View original topic: Variations On a Well Designed German Setup: Steering, etc... Page: 1, 2  Next
Vanapplebomb Mon Dec 05, 2011 2:58 pm

I have been doing an awful lot of thinking lately about how to set up the steering on my rail project. I came across a lot of information from a lot of different places and felt like compiling some of the important things onto one page. Here is some eye candy of various VW beetle style steering components as well as some interesting variations on the standard rig that other people have whipped up that I have come across on my searches. I will try my best to give credit where credit is due.

There are a few steering boxes floating around out there that are commonly used on standard beetles, baja bugs, and buggies. Among these breeds are,
1-the early german bug boxes (through 1960),
2-early porsche boxes (eg Porsche 356),
3-late standard bug boxes ('61 and newer),
4-aftermarket boxes.

The strongest of the bunch is the Porsche style box. The cast iron cover is much tougher than the beetles magnesium covers. with hard off roading, the pit arm gets pushed up up into the box and smacks into the cover. This shock loading can, over time, crack the lighter magnesium beetle covers. This pit arm movement is not as big of a problem on these Porsche boxes due to the tapered roller bearings which do a good job handling the thrust loads. While it is possible to pop the Porsche's cast iron top, it rarely happens. Another nice bonus is the mounting clamp is wider and uses 4 bolts for a nice snug fit to the front beam. You can expect your wallet to shrink if you purchase one of these boxes. They are getting scarce. In my opinion It isn't worth the price. You could get a fine rack and pinion set up for not much more $$ than you would pay for one of these babies thats in good condition. This photo of a 356 box was uploaded to the samba gallery by Thefladge. Note the pit arm has been gusseted for extra strength.

The next strongest box is the early beetle steering box. This style was manufactured through 1960. It's unique because it is a worm and sector type box, not a worm and roller. Also notice the unique top cover. This is an easy way to identify an early box. Keep in mind that the output shaft for the pit arm is larger than the later boxes, so be sure to use the correct arm. All the stock arms for these boxes will be tapered for the pre '68 tie rod ends which have a smaller taper and are not as strong as the later ends. These boxes are also getting harder to find in good shape, but they are still much more plentiful than the Porsche boxes. Most can be had for a reasonable price. Conversion pit arms are available if you want to run '68 and later VW ends with the larger taper. The gear ratio is 14:1 and rotates 2 1/2 revolutions lock to lock.

Then there are the late style boxes which run a worm and roller bearing, similar to the porsche box. The roller bearing end supports are thiner and weaker than that of the Porsches. The pit arm output shaft is smaller than the early boxes, so again, be sure you get the right pit arm if it doesn't already have on on it. These boxes are still pretty reliable, plentiful, and can be had for pretty cheep. Again, there are conversion pit arms available to run the smaller taper pre '68 rod ends. You might have gotton lucky because the first few years the late boxes came with the smaller pre '68 tapers. Check what you have first. Chances are you have a box with the '68 and later rod end tapers because they only made the late boxes with small tapers on the pit arm from 1961-'67. The gear ratio is 15:1, and rotates 2 7/8 revolutions lock to lock, a bit more than the early boxes. There are also New units available from TWR that are basically the same thing. The photo shows a new Brazilian TWR box on the left, and a late VW box on the right. Expect to shell out two to three times the cash for the new boxes.

All of the above accept for the Porsche steering box use the style of clamp shown below to hold the box to the beam. Shiny billet clamps are also available for show cars.

There is a cure for broken steering box covers. Get a new one. There are Billet aluminum ones available from Jamar and Empi that work well.

Personally, I am a believer in preventive maintenance. There is something called the "washer trick" that many use to help keep the pit man arm from pushing the shaft up into the box in the first place. The idea here is to make a spacer to bridge the gap between the pit arm and the iron steering box. That way when the arm is pushed up, it makes contact with the washers, transferring the load to the tough iron box, and not the weak magnesium cover. Alternator shims work great for this. Just be aware that they may not fit on the shaft of the early boxes. Just remove the pit arm from the shaft and fill the space with washers or shims. Be sure to leave a bit of a gap so the steering doesn't bind. 0.004 inches is a good starting point. Thats a little less that 1/16 of an inch. Here is a picture of a shaft with the pit arm removed with the shims stacked on it.

If you are having trouble with your boxes wandering on the beam you can mount the box into position, and weld the clamp to the beam. This will take care of any twisting that you might have going on. If you don't want to weld the whole clamp on, you can weld a small piece of metal to the beam to act as a key to keep things from twisting.

Over time, steering boxes may become sloppy. This lash can be taken out by breaking the torque on the top center nut of the box and turning the screw in with a flat head screw driver. It usually doesn't take much. Once you have it adjusted, hold the screws position with the screwdriver and re-torque the nut down. The steering should be tight, but not to the point where theres any binding or hard spots. If you have the steering wheal attached, a good rule of thumb is to not have more than 1 inch of lash around the parameter of the wheal. If you can rotate it any more than that, your probably due for an adjustment.

Another note on steering boxes, Please don't use anything other than the stock fiber reinforced donut coupling, or a good solid universal joint. All the other stuff out there is bad news. Don't waist you money and put your self at risk by getting a urethane coupler. Urethane has its places in VW's, steering couplings are not one them.

The VW tie rod ends aren't the strongest ends you have ever seen. They work fine for play buggies, but they are not racing material. The pre '68 ends are they weakest due to the small diameter taper that fits into the steering knuckle on the spindle as well as the pit arm. In '68 VW came out with a different end that had a larger diameter taper which was a bit stronger. This is a good upgrade for a king and link pin front end. You can use either a late style pit arm or a conversion pit arm depending on the year of your box. If you want to use the larger ends on the spindle end, you will have to ream out the taper in the steering knuckle to accept the larger taper. Same with the earliest Ball Joint beams.

There are more options out there for people that want stronger tie rod ends. Ford and International Harvester/Navistar International ends are a good upgrade if you demand a little more angularity. They are also stronger, not to mention cheeper on average when compared to the VW style ends. Again, keep in mind that you will have to use a special reamer to fit the even larger tapers of the Ford and International ends because there are no conversion pit arms. Thefladge reamed out his pit arm for the larger and beefier Ford ends.

Another option is to do a Heim joint conversion. Heims are very strong and can handle much more angularity than the above. Unfortunately dust and dirt can get in between the ball and socket and wear the Heim out. Here is a picture from Bajahuck

All you need is a drill, a drill bit, a thread tap, 4 grade 8 bolts, 4 Heim ends, some self locking nuts/lock washers, and 8 high misalignment spacers. While your at it, you may as well make some beefy tie rods to match. There are aftermarket conversion studs that fit an International taper and convert to a Heim mount, but whats the point? You will have to precision ream the taper out. Personally I think it's a wast of your time and money. Here is what they look like anyways.

The misalignment spacers help you take full advantage of the Heims ability to articulate. You can buy them new, or fabricate your own. In general, they look something like this.

Installation is easy. Simply drill out your tapers to make a hole with a diameter the same as the minor diameter of the bolt you chose to use, then tap it for the threads. The Heim will dictate what bolt you use. Most people use a 1/2 or 5/8 inch Heim. Whichever you chose, its good to have the threaded end of the Heim 5/8 of an inch. Chome-moly is a nice bonus. It is best to use grade 8 hardware. Now thread the bolt through your steering knuckle or pit arm. Then slip on a high misalignment shim. Some prefer to weld this shim to the steering knuckle or pit arm for extra strength. Slip the Heim on, then put another misalignment shim on top like a sandwich, and bolt everything down nice and tight. It is generally a good Idea to use something like a nylock nut that won't have a tendency to work loose over time. Lock washers are also good stuff. Here is what Bajahuck's looks like when its all bolted together.

Keep in mind that you have increased the stress concentration factor in your steering knuckles and especially your pit arm by drilling the tapers out to a substantially larger diameter. If not reinforced, there is a possibility that you might break the metal surrounding the bored out holes. Some people have cut some steel plate to weld around the profile of the pit arm. No sense in going to a strong Heim joint only to weaken the mounts right?

Tie rods are another area with room for improvement. Stock tie rods work alright until you wail on them. Fortunately, they are easy to reinforce. The most popular methods of reinforcement include chopping the front swaybar up and inserting it into the tie rod. This helps stiffen them up considerably. If you do this, just be sure its long enough, otherwise the tie rod will most likely bend right where the sway bar ends in the tie rod. This is effective, but it can be annoying to some as the swaybar can occasionally rattle around a bit.

Another method is a little more involved, but still pretty simple. Slip a pice of tubing over the tie rod. 1 inch 0.12 wall tubing works well. Cut the tubing to length, or about 3-4 inches shorter than the tie rod. Drill a few holes in it about 4-5 inches from the ends. If you want you can also drill one in the middle to keep it from rattling around. Make the holes around 3/8 of an inch. once you have done that, slide it over the tie rod and center it. weld the tie rod to the tubing through the holes. Once you have done that, weld the edges. When your done it should look something like these tie rods that Jason C posted.

Some people will scrap the stock tie rods all together and get some made of fancy heavy duty aircraft grade aluminum or similar material. These work too. It's all up to you on how much you wan't to spend. Here is a good example of alternative tie rods used on Ronholm's rail.

Speaking of tie rods, lets look at how some people made use of their creative juices to come up with their own steering links. I thought these were all pretty neat.

This is Gary Massin-Ball's "Poor mans rack and pinion" This is a really neat way to run longer tie rods to cut down on bump steer and tie rod angles. This solves the issues associated with the short left tie rod. The question is will it creates problems of its own? Hmmm...

Below is another that takes advantage of the long passenger side tie rod. I found it interesting how the left and right spindles were directly connected by a tie rod. Notice the Heim joints for rod ends.

Some have proposed the use of two steering boxes to create a makeshift drag link so that longer tie rods can be used. Different people have used an idler arm, similar to whats in the bus or the supper beetle. Diffdude made a drag link using an idler arm from an old Camaro.

Another option mimics a rack and pinion set up. Center mounting the steering box can be very effective. To do this you will need a pair of universal joints to connect your steering wheal to the box. Keep in mind that this may not work if you have front adjusters that are also centered. The stock pit arm can be cut and re-welded so the tie rod tapers are even for correct geometry. Many people don't even bother because the difference is so small.

Here is a diagram showing you the slice you need to take out of the pit arm for proper alignment.

If anybody wants to add anything that you feel is important, you are more than welcome.


jsturtlebuggy Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:20 am

Good information here.
Just a couple of things that don't really work well.

The full length tie rod that goes to each steering arm (picture of pan with yellow wheels) does not work. And the more travel you have the worse the handling becomes.
On a straight axle it works fine as both sides are moving in same plane.
The VW front axle each side moves independedly and causes excessive bump steer.
Bump steer is the toe (in or out) changing when supension cycles through it travel.
Using a idler arm as in Diffdude's picture does not work well either. Short tie rods cause excessive amount of bump steer.
On a trailing arm supension you need as long of tie rod as you can use.
With stock travel using the stock tie rods (one short, one long) works fine and you really don't notice the bump steer.
As you gain more travel and use stock length tie rods bump steer increases.
To get rid of most of the bump steer using a center mounted rack & pinion or steering box with both inner tie rod ends close together works very well.
Also where the position of rack is located helps with eliminating any bump steer.
Having very little to no bump steer (toe) change is ideal for making you vehicle handle like it should.

Vanapplebomb Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:34 am

Quote: Using a idler arm as in Diffdude's picture does not work well either. Short tie rods cause excessive amount of bump steer.
On a trailing arm supension you need as long of tie rod as you can use.

Good point. You could use equal length lr&p tie rods if you mount them to the center of drag linkage as opposed to the ends of it.

Thank you for your input.

[email protected] Mon Apr 23, 2012 10:34 am

great thread

Vanapplebomb Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:13 pm

Thanks, If you have anything you wan't to add, feel free.

Vanapplebomb Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:34 pm

Well, since this came to the top again, I thought I may as well add something to it.

Here is an excellent YouTube video by richpin06a. This shows how to completely adjust the steering box. Not only does he adjust the sector shaft, but he also adjusts the worm gear, which is often overlooked.

Although this is an early worm and sector steering box, the procedure is the same for the latter worm and roller steering boxes.

Vanapplebomb Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:46 pm

This is a good look inside the Later style worm and roller box. The earlier worm and sector boxes come apart the same way.

Lotrat wrote: I've pulled a few apart. Once I see that they are crap, I throw them out.

Once you have the cover off, the roller pulls out. There is a clip that holds the worm in, slide the clip off the input shaft and you can push the rest through the box. That's all I can tell you. It's been awhile since I had one apart.

Vanapplebomb Sat May 05, 2012 9:29 am

My apologies readers. I made an error in this statement...

Quote: Be sure to leave a bit of a gap so the steering doesn't bind. 0.004 inches is a good starting point. Thats a little less that 1/16 of an inch.

The gap should be about 0.04 inches.

0.004 inches is nowhere near 1/16 of an inch (0.0625). Again, sorry for being misleading and giving conflicting measures.

tdonaldson Tue May 08, 2012 8:22 pm

Went to adjust mine the other day after replacing tie rods, and tires. With everything tight as it would go, still had a quarter turn of slack in the wheel. Threw a washer in the front under the cap that threads in, and it's full of life again!

Vanapplebomb Wed May 09, 2012 11:58 am

Very interesting, that's a new one to me. What do you think was the issue?

mnakandala Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:12 pm

Wow great info here :)

Gary Massin-Ball Tue Mar 12, 2013 4:12 pm

The Poor Mans Rack has been on my car for 3 seasons now with zero breakage.

Before this mod I was bending tie rod ends and the spindle steering arms on the drivers (short) side all the time. when landing after a jump I could see the left side wheel actually do a hard left as it bump steered. One time I actually scrubbed the tire off the rim.

Since the mod I have had to do nothing to the front end!

All I did was drill a hole and reinforce with small angle iron. If I do end up braking a tie rod I can just swap in the short one and drive off into the sunset.


kbwakesk8 Wed Mar 13, 2013 10:34 am

chevy steering box old school set up parts are cheap and strong
you will find these alot in old race cars

Vanapplebomb Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:01 pm

Well, I took apart a large shaft worm and sector steering box about a month ago and thought I would post up some of my progress on cleaning it up and getting it ready to reuse.

I started stripping down the steering box by removing the drop arm and the toasted coupler. In the process I had a big red flag pop up. When I removed the lower stud beneath the gear box, no oil came out. Hmmm...

After removing the cover I found this I know why a 53 year old steering box wasn't weeping a single drop from either of it's seals. There was not a single drop of oil in the box. This is what the result of more than a few years of neglect looks like.

Despite looking like a lost cause, I think that it will work ok after a good cleanup. Well, time to rip the rest of this guy apart...First up? The sector shaft! It is a tight fit, and takes some force to remove if from the housing. After removing the sector adjusting pin and spring, I used a punch to drive the shaft out from the bottom of the box. Note that the shaft assembly is two pieces, a ball with teeth cut into it, and a shaft with a socket in which the ball fits.

After the sector shaft was removed I pulled the worm shaft and adjustor. Removing the pinch bolt allows the adjustor to be pulled out of the box. Again, it is a snug fit, and some force had to be used. The box was pushed off the adjustor by smacking it with a hammer and punch.

The adjusting thrust ball bearing came out on the worm shaft (Note that this is the bearing the adjustor pushes on to take up the slack in the worm shaft [see second picture]). The opposing thrust ball bearing pressed in the housing was driven out with a socket. Also note that the bearing you see at the left in the steering box should have a 20mm freeze plug on the outside sealing the oil in.

Next the seals were removed. The small seal was driven out of the adjustor with a socket and punch. The large sector shaft seal was removed with "the drywall screw trick." I have always found that to be the easiest way to remove larger seals. Just drill a couple small holes in the edge, screw in some coarse drywall screws, then pull the seal out by prying on the heads of the screws.

With the box completely taken apart, it was time to give it a much needed bath

A 6” wire wheel on a grinder did a good job of taking off most of the surface rust from the ferrous parts. I was also able to do the majority of the cover with the wire wheal. I had to small use a wire bush to clean the insides of the box and wherever else the wire wheal couldn’t reach. A lot of work? Yeah, but I find it fun believe it or not. Anyways, yeah, once those parts were brushed up I shot them with brake cleaner to remove the oily residue and wash away any grit left on them.

...and there you have it. That is how the worm and sector steering boxes come apart. To reassemble, just reverse the process. New seals should always be used.

Be sure to replace the seals! The fiber input shaft seal can be replaced with a standard 16x24x7mm oil seal. The freeze plug opposite the input shaft is a 20mm freeze plug that you can buy at any auto parts store. The lower oil seal for the large shaft worm and sector steering boxes can be replaced with a 28x40x7mm oil seal. A typical material for the seals is NBR as it doesn't deteriorate when in contact with oil. The double lip ADL type seal is ideal for replacing the input and sector shafts. Freeze plugs can be either brass or steel.

Although great for worm and roller steering boxes, I do not recommend using grease in the worm and sector type steering boxes. Fill the gearbox with an extreme pressure 80w90 Gear oil. EP gear oil is typically GL4 or GL5, so whatever you fill your manual transmission with.

Vanapplebomb Sat Sep 07, 2013 11:40 am

Quote from another post of mine in a different thread. This is a continuation of the same steering box...

Vanapplebomb wrote: I cleaned some of the corrosion off the worm gear with a small, fine, oiled file.

I also filled in the heavily pitted area on the sealing surface of the cover with some JB Kwik Weld, then filed it flat to restore the sealing surface.

The parts got a few shots of primer followed with either black or yellow paint.

New oil seals were purchased through a local industrial supply place and the rubber/fiber gasket material as well as the freeze plug was purchased through a local auto parts store. I traced and cut out a new gasket using the old one as a template. The sector shaft seal and freeze plug were driven into the housing and the input shaft seal was driven into the worm adjustor. Both oil seals were lubricated with grease.

With the seals installed I proceeded to drive in the bearings. The bearings were salvageable after some light polishing of the races. I packed them with grease before installing them. I first drove the one in behind the freeze plug. Then I dropped in the worm shaft, slid the adjustor bearing over the shaft, then drove it in until it was nice and snug against the worm shaft.

Next I wiped a little bit of silicone on the end of the worm adjustor. This just helps it seal well when it is set in place. The silicone is not a good adhesive, so future adjustments can easily be made. I left the pinch bolt out to be installed at a later time after the final adjustments.

After the worm adjustor was set in place I installed the sector shaft and gear. I lightly greased the worm and sector shaft as well as the ball socket and gear that fits into it.

The sector shaft was slipped into the bore in the steering box and the ball socket was placed over the gear. Once the shaft was in place the adjustor spring and pin were well greased and slipped into the bore on the top of the sector shaft.

Now the box was ready to be bolted together with the spring washers. I torqued the top four M8 bolts to 20ft*lbs

Now the box is ready to be filled with extreme pressure gear oil. Whatever you use for your transmission is fine. I will be using GL5 80-90W gear oil. Please note that the gear that fits into the ball socket on the sector shaft is a yellow metal, not steel, so be sure to use a gear oil that is safe to use with yellow metals. This was a problem with older high sulfur Gl5 gear oils, but virtually all modern gear oils are safe to use with yellow metals.

Once the box is filled with oil the fill plug can be tightened down and the sector shaft adjusting screw and jam nut can be installed and adjusted.

I have yet to find a good spacer to use for the "washer trick" with these old steering boxes with the large 28mm shafts. When I do I will bolt up the drop arm and call it a done deal :wink:

Vanapplebomb Sat Sep 07, 2013 5:58 pm

I thought maybe I could add just a little bit about what I did with the hardware, and then show off some final pictures. At any rate, here is some of the assorted hardware...

I got a universal rag joint kit at my local auto parts store. It came with some stupid studs (which I threw out) and some nifty washers. Then I got a stock style rubber rag joint. It came with out the metal inserts. The holes are 10mm, so I decided to be crafty and use some shoulder bolts to hold the thing together. The shoulder bolts have a 10mm shoulder with an M8 threaded portion. I also had some M10 tooling washers to use as spacers because the smallest shoulder bolt I had has a 15mm long shoulder. The thick M10 tooling washer fit perfectly.

This close up kinda shows you how the shoulder bolt and the nifty little fun shaped washer dohickle thingy sit...

On the back side, I slipped on the M10 tooling washer, then I bolted down the coupling yoke. I tightened the NyLock nut all the way down as far as it would go, until the 10mm shoulder mated solidly with the yoke. The combination of the 15mm long shoulder, the fun shaped washer, and the 10mm tooling washer allowed for just the right amount of compression on the rag joint...enough to give it a good squeeze, but not enough to damage it. This takes a lot of strain off the bolt holes.

Here are some pictures of the final product...

It may seem over the top, but I just worked with the stuff I had on hand...shoulder bolts, tooling washers, etc...

There is nothing wrong with using the stock M8 bolts and metal inserts for the rag joint. It worked for VW, and they knew what they were doing. If that is what you have, go for it. If you don't, then get creative and use what you have on hand :wink:

Vanapplebomb Sat Sep 07, 2013 8:15 pm

Going back to tie rods...

This is a trick that some of my buddies and I use to beef up stock tie rods.

We use 1/2in cold rolled round stock. You can pick up this steel bar stuff at any steel yard...a dime a dozen. Seriously, 3-4 feet costs only a few bucks. I think stores like Menards also has some stuff in stock, but I am sure it is much more expensive to get it there. I got a 4 foot section so that I would have enough to make a spare long tie rod should I mess up the first one.

I say "mess up" because there is one little trick to it. The 1/2in round stock is a little to big to fit in. More on that in a sec...

First order of business is to cut the rod to length. Make it as long as possible. I subtracted 2x the length of the threaded portion of the rod end from the length of my tie rods. Once cut to length I chamfered the edges. This helps keep the internal threads in the tie rod from getting jacked up. With the edges chamfered I then took an angle grinder with a fine sanding disk and buzzed over the surface of the round stock until I could just force it into the tie rod. Be careful not to take too much material off. If you can push it a couple inches past the internal threads by hand, you boned up. Make a new one, and be more careful about how much material you take off! Once the fit was good I pounded it in with a hammer. Once flush with the edge, I used a drift and hammer to pound it down inside the tie rod until it was centered. Then I screwed on the rod ends and called it a day.

My buddies have used this trick for quite a while. It kept their rods from kinking and bending. You can still weld a sleeve over the tie rods for extra protection, but we have found this trick to be adequate for what stock rod ends hold up to. So, if you plan of making a play baja or buggy to bomb around the woods on weekends, this is just the ticket. Racing is a different story. I would recommend new tie rods and heavy duty rod ends for that kind of business.

Here is a picture of the round stock pounded 2/3rds of the way into the tie rod...just so you can see what I have been talking about. It is pretty self explanatory.

dirtkeeper Sun Sep 08, 2013 12:04 pm

You say you made the insert piece 2x the length of the tie rod ends shorter. The first time I did mine with a insert about 2 " short...... It bent right there . Next time I made the insert about 1/2" short of actual space between the adjusted/aligned tie rod ends.....after first setting alignment.. And haven't had any problem since......except last time I got an alignment there was an issue with lack of adjustment room..due to too long of an the adjustment had to be compensated with the other tie rod...not correct but seemed to be fine...... Now I have a new front end and it all adjusted up fine and I am back at being just about 1/2" short on the internal insert..

Any way I read you saying to make the insert 2x the threaded length of the tie rod end which depending on your final adjustment may be too least as stated above in my case made a perfect week spot to bend

Vanapplebomb Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:24 pm

Right, find your toe adjustment first. I have always kept rod ends threaded equaly on both sides of the tie rod...that way if they have to be taken appart, I only have to count the turns to remove one side to reset my toe in upon reassembly. Habits :wink:

Brian Tue Feb 17, 2015 6:32 pm

dirtkeeper wrote: You say you made the insert piece 2x the length of the tie rod ends shorter. The first time I did mine with a insert about 2 " short...... It bent right there .

I'm in fear I made mine too short.

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