measurements and locate the hole in the frame rail for the shaft to poke through. It is good to note there is some room for artistic license here, but because I want my frame to look stock I placed mine in the original spot for a 32. Once I saw that it would fit I took the engine and trans out and worked to make the hole in the frame nicer. I cleaned it up and then boxed it in to give it some added strength. I did make a mistake however. When boxing the hole in I lost some space for the steering box flange! I would either need to trim down the flange or cut away some of my boxing plate to get the box back in the hole!
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me reason enough to modify my box. By cutting off the original flange and making a new one I could give myself some extra room between the engine and steering box and also line up the column better so it would pass through my brake and clutch pedals with minimal bending of the pedals.
The process of relocating the flange on F1 boxes is fairly common. It isn’t always necessary, but it allows you to sink the box closer to the frame rail while also giving you an opportunity to clock the steering box and aim the column where it is most comfortable to the driver. For un-pinched frames this also allows you to correct the angle of the shaft which sometimes requires shimming on uncut F1 or F100 boxes. There are some very capable people out in the hot rod community that will do this task for you, but I decided to do it myself.
To begin this process I took my steering box completely apart. They are very simple in design and come apart easily.
I was glad to see that all of the internal parts on mine were in great condition. Give yours a careful inspection. The good news is aftermarket replacement parts are still available for these boxes and they are easy to find! I would need to order up a basic kit to replace all of the seals and gaskets later, but all of the bearing surfaces and gears were in great shape.
I gave all of the parts a good 3 day soak in the parts washer to make sure they were completely clean. My box was really grungy as most are and I was happy to see it looking like new.
If you are really fancy you can chuck yours up on a lathe and turn the boss perfectly round in preparation for the new flange. I did mine by hand using files and was happy with the way it turned out! I used a micrometer to ensure I was keeping things nice and round too. The process was labor intensive and I have much nicer forearms now from all of the filing!
Once I had the box filed down I took some measurements and had a new mounting flange made that matched the hole in my frame. The good thing about F1 boxes is they are steel and not iron as some might think at first. This makes welding easy. I drew a basic design on cardboard and brought it down to my local friend with a CNC plasma and the next day I was in business.
I made the heavier flange to be welded to the box the same thickness as the original flange. The corresponding outer plate was similar in all ways just thinner at (1/4”) and with a slightly over-size center hole for the box shaft and snout to pass through when everything goes back together. The outer plate is not necessary, but I wanted to give the frame a bit more strength in this area. You see some original frames starting to crack in this area as it does endure more stress from box! Once the plates were made I test fit them to the box.
They were just right, so I reassembled everything and mocked it up in the frame again. I am really happy with the result. The box is located much closer to the frame giving me more space, and it runs the steering column right through the pedals and lines it up on the dash where it looks best! The heating and bending of the pedal arms will be minimal.