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Technical Decisions, decisions... help wih my 55 Pontiac

Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by tabby wagon, Apr 2, 2015.

  1. tabby wagon
    Joined: Apr 2, 2015
    Posts: 3

    tabby wagon
    Member
    from Florida

    Im looking for some basic advice for my 1955 Pontiac Chieftain wagon. 1st of all... Im a girl. Secondly... I bought a pontiac! Im trying to learn all I can, and have, but I certainly now understand what my husband meant when he kept telling me to buy a chevy. The wagon is in good condition and I want this to be a daily driver. I'm not unhappy with the way the original car handles. It is after all, a 1955, but I have spent untold hours researching brake and steering/suspension upgrades. There is a lot of conflicting opinions. Finally ordered and installed scarebird conversion. Still have the original mc with a proportioning valve. Am looking to add dual mc and power boost. A lot of guys recommend at least a 9" dual boost, saying anything smaller is not very effective. Ive also noticed that the corvette mc seems to work well because of the ports on either side. Am I missing anything? Do I really need the power boost or just an upgrade on the mc?

    Some of the suspension has been updated. I ordered an new idler arm and drag link kit. Basically want to replace anything that could affect handling, but Im stuck on the power steering. My manual steering box is leaking and needs replaced. Ive read where the 605 is a bolt on replacement minus the mods to steering column. Then I read where the 605 is a piece of junk and I should go to the 500. Somebody please help me out. Is it worth swapping to power or should I do a full rebuild on original and be happy?

    I have an old school mechanic. Knows all about vintage but is a strict Chevy guy. He doesn't seem real enthused about doing the leg work for Pontiac. Besides, Im trying to learn all I can about the car. I was hoping to feel confidant enough to just order the parts and say here you go. I would appreciate any feedback. Getting really frustrated.
     
    philedealer likes this.
  2. Torchie
    Joined: Apr 17, 2011
    Posts: 1,070

    Torchie
    Member

    Good for you. My daughters everyday used to be a 60 Chevy that she and I did as a Father/Daughter project.
    Her car had Manual steering as well as brakes and she had no problem driving it..
    If the box is just leaking you can pump John Deere corn heads grease into it. Has been done by many and works just fine. Not as likely to leak as gear oil. If it is shot. Look into a rebuild kit. I believe that Kantner carries them. If your mechanic is truly "Old School" they will have no problems with it. You have to remember that back in 55 most parts on a car were designed to be rebuilt. water pumps. Starters. Generators. Ect. Not like today.
    As far as the power boost to your brake go. To me that is a personal decision. Some claim that they are safer but they still don't increase your reaction time.
    Just my 2 cents....
    Good luck. Have fun and be safe.
    Torchie
     
    jocktherock likes this.
  3. When I was a kid, my dad sold off our early 50s Pontiacs and bought a 55 Pontiac. My mom was thrilled at how easy it steered compared to the older Pontiacs. I've had 11, 55-57 Pontiacs...all with manual steering and brakes and have found them easy to drive.
    I'd say unless you've a handicap, you should be strong enough to steer and brake a 55 Pontiac with ease as long as the parts are not worn. A rebuild of the original steering box and a good grease job on the front end should get you comfortably and safely on the road again.
    As far as brakes. Welp, 55 Pontiac brakes are a bit small for modern speeds on the interstates in my opinion. They just weren't that good whether manual or power assisted but if you'll be keeping the car off the 75 MPH freeways, they should work just fine with minimal pedal effort. I hesitate to recommend a power booster from another car or the aftermarket because 55-57 Pontiacs used the master cylinder under the toe boards. Very little room under there to mount a booster. If you try to mount a new pedal assembly and master cylinder on the firewall [ala 55-57 chev] you run into problems with the defroster core and ducting in the way...you really don't want to remove the defrosters if you live north of the Mason-Dixon line. I did have a 55 wagon with a late model pedal/mastercylinder and no defrosters...was ok as I only drove in the summer months with it..
    I've just kept the original brakes in good repair and keep off the super speedway roads although I did have the brakes fade to almost nothing with a 56 cheiftain hardtop one afternoon...learned to not ride the brakes coming down a steep, long, rutted mountain road in Oregon.
    My old 55 wagon. 55WAGON.jpg
     
  4. PS.......Gerry Burger wrote an article on how he mounted a 605 box in his 55 chieftain in Rodders Digest. The publication is now defunct but maybe a google search would find it??? I dunno
     

  5. tabby wagon
    Joined: Apr 2, 2015
    Posts: 3

    tabby wagon
    Member
    from Florida

    Torchie and Rocky,
    I really appreciate the feedback. Had lots of older cars but most belonged to my husband and unless it was a 70's ford pick up I used for work, when I open a hood on a late model car, I cant tell a thing! Thats my story. Had a $50,000 buick only to have rear brakes go out at 25,000 miles! I drove it 3000- 4000 miles a year and paid a big chunk for car payment and ins. I just got fed up, put it on auto trader, started looking for a wagon and bought one within a month. I adore this car. Not show worthy, but certainly smile worthy. I really dont have a problem with manual but I wouldnt mind going on shorter trips and dont like the bump-steer looseness I have right now, so I know rebuild is in order. Got room for mc and boost because aftermarket vintage air is installed and heater core gone. I think it might be worth doing but as far as steering, I want it safe. My old school mechanic does know an enormous amount. He is the one trying to talk me into original. My husband, on the other hand, is not. He insists it drive like his chevy SSR. Im kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Wish my Dad were still here :)

    Anyway, I might just stick with what Ive got. Get some rebuild kits and go from there.
    Rocky, Thanks for the wagon pic. Sweet little ride. My husbands tag line... I have the last two words in my house... Yes Ma'am!
     
  6. Nothing wrong with a 605 box, it still won't be a Honda but there is nothing wrong with it and I don't think that it is a bolt in, close but no cigar on that one I am pretty sure. That I am afraid is a Rocky question, he is really sharp with the mid '50s Ponchos.

    Power brakes no power brakes? How strong are your legs? As strong as a 60 year old crippled man? The Corvette master is probably a good choice but I don't know that I would choose the power brake option for myself. If it is what you want use the larger booster if you can, they just seem to work better.

    So I take it your husband is you wrench that isn't willing to help you. My wife was married to a jerk for a while but after we married (again) he had an accident and the world is a better place because of it.
     
  7. wvenfield
    Joined: Nov 23, 2006
    Posts: 5,316

    wvenfield
    Member

    If you want all of that the easiest thing to do is just clip it. Unless you are rebuilding the original you rarely just buy parts for a Pontiac. (the scarebird brakes being an exception)

    I never had a problem stopping my 56 Pontiac but then I didn't drive it like a new car either. A dual master cylinder is never a bad idea. You can buy ones that mount to the floor. You can buy power units that mount to the floor. You just have to be able to hook them up or have someone willing to.

    There aren't IMO any real good options for adding P/S. There were factory units but they are pretty rare. I've in passing noticed electric units but I have no idea how well they work or if they will work on your Pontiac.
     
  8. Wasn't the factory power steering actually power assist, a slave cylinder that attached to the tie rod?
     
  9. wvenfield
    Joined: Nov 23, 2006
    Posts: 5,316

    wvenfield
    Member

    Truthfully I dont know if I have even seen one. I suppose I could pull out the Motor's manual later and check.

    Either way, good luck finding one.
     
  10. Motors manual says factory power steering [1953-55] has hoses attached to steering gearbox.
    BTW, I remember Burger said one mounting bolt for a 605 box lined up with a factory Pontiac steering gear bolt hole. He had to drill and sleeve another hole and I believe he had to weld a tab on the frame rail for the third bolt...I think he was able to re-use the original 55 [non power] pitman arm which is cool because the 55 pontiacs used those ball and socket-style connectors on steering linkage....he didn't have to change any of that. I suppose you could use the factory 55 pontiac power steering pump and bracketry. I have some of the P.S. bracketry from a 59, 389 you could have but no promise it would interface with a 55 pump...sorry, I didn't save the 59 Pontiac pump...only the brackets and not sure I have every last piece. I'm sure the 59 pump mounted to the right side of the engine.
    I have the Rodder's Digest magazine with the 605 gearbox swap in my collection...
     
  11. tabby wagon
    Joined: Apr 2, 2015
    Posts: 3

    tabby wagon
    Member
    from Florida

    Rocky,
    Thank You for the offer of the 59 pump. Nice to know there are still guys like you in the world.

    I have the article for the 605. It looked fairly simple (bolt on and pitman arm retro fit) until he starting talking about welding a rag joint! I also talked to guy in New Mexico who had a rebuilt column and factory power steering. His feeling was the factory ps was not really that great and not worth the time and $. I know that the steering box is shot by the plethora of fluid on my driveway after filling it (not just a tiny leak). I have not seen a rebuild kit for it. Is this something I would have to send out or find a replacement for?

    The more I think about it I fell in love with the way this wagon drives. In fact it might be a good thing for me to slow down. If I go through the suspension and steering, and rebuild any part necessary, I should get a safe, reliable car. I never wanted it to be pristine. In fact I like not having to worry too much and just enjoy the ride.

    Again, thanks so much to every one who contributes to these forums. Dont know what I do without you.
     
  12. belair
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 8,715

    belair
    Member

    On Chevys of this vintage, you can use bearing (don't know if it's roller or ball) on idler arm or steering linkage somewhere, guys call it a poor man's power steering. If you will not run a wide tire on the front, it shouldn't be too hard to steer. That's what the big steering is for-leverage. Good luck with it. A rack and pinion set up is another option.
     
  13. Road Angels
    Joined: Mar 2, 2015
    Posts: 134

    Road Angels

    One thing not mentioned is keep the tire air pressure at the upper end it will make a big difference while getting out of parking spaces and slow speed stuff
     
  14. bryan6902
    Joined: May 5, 2008
    Posts: 1,137

    bryan6902
    Member

    I put a power brake booster and master cylinder on the firewall in my '57. Go back and look through my build thread and you should be able to see all the pictures of how I did it. I would think you could have your original steering box repaired/rebuilt, there really isn't too much to them. PM me if you can't find my build thread. The link used to be in my signature line but I don't spend much time here anymore....
     
  15. brad2v
    Joined: Jun 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,648

    brad2v
    Member

    jocktherock likes this.
  16. brad2v
    Joined: Jun 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,648

    brad2v
    Member

    Further to what I mentioned, the '57 my wife and I own is getting power discs and power steering. Luckily for us, it's a Canadian Poncho, so mechanically it's a '57 Chevy. Actually, as I'm learning, it's a lot closer to a '56 Chevy, but I digress. It's gonna be making around 400hp or so, and a summertime daily for both of us, and honestly, my wife is a fairly aggressive driver in a 6000 lb late model pickup with 4 wheel disc and ABS and 400hp, A 3800 car with the same power has to be able to stop. But I have probably 100 hours into setting the column shift up to work properly with the p/s conversion. And it was a "bolt-in" kit. Expect way more fab-work on the American Poncho, but it's plenty do-able. But I think I'd just put in a "poor-mans p/s" kit (the bearings in the idler arm) if I were to do it again.
     
  17. beater40
    Joined: Sep 19, 2006
    Posts: 79

    beater40
    Member

    on your brake questions, I think the 55 pontiac had a similar or same under floor master cylinder and pedal setup as a 55 chevy pickup and 59 gmc pickup, search out a kit for them to see if they might work out as a bolt in option, as for the 605, still a good steering box, maybe the 500 has been improved but I had a good run out of the 605 in my 55 chevy, you will have to alter the column or put in a later (tilt?)column with the rag joint already there, there are different lengths for different vehicles so check em out and you should find one to fit without modifying, best of luck
     
  18. flypa38
    Joined: May 3, 2005
    Posts: 530

    flypa38
    Member

    I drive my 56 at highway speeds at least twice a week and have no problems. At least since I replaced the master cylinder (original type, standard brakes). I drive highway speeds, but cautiously. Plan stops in advance by maintaining safe distance to things in front of you and it won't be a problem if it's all in good working order.
    For the steering, unless there's a ton of play that can't be adjusted out, I would be searching for seals and leave that steering box in there. Clearance is a big problem with adding power steering to 55-56 Pontiacs. The driver's side exhaust manifold exits from the front to add room but a member of the pontiac1950's yahoo group is trying to add factory power steering to his 55 right now and is having tons of trouble using factory parts, let alone modifying what's there. Different pitman arm and starter with the solenoid clocked differently for instance. Those parts are very rare.
    Unless there is a huge problem with what's there, it may not be worth the trouble.
    In case you haven't seen it, check out pontiacsafari.com for a free shop manual. Start by making all the adjustments and lubrication you can find in the manual and see if that helps. Especially the steering ones......all my stuff was out of adjustment and my car only has 55000 miles on it. Also the front shock mounts were loose where they bolted to the frame and the leaf spring liners in the rear deteriorated leaving the u-bolts not quite snug enough. That made things interesting on the road for sure.
    Finally, I mentioned pontiacsafari.com and the pontiac1950s yahoo group earlier. Both are HUGE resources for your car. My 56 Star Chief would not be on the road without them........not exaggerating! I urge any new 50s Pontiac owner to visit both very often!
    Hope this helps!
    Johnny
     
  19. kosnmotion
    Joined: Nov 25, 2007
    Posts: 25

    kosnmotion
    Member
    from Phoenix

    Hey guys I'm in the process of buying a 56' 2 dr Chieftan wagon and noticed the one above was lowered and was just wondering if you cut the springs or went another route. I had a 55 Buick and installed Jamco Springs and shocks and it drove like a dream. I'm looking for the same results but didn't see anything on their site for Pontiacs. Also I keep reading that a lot of tri-five stuff is interchangeable. I can see the glass can be but are all of the chassis and frames the same? Who sells Pontiac upgrades??? My first Poncho. Thanks in advance
     
  20. flypa38
    Joined: May 3, 2005
    Posts: 530

    flypa38
    Member

    If you're asking about tri five Chevy interchange with Pontiac it's few and far between. Doors, glass, some weatherstripping.........tthat's about it unless you count oil gas and tires!
    There is still quite a bit available though. Some stuff is reproduced and used stuff is out there.
     
  21. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,578

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    Suggest you have a good front end man go over your suspension and steering, repairing and replacing parts as necessary. Especially any rubber bushings, they get overlooked but are surely toast by now.

    Also shock absorbers. Get a good set of Gabriel, Monroe, or other name brand shocks. You don't need any special or heavy duty, just good shocks they are only about $100 for all 4 and will transform the car. Stock shocks are only good for about 25,000 miles.

    With everything in good shape, aligned properly, and bias ply tires or radials pumped up to 32 PSI you will have no trouble steering. I know guys who were contemplating power steering, or a front clip job, they followed this recipe and it took away all desire for changes plus saved a lot of work and $$$$ bucks.
     
  22. flypa38
    Joined: May 3, 2005
    Posts: 530

    flypa38
    Member

    There's a guy now on the yahoo group doing the power steering conversion using all factory parts. He's a good mechanic and had to take it to a shop. He's paying big money and having tons of issues. My 56 has power nothing and I have no problems. Parking lots take a little effort with steering but not too bad.
    Brakes though.....make sure you really go through them thoroughly. Single reservoir master and it doesn't like to stop without brakes! I know this from experience. So make sure your e- brake is working too. Any leak means no brakes at all!
     
  23. as some one already mentioned a firebird front subframe welded to your frame would work easily. you get disk brakes and power steering. When the original engine & trans gives up the ghost any GM engine & tranny will fit .
     
  24. raidmagic
    Joined: Dec 10, 2007
    Posts: 1,438

    raidmagic
    Member

    Looks like your tech questions are being answered so I'd just like to ask for pics of the car. I love
    those old wagons.
     
  25. pigmechanic
    Joined: Sep 8, 2008
    Posts: 7

    pigmechanic
    Member
    from boston

    Hi Tabby, I installed the 605 conversion to my stock 55. I sourced a crank pully and pump set up for a 55. I had a hydraulic shop modify monte carlo lines from the box to the original power steering pump. I dont have a ton of miles on it, but it does work well. I still have more work with securing the steering column.I used an Early Scarebird conversion for the front brakes. I have a number of different master cylinder options I am working on now to get rid of the single master. Hopefully I will get it sorted out this summer. I will post pictures soon. Good luck with the project and post what you come up with-Jimmy R
     
  26. I noticed that you mentioned having some bump steer problems. Is there an excessive amount of play in the steering wheel? Does the front end make any loud noises when turning the wheel;especially at low speed?
    A lot of the time the excess play can be cured by either adjusting or if they are worn excessively replacing the concave cups that hold the idler arm onto the track rod. As they wear they can be adjusted fairly easily.Also I would make sure that the front wheel bearings are in good shape and properly adjusted.
    If you are getting any noises when turning check the bolts that hold the lower control arms to the crossmember. Mine loosened up enough that you could almost get a pinky finger in between the arm and the crossmember! I took them out one at a time and applied a liberal amount of Loc-Tite befroe re-installing them.
    I have driven my 55 over 180,000 miles with the manual brakes and as long as they are periodically adjusted have had no problems whatsoever. I have had to panic stop a couple times and they have yet to fail.What I like about them is it is fairly easy to modulate braking pressure if they lock up which is nigh impossible to do with power brakes.
    I still have manual(leaky)steering and with the stock large diameter wheel(and a necker knob for assist),properly inflated tires and moving forward or backward slowly before turning the wheel helps steering immensely.
     
  27. Doccruz1
    Joined: Jul 23, 2015
    Posts: 1

    Doccruz1

    I have a question some of you might know, 1955 Pontiac Chieftain manual steering. Will a 1955 Star Chief power steering setup work in my Chieftain?
     

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