When it’s time to hit the trail nothing is more important than a thorough inspection the night before or even days before. We should all be checking the obvious; oil, tires, nuts, bolts, safety gear, etc. But there are times that you just can’t catch everything, and you end up doing a trail repair or two. Still other times its not that something breaks, it’s that something doesn’t work to our expectations.
This was the case with our FJ40 project rig. Years ago, I performed a rather avant-garde and ambitious project, where I converted my manual-steering ’74 FJ40 to power steering, by using a late 80’s Toyota pickup truck steering box and some other miscellaneous parts from the scrap yard. I also managed to get it working with a Chevy power steering pump and an S-link dropped steering arm that moved forward to backward – unlike a more durable and trusty cross-over steering setup. Needless to say, this wasn’t the best possible situation and hindsight being 20/20, I should have just done the tried-and-true Saginaw conversion. But hey, where’s the fun and learning by doing it the easy way?
After a few more tweaks to my failed engineering attempt, I managed to swap the front axle and stuff an over-built Dana 44 underneath the rig and converted it to a cross-over style setup, which worked far better, or so I thought.
The stock Toyota pickup truck steering box wasn’t valved properly for the Chevy power steering pump, nor was it strong enough to deal with the 35″ TSL SSR Super Swampers on the sticky granite surfaces the southwest is so famous for. The wafer thin mint that finally broke the proverbial camels back, was my last trip to Moab for the 2006 Easter Jeep Safari. An enjoyable experience for everyone on the trail except me. I replaced the power steering pump once per day – try wheeling in Moab with manual crossover steering – I dare you! Fighting the fluid in the pump and 4 PSI in the tires will cut anyone to the last nerve (Just ask Mike Batchelor, our trusty Feature Editor, who had to listen to me whine every day), and definitely sap your strength.
Fast forward a few months… I called our friends at PSC Motorsports to get some help. In short order, they were able to build us a kit that included the hydraulic ram, mounting tabs, build-yourself high-strength hoses, a severe-duty pump, remote reservoir, and an over-built, really stout power steering gear box from an IH Scout.
If any of you are old enough to remember that old Atari racing arcade game, then you might now know what it’s like to have a really high-quality hydraulic assist steering system on your rig. The effort required to steer our FJ40 is as easy and smooth as it can possibly be, almost (but not quite) too effortless.
We took our rig out to our favorite playground and put it through some “starter” obstacles to get a feel for it. Immediately it was obvious that there was stark contrast between our old “Armstrong” steering system and the new PSC steering system. Each obstacle we attempted to climb required no more than a pinky-finger’s amount of effort to steer the rig – SWEET!
The steering ratio is now a bit tighter too, which took a bit of getting used to, but now we love it. The steering radius is also vastly improved.
Now that we were used to the steering, it was time to take it to some more extreme obstacles and really put it to the test. The first thing we did was find a large boulder and place the side of the 35″ tires completely up against the side of it. I then cautiously turned the steering wheel to the left. The entire front of the FJ40 pushed itself sideways and again, required little more than a pinky-finger’s worth of effort to turn the steering wheel – truly amazing!
For the next several hours, we put the PSC steering system through the test – high-speed, heavy-throttle hill climbs loaded with lots of ruts, hard-core rock climbs, some sand-dune racing and the likes filled the rest of the afternoon. The entire day went flawlessly and as expected, so did the PSC steering system.
The PSC Motorsports hydraulic assist steering system has been on our rig for nearly 10 months now. It is clearly at the top of our “install it and forget about it” list as it continually works perfectly.
The steering effort required to turn the wheel, even when tires are pinched in between rocks, is effortless. I would prefer just a tad-bit more steering response, but I happily give that up for piece of mind, and ease of driving. After all, I would far prefer to not think about how difficult it is to steer my rig when hitting a 4+ obstacle, and worry more about the appropriate line that will keep me from putting my rig on its roof.
PSC Motorsports has delivered in a big way for us in the past, and again they have delivered – in our mind – the perfect steering system. It’s tough, durable and dependable – everything we could possibly ask for in a hydraulic-assist steering system.