Thursday, November 25, 2010

Steering my way towards the truth

Style and form tend take a back seat to function for the features offered on most of the vintage Volkswagen models.  As classy as the Type 34 is by comparison to the Bug or Bus, the part selections made by Volkswagen for all the air cooled models were frankly rather consistent, straightforward and simplistic. I might even say bland. But as with most things Type 34 related, what at first appears to be a part shared with one of its Type 3 brethren or perhaps it's Type 14 Ghia sibling, is quickly revealed as unique and specific when scrutinized under the harsh light of the Volkswagen parts lists. Because sometimes the parts lists are not as accurate as they could be, and though not always feasible, physically comparing parts confirms any suspicion of differences. And so it is with steering columns. Luck prevailed some time ago when on a visit to one of my favorite VW haunts I literally stumbled over a complete '67 Type 3 steering column while sorting through a freshly delivered pile of used, but serviceable spare parts.  My wife quickly identified the overall pile as 'junk', until I yarded the steering column from the pile.  This steering assembly included the steering wheel, all the way down to the rag joint, and also included the steering tube. Not sure this unit was from a Squareback or a Fastback, but for $20.00 it was at least worth the price of admission for the ignition and turn signal switches that were present. The best part of the find for me was the knowledge that came from taking it all apart and comparing against the Type 34 parts I have on hand.

Steering columns in the Type 3 and Type 34 are similar, with some critical differences. The upper steering column housing that bolts to the bottom side of the dashboard edge encases several parts:  the steering column, steering column bearing, turn signal switch, ignition switch.  The upper steering column is also essentially the same for both the Type 3 and Type 34 from at least '61 - '65.  '66 & '67 housings are similar, with some external differences in that the top of the housing on the later part is a bit more rounded making the cast area where the ignition switch fits look a little less distinctly cylindrical.  Perhaps to camouflage the parts it encloses? The '67 ignition switch housing I have might not mount up exactly right in my '64 Type 34 because of the additional material on the topside that might not entirely clear the lower Type 34 dash pad.

What is uniquely different between the Type 3 and Type 34 columns is the turn signal arm, the turn signal cancelling collar that attaches to the back of steering wheel hub and the steering column tube.  The most important difference is the steering column shaft itself. Thinking it over, that's really whole lot of differences! If you start off your Type 34 restoration with not much more than a body shell and a pan, you might be in for some ugly surprises as you go along. The Type 34 steering column shaft itself is exactly 35 inches long, making it 3/4" longer that the Type 3's 34 1/4" length. Note also the semi-circular metal pieces on the Type 34 column, which were put there to support the Euro spec locking column. Cars shipped to the United States didn't get this feature, so are missing these pieces. The steering tube that encases part of the lower steering column shaft from the front firewall to the upper steering column housing is also longer on the Type 34, being exactly 20" long versus the 18 5/8" length for the other Type 3 cars. The turn signal lever collar is deep, requiring a turn signal cancelling collar that is just as deep to cancel the signals at the end of a turn.

Of all the parts unique to the Type 34 column, the turn signal arm is the most difficult part to find. Aside from their rarity due to the relatively low production numbers and lack of importation to some corners of the world, probably the best reason they are so hard to come by is that they seem to be cast in a way that makes them a bit more fragile that the standard Type 3 part. All Type 3 and Type 34 turn signal arms fit well around the central hub cast into the upper steering column housing. This is a small bit of good news in case you need to run the standard Type 3 part in your Type 34 for while, with the understanding that there will be a large gap between the turn signal switch and the steering wheel and a bit of a reach when operating the switch. Maybe a final bit of good news is that the high/low beam switch that attaches to the turn signal arm is identical on both the Type 3 and Type 34 signal levers.

Lastly, the steering components on the Type 34 differ from the Type 3 pieces.  The same steering box and steering box mounting clamp is used, however, the mounting clamp is reversed on the Type 34.  There's even some '34' numbers indicating the orientation if the steering box is used with that type of car.  The idler arm is Type 34 specific, and this is the part that bolts to the steering box, which both inner tie rod ends and the steering damper bolt to.  Finally, the inner tie rod end on the driver's side of the car has a 20 degree angle to it to help clear everything when the car is fully loaded and at full lock, both right and left.

Once again, I am dumbfounded by the subtle differences between the Type 3 and 34.  And while my wife might sometimes refer to my parts collections as 'junk', she also has come to realize that said 'junk' has a lot more intrinsic value than she would have originally allowed for.