C3 Corvette Tilt-Telescopic Steering Column Repair
Article by Mark Trotta
As you turn the ignition key forward in your C3 Corvette, there is a small plastic gear inside the steering column that gets turned by the lock cylinder. This gear engages the ignition switch actuator rack (shown below). The rack engages a rod that extends down under the dash to the ignition switch, enabling the car to start.
New actuator rack on top, broken actuator rack pieces on bottom.
After 25 years since it left the Bowling Green factory, the actuator rack in my 1982 Corvette broke into three pieces inside the steering column, leaving the ignition key switch inoperable.
Only after removing the steering wheel, did I realize how long this repair would take!
The total process of removing the parts, replacing the actuator rack, and re-installing the parts is about a 30-step procedure. Steering column removal was not necessary, but I did remove the driver's seat.
Note: disconnect the battery ground cable.
Tools and Supplies Needed
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Needle-nose Pliers
- Steering Wheel Lock Remover
- Pivot Pin Removal Tool
- Time and Patience
Steering Wheel Removal
There are several styles of steering wheels found in C3 Corvettes. Some 1978 to 1982 steering wheels have six Allen bolts holding them in place.
Gently pry off the horn button and remove the horn contact.
Unscrew the three bolts holding the horn ring.
Your horn contact retainer may look like the one pictured above. This Corvette had an aftermarket Zora Arkus Duntov wheel.
Remove the snap ring and unscrew the steering wheel retaining nut. The turn signal switch, ignition key warning buzzer switch, lock cylinder, ignition switch housing, and the column support bracket all need to be removed.
Before I began this repair, I unbolted the drivers seat from underneath the car (four bolts) and removed it. This allowed much more working space.
Removing The Steering Lock Cylinder
With the lock in the "Run" position, remove the lock plate and key buzzer. Remove the screw holding in the cylinder and remove it.
CAUTION: Do not drop screw into steering column!
There's two housing pivot pins (left and right) that require an inexpensive specialty tool. I bought mine from Ecklers (#53386). It works for all 1969 through 1982 models.
The photo below shows the tool needed to remove the pins.
Only after removing the turn signal switch, ignition key warning buzzer switch, lock cylinder, ignition switch housing, and the column support bracket out of the tilt-telescopic steering column,that I finally saw the small, geared die-cast rack.
This ignition switch actuator rack is offered by most aftermarket Corvette suppliers. It fits 1969 to 1996 models. After fishing out the three broken pieces, I installed the new one.
Steering Column Reassembly
Once the new actuator rack was installed, it was time for reassembly.
To re-install the steering lock cylinder, rotate the key clockwise to the stop and align the key on the cylinder with the keyway in the housing. Push the lock in as far as it will go, then install the screw and tighten.
After attaching the turn signal switch housing to the bearing housing with three screws, attach the spring clip to the key warning buzzer and insert the assembly into the turn signal housing. I intentionally left the factory ignition key warning buzzer out.
Turn Signal Switch Replacement
If yours is still original, it's a good idea to replace the turn signal switch while it's accessible. I was able to pull the switch through the lower column by taping up the wires. The wires can then be "fished" down through the column. The turn signal switch is held down with three screws.
It appears that all GM column-mounted dimmer switches have either three or four electrical contact blades. This 1982 Corvette used three blades. (The fourth blade is for flash-to-pass). The C3 wiring harness will connect to either one.
Once the turn signal switch was reinstalled, the lock cylinder, ignition switch housing, column support bracket, and steering wheel can be re-installed. I took my time and did this project in five sessions, about 10 hours in all.
Read: 1982 Corvette Restoration
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