Steering advice on a '49 truck

Jmohring

Bigger Hammer
Dec 8, 2021
31
Sanger
First Name
Josh
Willys Model
  1. Pickup
Willys Year:
  1. 1949
So I finally got my truck out on a real road with bumps and I can’t get it above 45mph. It’s wandering all over the road. It’s a saginaw box and it doesn’t feel very sloppy, a little play but not much. I know that putting on new tires and an alignment will help, but will that get it drivable at 65mph? All pretty new parts as far as I can tell. Running 3.55 gears in the back with a 9in. I’m working with what I got. The tires on it right now are just some junk ones, I’ll probably go with something smaller like a 27in car tire. Try and make the ride a little more tolerable and skip the LT rating, it’s a toy.
 

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OK this is what I'd recommend with any steering diagnosis on these type vehicles.
One must identify & solve all issues logically as there are usually multiple problems.
Two people recommended

1. Get tyre pressures right.
2. Get someone turning the steering wheel back & forth the amount of play till sector shaft @ nut starts moving
a. any play before the nut starts to turn is related to the worm wear or bearing adjustment. Also sector pin wear will contribute
b. if sector moves in & out a little that is sector adjustment, then
3. Keep turning the steering wheel back & forth & check
a. both ends of the drag link for wear & play ~ causes wandering
b. bell crank or relay box both sides for abnormal movement & all tie rod ends for slop & play
4. Jack both front wheels of the ground & support vehicle
a. rock tyre/s, arms level with the ground, as if steering, back & forth, checking all tie rod ends & connections again ~ just feeling with hands helps visual
b. rock tyre/s in & out from the top & bottom ~ movement here is king pin/swivel pin bearings or wheel bearings
5. Apply the brakes & do again
a. any difference is indicative of wheel bearing adjustment, realising there still may be some swivel pin unless difference is total.

Hope this helps, JG.
 
not a saginaw box, its a ross, very prone for were out. git new tires and check toe in and adjust drag link...Phil
 
Doesn't matter what kind of box [& what was referred to by me was a Ross box] as it's not the only contributor.
One should logically diagnose steering & any other issues not guess. JG.
 
I’m more wondering if anyone has ran this setup at highway speeds. I got to looking at the tires and my passenger toe is obviously out which I’m sure will cause a pretty scary ride. I’ll get tires and an alignment next week. Hopefully a new front axle isn’t in my near future, it would be nice to cruise on the Dana 25 for awhile.
 
not a saginaw box, its a ross, very prone for were out. git new tires and check toe in and adjust drag link...Phil
Thanks, I’ll give it a shot. Seems like a waste to get this far just to tear it back down for an axle swap.
 
Doesn't matter what kind of box [& what was referred to by me was a Ross box] as it's not the only contributor.
One should logically diagnose steering & any other issues not guess. JG.
All the parts are pretty tight. I’m more wondering if it’s safe to run at highway speeds when it’s working properly. I’m pretty sure these trucks redlined at like 45mph so I’m wondering if the Dana 25 can really run 65 safely. Now that I see the toe is way out of wack I’m optimistic. The steering was setup when I got it. I’ll just pay a shop, I know a tape measure is an option.
 
Toe being out either way will cause squirrely steering ~ but spend 10 minutes checking somethings that cost absolutely zilch & put your mind to rest.
A good alignment shop 'should' check all those things outlined in the above check before doing a wheel alignment. Otherwise any alignment adjustment is useless if any of those things are needing of service.
There are not many good shops & if y'all only aske for toe in that's all you'll get.
My 52 F head pickup in the late 60's [years ago] would sit on close to [45-50MPH], but not quite freeway speeds. Depends how safe one feels & engine RPM. Perfect for country & service roads.
 
I can almost guarantee your steering box is worn out because someone has replaced the oil fill plug with a grease fitting. That likely means the sector shaft bushings and/or sector shaft are worn to the point they would no longer hold the 90W oil that was originally specified. Filling one of these boxes with chassis grease accelerates the wear because the grease gets voids and allows metal to metal contact. Grease also doesn't flow into the bushings, increasing their wear. Keep in mind, a '49 is a 15/16 sector shaft and there are none available repop, I've had a machine shop build them up and turned down. All the bearings, bushings, and gaskets are available at your favorite Willys supplier. The Ross steering box, while great in the '30s (the era it's from), it was woefully inadequate, even by the 1940's steering gears in common use at the time. By the late 50's, early 60's, the Ross box was only suitable for garden tractors (Power King, Cub Cadet, John Deere), even though Kaiser retained its use in trucks until '64, I am unsure of when the CJ finally got real steering. The Ross box is really the Achilles heel of these trucks. Not good for many miles, my 1950 truck had 34K original miles on it, and the sector shaft flopped up and down 1/8" before turning the wheels. I have rebuilt several of these boxes, not one has had more than 50K without needing repair. A Tightsteer lash adjuster also helps.

You also need to check the king pin bearings for play and proper preload, they can greatly affect steering response, road feel, death wobble, and tire wear. Also make sure the arm on the driver front knuckle doesn't move on the knuckle while someone turns the wheel. This is a common spot for these to have play due to loose studs and worn threads in the knuckle casting.

This being said, would I try to push one of these to 65+mph, even with all the stock components in perfect shape? Probably not. While adequate for the speeds they were intended (45-50mph), the steering system on these is basically hay wagon steering. Same for the brakes, okay for what the intended weight and speeds, not great if pushed beyond. I know slowing down to 45 sounds slow, but it really doesn't add much time at all to a trip, and enjoying the ride is what these old vehicles is about. I frequently have annoyed people blow by me on my 10 mile 2 lane highway trip to the "Big Town", just to pull up right behind them at the first stop light in town (I have been know to facetiously toot and wave).
 
I can almost guarantee your steering box is worn out because someone has replaced the oil fill plug with a grease fitting. That likely means the sector shaft bushings and/or sector shaft are worn to the point they would no longer hold the 90W oil that was originally specified. Filling one of these boxes with chassis grease accelerates the wear because the grease gets voids and allows metal to metal contact. Grease also doesn't flow into the bushings, increasing their wear. Keep in mind, a '49 is a 15/16 sector shaft and there are none available repop, I've had a machine shop build them up and turned down. All the bearings, bushings, and gaskets are available at your favorite Willys supplier. The Ross steering box, while great in the '30s (the era it's from), it was woefully inadequate, even by the 1940's steering gears in common use at the time. By the late 50's, early 60's, the Ross box was only suitable for garden tractors (Power King, Cub Cadet, John Deere), even though Kaiser retained its use in trucks until '64, I am unsure of when the CJ finally got real steering. The Ross box is really the Achilles heel of these trucks. Not good for many miles, my 1950 truck had 34K original miles on it, and the sector shaft flopped up and down 1/8" before turning the wheels. I have rebuilt several of these boxes, not one has had more than 50K without needing repair. A Tightsteer lash adjuster also helps.

You also need to check the king pin bearings for play and proper preload, they can greatly affect steering response, road feel, death wobble, and tire wear. Also make sure the arm on the driver front knuckle doesn't move on the knuckle while someone turns the wheel. This is a common spot for these to have play due to loose studs and worn threads in the knuckle casting.

This being said, would I try to push one of these to 65+mph, even with all the stock components in perfect shape? Probably not. While adequate for the speeds they were intended (45-50mph), the steering system on these is basically hay wagon steering. Same for the brakes, okay for what the intended weight and speeds, not great if pushed beyond. I know slowing down to 45 sounds slow, but it really doesn't add much time at all to a trip, and enjoying the ride is what these old vehicles is about. I frequently have annoyed people blow by me on my 10 mile 2 lane highway trip to the "Big Town", just to pull up right behind them at the first stop light in town (I have been know to facetiously toot and wave).
This is exactly the answer I was looking for. Thank you very much. The box doesn’t feel worn out yet so if I keep it, I’ll pull it apart and get the right oil in it. Thanks for pointing out the fitting. I’ll start looking at a different options though, the 25 is temporary anyways.
 
The steering systems on these have multiple components that all need to be in good shape and properly adjusted. The hubs, the king pins and bearings, tie rod and tie rod ends, steering arm ball and attachment to the knuckle, the drag link, the pitman arm ball, the sector shaft and its bushings, the worm gear and the leaf spring bushings. These are all places where wear or improper adjustment can introduce unwanted "play" that will affect steering performance.
 
OK this is what I'd recommend with any steering diagnosis on these type vehicles.
One must identify & solve all issues logically as there are usually multiple problems.
Two people recommended

1. Get tyre pressures right.
2. Get someone turning the steering wheel back & forth the amount of play till sector shaft @ nut starts moving
a. any play before the nut starts to turn is related to the worm wear or bearing adjustment. Also sector pin wear will contribute
b. if sector moves in & out a little that is sector adjustment, then
3. Keep turning the steering wheel back & forth & check
a. both ends of the drag link for wear & play ~ causes wandering
b. bell crank or relay box both sides for abnormal movement & all tie rod ends for slop & play
4. Jack both front wheels of the ground & support vehicle
a. rock tyre/s, arms level with the ground, as if steering, back & forth, checking all tie rod ends & connections again ~ just feeling with hands helps visual
b. rock tyre/s in & out from the top & bottom ~ movement here is king pin/swivel pin bearings or wheel bearings
5. Apply the brakes & do again
a. any difference is indicative of wheel bearing adjustment, realising there still may be some swivel pin unless difference is total.

Hope this helps, JG.
In my earlier write-up I forgot to mention the steering must be centred with the Ross type steering box with the wheels pointing straight ahead.
This position is when the sector is @ its tightest spot, engaging with the worm.


If the drop arm is on the correct sector splines [& sometimes they aren't] the steering wheel will turn equal amounts from this point & the steering wheel spokes will be correctly positioned.

If this is not set properly guess what?
The vehicle will wander all over the place.

Wrong? Remove the drop arm, turn the steering wheel lock to lock halve & re-install & tighten the drop arm [splines].
By chance the spokes are wrong, remove the steering wheel & install on correct splines.
 
Once it is all tight, run a little toe in, it will cause tyre wear over a long period but it helps.
Also think about camber wedges, I fitted them to my 89 fullsize and the worked a treat.
 
Backward tilt of the axle = caster wedges....helps in straight line steering & does not affect tyre wear. CAMBER does.
Used to always fit caster wedges to the old Toyota FJ's renowned as wanderers & particularly bad on corrugated dirt roads.
 
OK this is what I'd recommend with any steering diagnosis on these type vehicles.
One must identify & solve all issues logically as there are usually multiple problems.
Two people recommended

1. Get tyre pressures right.
2. Get someone turning the steering wheel back & forth the amount of play till sector shaft @ nut starts moving
a. any play before the nut starts to turn is related to the worm wear or bearing adjustment. Also sector pin wear will contribute
b. if sector moves in & out a little that is sector adjustment, then
3. Keep turning the steering wheel back & forth & check
a. both ends of the drag link for wear & play ~ causes wandering
b. bell crank or relay box both sides for abnormal movement & all tie rod ends for slop & play
4. Jack both front wheels of the ground & support vehicle
a. rock tyre/s, arms level with the ground, as if steering, back & forth, checking all tie rod ends & connections again ~ just feeling with hands helps visual
b. rock tyre/s in & out from the top & bottom ~ movement here is king pin/swivel pin bearings or wheel bearings
5. Apply the brakes & do again
a. any difference is indicative of wheel bearing adjustment, realising there still may be some swivel pin unless difference is total.

Hope this helps, JG.
Exactly how we would have done it when I was a front end and brake mechanic back in the eighties... Forty. Freaking. Years. Ago! Dang I got old fast...
After doing the above and replacing any worn components, we would check caster, camber, and toe, spring bushings, etc. Caster is big for making a car track well. The closer to zero it gets, the less tendency it will have to continue the direction you point it. A chopper motorcycle has extreme positive caster, a shopping cart has extreme negative caster, if you need to visualize. Poor toe alignment, (duck feet or pigeon toe from a top view) can cause a car to dart to one side or the other as weight shifts to the outside of a turn, and is usually easy to spot with a wear pattern either to the inside or outside of BOTH front tires. Improper camber can cause inside or outside wear of either or both front tires, as well as adding excitement in turns.
 
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