Steering It Straight In A ’56 Chevy Bel Air With Flaming River

flamingriverleadartOne of the greatest things about starting a project from scratch is that you get to make the call about every single component that goes into making the car whole. Such is the case with this custom ‘56 Chevy build – this shoebox is being built from the ground up with some of the best parts that the industry has to offer. We recently got to work putting a steering column in the car and we wanted to do something special to upgrade the interior.

Flaming River Column Install

Tilt column PN FR20005SS

Cascade steering wheel PN FR20160

Steering wheel adapter PN FR20160AD

Accordingly, we got on the line with the folks at Flaming River to score one of their killer polished columns. These guys offer a wide range of options in terms of styles as well as fitment options, the latter of which is particularly important since this build uses a rack and pinion steering system rather than the factory steering box.

All of Flaming River’s designs incorporate new parts – no rebuilt components are part of the equation here – ensuring the parts maintain consistent quality standards and durability, and all of it is designed and built here right in the U.S.A.

With a friend’s frame-off custom build of his 1956 Chevy Bel Air, we knew he was going to build a very custom show car and wanted some of the best components he could buy. We matched him up with Flaming River for a tilt steering column (PN FR20005SS) and a Cascade steering wheel (PN FR20160), and mated the two components with the Cascade steering wheel adapter (PN FR20160AD).

An Array Of Options

Flaming River offers both a floor shift and column shift design for Tri-Five Chevrolets. These columns come in a mill finish that can be painted to match the vehicle’s interior, powder coated in black or a custom color, or delivered with a polished finish. All of them all made from 304 stainless steel.

Flaming River also offers a custom manufacturing program, which allows the company to design a column that is collapsible for added safety in the event of an impact. Since the company does its own powder coating, they can also match a custom finish to complement a vehicle’s particular color scheme.

It may still have some distance to travel before it's ready for the road, but that's to be expected when you're being this meticulous about build quality, and it'll certainly paid off when everything is said and done.

It may still have some man hours to go before it’s ready for prime time, but that’s to be expected when you’re starting from bare bones, and being meticulous about build quality and the parts going into the build. It’ll certainly pay off when the rubber hits the road.

Its steering columns are highly adaptable, too. From a component standpoint, a Flaming River steering wheel, or various GM and aftermarket wheels, can be used with an adapter to fit the column. From an application standpoint, various lengths and styles will accommodate most every need with regards to shifters and finish. As outlined below, a visit to the Flaming River website or a call to customer service can net the perfect column for your needs.

Each column includes the various levers and harness connectors necessary to install in a Tri-Five Chevy. Keep in mind when ordering that there are differences between the columns designed for 1955-56 and 1957 Tri-Five models - the latter is not interchangeable with the previous two years.

Getting The Fit Right The First Time

Flaming River’s Tri-Five columns are 30 inches long in overall length (measured from the end of the output shaft, to the top of the column shroud). “We recommend the 30-inch length for use with a stock steering box, and we also use this length when working with our direct fit rack and pinion conversion systems,” says Mike Close of Flaming River.

We recommend the 30-inch length for use with a stock steering box, and we also use this length when working with our direct fit rack and pinion conversion systems. -Mike Close, Flaming River

“We categorize the columns into 1955-56 and 1957 model year breakdowns. The 1955-56 columns use our universal floor shift or column shift design,” he said.

The 1957 column has a little different design, with a more compact upper shroud at only 6-3/8 inches versus the standard 7-9/16 inches on all of our other columns. These columns are also designed and indexed to fit the original dash without any modification.

For custom builds, or if a custom length is required, customers can also refer to the Flaming River’s FAQ for guidelines on how to measure for overall length of a Flaming River steering column.

You can add a high/low beam dimmer switch or a cruise control kit (but not both, since they both get installed on the turn signal arm). If you opt for either of these upgrades at the time you order a column, Flaming River will install that component prior to shipping the column.

The column includes the necessary levers and the wiring/plug to connect to the factory or aftermarket harness.

These forged aluminum steering wheel adapters fit on the column shroud for a seamless appearance and allow the use of the majority of aftermarket steering wheels. Flaming River also offers a new chromoly, needle-bearing double universal joint that allows for up to 80-degree angles. This universal joint is for applications where clearance and weight are primary concerns. These U-joints will outlast pin-and-block style units in racing conditions and also do not require lubrication. Standard strength rating is 300 ft-lbs.

These columns can connect to a factory linkage using a universal joint or a rag joint. Flaming River offers a variety of different universal joints and couplers – nickel-plated or stainless finish, low-profile designs to account for clearance issues, as well as components that can be welded. “All of these columns come standard with a one-inch DD output shaft, so keep that in mind when designing steering linkage and selecting the appropriate couplers,” adds Close. “We also recommend that you measure for overall length prior to ordering if you have made major modifications to the vehicle.”

This triangular-shaped swivel floor mount makes installation of a new tilt column in your Classic Tri-5 Chevy simple and attractive. The machined aluminum ball swivels for easy positioning of the column at virtually any angle. Polished aluminum with satin back plate.

The swivel floor mount serves two purposes: it looks great, and helps to locate the column to the firewall and keep it secure.

Flaming River’s columns also come with a GM tapered and splined top shaft, which is a nice bonus. This allows you to use any original GM steering wheel from 1968 and later. The majority of the aftermarket steering wheels will fit onto these steering columns with the use of a steering wheel adapter.

“The most common aftermarket mounting bolt patterns are three-bolt, five-bolt, six-bolt, and nine-bolt,” Close said. “We offer a combination five-six bolt adapter, as well as the three- and nine-bolt adapters. These will mount seamlessly to a Flaming River column and allow you to bolt the steering wheel directly to the wheel adapter.”

Prepping And Staying Sharp

There’s a few things to consider if you’ve opted for an unpainted, mill finish column if you’re planning to apply a hue to it yourself. You can pre-treat it with Scotch-Brite to even out the finish and prepare it for paint; the column shroud and tube should then be primered prior to laying down the paintwork. Make sure you put the column through all of the tilt positions to ensure you have full coverage and haven’t missed any spots.

Using the right cleaning products for the various surfaces of the steering components is vital if you want its luster to last. That said, there's no trick to it - polished components like the lower steering wheel spokes and the column itself (in this application) can be shined up with off-the-shelf metal polish, and non-greasy leather cleaner is a safe bet for the gripping surfaces of the wheel.

Using the right cleaning products for the various surfaces of the steering components is vital if you want its luster to last. That said, there’s no trick to it – polished components like the steering wheel spokes and the column itself (in this application) can be shined up with off-the-shelf metal polish, and non-greasy leather cleaner is a safe bet for the gripping surfaces of the wheel.

Flaming River recommends against taking the column apart to paint, as it’s very important that everything stays assembled for proper function and performance. They also recommend you do not clear coat the column.

Opting for the company’s custom powder coating treatment has more advantages than just good looks – the powder coating process gives the column a hard finish that is stronger and more durable than paint. “All individual components are properly protected and coated before assembly so that it fits together as designed when re-assembled,” Close adds. “Also, this ensures that no internal pieces that are sensitive to particulates or extreme heat are exposed to the powder coating process.”

Polished columns can be wiped down and sprayed with an interior cleaner or treated with a metal polish for a bright shine and to remove smudges or fingerprints. Flaming River recommends using an interior spray or leather cleaner to wipe down the leather, and an interior spray or metal polish for the metal spokes on the steering wheel.

As final assembly comes together and the steering wheel goes on, it's surprising how well this modern style steering wheel complements the rest of the Chevy's interior, and the brightwork of the shoebox dash coupled with the polished components of both the wheel and the column itself keep the interior's bling factor high.

To complete the installation process, a swivel floor mount (PN FR20101-57) helped us locate the column to the firewall, and it bolts directly to the sheet metal from the inside. The swivel bearing is a perfect fit onto the column and helps keep it firmly in place. Flaming River offers these swivel mounts for a variety of vehicles that will add a clean, uncluttered look to the installation. Using the stock under-column mounting bracket at the dash finished the installation and the column was put in place in a short time.

Mating the column to the steering mechanism is done with universal joints, and for a full Flaming River installation, it offers a steering rack and shafts to complete the process. You can find these components and a host of other classic components on the Flaming River website. While they do have quite a selection of components for the Tri-Five Chevrolets, they are continually adding more applications and parts to help get your build out of the garage and onto the road. We’ll bring you a full feature on this ruby red shoebox when it’s complete, so keep checking back.

FlamingRiver-73

It’s been a long process, and will take a few more weeks, but seeing this car come together has been inspiring.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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