Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Steering and Surgery.


I don't do construction, but there's a process you kind of have to follow if you're going to do something huge, like build a house. You can't start with the windows, and the roof can't go up before the walls are in place, and before that, you have to slather cement all over the ground. There's a whole rhetoric born of this notion that's applied to Pretty Much Everything Anyone Ever Wants To Do that requires more than two steps. Something about starting with a good foundation.

I don't know whether my foundation is sound (I sure hope so), but I do know that each thing that happens has to happen in a specific order. Some stuff can happen before or after some other stuff, but a lot of it can't be switched around. For example: it's a bad idea to wire the car before you paint it.

For this project, the stuff that fits between the body of the car and the ground (thing that hold the wheels on, I mean) takes first priority. Axle and crossmember placement dictate where brakelines get routed, for example, and wiring has to happen after that, and nothing can be allowed to interfere with the steering parts, and there's not a lot of wiggle room for where those go.

Compounding all of this [for my little brain] is that although it's not hard to envision what has to happen, it all has to happen in open space. It's not always as simple as "insert tab A into slot B." It's a 3D model with X, Y and Z axises  axisies axes all arguing over who gets to be the most important. My role has been to sweet talk the brakes (or the steering) into realizing that they really are every bit as important as the steering (or the brakes). No more, no less.

At least that's how I view it. Mostly because I can't decide whether I'd rather have complete brake failure or complete steering failure at race speeds on a 7% downgrade on a mountain road. Either would suck.

Now that it was all naked under the hood, it was time to address the steering and the pedal placement. I went about these at the same time, as the pedal placement dictates where the steering shaft goes, and the placement of the steering box (which can't be moved around) as well as the placement of the steering wheel (ditto that) dictate where the steering shaft goes.

Yeah, I did say that twice. All three of those things have equal influence over the steering shaft. Add the next weird detail - that the pedals have to be where the pedals belong, and you end up with the wacky brain hurting 3D thing I just mentioned. I thought about this every night while drifting off to sleep for a couple weeks before I took action. In simple terms, though, it's just a line with 2 bends; the task is to determine exactly where those two bends go, and to get it right the first time because the parts used are not exactly cheap.

I decided to use a 122 pedal box and pedals instead of the aftermarket stuff (Tilton or Wilwood being the most widely known). Part of this was because it was a lot more affordable, but most of my decision was based on wanting to use Volvo parts to make a Volvo Race Car. I used the same logic to come up with a Volvo proper - but smaller diameter - steering wheel.

I have a few 444 'banjo' steering wheels that are really cracked and beat up, and I had an old "100+" steering wheel that ipd sold back in the 70s, which was also a worn out piece of junk. Probably a priceless collectible. Too bad.

I took these:

First, strip all the old padding (and bicycle handlebar tape) off the small diameter wheel:

... then remove the outer hoop from the center:

... and you end up with a perfectly round appropriate sized hoop to graft onto your crappy old original wheel. The trickiest part is making sure that the center of the hub ends up in the center of the new hoop. So measure a few extra times before cutting. We welded the banjo center onto the 100+ hoop, banged on it with a plastic hammer to see if anything would come apart, removed the grey paint and polished the hub, then wrapped the hoop.
After a layer of foam, then a layer of gel filled tape, then a layer of racquet tape, we came up with something that feels pretty good. It looks pretty clunky, though, so there's a good chance I'll revisit this after other [more urgent] things are addressed. Or maybe I won't, as this does kind of fit the whole 'recycled' theme for the car, certainly looks period correct for a 5 1/2 decade old car, and (perhaps most important) nobody else has one of these.
Fortunately, I also had a damaged horn button, and after some cutting and grinding and polishing, its arms and related horn ring went away and only the round button remained.
Anyway, this is the 'for now' steering wheel:


The next step: installing the pedal box such that the steering shaft and the pedals all fit and don't interfere with one another. First thing was to see where the steering box wanted the shaft to fit and compare that with where the steering wheel wanted the shaft to fit. And to do that, I had to cut a big hole in the firewall:
The silver shaft on the left comes from the steering box. The one poking through the firewall comes from the steering wheel. It's hard to tell by the photo, but the upper is both higher and further inboard than the lower. And that thick part of the firewall that looks like a structural reinforcement is.. um.. a structural part of the car. And this hole is going to get bigger before it gets smaller.
Lots of people who do V8 swaps, or build street rods, or make race cars, or want to put collapsible steering into cars that don't already have it, buy steering parts that can be adapted to specific setups. So for this, we jumped online and paid a visit to the good people at Jeg's, who were kind enough to sell us some "Double D" shafts (sounds naughty, doesn't it?), some u-joints to go with them, and a couple adapters to make that stuff interface with the Volvo stuff.
All I had to do was figure out how long the shafts should be and where the u-joints had to go. Then just bolt it all together (and drill some things, and weld some other things). But that had to happen after the pedal box. So the hole in the firewall got larger.
The pedal box. Ugly old thing, isn't it?
... then the hole in the firewall expands. I left the flange on the back (behind the firewall) and spent a long time moving the box around and tipping it and wiggling it until it was square with the car and the mounting face for the master cylinders was vertical with the car at ride height (angle, really).

The hole is a really weird shape, partly because the original coil and heater mounting holes were encroached upon, partly to allow for adjustment, and partly because I don't like angle grinders in the first place.

Dry fit master cylinders to get a better visual. Note expert use of prybar:

... and then the box is welded into place, along with patches for some of the other holes:

Another point of no return. This car will never again have a stock heater. Pff. Like we'll want one of those.

The welder was really frustrating. The wire feed wasn't working well at all and I was only getting about an inch to feed out at a time, then I'd pull the wire with pliers, then it'd feed another inch or two. Arg.

Now that the steering shaft isn't a single long spear fitted inside a single long hollow tube that leads from the front of the car to the inside of the car; and because it's going to have a couple u-joints that allow things that never moved around to start moving around, we wanted to ensure that there'd be adequate support for the upper section of the new steering shaft. It's not a load bearing piece, and its primary task is to prevent the steering wheel and shaft from moving fore and aft relative to the dashboard.

Unlike the later 544 models, the dashboard in the 444 is a structural part of the car. It's all super deluxe Swedish Steel, and it's welded into place. Thus, it's really stout. A couple pieces of flat steel [the small one is 3/16," the larger one is 1/4," if you care] welded together fit into place pretty well. Dry fit:

The two holes toward the top of the photo allow the piece to fit between the steering column mounting collar at the bottom of the dash; the other end is secured to the 122 pedal box flange. Pay no attention to the mess of wires.
Returning to the engine compartment, I considered grinding the welds nice and smooth and then adding a skim of bondo to the firewall to make the welded areas look nicer; and then I remembered: Race Car. This made it easy to justify painting the firewall with a brush instead of spraying, too. Function is the primary goal. It has to be simple. And it has to be clean. But it doesn't have to be pretty.
Firewall is painted, and the middle shaft connects to the u-joint before passing through the bottom of the pedal box:

Up under the dash, the steering shaft connects to another u-joint, then a short length of 'DD' held in place by a 3/4" heim joint which is secured to the new bracket mentioned above. At the end of the DD is a coupler that connects to the original Volvo shaft, and the other end of that shaft interfaces with the original/modified steering wheel. The sleeve surrounding the piece just below the dash is the top column sleeve out of a 122. It's not the prettiest thing, but the steering wheel now holds my weight and does not wiggle. The heim joint is snug against the coupler, which prevents the clown behind the wheel from pushing the steering wheel forward.

And finally, the car has functional steering. The pedal box is in place, so adding master cylinders and hydraulic lines can finally take place. Still a long way to go before it's anything more than a modified street car, but we're getting really close to having the old Volvo back on the road for initial testing.

Parts in this section were sourced from Jeg's: http://www.jegs.com/ and Chris Horn (who has the best private collection of Vintage Volvo parts you might ever find): agent_strangelove@hotmail.com . And True Value Hardware.

This whole notion is a collaborative project between me (and my awesome wife) and my good friend Jim Perry (and his awesome wife). We'll talk more about that later, but you should know that this is not a sole venture, and you should also know that I couldn't likely choose a better partner in a project like this one. Jim keeps a blog on his other racing endeavors, featuring one terrific race prepared Volvo P1800. Check it out: http://pandbmotorsports.blogspot.com/

PS: In looking at the stats, viewership is increasing; and the more recent posts have the most views. Maybe the old posts are boring - or maybe the most recent post is so boring that there's no reason to go back and read the earlier ones. But just in case you missed them:

Part 1: the beginning: http://swedishrelics.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-volvo-444.html

2: converting the rear axle: http://swedishrelics.blogspot.com/2015/02/rear-axle.html

3: crossmember conversion: http://swedishrelics.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-front-crossmember.html

4: engine room prep: http://swedishrelics.blogspot.com/2015/02/stripping-engine-room.html

Cheers --


  1. You guys are having WAY too much fun with this project... KEEP IT UP!

  2. Thanks Dave! Great to have some words of encouragement, even though the project continues to be - just as you say -WAY to much fun. Cheers!

  3. Cam - Not to worry, the car will have plenty of heater. At best, about 37% of the energy in fuel goes to motion. The rest helps keep you toes toasty - just ask my wife.