Reverse Steering Gear Conversion

by Derek Beatty

Derek in Virginia has spent years bringing his Jeep back to life. It's an early-50's body on a 1959 chassis, with a mid-60's engine; see details in One Step at a Time on CJ3B.info. One of his upgrades is a reverse steering gear conversion, which replaces the stock steering system (140K JPEG) with a Ford gear box closer to the front of the frame, and is a popular way of getting smoother and more responsive steering. But we noticed that there is not a lot of information about the conversion online, so he offered to describe his project here. -- Derek Redmond

Project done My reverse steering gear conversion came out really nice, and I'm amazed at how little detailed info there is out there. I bought most of the parts from Herm the Overdrive Guy and the results are exceptional. I'm very happy with the on- and off-road performance. After making a sharp turn the steering wheel returns to center very smoothly, and the steering wheel response to the tires is instant.

For clarification, my Jeep is a cross-vintage 3B with a stock F134. I also have 3-4" of suspension lift and 34" tires.

Reverse steering

Regarding the question of axle tube clearance for the reverse steering gear, with my lift I have 5-1/2" of clearance from the output shaft/pitman arm to top of the axle tube. I think even with a stock application and maybe a bump stop adjustment there should not be any axle clearance issues.

I did a tie rod flip while doing my conversion, because of the lift. The stock install is typical, but your drag link should be behind the tie rod.

Parts I got my remanufactured Ford steering gear box online, through Parts Geek LLC, part # 801-0102, $164. It has all the correct input and output splines, etc.

Cost of other parts from Herm at the time of my purchase: bracket kit for gear box $175, steering column conversion kit $325, heavy duty tie rod kit $160.

Time involved will vary. If you have everything you need, and a plan, it's an easy weekend project.

Reverse steering box I've never had the pleasure of feeling a good new stock 3B steering setup (140K JPEG), but the advantages of this conversion over worn-out stock steering are huge. My steering has had a half turn of play since I've owned it. Most all of the play was in the steering gear itself.

The advantage over a Saginaw conversion I think, is it's less fabrication and a simpler process. You don't have to cut the front crossmember. I looked at both options for a long time and think that with the stock F134 it was the cheapest and simplest way to go.


Motor mount It is definitely not a direct bolt in but as Herm says, you can do it without welding. However there are quite a few modifications that need to be done, and I'm sure no project is going to be identical. An example is I've noticed from looking and from many pictures, there are at least two motor mount configurations. My driver side motor mount is in front of the motor cross member plate, but I've seen where some are behind the cross member plate and under the fuel pump. This can make a lot of difference in clearance.

There are four fairly simple but necessary modifications that must be done because the new steering gear and new lower column are a very tight fit. For someone with limited experience it may seem a bit much, but once you have the fender removed you have great access to everything.

1. Clearing the engine crossmember plate that bolts to the motor mount. (Not sure if that is the correct terminology but that's my best name for it.) I did all the grinding with a 4-1/2" angle grinder. I had to remove quite a bit but that plate is extremely beefy. I figured if I weakened it I could beef it up from underneath, but that wasn't necessary.

Exhaust 2. Clearing the exhaust. This was much easier than I expected. I cut a piece of wood to put between the exhaust pipe and the motor, to not damage the manifold. I used a little bit of heat and a 1/2" drive extension to slowly tap in where the steering column needed to pass. The pipe formed rather easily. My original plan was to take it to an exhaust shop later if I thought the exhaust flow was negatively affected, but it seems fine. You really don't need to over clearance; the stock F134 doesn't move very much.

Radiator 3. Lower radiator hose needs to be relocated. Herm suggests modifying the lower outlet nipple, but I opted instead to raise the radiator 1-1/2". I re-used holes in the radiator bracket and only had to drill two holes. I also cut a bit off the engine side of the hose to make a good fit.

I've heard some say they've had cooling issues after raising the radiator, but I've had no issues. The entire radiator is still getting airflow. I have not yet installed my stock shroud, but it will fit back in and clear the fan with an inch or so of trimming.

Mounting plate 4. Relocating brake lines. I had a four-way connection on the frame right where the new steering gear is mounted. Instead of replacing lines I was able to bend the lines and simply raise the connection up out of the way. I did weld a small tab onto the new mount to bolt to. That could also be done with just a bolt and nut.

Once the above four things are done you should have clearance to install the new steering gear and lower column. In most stock manual applications Herm's mounting plate should sit flat on top of the frame rail, and pushed up against the motor mount for best clearance.

Brake lines Once you attach the steering gear to the mounting plate you can tilt its input shaft up or down to check for best pitman arm angle and best steering column angle. I waited until I had the tie rods and column installed, to drill the hole to mount the gear.

There is also plenty of room to drill a second 1/2" hole through the frame and front lower portion of the mount for a second bolt to make it more secure (250K JPEG). See it also from the other side (170K JPEG).

Upper and Lower Column

Lower column The lower column runs from the firewall to the input shaft of the new steering gear. Parts are high quality Borgeson joints. Note that the upper joint (120K JPEG) that attaches to the upper column is 1" DD x 7/8" smooth round. It does not have a hole drilled for attaching to the upper column. I called Borgeson for instructions and was informed that because the upper column is hollow, not to use just a rolled pin; a rolled pin should only be used with a solid column. They said it must be welded. They suggested some good tack welds combined with a 1/4" rolled pin would be a good option.

Full column You can make your upper column (160K JPEG) as long or short as you want for personal preference. I cut off about five inches.

Once you have the supplied brass bushing and U-joint on the inner shaft (right) you can slide the shaft up into the outer column (120K JPEG), through the stock upper bearing and spring, and attach the steering wheel.

Note that my entire inner shaft was not finish milled to 7/8". It was 7/8" plus 1/64 or so. The brass bushing would fit over the top few inches of the column but not the bottom. I simply took my time and used a hand file to file the bottom two inches until the bushing fit.

Upper column You end up with an upper column assembly to attach to the supplied floor flange and slide through the firewall and attach to the lower column.

All in all I'm very happy with the finished steering system. Everything you need is there; it just takes some time and preplanning to get it installed. -- Derek Beatty

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

Elsewhere on the web, the CJ2A Page Forum has some discussion of Manual CJ Steering Conversion Kits and the HTODG Steering Conversion.

Herm the Overdrive Guy has some additional info on his website.

Thanks to Derek for this description of his project. See more about his Jeep in One Step at a Time. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 12 January 2024 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond