Everyone appreciates a nice rack, but not all is lost for the venerable recirculating ball steering box found in most muscle cars. Generally speaking, modern rack-and-pinion steering systems boast lower mass, fewer moving parts, greater durability, and more precision compared to their worm gear-based forbears. Despite what the elitist mainstream car rags would have you believe, however, the average driver would be hard-pressed to discern much of a difference in steering feel and response between a healthy recirculating ball steering system and a rack-and-pinion unit. That might explain why recirculating ball steering boxes survived in several high-end German sports sedans well past the turn of the millennium. Furthermore, the rise of rack-and-pinion systems in the '80s had less to do with enhancing performance, and more to do with the improved packaging they offered in tight front-wheel-drive chassis of the era.
Nonetheless, there's a big difference between a modern recirculating ball setup, and one that's been rotting away for the last 40 years. Although our '65 Olds Cutlass project car has been fitted with a Detroit Speed and Engineering suspension, Baer brakes, and fat R-compound Nitto rubber, all that impressive hardware is useless if the car doesn't want to go where you point it. To ensure that Project Olds clips through the autocross pylons instead of plowing over them, we decided to install a new DSE 600 Series steering box. Unlike the factory GM 800 Series box and its lethargic 20:1 ratio, the DSE unit features a quick 12.7:1 ratio, low-friction gears, and rack-and-pinion valve technology for vastly improved steering response and feel. Plus, the DSE box is 6 pounds lighter to boot. Although it was included as part of the DSE front suspension kit that we installed in the February 2010 issue, the 600 Series unit can be purchased separately for $495.
Equally as important as upgrading the steering box itself is rehabilitating the rest of the steering system. A recirculating ball arrangement relies on a series of linkages and rods to convert output from the steering box into changes in steering angle. Any free-play or distortion in those links or rods leads to sloppy steering and compromised directional stability. Consequently, the beat-up factory pitman arm, idler arm, drag link, and inner and outer tie rods were all replaced with fresh hardware. Furthermore, we installed a fluid cooler to extend the longevity of the power steering pump. Brent Jarvis of Performance Restorations graciously volunteered his services once again for the install. The complete setup bolted right up in one afternoon, and at the end of the day, Project Olds finally had a proper guidance system that would enable it to fully wring every last micro-g out of its cutting-edge chassis.