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Thread: '51 Champion steering play

  1. #1
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    '51 Champion steering play

    When I first got my '51, I took it to a local garage that does front end work, mainly for a safety check and to have all the chassis points lubed. Everything looked good and has remained so with the exception of steering play. When the car was on the lift, the adjustment for taking up play in the steering box wasn't apparent, but I have been led to believe since then that wear in the steering's bell crank assembly is more likely to cause steering play. When we looked at the bell crank while the car was on the lift we were mainly looking for evidence of damage and didn't appreciate the importance of the bell crank on steering play. Are there still new or rebuilt bell crank assemblies available and are any special tools required to install a new or reconditioned bell crank, most likely as an assembly?

    What have other '51 Champion owners experienced as far as steering problems and what were the fixes, if that's not too general a question? My car drives nicely, generally steers and takes bumps well, but it also requires more than the normal amount of attention at highway speeds.

    Also, how do you access the adjustments on the '51 steering box? Thanks.

  2. #2
    Golden Hawk Member StudeRich's Avatar
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    To check the Steering Center Pivot/Bellcrank Bearings, you just lift up and down on the rear facing arm with the Left and Right Tie Rods attached to feel any play they may have.

    It is easy to loosen the Lock nut and turn the Stud on the side of the box to take up any wear, but the Shop Manual MUST be followed to prevent damage as it is a sensitive adjustment.
    StudeRich
    Second Generation Stude Driver,
    Proud '54 Starliner Owner




  3. #3
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    Not trying to steer you away from condemning your bell crank. They are a common wear point that often gets missed during a chassis lub, but since you talk about problems only at highway speeds, makes me think of tires. Old style bias ply tires can develop a wear pattern that can cause your car to, literally jump from side to side, depending on the road surface. Even a radial tires can appear as a similar condition, if the tread begins to separate. Regardless of bell crank wear your Studebaker would still track straight at highway speeds, unless you have bad tires or a bent rim.

  4. #4
    President Member mapman's Avatar
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    One of the cheapest repairs on the loose steering can be the tightening of the pinch bolt on the center pivot. It is also difficult to see since it is directly under the engine. It is worth checking since it can make a big difference. I have found them loose on several cars. I have no idea why they get loose but it makes a big difference.
    Rob

  5. #5
    Golden Hawk Member StudeRich's Avatar
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    Also Don, if you do decide to drop that Center Pivot Housing, do not forget to FIRST remove the special Long Zerk fitting hiding inside of the rear side of the Front Crossmember.

  6. #6
    President Member RadioRoy's Avatar
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    The bulk of the steering play in my 51 Champion seems to be a bad bushing on the output shaft, the shaft that attaches to the crank. That allowed the lubricant to run out of the box.

    The center bell crank bushings were replaced and still there was some steering slop.
    RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

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  7. #7
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    The specific problem I'm hoping to correct is the amount of play at the steering wheel. It's not a crazy amount; I've seen and driven much worse. Even the guy at the front end shop said he thought it really wasn't that bad (after moving the steering wheel back and forth with the car at a standstill), but of course he hasn't driven the car on the highway.

    The steering wheel has a dead area of about two inches when you move it back and forth while the car is parked. Around town, that dead area in the steering isn't really a factor. But on the highway, those two inches of steering wheel movement that don't cause anything to happen at the front wheels make for some busy steering. The steering inputs that you normally use to keep a car going straight, and that usually require just a slight movement of the wrist, now become more exaggerated sawing motions to keep the car from wandering in its lane. It simply isn't the way it should be.

    The car came to me with new radials on stock wheels. I know, I know--the stock wheels weren't designed to have radial tires. That will be fixed later. And that isn't the problem; it's somewhere between the steering box and the wheels, and probably not simply one place. I'm just wondering where the most likely places are and what my options are. Hopefully someone has dealt with this in the past and can offer some suggestions. All will be appreciated.

  8. #8
    President Member Jerry Forrester's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dstude View Post
    The specific problem I'm hoping to correct is the amount of play at the steering wheel. It's not a crazy amount; I've seen and driven much worse. Even the guy at the front end shop said he thought it really wasn't that bad (after moving the steering wheel back and forth with the car at a standstill), but of course he hasn't driven the car on the highway.

    The steering wheel has a dead area of about two inches when you move it back and forth while the car is parked. Around town, that dead area in the steering isn't really a factor. But on the highway, those two inches of steering wheel movement that don't cause anything to happen at the front wheels make for some busy steering. The steering inputs that you normally use to keep a car going straight, and that usually require just a slight movement of the wrist, now become more exaggerated sawing motions to keep the car from wandering in its lane. It simply isn't the way it should be.

    The car came to me with new radials on stock wheels. I know, I know--the stock wheels weren't designed to have radial tires. That will be fixed later. And that isn't the problem; it's somewhere between the steering box and the wheels, and probably not simply one place. I'm just wondering where the most likely places are and what my options are. Hopefully someone has dealt with this in the past and can offer some suggestions. All will be appreciated.
    Like someone here has suggested before, it's probably the bell crank. If I were a betting man, that's where my money would be. This is from experience of driving a Stude with a worn bell crank, not just a stab in the dark.
    You need to check SOMETHING out and get back to us with the results. Not just keep telling us what the symptoms are.
    Jerry Forrester
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  9. #9
    Golden Hawk Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Forrester View Post
    Like someone here has suggested before, it's probably the bell crank. If I were a betting man, that's where my money would be. This is from experience of driving a Stude with a worn bell crank, not just a stab in the dark.
    You need to check SOMETHING out and get back to us with the results. Not just keep telling us what the symptoms are.
    I second what Jerry said. For a first thing, TIGHTEN the pinch bolt on the center bell crank arm.
    Gary L.
    Wappinger, NY

    SDC member since 1968
    Studebaker enthusiast much longer

  10. #10
    Golden Hawk Member StudeRich's Avatar
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    The "Other" issue that has not been addressed yet is the Alignment.

    Even with Radials, the Center Point Steering system likes a slight bit of Toe IN 1/8", regardless of WHAT the Tire Store tells you, also the Proper amount Caster with no more than 1/2 Degree difference from Left to Right, as called out in the Shop Manual will prevent it from "Wandering", so the small amount of free play will be no problem.

    Even the Proper 1/2 to 3/4 Degrees of Positive (+) Camber will help it to drive well and reduce Tire Wear.
    StudeRich
    Second Generation Stude Driver,
    Proud '54 Starliner Owner




  11. #11
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    Hey, calm down guys! I'm just looking for some consensus on the problem and the possible fix. Then it's a matter of getting some time on the lift. Hang in there and I'll let you know what I find. And thanks.

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