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(Some) After Market Drop Arms Supplied with VW Steering Box Conversions

10 Aug

Having acquired a 1948 MG TC earlier this year with an MOT and discovering (inevitably) that it wasn’t quite as roadworthy as I’d been led to believe (How do some people acquire MOT certification?) I began to address the problems my MOT station had identified.

After replacing all the braking gear, cylinders, shoes, pipes, hoses etc and fitting a heat-shield, I felt it necessary to address the obvious cause of soggy rear shoes by contacting Roger Furneaux (roger.46tc@virgin.net) for some of his cunning half-shaft sleeves. These fitted, I began to wonder how I could improve the steering.

The problems only appeared when the testing station mechanic had the front of the car off the ground. He couldn’t move the wheels from lock-to- lock and upon further investigation found that the steering had a tendency to offer resistance, as if something were jamming in the linkage, or the box. This later turned out to be a disintegrating groove in the Bishop steering box.

The trouble was that I had to go to Australia on business, so everything came to a halt.

This proved to be a bit of a blessing in disguise because on my last weekend there, I woke in my hotel room in Geelong and on the green in front of the hotel were banners and tents being erected.

It transpired that, that morning the MG Car Club of Geelong were having a show and it gave me the opportunity to crawl over about 20 MG TCs and discuss the pros and cons of the steering box. The popular solution in Australia seems to be a VW or a Datsun conversion, so when I got back to Blighty I began my search.

There were a couple of businesses offering the VW conversion and so, after getting over the shock of the cost, I ordered one. When it arrived I was immediately taken with it and to my layman’s eye, after fitting it I think it is almost indistinguishable from the old unit.

Fitting was simplicity itself. No drilling or adapting of any original parts of the car. Just bolt on a bracket. Bolt the column onto this and connect the drop-arm between the box and the tie-bar.

With this resolved and my other MOT failures addressed – like the one headlight that dipped whilst the other went onto full beam (as I said – how do people get MOT certificates?) off I toddled for a re-test.

Now I don’t know how many of you reading this live around West Kent, but if ever in need of a garage that specialises in classic cars, go visit Sergents in Station Road, Goudhurst. There was no charge for the re-test, even though over a month had passed. They adjusted the brakes so they pulled more evenly. Something I had not been able to do with no mileage under my belt since fitting new linings and cylinders. They were complimentary about my purchase and proudly I was on my way for the long drive home – with my new MOT certificate.

The only problem was – the banging and crashing coming from somewhere around the scuttle.

What had I done?

Was something loose? Had I left a spanner somewhere? – No.

Was it coming from the steering column? I checked the fixings. I re-aligned everything. I even took it out and put it back in again; same problem. Every time I drove over anything other than a smooth surface there was a clatter from somewhere under the dash.

I contacted the supplier of the column. They had ‘never heard of this problem before’ (funny that!).

Anyway, they agreed to exchange the unit without fuss, so it was sent off and another arrived. I fitted this one. Off we went for a test-run. Bang crash!

What the heck could it be?

The following weekend I was to meet a pal at Brands Hatch, so I decided – what the hell! – and took the MG. The drive was fantastic, everything I’d wanted it to be – except the bashing about under the dash each time I hit an uneven bit of tarmac.

The next morning (after attending to my chores), determined to see if I couldn’t find the cause of this malady, I wondered into the garage. I inspected everything, twisted and turned the steering wheel and while lying beside the car and turning the steering wheel I noticed paint had been chipped from the tie-bar.

On further examination it became clear that the replacement drop-arm was only about 10mm away from the tie-bar. Obviously – every time the car’s suspension moves, so the gap between the drop- arm and the tie-bar closes and – Bingo!

I removed the offending drop-arm and photographed it alongside the original and the next day I e-mailed the supplier. Part of my comments were aimed at helping him to resolve the problem (that he’d never had before) and ensuring that, if he was selling as many of these conversions as he claimed, he could avoid future problems and address the problem I was having.

No response to my e-mail, – so I phoned.

“No”, he said. “We’ve never had this problem. All MG TCs are different and there’s no telling what improvements and amendments they have had over their lifetime”.

I then began a trawl through the few MG contacts I’d picked-up since my purchase.

The Editor of this journal, Totally T-Type 2, passed my e-mail to others and copied me in, and with a little networking I established that the original VW conversion used to come with a converted VW drop-arm (see picture).

The drop-arm I’d received was almost straight, a purpose forged piece about an inch longer than the original. (see picture)

With no help from my supplier I explored the viability of either having a shorter version made or bending my replacement drop-arm, which is ultimately what I did.

I am happy to report that, having bent the arm so that the bottom end (the one that connects to the tie-bar), is 30mm (an inch and a qtr. in old money), lower, allowing enough clearance between the two components, the problem is resolved – even over the potholed roads of Kent.

Mike James

Ed’s comments: I’m really pleased to have been of assistance with this one. To reiterate the purpose of the website and TTT 2:

The over-arching aim of this website is to help owners to rebuild, or if rebuilt, to maintain and keep their cars on the road ….

If I can’t help with a query I usually know “a man who can”.

The attitude of the supplier was not acceptable. It reminds me of the riposte which my engine builder delivers to the “never had this problem before guv” brigade – which is “well the original part fitted!”

Yes, there are rogue MoT stations – I have experienced one of these myself. More is the pity that they don’t get found out!

Finally, this article might have solved a problem for me with my friend’s L2 as he has similar (but not as severe) noises emanating from his scuttle.

TC Steering: Understanding End Assemblies

4 Mar

It’s that time of year where many are working on their cars for the driving days ahead. Most inquiries I get cover the full spectrum of car servicing. However, this past month I have had a surprising number of questions concerning the TC steering rod end assemblies. Specific problems surfaced with: “Can’t get it apart, can’t get it together, what needs to be replaced and most importantly, what is the correct assembly order?” The overall problem is that the end assemblies are confusing. Let’s make it simple!

Identification: There are 4 end assemblies. 3 tie rod end and 1 drag link end (also referred to drop arm end). How do you tell which is which? You must be able to first identify which type of end you are working on, as the assemblies are different.

Quick ID: Tie rod ends (TRE) have a cross slot (X) in the end adjustment plug. The drag link end (DLE) has only a single slot. Simple! One additional quick ID is that the TRE barrel slot is a small figure 8 and the DLE slot is elongated.


Drag link end assembly


Tie rod end assembly

Assembly Order: The drag link end is assembled differently than the tie rod end. To keep it simple: The DLE has the spring on the outside and the TRE has the spring on the inside.

Tie Rod End Assembly: Starting with the inside of the barrel housing the assembly order is: spring, cup (w/ tiered back), TRE ball, and cup/end plug (the end plug is also the cup). Remember the plug has a cross slot (X).

Drag Link End Assembly: From inside out, cup (w/ flat back), drop arm ball (tapered), cup (w/ tiered back), spring, and end plug. Remember this plug has a single slot.

Confusion: So far, this seems simple. However, there are some confusion factors that you need to be aware of:

• The TRE ball has a straight shaft. All 3 TRE balls are alike. The DLE ball has a tapered shaft. Very much distinguishable.

• The TRE inner cup is also the same used in the DLE outer cup. So you will have 4 of these. Visually, it has a tiered back that fits into the spring. The DLE inner cup has a flat back. There is only one on the TC inside the DLE.

• The TRE outer cup is also the end plug. 3 of these on the TC. However, the DLE plug does not have a “cup” side. Only 1 of these on your car.

• TRE housings are threaded differently for the rods. There are 2 left hand threaded barrels for left and 1 right hand threaded for right. Sometimes the barrels are stamped L/H or R/H. If not look at threads.

Help!! “I can’t get the drop arm ball out” (or in): The tapered drop arm ball cannot be assembled by simple putting it in or out of the “figure 8” slot. It has to be slid in through the end of the barrel housing and then out the slot. This is for safety reasons in case a spring breaks and the ball comes loose. It cannot fall out. And what about the springs?

Originality: Here is an interesting finding that has also added to confusion. According to the Factory parts manual, the spring in all 4 end assemblies should be the same (same parts number). However, replacement end assemblies have a longer spring in the TRE compared to the DLE spring. (approx. ¾” vs. ½” tall). A study of some “original?” end assembly barrels show that they often varied in depth when measuring the depth of the machining for the internal components. So a different length spring is required. Therefore, if you cannot get the correct adjustment on the end assembly, be mindful to check to see if a different spring length would be better.


Examples of TRE/DLE springs

Adjustment: The ball adjustment on all ends is the same. Tighten as much as possible and then back out the end plug a half turn and install the split pin (cotter). When you thread the complete end assembly onto the rod shaft, count how many turns. Then do the same number for opposite side. This will keep the adjustment capability equal and preclude wondering why you run out of toe-in adjustment. (Believe it, this has been a reported problem!)

Inspection: Finally, what do you look for when inspecting? The obvious answer is looseness. Jack up your car and give the steering a shake. If there is any sign of end play, it’s time for inspection. Common fail items are broken internal springs. And if you don’t keep it lubricated the balls will wear as in the photos, causing steering issues. Most importantly, DO NOT trust the assembly order from the prior owner. It is not uncommon to find it wrong, which has created many of the problems mentioned above.


Two examples (on the right) of ball joint wear

Wrap Up: The intent of this writing has not been to make you an expert in TC steering but to make you aware of the end piece differences and how to check your car. When the time comes to actually disassemble your car, you can find a “ready reference” for the DLE/TRE assembly in steering section of the catalog at: fromtheframeup.com

Please check your steering this winter.

Doug Pelton
doug(at)fromtheframeup.com

Editor’s comments: The set-up is, of course, the same on the TA and TB, except that the neck of the ball joint which connects with the drag link (drop arm) is a parallel fitting as opposed to a taper fitting on the TC.

One cannot be too careful with the examination of the components which make up the steering assembly. I have heard it said and seen it written, that one way of taking out the wear on the ball of the ball joint is to turn it so that the cup receives an unworn face of the ball. Well, if you want to dice with death for the sake of a few quid, go ahead! Indeed, you might find yourself ‘going ahead’ on a bend in the road with a vehicle coming straight at you in the opposite direction. I exaggerate to shock, but I’m sure you get my drift!

Another useful check if you are disassembling the steering or perhaps doing a rebuild is to have a really good look at the complete tie rod and drag link assemblies. This includes carefully inspecting the barrels (or tubes, if you like) of the assemblies, the importance of which is instanced by the following experience at an MoT test.

Those of you in the UK are well used to sitting in the car and obeying the commands of the Ministry of Transport (MoT) vehicle examiner while he marvels from below at the suspension and steering set-up of your car. He will tell you to rotate the steering wheel hard in each direction to enable him to check for wear in the joints. On one such occasion, a friend of mine was told by the examiner that the drag link end was moving vertically up and down before moving the road wheels. A ‘fail’ certificate was issued and the owner drove the car home slowly.

Upon disassembly it was found that the inner shoulder in the “tube” that supported the cup had worn away allowing the cup to tilt, which in turn moved the tapered peg over at an angle. This caused the slot in the casing to wear away, allowing the ball to protrude through the slot which would have eventually popped out.

The reason why this happened must have been due to a combination of insufficient land width within the “tube” and/or the outside diameter of the cup being too small. This would result in there being inadequate support behind the cup. A serious matter!

One, other examination – check your steering rods for straightness. Recently, when working on my J2 I found all three spare track rods I had were bent!