1979 Holden Kingswood power steering - Our Shed

By: Guy Allen

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After forty-two years on the road the family pet gets a power tiller

Mick – our resident mechanical guru – was visuallising what happened back in 1979 when the first owner of the mighty Kingswood strolled into the showroom and slapped down the hard-earned desposit. "They indulged themselves by ordering the 253 V8, but that was it – no power steering and certainly no air-conditioning. Didn’t need those things. The power steer would have cost $200 extra."

He’s right, and when partner in crime Ms M Snr and I slapped down a deposit on it, just three years later in a used car lot, it still seemed like a perfectly resonable proposition.


However none of us has got any younger and, while I’m big and ugly enough to wrestle the monster into a reverse parking spot, the somewhat more petite Ms M is working a whole lot harder.

And, over the years, we’ve been spoiled. In our mini fleet of liabilities, this was the stand-out as the only car with no power tiller. It was time to bite the bullet and do something about it.


Pump at left, pulley and steering box right

The last time I looked at this was probably a couple of decades ago, when the cost was $1500. At the time, it was more than we were prepared to spend, particularly with things like mortgages taking priority.

When I asked Mick this time the answer was, "Around $2200 (it was acutally a touch less), I’ll start chasing the parts this afternoon." Notice the affirmative approach? He was right – we were long overdue to do this and making the car just that little more driveable would be no bad thing.


Mick assures us this is a job that can be tackled at home, so long as you’re methodical – there are no great mysteries to it. Keep an eye out on Trade Unique Cars online for the video on this installation.

According to Mick, "The single hardest part about this is finding the Holden power steering set-up, because everyone has decided – 40 years later – to do this." The units are getting more expsensive, but they’re around.


Mick tracked down a more-or-less complete set-up, including the power steering pump and the appropriate steering box, which is very different to the manual unit. Of course you also need to switch over the single-row fanbelt pulley on the harmonic balancer to the triple-row (fanbelt, power steering, air).

Weirdly, the pulley was a bit of a challenge. The aftermarket firm that used to make them no longer does, and they’re thin on the ground at recyclers. However a pulley from a VN/VP/VS 5.0lt V8 is readily available and fits.


The good news is you can switch pulleys without having to pull out radiators or anything else major – there is more than enough room.

Tip number one: "Send the set-up away to be resealed. There’s about a 50 per cent chance it won’t leak when you first fit it, but a 100 per cent chance it will further down the road," says Mick. "For a few hundred dollars you’ll have fresh seals and hoses and it should last another 40 years."


New box going in

The hoses by the way need to be the right material. Fuel hose doesn’t cut it and will get eaten away by the fluid.

Next tip: Have the steering on the car centred before you pull it apart, then centre the new steering box – or get it as close as you can. You’ll still have some adjustments and some fiddling to do at the end, but that’s pretty easy on these old Holdens.


Checking the alignment of the pulleys for teh power steering pump

Because you’re working with OEM gear, there are no great mysteries to mounting up the replacement steering box and pump. It’s the fine-tuning that takes time.

There’s a good chance your ‘new’ steering box comes with original rubber coupling. "Unless it’s absolutely soaked in oil and shagged, hang on to it," says Mick. "The old originals are better than the later aftermarket replacements."


With a bit of luck your pump came with its mounting bolts and spacers. Ours didn’t, so Mick made up a set of spacers from a length of old steam pipe that he gave a quick spray of black paint to tidy up the appearance. What you want to end up with is alignment that gives the belt a nice straight run.

There are a few ways you can apply pressure to tension the belt, but the big no-no is applying a lever to the body of the reservoir. It’s more delicate than it looks and dents easily.


With the pump and steering box set up, we start to fll up the reservoir with auto transmission or power steering fluid, or Dextron 3 – call it what you will. What we want to do is bleed or ‘burp’ the system. You need to disable the engine – unhitch the coil lead – and turn it over on the starter. If you forget and start it, the oil will aerate, which is no great tragedy, but you’ll probably need to leave it overnight to settle.

With the engine disabled (and the front wheels off the ground), you turn it over on the starter while winding the steering from lock to lock a couple of times. Then switch off, refill, and try it again with the engine running. You might get some noise on full lock, but that’s normal until it’s properly filled.


Now is a good time to check for leaks, particularly on the high-pressure hose.

About now you’ll be wanting to get that steering wheel aligned, as it will almost certainly be off. The simplest method is very brief roll to establish centre and then move the wheel. Repeat until you get it right. You might consider shouting it a wheel alignment.


Mick reckons it pays to keep an eye on the fluid for a while as the system settles in.

And the result? A huge difference. A pleasant surprise is that it’s not super-vague – there is some feel there. The steering ratio is much quicker, with something like a whole turn less lock-to-lock, which takes a little getting used to. Once you do, the car is a much easier proposition to drive. Ms M should have no dramas reverse-parking it now. Mission accomplished.


From Unique Cars #453, May 2021



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