Jim Smart
July 1, 2000

Step By Step

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This is what makes a collapsible steering column safer. The crush zone, wrapped in plastic, is designed to collapse during a collision when the driver’s body collides with the steering wheel and column. A tube and steering shaft inside collapse as well, taking the blow instead of the body.
We sourced our ’68 Mustang/Cougar steering column from Memory Lane Auto Salvage. Between what we have here and donor parts from the ’67 Mustang column, we will have the perfect combination of safety and a factory-original appearance. To prepare for installation, remove the steering wheel from the collapsible column. A sharp whack with a hammer (with the nut screwed on to protect the threads) usually will drive the shaft out of the steering wheel.
Remove the old turn-signal switch by cutting the harness just short of the plug.
Remove the three screws that retain the turn signal switch, and remove the switch.
If you’re going with a ’65-’67 top collar, you’ll need to remove the ’68-’69 collar from the collapsible column, which attaches differently. Remove the rubber body plug from the 6 o’clock position, which reveals a bolt that secures the collar to the inner tube.
Two nuts secure the collar to the steering column, and two screws secure the two halves of the collar.
A snap ring retains the steering shaft and bearing. The ’68-’69 column has a different bearing than the ’65-’67. However, you can use the later-style bearing with the earlier collar.
Slide the collapsible steering shaft out through the bottom of the column.
Remove the retainer that secures the steering column to the firewall. You’ll need new rubber seals when installing the column.
Where the collapsible steering column retrofit becomes challenging is the top collar. The ’68-’69 collar has a larger diameter than the ’65-’67. If this doesn’t matter to you, retain the ’68-’69 collar and install the column as is. If an original appearance is important, you’re going to have to modify the ’68-’69 column to accept the ’65-’67 collar. The arrows indicate the difference in retaining-bolt positions as viewed by the driver.
Modifying the top of the column is easy. Fit the ’65-’67 collar on the ’68-’69 column and observe the locations of the bolt provisions. Mark the locations.
Then simply drill new slots.
With one of the slots, you get half a slot (A), but it works fine. The other slot (B) is positioned next to the original location.
Once drilled and dressed with a rat-tail file, the collar retaining bolts fit perfectly (arrow).
We sanded and primed the ’68-’69 column and ’67 collar with a self-etching black primer, which won’t show paint chips should anything nick the satin black Pro Products’ Pro Color from Mustangs Etc. Lay down smooth, light coats and allow each to dry before applying the next.
The ’68-’68 column takes this plastic sleeve, which secures the inner tube.
Slip the inner tube inside the column. Rope caulk around the outer circumference provides a tight seal down under.
Slip the lower half of the ’65-’67 collar onto the column. Be sure to protect the fresh paint.
Because the ’67 collar differs from the ’68-’69 collar, some adjustments are needed. You will need five flat washers to act as shims between the column and the inner tube. You will also need a longer bolt than Ford used originally. One-inch outer diameter flat washers must be used inside and outside of the column due to the size of the hole.
Slip the collapsible steering shaft into the inner tube and column. Make sure the steering shaft is fully extended.
The ’68-’69 steering shaft support bearing can be used in the ’65-’67 collar. Use the rubber grommet around the bearing, and clean and pack the bearing with chassis grease for best results.
Install the C-clip to keep the shaft in place.
Slip the turn-signal switch into place in the collar and feed the wires through the lower half as shown. Take care not to damage the wires.
Join the two halves of the collar and tighten the screws.
Before seating the turn-signal switch, don’t forget the emergency-flasher switch escutcheon (’67 only).
Tighten the turn-signal switch screws and check clearances between the switch and steering shaft. Make sure the canceling feature rotates freely.
Where ’68-’69 differs from ’65-’67 is this wire channel. Route the wires carefully and install this channel to cover them.
The use of this spring is debatable, but it firms up the steering shaft when the steering wheel is installed.
We opted for a Grant steering wheel with the Mustang horn button feature. This steering wheel looks a lot better than a stocker and feels good to hold. Plus, it sports a classic restomod look.
Where this conversion becomes challenging is getting the steering wheel cup to fit the converted column. The 1/2-inch wide cup leaves a 3/8-inch gap between the steering wheel and collar, revealing the internals. The 1-inch-wide cup touches the collar. Solution? Visit your favorite machine shop and have them mill 1/4-inch off the Grant hub (watch the wires!). Then use the 1/2-inch cup.

Automobile safety was a learning curve during the ’60s, much as it still is today. One of the first safety features to come down the pike after seatbelts and padded dashboards was the collapsible steering wheel and column for ’68-and-later Fords. If you’re at all familiar with pre-’68 Fords, you know they had a solid steering-wheel shaft all the way down to the steering gear. In a crash, it doesn’t give.

Thankfully, it’s possible to retrofit a used ’68-’69 Ford/Mercury collapsible steering column into a pre-’68 Mustang, Cougar, Falcon, Fairlane, or Comet. There are two ways to do it. If original appearance is important, you can modify the column to work with the pre-’68 top collar that houses the turn-signal switch. If originality doesn’t matter, you can transplant the entire ’68-’69 column into an older Ford.

The collapsible steering column consists of a collapsible steering wheel, a steering shaft, an inner tube, and a column. Three-quarters of the way down the column there is a plastic-wrapped, perforated section that collapses in a collision when the driver’s body contacts the steering wheel. The column, inner tube, and steering shaft collapse, taking the impact instead of the driver. The steering differs because there isn’t the solid shaft used from ’67 and earlier, with a rag-joint coupling the steering shaft with the steering gear.

To convert to a collapsible steering column, you will need a short-shaft steering gear, which we obtained new from Flaming River Industries. Memory Lane Auto Salvage in Sun Valley, California, outfitted us with a used ’68 Mustang collapsible steering column for our ’67 Mustang.