The high of hard acceleration is an experience like no other. However, if you’re like Ricky Bobby and “just wanna go fast,” stopping and turning once you’ve already committed to “full send” can be a troublesome endeavor. Quite frankly, taking the cheap route on steering and brake components is reckless and has cost lives. Having the proper parts to perform in a turn at high speeds is something we enjoy as much as you, the reader. We turned–pun intended–to the experts at Turn One for some insight with questions and solutions related to your car’s steering system.
The Turn One name may be unfamiliar to some of you. However, they are pioneers in the background, having a massive impact on automotive development and racing as we know it today. Founder, Jeff Roethlisberger started the company as a hobby in his garage back in 1997, utilizing his background in steering systems engineering at General Motors. His automotive surgical interventions initially made their presence in NASCAR, tweaking and customizing GM steering components for top NASCAR teams. It wasn’t long until a majority of teams were calling him to perform his magic on their steering systems, too. The home garage didn’t last long before it was outgrown. Roethlisberger transitioned his hobbyist business into a full-time operation in 1999. Still a one-man show, Jeff began taking on work for other applications, such as building racks for the Shelby Series 1 project and modifying GM F-body, Y-body and A/G-body steering boxes and power steering pumps.
Today, the operation is much larger. In fact, with no coincidence, Turn One is located in Saginaw, Michigan. If the Saginaw name rings a bell to you, it’s probably because Saginaw Steering Components was GM’s steering division, now Nexteer. Much of the work the team at Turn One does is with the Saginaw steering boxes and pumps, which with no question, the Roethlisberger’s are experts. With that, the engineering performed at Turn One exceeds just GM/Saginaw equipment. It truly relates to geometry, gear ratios, the nuances of pump hydraulics, and how all of the steering system variables relate to providing the necessary performance in the vehicle and the desired steering feel as a driver. We will touch on some of this tech further in the article.
Whether the need is an extremely fast-ratio, high-performance system, or simply a replacement for an old muscle car, Turn One has multiple options and will walk you through making the correct choice for your unique application. If you’re upgrading, they also have the supporting products, which will help optimize the longevity and performance of your entire system.
Evolution of the Steering Box
Turn One established its name in the late 1990’s modifying Saginaw steering boxes for teams like Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR circuit. As the reputation for winning on Sunday grew, so did the market and types of racers it served. At the time, the hot item was the Saginaw 700-series steering box. It became increasingly popular in other forms of grassroots racing. From there, as the company grew larger, as did the offerings of rebuilt steering boxes and eventually new components. To this day, Turn One thrives on using true OEM castings, not replicas or off-brand copies.
The Saginaw 600-series steering box is essentially the small-block Chevy of steering boxes in that it was literally put in everything from the mid-1960s through the 90s. A-Bodies, F-Bodies, G-Bodies, and Novas/Venturas used this steering box across brand lines. This series was also used in a handful of Mopar products. Turn One now uses the benefits of the more modern 600 series box to provide customers with improved steering feel, multiple steering ratios, and custom valve options, all while saving weight using 100-percent new components. These are hand-built in the USA, and the team is pretty darn proficient with rebuilding used boxes if you’re looking to save a few bucks.
The 600 boxes may be what put them on the map, but those aren’t the only components they’re good at servicing. Turn One will supply and rebuild power steering racks for quite a few applications. When we were on the phone with Junior, they were in the process of doing a custom rebuild of a Porsche steering rack. In terms of popular products, Junior said the team builds a ton of Corvette and fourth- and fifth-generation Camaro and Firebird steering racks. The world has already seen how fast those cars can be with some power adders, if only they can turn as well as they go in a straight line.
Steering systems don’t end with just a good steering box or rack. The entire package needs to perform, especially in aggressive road course or autocross racing. Turn One supplies new, American-built power steering pumps for multiple applications. All of their pumps are hand-built to suite each customer’s needs. Each application is a little different, and requires some customization on Turn One’s part to create a perfect combination. Factors such as tire and wheel size, front end geometry, vehicle weight and balance, whether or not the brake system will incorporate hydroboost, the type of driving, and how the driver wants the steering to feel, all play a role in making the right recipe.
If you currently have your original or even a stock replacement steering box in your GM muscle car, you don’t know what you’re missing. When talking to Junior, he said, “Even a good-driving car will feel completely different once one of our boxes is installed.” The “quarter-turn until the wheels move” that we all have just accepted to deal with in our older cars is flat out dangerous, and is easily overcome with what would be described as sports car-feeling characteristics with steering boxes to rack-and-pinion systems.
There are many kits online which convert cars with steering boxes to rack-and-pinion systems. In talking with Junior, he added that these kits are typically unnecessary to get the performance you want, and their geometry usually doesn’t work well. A Turn One steering box will offer high performance steering feel without the headache of an involved conversion. As far as custom frames and stubs that incorporate rack conversions, those are much better engineered, and yes, those add to the performance of a car, however, they come at a high cost.
What Ratio Should You Choose?
Steering ratios translate across steering boxes and steering racks. A Saginaw 600 steering box, which is the bread and butter of Turn One’s business in auto racing and street cars, is offered with ratios anywhere from 16:1 down to 6:1. Without question, there are a few performance levels of steering boxes that it offers, and they vary significantly in cost. For a muscle car, Junior said, “The 12.7:1 steering boxes were the fastest ratio GM produced for the public, available in third-generation F-bodies in Z28 and Trans Am trim. That ratio, in particular, offers a phenomenal balance of performance and drivability for the street. Your 1960’s muscle car will steer like a late model Corvette. You can expect roughly three turns in each direction, lock to lock, and it will feel more responsive than the original box.
These boxes sell for under $900.
A 10:1 steering box offers a great balance of real responsive steering for racing and drivability on the street, making them very popular. “The driver will find themselves doing much less ‘hand over hand’ when making tight turns,” Junior explains. Autocross racers like Justin Nall and his ’66 Chevelle use this combo. This is an excellent ratio for a 50/50 race car and street car, where it will take some practice street driving. However, a sneeze won’t send you into the woods. This steering ratio is often used in the boxes Turn One builds for its customers, as well. A 600-series box with this ratio will run between $1,000-1,500.
An 8:1 ratio steering box is the end of the line for street driven cars. Honestly, these are meant for racing and are found in quite a few winning autocross and road course cars, such as the ones owned by UMI Performance. These cars can be driven to the track, however, not by a novice driver. The 7:1 and 6:1 steering boxes are the same prices as the 8:1 boxes starting at $2,500, yet are less popular and only seen in race cars.
Though most anything is possible, non-GM steering systems tend to be a little tricky to customize. In many cases, steering boxes that were previously remanufactured, or other aftermarket boxes may not be customizable, as they don’t always have correct components. If you’re unsure about what can be done to your steering system, Turn One recommends calling and speaking with one of its techs to help determine your options and what’s best for your situation.
Power Steering Pumps, Restrictors, And Coolers
Turn One is one of the few companies besides a GM dealer to sell genuine General Motors Type II power steering pumps, which are all built in-house. LS market pumps are a huge seller for Turn One, in part for their popularity in swaps for older cars, as well as in their original applications. These pumps are 100-percent new and made and built in the USA. They optimize the internal parts to reduce parasitic horsepower loss and lower fluid temperatures. If you’re looking for a quality pump upgrade, and especially if your vehicle will see any performance driving situations, definitely step up and purchase a Turn One pump for that application. If we understood one thing from our conversation, it was to avoid an aftermarket, remanufactured steering pump.
Stock power steering pumps put under extra high demand will generate unnecessary and excessive heat, resulting in a lower lifespan of the pump and other components like fluid seals. Beyond that, stock pumps can rarely produce the power needed to provide full steering assist in hard driving maneuvers. Examples of scenarios where this is likely to occur are drift cars, autocross cars, vehicles with hyroboost braking systems, and vehicles using wide, sticky front tires. Turn One’s pumps are specifically designed to perform in these demanding applications, and are customized for each customer’s vehicle to ensure maximum performance and compatibility with the entire steering system.
When is a power steering restrictor needed, you might also wonder? The correct application for a restrictor is for fine-tuning or in conversions that are using a non-stock mix-match of accessory drives and steering gears systems. The most common use for a restrictor is when powering a conversion rack-and-pinion such as that from the Mustang-II family, especially when using an LS-style pump. In these scenarios, the volume from the GM power steering pump is just too high. A similar situation would be in the case of an LS swap in a Japanese car. Junior said, “If the steering is twitchy, a restrictor will help.”
In most cases of GM-to-GM components, the restrictors aren’t necessary. Power steering coolers, however, absolutely have a place in all race cars, and indeed can be integrated into any build. Generally, street cars won’t require one, though. If power steering fluid is reaching 275-degrees or more, definitely make use of a cooler.
Steering System Stress
All steering systems are mechanical and will only last so long.
Most production-style steering boxes use recirculating ball gears, which those bearings are prone to wear out, causing excessive lash. Think of it like ball joints: as they start to go, the wear escalates as the slop increases. Extreme heat wears parts faster — heat from an overworked or tired pump conducts through the thinned fluid to the steering rack or box, which directly affects seals and often leads to gear systems leaking sooner than expected.
Like many vehicle systems, heat is an enemy of the power steering system, and is a leading cause of failure in steering pumps. This is due to the pump not being tuned properly for the vehicle’s specifications and it’s driving application. In most cases, stock pumps are just not capable of handling the demands of sticky tires and excessive wheel loads that occur in performance driving scenarios. GM Type II pumps hit the end of the line at 7,500 rpm. Changes to the accessory drive like running a larger crank pulley or using an overdrive power steering pulley can easily make over-speed an issue, potentially damaging the pump.
So what’s the solution to the above mentioned problems? A correctly configured and tuned steering pump will ensure that the heart of your steering system is working properly and not negatively affecting fluid temperatures or dropping steering assist when you need it. With a call to the experts at Turn One, you can ensure your new pump is configured for maximum performance for your vehicle.
Routine Maintenance and Tips
First, always keep your steering system clean. By this, we mean don’t swap used or dirty parts into your steering system. Anytime you’re changing fluid, flush the old junk out thoroughly. This involves cleaning the individual pieces the best you can, also circulating fresh fluid in, and discarding what exits the component as you clean. In extreme duty applications, steering fluids should be flushed out much more regularly than that of a street car. Adding a dedicated cooler might be necessary to keep temperatures down, and as we mentioned before, 275-degrees is the end of the line for normal operating temperatures.
Second, when choosing power steering fluid for your performance setup, don’t skimp out on cheap fluid. The big thing to remember is to use a fully synthetic, performance-based, brand name product designed for power steering. The days of using Dexron-III are long gone. Transmission fluids don’t have the anti-frothing additives needed in performance steering systems. Products such as Redline or Royal Purple will not froth or cavitate power steering pumps like transmission fluids and low-end, generic fluids will. Power steering fluid plays a huge role in the performance and longevity of power steering components, as it ultimately carries all of the heat and contaminants with it.
The team at Turn One has revolutionized performance steering components in GM vehicles, especially in auto racing. Its products can be seen in the winningest of grassroots, NASCAR, and road racing cars.
Beyond their specialty, they are experts at rebuilding a wide variety wide variety of steering pumps, rack-and-pinion, and steering boxes — something we see less and less of, on U.S. soil.
If you’re looking to restore your car’s steering components or want to get with the times and match your steering system to the four-digit power numbers being put down by your powertrain, look no further than the best in the business at Turn One Inc.