Restoring a Model T Ford Steering Column Part 1

The scene above is from the firewall assembly area of the Ford Highland Park Plant circa May 1915.  Towards the left side of the picture the steering columns, wrapped in brown paper, are installed in the firewall. The firewalls would be installed into the chassis fully assembled with coil box, steering column, speedometer, wiring and timer as a unit.

The Model T Ford steering column is a pretty important item that often gets neglected to the point that it is dangerous to drive the car. Particularly the earliest versions used from 1909 – 1914, which have the gear box riveted to the steering column upper bearing. Even the columns used from 11915 – 25, or the unique 1926 – 27 versions can become dangerous if the rivets come loose that secure the upper bearing to the tube.

In this edition of Model T Ford Fix we show how to overhaul a steering column both for safety’s sake and to improve its appearance to like new again.

Our subject column is looking pretty tired as we get ready to take it apart for restoration. The quadrant has been re – riveted to the tube with the rivets ground flush crudely. The gearbox has also been re – riveted at some point with a mixture of steel and brass rivets of various diameters.

We mount the columns in a work fixture to make operations easier.

The throttle arm is riveted to the throttle rod with two steel rivets. We stripped the paint off the rods which reveals traces of the original brass plating on the entire length of both rods.

We took this picture to document the angle of the throttle lever with the throttle closed. It is just about exactly 45 degrees. This will provide the location for the holes drilled into the new solid brass throttle rod to secure the arm.

Close inspection of the rivets (photos above and below) shows crude workmanship in the past.

Above the yellow arrows denote the location of rivets that secure the spring retainer collars on the throttle and spark rods. These will need to be drilled out to release the rods.

We drill the smashed rivet ends on both sides of each collar. Then punch out the rivets using a 3/32″ pin punch and a small hammer.

Next come the rivets that secure the quadrant and the upper bearing to the steering column tube. We center punch each rivet head, then pilot drill using a 3/32″ drill bit (#40AWG). Then we use a 5/32″ (#21 AWG) bit to drill the rivet heads until they come loose from the body of the rivets.

With the rivet heads gone we use the pin punch to knock out the rest of the rivets.

A closer view shows the rivet coming out of the hole.

With the springs and collars removed and the rivets out of the quadrant the upper bearing and gearbox can be pulled out of the tube. We are going to leave the quadrant on the tube as it is in fine condition for re – use.

We clamp the assembly in the vice to make it easier to drill the heads off the rivets which secure the gearbox to the upper bearing.

With the rivets removed a propane torch is used to melt the solder which secures the gearbox to the upper bearing. It falls off after a few seconds of heat application.

The last photo shows the disassembled column and the parts that will be re – used. This happens to be a quite early column, measuring 21 1/2 inches from the top of the tube to the firewall. This is the second shortest variety and is typical of late 1909 – 1910 production.

Next installment we will restore all the parts and reassemble the unit.

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