Saginaw Steering Conversion


Note: steering is a life-critical system on a vehicle, and modifications should only be undertaken by an experienced mechanic.

Jonathan George: "The biggest pain in the ass project always seems to be the Saginaw steering conversions. No matter how many times I do it, it's always different and I hate doing it!

CJ-5 frame"The first thing I needed to do to put a Saginaw on my CJ-3B with a CJ-5 frame and Chevy 350, was remove the original crossmember (70K JPEG). Often you can avoid removing it. Before I removed the crossmember, I welded the front frame horns together to take the stress of the frame and prevent warping.

Frame boxing"The next step was to box the front frame rails all the way back to factory boxing. For this project I decided to buy the frame enclosures and Saginaw mount from Advanced Adapters. However, everything can be fabricated pretty easily. With the frame boxed, it was time to decide where the mount was going to go...

Advanced Adapters mount"Measure, and mock up, and measure again! Then, mock it up again, then measure again for good luck. Once this plate was welded on, it was never coming off! Since my 3B already had a previous Saginaw conversion, the Chevy steering column was ready to go, and most of the geometry was pretty straight forward.

New crossmember"With the plate welded on, I test fit the steering box and custom fabricated a crossmember to fit right under the steering shaft.

Steering box"I mounted the power steering box and welded the proper length steering shaft. Make sure you use a 4-bolt steering box with "76" stamped on it. Everything was coated with POR-15 and this is the finished product!"

More Tips

In response to a couple of questions about Saginaw steering conversions on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board, the following suggestions were posted.

Joel Kamunen: "Contact Advance Adaptors; they sell all the stuff you need to do the job and also have information on how to do it. Also contact Borgeson Universal Co. at (860)482-8283, they also sell lots of nice steering components. Tri-C at (661)295-1550 makes a very nice tilt column, just what you are looking for. I don't know the cost but it looks really nice. It's a little expensive to buy all of the parts pre-made but will save lots of fabrication time. I have seen the conversion done with some blood, sweat and tears, shadetree style. A one piece tie-rod set will also improve your steering upgrade."

Note: The Advance Adapters website describes the basics of the conversion: "The problem with stock steering is excessive play or backlash. It is simply a gear box at the base of the steering column which controls a drag link towards the front of the vehicle. The bell crank is mounted on the front crossmember or axle and uses a push-pull affect for steering. Because there are many motions and joints on this system, excessive free play and backlash develops. The Saginaw steering system requires the elimination of the stock gear box and bell crank. The new steering box is mounted on the inside of the left front frame rail, just behind the bumper." It also includes an Online Catalog with a downloadable PDF file of details and illustrations of the conversion.

Saginaw boxBob Richardson: "Advance Adapters offers a kit, but it costs about 800 to 1000 dollars. I am trying to use the steering tie rods from a 60's Jeep, the problem here is that on the 60's style, on the passenger side these tie rods connect to the axle in two places. Advance Adaptors sells a tie rod end (actually two pieces, for about $100). That should (I hope) eliminate the need for the second axle-located mount, thereby making it usable for our old axle. I have no doubt that the tie rod ends will have to be shortened by a machine shop, but this may help me skirt around the cost of the Saginaw kit."

Dean Thiem: I'm just finishing up a conversion of my 3B (see Story of a Long-Box Willys, Part 3). Mine had the front crossmember cut out by previous owner to install a 302 Ford. I ended up putting steering in to clear exhaust manifold and radiator. I also installed tilt column. I thought Advanced Adapters kit was priced too high so I bought parts from a local Jeep shop. Ended up costing me about the same as the Advanced Adapters kit."

Dave W.: "I've done the Saginaw conversion a couple times. A key ingredient I've found, is a double-hole steering knuckle off the passenger side of a late 60's Jeepster or Wagoneer. This alows for a single piece tie rod and the drag link to attach, making a very sanitary and strong setup. These knuckles are getting hard to find but worth the effort."

Jyotin cautioned: "This modification is not for the amateur. Remember this is what determines your ability to control the vehicle."

Note: Advance Adapters says, "For detailed procedures, obtain one of our installation manuals (JP001 for Jeeps). Do not take shortcuts on steering installations. We recommend that these conversions be installed by a qualified technician. The control of your vehicle depends on your steering performance. Failure of your steering system can result in severe damage and possible injury."

Steering Column

John Sodia brought up a tricky aspect of the Saginaw conversion: "I've done extensive research and a lot of homework including talking with the folks at Advance Adapters and AGR Mfg. Where I still need help is with the steering column. Since this is a very popular coversion with Jeep owners, I'm hoping some of you can advise me as to which columns work best; what makes, models, and years of vehicles I should use, etc. -- I would like to use a "tilt wheel" if possible, but don't want the ignition switch to be part of the column. Obviously no automatics or column shifts are going to be acceptable either."

Note: Advance Adapters says, "The stock steering column is the easiest option when installing the Saginaw steering. Our kits include the necessary column bushings and firewall mounting plates for your installation. If you are planning to use a custom steering column, some fabrication will be necessary for mounting."

Jim Sammons replied: "This is not an easy conversion. Since I did mine I found out that many of the old mail Jeeps (two-wheel-drive) are equipped with Saginaw steering. I have a '69 DJ-5 -- this is a mail Jeep with the steering still on the left side, I guess from before they moved them to the right side. They used shortened columns with universal joints and a shaft running forward to the Saginaw box.

"There are lots of DJ or mail jeeps lying around everywhere in junkyards. All you have to do is find one of these with left hand steering and you will have everything you need. Take everything related to steering off the Jeep and take it home. Then you just need to make the bracket to attach the box to the frame and weld another eye to the steering knuckle on the right hand knuckle for the extra tie rod. And there you have it, easy Saginaw for everyone. Don't forget the steering wheel and column, you need it too. Also you may have to cut a hole in the front cross member under the grille for the steering rod to pass through.

"I've done the job myself in the shadetree manner. I fitted the steering box to the frame in front of the grille. Of course I had to eliminate all the the old steering gear first. Then I used a steering column out of an '81 Jeep Wagoneer. This column had the wires coming out of the column before it goes through the firewall. I think that a column out of a CJ-5 made by AMC would have worked better. Try to find one with tilt steering in case the angle doesn't come out just right. Also you have to cut a hole in the dash and make a new hole in the firewall and weld up the old hole in the floorboard. I know this isn't the simplest way to do it, but I had to work on a very tight budget and my labor is cheap. If there is a kit, it would be a lot easier I bet. I had to change to Saginaw in order to install a 225 V6, so I had no choice."

JC Jenkins commented: "I just gave away a mid-sixties Cadillac column -- tilt, no key or shifter, looked like it would be ideal."

Alan agreed: "My Jeep has a column out of a '75 Cadillac. It had a key in the column, but I put it in the lock position and ground off the key slot and filled it full of body filler, painted it and it looks factory. IT'S tilt and telescoping and you can get them for as low as twenty bucks from the right place. There are many other GM columns from the 60's that will work, but they're getting really hard to find. Mine also has a custom dash which helps keep the column off your knees. You can go to the library and get the wiring diagram for the turn signals."

Thanks to all the contributors, including Jonathan George and Buck Toenges for the photos. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 2 August 2003 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond