Saturday, April 23, 2011

polishing up my column

The story of this project so far has been one of chunks. Obviously the first was stripping the car down to its shell, cleaning and storing parts as I went along. The next chunk was scrapping all the accumulated crud off of the underside and then painting it with epoxy primer. The main reason for doing this bit upfront was the amount of mess it created - I had also heard from tons of folks that this is easily the worst bit of the restoration, and I liked the idea that afterwards it would be downhill.

I then moved on to the inside of the trunk, which was very similar except that I was leaning forward rather than lying on my back; I finished painting primer inside the trunk back in November. After that I refurbed an eight inch rear axle, and fitted a new suspension which is one inch lower than stock. The next chunk was a major one: the passenger compartment and doors, which has taken several months from the beginning, when I took out the seat platforms and lowered them.

What next? Well it should really be the engine compartment, the fenders, the firewall and the portion of the underside at the front of the transmission tunnel - when this lot is ground down and painted with epoxy I'll really be getting somewhere. The thing is though, that the next portion of this work will have to take place in a new garage - I am moving house soon - so for now I need to get the steering column back in the car and put back whatever else makes sense so that I can move the car with the least amount of fuss.

I could have just bolted the column back in - I've done it before after all - but I really wanted to refurbish the column this time, so that's the route I took. I started with the clutch pedal support - this is basically a metal structure that supports not just the clutch and brake pedals, but the steering column too. Apart from being covered in rust, one of the clutch pedal bearings is missing - it had actually worn into an oval shape over the years and dropped out back when I removed the pedals. You can get repair kits that fix this issue, but I decided to take the opportunity to upgrade to a roller bearing supported clutch instead - hopefully one day I will be able to write in this blog about how much better it is!

I started off by chopping out the remaining original bearing with a cut off wheel, and then I gave the support housing a good going over with Metal Ready.

After rinsing with water and drying with compressed air and a heat gun, the housing was ready for two coats of POR15. (The second coat must be applied within 3-5 hours after the first coat to achieve best results).

I used the Scott Drake roller bearing kit from NPD which supplies everything you need including replacement plastic bushings - it's a good idea to buy an extra pair of bushings for the brake pedal at the same time.

Installation was very easy once I filed the excess POR15 out of the openings in the support housing. I also installed a new rubber bumper for the clutch pedal.

On to the steering column. Outwardly my collapsible column is in reasonably good condition with just a little bit of surface rust at the lower end and some scratches in the painted finish.

The real rust was hiding inside the column:

I did my best to remove loose rust from inside the tube by sliding a wire brush up and down - I tied pieces of cord to each end of the brush to make this easier. I also ground the lower end of the column down to the metal with a wire wheel on the drill.

Next I taped up all the openings in the sleeve, and let go with a rattle can of Zero Rust.

I was actually rather surprised how well this worked out - I got very good coverage on the inside of the column with the aerosol:

I did the same with the inner sleeve.

After the Zero Rust was dry I sprayed the inner sleeve with a two light coats of Eastwood's chrome paint - I thought this would be a good time to experiment with this paint as the inner sleeve will never be seen; I'm also planning to use the chrome paint on the taillight buckets. The paint was actually really thick and it was very easy to get too much on the sleeve - I had to sand off a ton of excess after the first attempt and then redo it. I think this paint actually does look really good - it's not going to fool anyone into thinking something is real chrome, but it has a very similar look; it just needs to be applied with the can at least 14 inches from whatever is being painted. The outer sleeve got two coats of dark red interior lacquer, NPD part# AP-5792R. At first this paint looks like cherry red, but after drying it is a very close match to the other interior parts I took off the just looks more sparkly and new. Yay!

The other steering column and interior parts that will also be this color were sanded with 220 and then 400 grit paper to give a good base for the top coat - I didn't use any primer on these items.

After sanding I wiped down with acetone and applied several light coats of paint with the rattle can.

The choice between Zero Rust and POR15 is a matter of much debate. My own view is that POR15 is much more trouble to apply, and does have a tendency to peel off, but can also look good on certain parts, like the rear axle housing. I also like to use it for some hidden parts that should be black, and on heavily rusted metal. In any other situation though, I'm a Zero Rust guy. The steering shaft fell into the former category, although I only painted the lower portion.

The column-to-firewall brackets and the door hinge retaining plates were very rusty, so they got a good going over with the wire wheel before the POR15 went on. I also did the supporting brackets for the rear valance at the same time.

Hardware for the steering column, valance brackets and door hinges was cleaned up with (variously) Eastwood rust remover, Marine Clean and Eastwood pre-painting prep, and zinc plated using the kit I bought from Eastwood. I don't think the quality of the plating is really good enough for hardware that will be on display - for example under the hood - but it is adequate for these items. It's likely that media blasting the bolts before the plating would lead to a better result, but as I don't have access to a blasting cabinet at the moment, testing that theory is going to have to wait.

I also cleaned up the plastic parts which clip inside the outer and inner sleeves - these parts are not reproduced as far as I know, so I was fortunate that they were in good condition after I removed the grease and grime.


  1. Nice! Now I know what I'm looking forward to on my steering column. BTW...did you spray or brush the POR 15? However you did it, it looks great.

  2. Thanks Dennis - I always apply POR15 with a foam brush, which cuts down on any brush marks...I've heard of folks spraying it, but never tried it myself; I think it would need a lot of thinning down first.