Pump It Down

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Cheapskates’ guide to feeling firm.

Story and photos by Richard Ehrenberg

(1) Love those twisties…IF your
steering is firm and precise. We’ll
show you a lowbuck secret way to
get yours up (actually, down) to snuff.

QUICK FACTS
• Reducing power steering line pressure
costs zero, improves road feel
• Works with all Saginaw pumps
• Does not magically “fix” a worn-out
steering box.

We’ve all driven modern cars,
with direct-acting rack
and pinion steering. The
difference in precision and
road feel, vs. a typical well-used ’60-’70s
power-assisted Mopar, is pretty startling.
The truth, however, is that it doesn’t need
to be that way. Over the decades, we’ve
detailed many steering upgrades, such as
larger tie rods, K-member reinforcements,
and increased caster, which all play a part.
Of course, as we’ve also detailed, a large

(2) All Saginaw pumps have the pressure
fitting on the rear (circled), whether built
in the ’60s or ’00s. Metric or USS, round
or ham-shaped reservoir all use the same
fitting OD threads (which are USS). This is
our nasty junkyard slant-six A-body pump,
circa late-’60s.

part of the improvement comes from internal
steering box changes, primarily careful
select-fit assembly and stiffer reaction
springs—an upgrade introduced by Ma
Mopar on 1975 cop cars. For decades, a

(3) We picked up an inexpensive power
steering pressure tester, which is just a
high-pressure gauge, a length of hose,
and a fitting assortment.

left-coast outfit (Firm Feel, Inc.) and, later,
others, have been selling uprated (firmedup)
rebuilt chucks. Now hear this: If your
steering box has much over 60,000-70,000
miles, experience has shown that it needs
to be rebuilt or replaced. End of story. No
amount of adjusting or other tweaks will
take out the slop, unless you’re also willing
to put up with on-center “numbness,”
which is way worse than the slop.
OK, but, what if you have a true low-mileage
box? Or, like us, got a rebuilt box
from a non-FFI source and are dissatisfied
with its overboosted feel? Well, there’s more
to recirculating ball power assist than meets

(4) Unscrewing the pressure fitting from
our prize (7/8˝ hex), we discovered…
(5) …some nasty moisture-induced scuzz
inside. We hoped the valve would be OK.

the eye. Besides internal mods, the assist
level is proportional to the pump’s line
pressure. Decrease the pressure, and you
decrease the assist.
With that fact burned into our grey
matter, we researched the heck out of
power steering pumps. Most muscle-era
Mopar ones were rated 950 to 1300 PSI,
with some of the modern ones designed
for racks as high as 1450 PSI. Buried in
the reams of data in the MA archives,
however, we learned that many slant-six
A-bodies were only 800-850 PSI. Aha!
We scrounged up a well-used pump from
one of those cars and scavenged the

(6) If the valve doesn’t drop out in your
hand when you remove the fitting, use a
magnetic tool and it’ll come right out. If
the large spring behind it drops out, too,
just shove it back in. Note: There’s no
need to remove the pump from the car.

regulator valve assembly from it. These are
very easy to change on Saginaw pumps, it
simply drops out (no disassembly required)
from behind the outlet (pressure) fitting; in
fact, it is common to install a ’60s-’70s fitting
on an ’80-up pump, allowing a later metric
pump to bolt right on to a muscle-era Mopar.
Valves can also be changed on TRW and
F-M pumps, but it isn’t nearly as easy and,
besides, the Saginaw is so far superior that
we’d advise you to swap to a Sag if you’re
serious about driving your muscle Mopar.

(7) We cleaned up the valve—it looked
OK., but…
(8) …we hadda have a peek inside. The
old FSMs suggest a soft-jaw vise for
disassembly, but that’s not really practical.
We had an old US-made Vise-Grips
(got a pair? They are like gold), which fit
between the “piston ring” lands (careful,
don’t damage the machined surfaces).
Then the end cap nut comes right off
(7/16˝ hex). Later, we’d discover that all
that’s needed for a pressure drop is a
thicker shim-washer pack…a true zerobuck
upgrade!

Our guinea pig in this experiment is our
1962 Plymouth, none other than project
“Savvy Savoy.” We began by measuring
the pressure at fast idle, it registered 1450
PSI cold and just under 1400 hot (this is a
stock 2001 pump with the fitting swapped
to allow an early pressure hose to fit). Next,
we swapped in the 6-cylinder valve, and the
measurement was 800 PSI. Progress? Could
be! Road test time.

(9) We hooked up the gauge with our pump as yet unmodified.
(10) Depending on temperature and RPM,
it read between 1375 and 1450 PSI.
(11) We swapped in the /6 valve assembly,
and the gauge reading dropped to 750-
825 PSI. Big change! But it still felt power
assisted, and a road test proved the worth
of the pressure reduction. No negatives
whatsoever! A scrawny 9-year-old neighborhood
kid was able to still very easily
turn the wheel from lock to lock, with the
tires on coarse concrete.

The Savoy was pretty loosey-goosey
feeling before this tweak, part of that was
due to the none-too-firm chuck, and another
part we blamed on the huge (17-in.) steering
wheel (converting, to, say, a stock 14½-in.
Tuff wheel would effectively quicken the
steering, and increase the effort, both by

(12) OK, admittedly, it isn’t a 2010 Viper ACR. Still, we can thread the needle with the
best of ‘em now. The Savoy put away a 6-speed 2007 Pontiac GTO on this road.

15%). With the reduced line pressure, the
difference was immediately felt. While parking
maneuvers took a bit more effort, they
are still well within the normal range. On the
interstate, the on-center feel was markedly
improved, and the twisties became much
more pleasurable.
Now we got greedy. Hell, let’s do this
to all our Mopars (the entire MA fleet has
the Sagniaw pump, except, of course, the
Green Brick Valiant road racer, which has a
fast-ratio manual box from Firm Feel, Inc.—a
beautiful thing). But scouring the earth for a
slew of slant-six A-body pumps seemed like
a hassle, plus, once this article hit, the price
of ’em would immediately triple. How about
finding out what’s different in the regulator
valves? Maybe we can source a different
drop-in spring for 25¢? Here’s where it gets

(13) We took the slant-six valve back
out, and measured the shim pack. One
washer was 0.047˝, and the second one
was 0.030˝.

interesting. We stripped down the stock
high-pressure valve from the Savoy, and
miked up the spring. Surprise…It’s virtually
the same darn spring as the 800/850 PSI
version. The real difference? The thickness of
the shim washer pack! That’s right, just a 3⁄8˝
flatwasher (see photos 8, 13, and 14).

(14) The shims are 3⁄8˝ ID, ½” OD (exactly,
nothing metric here!) A hardware store 3⁄8˝
flatwasher (left) has way too large of an
OD. You’ll need to either grind down the
OD (need not be precise), or start with a
½” OD washer and drill the center hole to
3⁄8˝. If you’re shooting in the dark (no pressure
gauge), we’d start by adding about
0.062˝ to whatever you find in your valve.
Brass might be easier to work with than
steel and would be fine.

Conclusion: Firming up your power
steering is basically free, except for a quart
of PS fluid (don’t use ATF!) You don’t even
need the pressure gauge, you can just try
it—it is not carved in stone that the pressure
be exactly so-and-so. Drop it 250, 350,
450 PSI—you’ll love it. Don’t, however, do
this on a rack-equipped later Mopar—racks
need the higher pressure, and, unless really
shot, typically have good feel without that
overboosted greased-pig feel.
After this stunning lowbuck success, we
did more homework, and learned that most
aftermarket (race car) PS pumps are in the
800 PSI range, too. We consider this to be a
stamp of approval for our handiwork.
Get out the Craftsmans, then head for the
esses!

STOP THE SLOP
Like it firm? Who doesn’t? A precision-built Firm Feel box and reduced line
pressure are only part of the equation. Having a slop free column coupler, beefed
linkage (11/16” tie rod ends, slotless rods with jam nuts), and a reinforced K-member
all play a part. We ran a 3-part steering tweak article in our December 2008 and
February and April 2010 issues. Read them, then get to work.

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