Neal Jennings converted a...
Neal Jennings converted a ’37 Hudson steering gear for use in Geoff Skene’s ’32 Ford. Note the stock light switch in the center of the banjo steering wheel.
Hot rodding has always been about improving a vehicle’s performance. As a result, hopping up an engine for more horsepower was a regular topic in the early hobbyist magazines but other issues were also addressed, such as improving the steering in ’32-34 Fords.
Like most low-priced cars of the day, Ford used worm and sector steering. Basically the steering wheel turned a threaded shaft, or the worm, that engaged threads on a shaft, or the sector, that the Pitman arm attached to. Turning the steering wheel was like turning a screw in a nut, turn the wheel one way and the sector moved the Pitman arm and the car turned left, turn the shaft the other way and the car went right. Simple enough, but friction between the worm and sector could make steering difficult.
Another type of steering used in more expensive cars of the period was worm and roller. In this design the worm gear engages a spinning roller on the sector shaft, the advantages are reduced steering effort and less wear on the components. One of the cars of the period equipped with worm and roller steering was the ’37 Hudson and that steering gear was the subject of a number of installation stories in ’32-34 Fords in various early rodding magazines.
The modified Hudson steering...
The modified Hudson steering gear looks right at home in the ’32 ’rails. That’s the headlight switch at the end of the box.
At this point we should point out an interesting feature to those unfamiliar with original Fords, from 1928-39 the knob for the headlights, high and low beam, was in the center of the steering wheel, along with the horn button. The actual switch was mounted on the bottom of the steering gear and was activated by a rod that ran from the knob through the center of the steering shaft. We’ll show why this is relevant shortly.
Geoff Skene is no stranger to hot rods with old-school style. His Flathead-powered ’32 out of the Ionia Hot Rod Shop graced our cover in the July ‘07 issue. We crossed paths with Skene this summer (at Brennan’s chocolate doughnut intervention in the Tetons, but that’s another story) and while discussing our favorite subject (hot rods) he told us of a Hudson steering conversion being done by Neal Jennings. At his point we’ll let Jennings elaborate:
On the left is the unmodified...
On the left is the unmodified Hudson steering box; the stock ’32 is on the right.
“A few years ago, I found myself searching for a solution to a steering column angle problem in my roadster pickup. I had planned on F-1 steering gear but found it would make the steering column angle too steep and even with a long column drop the steering wheel was too close to the laid-back windshield. As I was intent on using a 17-inch Lincoln Zephyr steering wheel, a smaller wheel was not an option.
“Although the stock ’32 steering gear could have been retained, I wanted the advantages a rolling sector design steering box offered. A ’53-56 F-100 box would fix the column angle but the larger sector shaft and bulky clamp on the Pitman arm didn’t fit the look I was after. A friend had installed a ’37 Hudson box in his roadster and I liked the fact that a stock ’32 Pitman arm could be used, and after seeing that steering swap mentioned in some early ’50s “little books” I was on the hunt for one of my own. Eventually I had more Hudson steering boxes than I needed, so I agreed to modify one for Geoff Skene.
Here are the internals of...
Here are the internals of the Hudson box. Note the roller (arrow) on the sector shaft. It engages with the worm gear on the steering shaft above.
“As close as the Hudson box is to ’32-34 Ford steering box in appearance there are actually quite a few differences. One is the steering column mast is larger diameter so the first step of the project was to make mandrel that centered on the bearing races. The box could then be chucked in a lathe and turned down to fit an early Ford steering column.