We spend a great deal of time focusing on the multitude of ways to improve the suspension and chassis on vintage cars since it's by far the best way to increase the overall performance and driving enjoyment, but there's a symbiotic system that also needs attention on any car to truly get modern handling characteristics: the steering.
Almost all cars prior to the mid 1970s used a recirculating ball-type gearbox. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with that method (it's still used on trucks and SUVs today because of its inherent strength), the problem is that they are often equipped with slow ratios. Couple that with the larger diameter steering wheels typical of the day and you get steering response that's relatively lethargic. That may be acceptable on mediocre stock suspension with skinny stock 14- or 15-inch tires since it helped keep drivers within the car's limitations, but it quickly becomes a major blockade to spirited driving once you've begun updating your car.
In some cases that problem is only amplified by stock power steering systems that are overboosted or just offer vague feedback for the driver. We can attest that 1960s Fords fall into that category; plenty of assist for slow motion moving, but too much for high-speed maneuvering and less than ideal feedback. That's partially because of the hydraulic ram-style system used that essentially links to the manual linkage and provides push and pull. It's a strong type of system; 4x4 guys with huge off-road tires convert to something similar all the time for its mechanical advantage. But those guys don't need the sensitivity and feel that we prefer for performance driving. It's one of the reasons you'll see most FoMoCo muscle on the track reverting to manual steering.
We'd been pondering the situation for our 1968 Mustang ever since we were underneath it installing the Hooker Headers for the "10 Bolt-Ons to Glory" story in the June 2013 issue. Drips and crusted grime told us the original hydraulic ram system wasn't in great shape, and then the growling power steering pump burned up during the dyno test. On top of that, we knew the linkage itself was getting a little sloppy. So we were faced with the same situation every vintage Mustang lover finds himself in: stick with stock, or go for the gold and do a modern performance steering upgrade.
Luckily, the aftermarket has been kind to Mustangs and there are a plethora of options. Like our suspensions, we're pretty particular about our steering upgrades, so we did our homework and decided that a full power rack-and-pinion conversion from Unisteer was an ideal solution. The kit provides a modern, more efficient pump, a rack with a stronger-than-stock integrated frame crossmember, new tie rods, and an upgraded steering shaft to replace the aged stock stuff. All that, plus the precision of a rack. While it sounds like a big job, the Unisteer swap is surprisingly simple and something most hot rodders can handle easily in their garage.