How To Diagnose and Repair Problems with Your Imperial's Column Jacket

Imperial Homepage -> Repair  -> Steering -> Column

Tip from Dick:


Most of the 60's cars have a grounding strap on the steering column support clamp under the dash which goes to the dash sheet-metal somewhere. These are often overlooked by service folks, who think they aren't necessary, but as the car ages, the incidental grounding through the mounting bolts sooner or later fails, and you need the grounding strap or the horn won't work.

Tip from Chris (1967 versus 1968):


1967 and 1968 offered only two choices: standard (non-adjustable) and Tilt-o-scope, which adjusted both for tilt and telescopically. All 1967 and 1968 Imperials have cornering lights, but because the switches were shared with some other C-bodies (on which cornering lights were often optional), the parts books will list more choices than Imperials originally offered. If your local Mopar dealer has the parts books from the olden days (some still do), you can still find the part through Chrysler. Ask for the turn signal switch for a 1967 or 1968 Imperial (whichever you have) with cornering lights and either non-adjustable or Tilt-o-scope column (again, whichever you have).


It's not the easiest job in the world to do, but it can be done with patience, by carefully removing the connector from the bottom of the harness (of both the old and new switches) and by running a long guide wire up the column (attached to the old harness), so that when you pull the old one out, you'll leave behind a long, strong wire to attached to the new harness and pull it back down the column.


Work with the battery disconnected (perhaps power the seat fully rearward before doing this) and leave yourself four hours so you can remain composed and calm! You'll need a steering wheel puller, but nothing else very special except maybe a small pick to fold back the tabs which hold the wire ends into the multi-connector (you will unfold them before reinserting the wires once the new harness is in place). It will help to unbolt the steering column from the lower dash to get a little more articulation out of the tilt mechanism. Also, start with the steering wheel dead-ahead so you can reinstall it perfectly straight (or take advantage of this opportunity to straighten it). Last suggestion: watch for the telescoping spring to pop out when you remove the wheel, and remember which way it is oriented for proper reassembly.

Tip from Eugene:


Beginning in the 1967 model year, all General Motors, Chrysler, and American Motors cars had the new energy-absorbing steering column. It was designed to compress in a frontal collision to protect the driver. The energy-absorbing steering column was a General Motors innovation, and that explains the steering column being of GM design in these cars.

Tips from Elijah on how to switch an Imperial from non-tilt to tilting steering wheel:


This job will be MUCH easier than you might think! Let's've got three nuts just beneath the dash, and then two bolts at the firewall. Pull those loose, disconnect the relevant wiring, and just pull the entire steering column. The tilt/telescopic column will bolt right in. The steering wheels, however, will NOT interchange. The release/hold mechanism for the telescopic part is built into the wheel -- if you tried to use a "standard" steering wheel, you'd have one that would just slide back and forth at will (which could be fun, in it's own way!). You will need to use the lock cylinder from the donor column. The two different columns use two different lock cylinders (I think -- not 100% sure on this, and anyone please correct me if I'm wrong). Aside from that, it should be smooth sailing!

Tip from Chris:

My '67 used to have an annoying tendency to shift from one of the steering wheel play to the other, like it was resting with its elbows on the table and kept switching elbows. I found that the coupling halfway up the steering column (applies only to 67 and later when the collapsible column was standard) was quite deteriorated. Replacing this can-shaped unit was pretty simple and took away most of the play at highway speeds. I did this at about 117,000 miles, and it seemed to be the original part I was replacing.

Tip Joel:

I was recently in need of a piece of vulcanized rubber to replace my steering gear shaft/column coupler/bracket after damaging my original piece while removing my gearbox. With a little ingeniuty, i noticed i could use a similar piece from a early 90's Ford F-150 column. I have been working on my father's 94 F-150 and got inspired to take a trip the the salvage yard. It is more giving (rubber with rope embedded inside) but it is attached by rivets ( the designer must be related to the engineer who thought using a phillips head bolts to connect the part was a good idea). They may have to be hacksawed to free the part from the column, but it worked like a charm.

Just a quick fix for less than 5 dollars.

Question from Roy:

Did Imperials even have tilt-only steering? Since I had heard that these columns were made by GM.  Is this true?  I looked for a Caddy tilt-tele switch, and they list one that uses the same cam, so it might be the correct one, but I don't know if Caddys had cornering lights and at over !!$250.00!! for the switch I wouldn't be buying one from there anyway!


From Pete:

Tilt only columns were available on C-bodies thru 1965. My 65 Dodge Monaco has one. It is definitely a GM unit and made by Saginaw Division. The turn signal switch connector is GM and a short conversion harness changes the wiring to a Chrysler connector. Tilt/telescope columns became available on 1966 C-bodies and replaced the tilt only column. I have never worked on one of these so I can't say that it is a GM unit but... My 70 has tilt/telescope and it is, again, a Saginaw column. Even has the GM turn signal switch that ends in a GM connector. Again, a short jumper harness changes that to a Chrysler connector. Having worked on both GM and Chrysler columns, I can state that the two are similar but not identical. GM made columns for Chrysler to Chrysler specs and used some standard GM parts. It appears that the upper casting, main tube, and shift tube are unique to Chrysler.

Some Caddies had cornering lamps and some didn't. My experience is that all tilt/telescope columns had the contacts and extra three wires for cornering lights. Another thing to watch out for is the hazard flasher switch. It moved to the column for 1971 MY and was part of the turn signal switch. This assembly won't fit into a column that doesn't have the hazard knob hole.

From Norm:

Beginning in 1962, all full size Caddies had cornering lamps. Re: T&T column- The FSM refers to the item as a Saginaw unit.

From John:

The '64 has a tilt only column.

From Dick:

All the tilting and telescoping hardware is the same, and it comes from GM. This is also true of many other parts and accessories, for instance locking steering columns, stalk mounted dimmer switches, Auto-temp, automatic headlights, and many radios of the 60's.

Question from Bill (1959):

I am having a very hard time locating the bearings and bushings to repair my 1959 Imperials wobbly steering wheel. I have tried Lowell Howe, Moparts, and about five other parts sources located on our web site, but I am coming up empty handed. Does anyone on the list know where I could locate these parts? I have not even been able to find a diagram of the breakdown of the steering column which would show me exactly what I am looking for. Phillipe sent a photo, but I am still in the dark as to what I need to fix my problem. Any help I could get here would be greatly appreciated!


From Paul:

Are you sure that the steering wheel is doing this all by itself? I have driven Imperials from this era that had worn out front suspensions and this is how they acted. Once the suspension was rebuilt, the wheel didn't wobble.

I don't remember if I have already offered this or not, but it sounds to me like your front end is shimmying. The steering column would never suddenly fail like that. A severe shimmy due to a loose wheel or worn tie rods would make your steering wheel feel like it is wobbling inside the column tube.

Years ago I was driving along in my then recently aquired '62 Imperial when I hit a rut in the road. That set off a shimmy that made it feel like the entire car was about to fall apart. If there was such a thing as a "whole car bearing" I would have thought it had failed. Luckily, I was smarter than that I had an idea where to look for the problem.

It turned out that the right outer tie rod end was about to fall apart. Replacing it made the problem go away.

I also drove a '60 Imperial once that was for sale. It started wobbling (shimmying) at about 35 mph and wouldn't go away until the car came to a complete stop.

A "shimmy" is much more severe than the feeling that we are use to from an out of balance tire.

From John:

I seriously doubt there is a problem with the steering wheel. I've this problem is usually worn-missing bushings in the steering linkage, bad ball joints or outer tie rod ends. The most suspect would be older bias ply tires.

From Eric:

I know the sound that you have, I think. When the steering wheel has an amount of pressure put on it, as when one uses it for support while entering/egressing, a thunk noise is audible w/an associated slight movement of the steering wheel.

I, too, had thought this could be column bearings. Recently, one of the scholarly Imperialists on the list explained how this could be the fault of the input shaft adjustment at the steering box. As I recall, there is an adjustment on that side of the steering box for it thru the use of shims. I'm a little rusty on the details. This can be checked by grabbing ahold of the input shaft and checking for forward/rearward play. If the rag joint is original, this could exacerbate the situation.

I'm still curious about the steering column bearings. It seems that as much as the steering shaft is used, the bearings are bound to wear. This site may help for parts:

I see a diagram of a '60 column which may be similar to the '59, (here) which shows a column bearing.

One can refer to the 1960 FSM, scroll part way down here to see that the diagnosis for loose steering wheel is the stated steering box shaft as the 1st place to check. No mention is made of column bearings as a cause of a loose steering wheel, however.

For steering gears, one of my local rebuild pro's is Firm Feel Steering, Washington State.

Today, I spoke with Columns Galore on the phone. For us w/the GM-Saginaw sourced Tilt-Tele columns, they sell a $35 upper column bearing rebuild kit that included a number of components. I think my '72 Newport's Tilt-Tele will be treated to this kit soon.. They didn't seem to have very much in the way of parts for non-tilt, pre 80's Mopars. They may be able to match up a given bearing for one in stock.

Bill, I had pictured just a fraction of movement at the wheel, as my '63 exhibits. 6'' of play does sound like an upper bearing backed out of it's boss or broke apart, or the column mount bracket bolts on the underside of the dashboard brace are loose or missing.

From Philippe:

I agree with the info from Eric about the '60 steering column schematic. I removed a '58 Chrysler jacket and it's exactly the same assembly. Note also that you must check if the "wedge" under one bolts fixture of the steering box (and its related bolt) are well tighted.

From Arran:

Someone leaving a bracket off of the steering column while putting the steering box in seems like a likely answer. I would gather, from your explaination, that this problem was not there before the engine rebuild and the steering box replacement took place. A support bearing of any sort should not fail that suddenly, it should get progressively worse over a long period of use. I guess you can find out soon after they replace your freeze plugs.

Follow-up from Bill:

I believe the problem is near the top of the steering column somewhere close to the base of the wheel. I recently had the steering box replaced, and from the wobble I believe something has given way near the top of the column. The wheel is also able to be pulled out slightly toward the driver. This is not just a slight wobble, but I am able to move the wheel from side to side about six inches, which is why I think it is a bearing or bushing of some sort, and not related to any of the suspension or lower steering areas. The car is also running on fairly new radial tires.

I tried Columns Galore, and had a phone message waiting this morning, and then called him when I got to work. Unfortunately as you said he didn't have parts going back as far as 1959. He did say if I sent him my column he could probably come close with something newer that would work, or rebuild the old pieces of mine, but this was at the hefty figure of around $750.00, and that did not include what would most likely be outrageous shipping charges to the East Coast where I think they are located. I told him I would consider that as a last resort, but preferred to keep the car as original as possible for as long as possible. I am sure in antique car crazy southern California, I will eventually come up with a solution, and I have not yet tapped the local car club I belong to which includes all of southern California. I am about to get the car back once again from the overheating episode which I think was a blown freeze plug. Who would have thought I finally get the engine rebuilt, and am able to drive the car, and now this strange steering problem comes up.

Reply from John:

There should be a bracket under the dash to hold the column in place. It sounds like it is either loose or didn't get put back.With that bracket in place, it would not be possible to move side to side.

Question from Tony (1961):

My '61 Imperial's steering-column is upside-down. You can't tell by looking at my steering wheel, which is right-side up and looks great - The shaft in the middle of the column is just dandy. It's the OUTER SHAFT that's upside-down (180 degrees out of true). I can tell this because there is NO WAY for me to install my turn-indicator switch. It has a series of hills and valleys on the backside of the switch that fit in only one way to the steering-column, and there are holes that also must line up. If I try to insert the switch in the ONLY way it fits, the holes don't line up, and the handle for the turn-indicator lever is on the RIGHT side of the steering-column! I can't install my turn-indicator switch, so I have it dangling by its cable from my parking-brake release lever - Otherwise my lights wouldn't work. I've been honking my horn by touching the contact to my light-switch knob! (arc, spark, crackle) Not ever having done such a flip-over, what's the best way to tackle the job?

Reply from Brett:

I'm guessing it might have a notch that ended going in 180 degrees off (Kind of like a distributor).

Question from John (1964):

I was wondering if there is any difference in the '64 and '66 steering columns. I am about to trade my '64 standard column for a '66 tilt/telescopic column. Will they interchange? Are the steering wheels the same? What are the differences?

Reply from Paul:

Everything about that column will be different from your '64 including the steering wheel. The telescopic wheel has a big knob in the middle that turns to unlock the in/out movement of the wheel.

The column may not fit a '64. The transmission shift lever in the '66 column may cause problems with the swap since the '64 has push buttons. Otherwise the cars are essentially the same, but there may be some other differences in the steering mounting, or something else to accomodate the tilt/telescope wheel.

Also, looks wise, the '64 has a horn ring, and the '66 wheel doesn't.

Question from Cory (1965):

I was working on my interior last night and decided to replace my standard steering column with a tilt column. Now as you all know my Imperial is a 65 LeBaron. I got my tilt column out of a '65 Crown (yes it has a column shift). So I figure that it will just be a bolt in swap, WRONG! The two columns are a lot different. Here's what's different: steering wheel master spline, blinker switch, electrical hookups (way different plug) and neutral safety switch mounting. What was Chrysler thinking!? So, if your planning on this change over, think it over first because it's a lot of work (but probably worth it).


From Bob:

I don't have the tilt steering wheel, but recall that it was sourced from GM and is identical to the tilt wheel in many GM products. I'd think that would explain the differences.

From Pete:

As Bob mentions, the '65 tilt-only column is definitely a GM Saginaw unit. My '65 Monaco has one. I'm not near the car now, but seem to remember that a short jumper harness was used to adapt the GM turn signal switch wiring to the Chrysler style connector. Check the Crown parts car for this jumper harness. You shouldn't need to cut/splice any wires.

To clarify a point Bob mentions.... Saginaw built the columns to a Chrysler spec. using *some* off-the-shelf GM parts (internal parts). The column tube, shift bowl, and other parts were, however, specific to Mopar applications.

What Chrysler was thinking, I think, was "How can we offer this convenient option on our high-end vehicles when GM has patented it?" Solution... Buy the columns from GM.

Question from Don (1966):

I've got a '66 Coupe I want to put tilt/scope in it and I know the tilt/scope from a '67 will interchange but will one out of a '68 also swap?


From Jim:

In reality the '66 tilt & telescoping column is a one year only part. '67 and '68 will not interchange.

From Ron:

Yes, they are identical.

Question from Tim (1967 - 1968 interchange):

Can anyone tell me whether this under-the-steering-column cover from a '68 Crown would fit a '67 Crown with tilt & telescoping steering column?

Reply from Dick:

The answer is yes, if it is the right color.

Question from Carl (1966):

My '67 Crown Coupe has no brake lights; T/S & taillights are OK & only the FRONT 4-way flashers will light. (that switch is OK) After extensive testing, I've traced the problem to the T/S switch. I now have an NOS replacement switch (2, actually...will sell the other), however the tilt/scope column & the steering coulmn outer sleeve are giving me problems.

Would you believe that the original '67 shop manual does NOT address this particular repair?


From Ed:

I had trouble with my 67 Tilt-A -Scope wheel. The column is shown in the '68 Shop Manual starting on page 19-35.

From Dick:

It is covered in the service manual, but I seem to recall it is in a strange place, and I may be thinking of the '68 manual (I have both, and have replaced the switches in all 4 of my cars). The outer sleeve of the column requires a special tool to remove it, trying it without that tool will result in damage to it. I found that it is possible to change the switch without removing it, but it takes a lot of patience with the wires and to get the new switch installed without breaking it. Fortunately, if the new switch is of recent manufacture (identified by a red tint to the plastic parts) it will flex enough to get it in. I assume you have made a tool to remove the electrical contact from the multi-pin connector at the base of the column. This is a rather simple tool. I made one from a piece of spring steel - about 0.30 thick, about 5/8 inch long, and about 1/8 inch wide. You shove it in from the front (mating surface) of the connector and depress the retain tang on the individual wire ends. You can see the shape of this tang by inspecting the wire ends on the new switch. Of course you need to pull a "pull string" through the passageway when you remove the old switch so you can get the new wires to go in through the right path.

This is a very time consuming and arduous task, but you can do it! The reward is a feeling of joy every time you use the new switch.

From Bob:

On my '68 the manual says that you have to pull the jacket off of the column but I did not have the tool to it. So I used a screw driver and pride the old switch out and very carefully used the screw driver to put it back in. You can do it this way but becarfull that you do not break the switch and when it gets you to point that you want to throw something just walk away and then come back. It will take you a little while to get it in.

You might check with your Chrysler dealer to see if they have any employees that might still have the tool that you need and maybe they could put it in for you.

From Roy:

I presume getting that tubular sleeve off is what is stopping you cold. One way to get it off is to use a piece of hardwood or a nylon drift (available at gun shops, looks like a glue stick) to tap it loose from the tilt opening (the lever screws out, just twist it!) and then work a screwdriver into the gap at the base of the column. My car would have none of that, that !@#$ sleeve was TIGHT! What I wound up doing was to pry the lip up with a scgewdriver (in an attempt to loosen the sleeve, no deal!) I then attached a pair of vise-grips to two sides of the pried up lip and alternately hammered on the vise-grips to get the !@#$ off! Once off I measured up to the mangled part and carefully wrapped masking tape around the outside, cut off the mangled 3/8 inch or so and filed down to the edge of the tape. The tape protected the paint on the sleeve and if someone didn't know the sleeve had a lip, you can't tell it has ever been altered! It's all hidden by the wheel anyway. Best of all, if the switch ever needs replacing again, the sheeve won't have to be touched!

Question from Allen (1969):

My car was supposed to come out of the shop today but after rebuilding the steering box my mechanic told me that he highly recommended replacing a rubber/metal coupling which is badly worn. It has the numbers DT54 on it, is about the size of a hockey puck [round, black, 3-4 inches in diameter with a metal insert with four bolts in it. Does anyone know where I can get this part, or what I might do for a reasonable facsimile? Has anyone had this part wear out on theirs?

Reply from Chris:

It's called a steering coupler or coupling and should be readily available through Napa or some other such source. I replaced mine in my '67 about 5 years ago and don't recall there being any problem getting one. It did remove a lot of play from the system, too.

Question from Pete (1973):

I am going to add tilt / telescoping wheel to my '73.   The only thing I need to figure out is whether I can use my original wheel rather than the donor wheel. The wheel on the tilt column is a bit beat up and is a shallow dish. Mine is perfect and has a deeper dish.

Reply from Carmine:

You must use the tilt (non-dished) wheel. The tilt column is longer (thus the reason for the flat wheel).

Question from Bill (1981 - 1983):

I need information or the column hub for my '81 Imperial. My bearings have gone and I can't get any help at the local Mopar dealers. I also can't locate any Cordobas, or Miradas, in local salvage yards. I either need numbers for the bearings, or a replacement upper column or hub. Does anyone know if the upper column will work from a Diplomat, Fury or 5th Avenue?

Reply from Peter:

I've repaired many tilt and tilt/telescope columns and may be able to help you. I'm in the process of repairing one for an 86 DeVille right now. What really kills them is having the driver lean on the column when entering or exiting the vehicle. Soon they tilt both horizontally and vertically! Column repairs seem to be an area that many garages avoid. The current tilt/telescoping project is a real Chinese puzzle, as they say. Many Mopar tilt columns were actually Saginaw (GM) units (like the one on my 65 Monaco) so internal parts interchange between many models and years..

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