Steering Rack Rebuild
For First Generation Z Cars

Contributed By: John Downing, IZCC #4156

The steering on my '78 280Z had gotten a bit sloppy, so I replaced the outer tie rod ends (OTRE). That helped some, but I then installed new inner tie rod ends (ITRE). This also gave some improvement, but there was still a little play. Also, I was using up Moog and TRW ITRE's at the rate of about 1 every 6 months - what a pain.

A knowledgeable listee suggested that I bite the bullet and get a new rack. Best price was about $850 (I forget exactly - it was beyond reality), so I got a rebuilt rack from a national auto parts wholesaler, the inexpensive kind. This part cost $250, plus core. When I put it on, it was worse than the one I took off. Gimmee my money back.

The local Nissan parts dude, into Z's and very knowledgeable (I know lots of smart people) suggested a rack rebuild kit. Got it shipped in overnight prepping for a track event, about $60. Here's the process.

I was a little misleading - there is not a "kit", but rather a group of parts you may need. In order of importance (on mine, anyway):

Rack end bushings
Pinion adjustment bushing
Input shaft bearing
Grease seal

All of this assumes new/excellent tie rod ends (inner and outer) and lots of grease on every surface in the rack assembly. The key is taking your time in honing the end bushings - as soon as the rack can be inserted into the new bushing, STOP HONING! Most of the wear on the rack itself will be just inside the point of resistance (the fat end of the rack, right by the threads for the inner TRE). Also, it seemed to work well to lubricate the hone with light oil (3 in 1, WD 40).

1) Remove the old rack. I won't bore you with the details, but do 2 things: a) set your steering at center and note the position of the bolt that locks into the spline, and b) remove the front sway bar - makes exit and entry of the rack a breeze. Also, be safe and use jack stands - we want to hear how it ended.

2) Disaasemble the rack according to the instructions in your Haynes manual. Again, note the rack/pinion/bolt alignment, and the location of the pinion on the rack (count teeth as they go by through the pinion opening or the adjustment opening).

3) Clean all of the parts and slide the rack back in. Check for lateral play in the end bushings. If the rack rattles around in the hole, you need new bushings.

4) Extract the old bushings with a bearing/gear puller. There is a small lip on the inside of the bushing.

5) (Optional) We managed to scar the mounting surface of the rack housing while pulling the bushing. We did a quick re-surface with a brake cylinder honing tool so the new bushing would be snug and comfy.

6) Tap the new bushing into place. Easier than it may sound - the bushing has a cut in it, so it WILL go in without a ton of force.

7) Take the appropriate end of the rack and try to insert into the new bushing. It probably won't fit. After all, they don't know how much wear is on your rack, so they machine the piece for a worst case scenario.

8) Take a drill and a brake cylinder hone and start honing the inside of the bushing. Check the fit often, because the very end of the rack is larger than most of the shaft (no wise cracks) so when you get past that point, it should slide easily all the way through, unless you haveput a new bushing in the other end already (not recommended). We only did one end, so I would do them one at a time. That way, you can check the amount of play by inserting the rack all the way into the housing.

9) Reassemble the rack, using synthetic grease LIBERALLY on the bushings, the rack, the pinion, the adjustment bushing, the bearings, ITRE's, EVERYTHING.

10) Reinstall the rack, making sure that the steering wheel and spline bolt are back in their original position. Also, go slow enough that you don't forget things like bellows and lock nuts unless you want to do it twice.

11) Get an alignment within the first 50 miles of driving. If you got off on the rack/pinion/bolt position, your wheel won't be straight when the steering gear is. Don't fret - pull the steering wheel (Haynes manual again) and position straight.

On mine, this operation took about 4 hours. The results are beyond expectations. There is ZERO play in the steering (new inner and outer TRE's, also) and the car tracks beautifully with a fresh alignment.

Questions? Post me .

"John Downing" {}