It was more than a few decades ago when the cars that came from Detroit were equipped with manual steering. Back then, that was money-saving standard equipment. If you wanted to enjoy the benefits of power-assisted steering, well, that would cost you a little extra dinero. Now, however, the luxury of power-assisted rack-and-pinion – and even electric power steering is – normal to find in a car or truck.
When what we now consider classic muscle cars were just old cars and not something that was revered, many were even the recipient of a so-called “performance upgrade” when well-intentioned owners removed the optionally ordered power-steering box and installed a manual unit. The reason behind the removal was because “it robbed too much horsepower.”
During the ‘80s and early ’90s, finding a manual steering box in a salvage yard was easy. They were plentiful, not yet completely worn out, and swapping them for a power unit could be handled in an afternoon. Now, finding a “good” used steering box in a salvage yard is akin to finding a restorable first-gen Camaro.
Time To Upgrade
Whether your classic has been the recipient of a manual-box swap, or it came from the factory with an Armstrong vehicle-aiming unit, there is no doubt that it’s probably not as firm or tight as it was when it was new. I am willing to bet that the steering box in your hot rod requires you to turn the wheel right or left more than it used to just to initiate a turn. In other words, things have worn out, and it’s gotten “loose” inside. But, you don’t have to settle for a steering box that’s worn and long past its prime. The folks at Borgeson are manufacturing completely brand-new steering boxes for many classic applications.
…the boxes are not only made with the original Saginaw tooling, but also by using the original Saginaw prints. Even much of the equipment used is from the original Saginaw manual-steering gear plant. – Jeff Grantmeyer
Although Borgeson can supply almost anyone with either a power or manual-steering box, we wanted to focus this article on the company’s Saginaw 525 manual unit. This all-new Borgeson steering box is not a rebuilt unit that has been gone through. No sir. This is an all-new box, right down to the casting and all internal parts. It is truly an all-new Saginaw Model 525 manual-steering box, and we’ll explain why later.
Originally, GM used the cast-iron Saginaw 525 beginning in the ‘50s and continued to install it on many ‘60s and ‘70s-era cars. It was available with either a 24:1 or 16:1 steering ratio. In fact, the 525 was such a popular steering box, that you’ll find they are still occasionally available by scrounging through salvage yards and swap meets. But, why scrounge for a used box if a brand new one is just a call or mouse click away? Let’s clarify. We’re talking a brand new Saginaw box, not an aftermarket equivalent.
When it comes to the ratio differences, it breaks down like this: the 24:1 ratio will make the car easier to turn at low speeds, and the steering response will be considerably slow. This is because it will require more revolutions of the steering wheel when turning lock-to-lock than the 16:1-ratio box. The 16:1-ratio box will give you quicker control of the steering (fewer revolutions of the steering wheel), but on the downside, turning the car while at slow speeds will be slightly harder than with the 24:1-ratio box.
We asked Jeff Grantmeyer, sales manager of Borgeson, what makes this new box such a good upgrade. We were actually surprised by his answer. “The Borgeson steering box is the OE. That’s because, in 2014, Borgeson purchased all of the original tooling, equipment, and manufacturing rights for the entire Saginaw manual-steering gear line,” he told us. If that’s the case, what better way to get a brand-new steering box than by getting what is actually a new, original unit?
Jeff finished with, “All forgings are done in the USA, and all of the castings are from Canada. We would also like the customer to know that the boxes are not only made with the original Saginaw tooling but also, by using the original Saginaw prints. Much of the equipment that we use is from the original Saginaw manual-steering gear plant.”
In a typical tech article, this is where we would start showing you how to install this box and let you know how easy it was – or wasn’t – and then tell you if the swap made any noticeable difference in vehicle performance. But this time, that didn’t seem logical. Let’s face it, if you are installing a new OE-spec steering box, your original unit was probably worn out. That means the benefits of the swap are a no-brainer.
This time, we thought we would take you behind the scenes and show you how the Borgeson/Saginaw 525 box is actually made. Take a look at the images and captions in the article, and see just what goes into making each steering box. Like we said before, this particular product is made right here in the US of A. That means every piece of the Borgeson/Saginaw box is built by American craftsmen.