17. Steering Column

After replacing an automatic transmission with a manual transmission, the interaction between the steering column and the transmission no longer exists, which creates a safety hazard—the ignition key may be switched to the lock position in one step causing loss of steering control. With the automatic transmission installed, switching the ignition key to the lock position was a two-step process—the transmission must be in Park before the ignition key can be switched to the lock position. All 1978-1981 GM A body cars with manual transmissions were equipped with a key release lever on the steering column. The key release lever must be depressed before the key can be switched to the lock position (there is no connection between the transmission shift linkage and the steering column). After installing a manual transmission, a steering column with a key release lever is required to restore the two-step process.

The base of the automatic transmission steering column has holes to accommodate the shift tube lever and the neutral safety switch. The base of the manual transmission steering column has no provision for a shift tube lever or neutral safety switch (Figure 17-1). To satisfy my requirement that the swap look authentic, a steering column with no shift tube or provisions for a shift tube was required.

Figure 17-1: G Body Automatic Transmission Steering Column (foreground) and A Body Manual Transmission Steering Column (background)

Enlarge in a new window

For 1978-1981 GM A body cars, the swap is relatively straightforward. Install a factory manual transmission steering column. Note that the bottom of the 1978 GM A body lower steering shaft is splined and beginning in 1979 the lower steering shaft is of the double-D design. The 1978 steering column can be used in a 1979-1981 GM A body if used in conjunction with a 1978 intermediate shaft.

For 1982-1988 GM G body cars, the swap is more complicated. In 1982, the windshield wiper/washer switch was relocated from the left side of the dashboard to the left side of the steering column, and a manual transmission was no longer available. Therefore, no factory steering column exists for 1982-1988 GM G body cars with a manual transmission.

To retain the two-step safety feature and still have a factory-appearing steering column in 1982-1988 GM G body cars with a manual transmission, there are two solutions to this problem. Relocate the wiper/washer controls to the dashboard, as in 1978-1981 cars, and install a 1978-1981 factory manual transmission steering column, or install a custom steering column that incorporates a key release lever.

In my searches, I have never personally seen a 1978-1981 A body factory manual transmission tilt steering column, but I have seen photographs (Figure 17-2). For a 1982-1988 GM G body car, it is easier and cheaper to purchase or build a custom tilt steering column than it is to track down and buy a factory tilt steering column for a 1978-1981 GM A body car and then relocate the wiper/washer switch to the dashboard.

Figure 17-2: 1979-1981 GM A Body Factory Manual Transmission Tilt Steering Column

Photographs courtesy of Randy Johnson

In my 1986 Monte Carlo SS (Figure 17-3), I installed a custom steering column assembled by Randy Johnson (RD 3 Box 228B, Montrose, PA, 18801, 570-663-3057). Randy’s steering columns have been completely disassembled and all external parts have been media blasted, primed, and sprayed OEM black. All internal parts have been cleaned, inspected, replaced as needed, lubricated, and reassembled to factory specifications. I chose to install a black ignition lock rather than a chrome lock. The black lock was not available in the Monte Carlo, but was available in the F body.

Figure 17-3: View of Steering Column With Key Release Lever (1986 Monte Carlo SS)

Enlarge in a new window

In my 1983 Malibu Wagon (Figure 17-4), I scoured the junkyards, bought the necessary parts, and assembled a custom steering column myself. To build a tilt steering column for manual transmission 1982-1988 GM G body cars that looks as if it is original equipment, the following parts are needed:

    • An automatic transmission tilt steering column equipped with a wiper/washer switch compatible with the car receiving the manual transmission (1982-1983 used a different wiper/washer switch than was used in 1984-1988, and it is unique to the tilt steering column).

    • A steering column from a 1978-1981 GM A body with a manual transmission (tilt not necessary).

    • A tilt column from an AMC Spirit or S-10 with a key release lever. Randy Johnson notes that the 1982-1989 F body lower bowl is 1¼ inches shorter than the A/G body lower bowl and is, therefore, ¼ inch too short to use in an A/G body (it leaves a gap between the dashboard and the lower bowl). Randy also notes that the S-10 lock housing cover should not be used, as the ignition switch is located ¾ inches lower than on the A/G body.

Figure 17-4: View of Steering Column With Key Release Lever (1983 Malibu Wagon)

Enlarge in a new window

On the original steering column, measure and record the distance from the firewall flange to a bolt hole for the dashboard bracket. Break down the A body steering column and the AMC (or S-10) steering column to their bare tubes and separate the upper tube from the lower tube. Insert the GM A body lower tube into the AMC (or S-10) upper tube. Press the tubes together until the distance between the firewall flange and a bolt hole for the dashboard bracket is equal to that measured on the original steering column (recorded earlier). Begin assembling the steering column by installing the parts related to the key release mechanism. Complete assembling the steering column by using the remaining parts from the 1982-1988 G body tilt column. For reference, Figure 17-5 is an exploded view of a 1978-1981 manual transmission tilt column and Figure 17-6 is an exploded view of a 1982-1988 automatic transmission tilt column.

Figure 17-5: Exploded View of Tilt Steering Column With Key Release Lever

Enlarge in a new window

Drawing courtesy of General Motors

Figure 17-6: Exploded View of Tilt Steering Column Without Key Release Lever

Enlarge in a new window

Drawing courtesy of General Motors

In my 1986 Monte Carlo SS, I primed the steering column and painted it with Krylon® semi-flat black paint (Randy was not media blasting and painting steering columns in 1992). In my 1983 Malibu Wagon, I used Dupli-Color® vinyl and fabric dye to color the steering column. I recommend the dye over the paint since much of the paint on my Monte Carlo steering column has been chipped by dangling keys. I am not satisfied with the color of the steering column in my 1983 Malibu Wagon. The color stated on the spray can is burgundy and the color on the cap appears to be burgundy, but as applied, it contains too much red. I have since learned that the dye of choice seems to be from SEM. Darryl Gilbert informed me that SEM dye is available in spray cans. J. Matthew Daugherty informed me that the dye is available in bulk and is easily sprayed using the PREVAL® system.


Originally Released 11 February 2002

updated 27 August 2007