Part III: Fabricating a Firewall and Installing a Flaming River Steering Column

By Ron Ceridono – Photography By Tate Radford & Colin Radford

We’ve been following along as Colin and Sue Radford’s 1957 Ford Del Rio Ranch Wagon has been undergoing the transformation from a Leave It To Beaver–era grocery-getter to a contemporary hot rod. With the capable helping hands of grandsons Tate and Caden, the original front suspension was tossed out and replaced with an Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip. The Y-block was set aside to make room for a Ford Performance 5.0 Coyote engine, which brings us to where we are now: making a little bit more room for the replacement powerplant with a new firewall and installing the Flaming River steering components.

02 The lower portion of the Ford’s firewall cut at the seam
The lower portion of the Ford’s firewall cut at the seam where it joined the cowl and removed.

Read More: A Single Steering Wheel Began This Ford Ranch Wagon Build

During mock-up it was determined that the best position for the engine would require moving the firewall back roughly 2 inches. In this particular case, the Ford’s firewall had an issue that needed to be addressed anyway. The plenum in front of the windshield that fed fresh air to the factory heating system had some rust issues. As future plans call for a Vintage Air climate-control system that does not rely on outside air, the decision was made to cut down the size of the plenum, killing two birds with one stone—the engine could be tucked under the cowl and the difficult-to-repair rusted areas were eliminated.

03 The vent panel in front of the windshield provided fresh air
The vent panel in front of the windshield provided fresh air to the factory heating system. It also concealed the windshield wiper mechanism.

With the heater plenum issue resolved a new flat firewall was fabricated. Thanks to the generous dimensions of the stock Ford transmission tunnel no modifications to the floor above the Gearstar transmission case were required, although new toeboards and the bellhousing tunnel were required.

04 rust holes were discovered in the bottom of the plenum
With the vent panel removed, rust holes were discovered in the bottom of the plenum where they would be difficult to repair.

Despite the size of the Coyote engine, routing the steering shaft from the Flaming River tilt steering column to the rack-and-pinion was a straight shot and would only require two universal joints. To connect those U-joints a conventional, solid, ¾-inch Flaming River double D shaft could have been used, however, it was decided to incorporate a slip shaft to accommodate any movement between the body-mounted steering column and the chassis-mounted rack-and-pinion. This was accomplished by sliding a section of 1-inch double D tube over a short piece of ¾-inch double D shaft and welding them together (the weld just keeps them from slipping apart). That section of the steering shaft is attached to the U-joint on the steering column. On the lower end of the assembly a length of solid ,¾ double D shaft attaches to the steering gear with a U-joint and fits well into the 1-inch double D, the result is a slip shaft that will absorb any movement between the body and frame and can’t come apart.

Read More: Practice Make Perfect: 1957 Chevy 210 Wagon

05 Rather than repair the bottom of the plenum it was removed
Rather than repair the bottom of the plenum it was removed. Note the cables that operated the factory windshield wipers—not one of Ford’s better ideas.

To mount the steering column at the bottom a Flaming River “blank slate” swivel mount (PN FR20101BLS) was used (this universal floor mount is designed to be used in a street rod build that will include a new firewall). At the upper end a Flaming River factory-style 2-inch dash mount (PN FR20114PL) was modified to fit the stock Ford dash bracket. For rigidity, a support that ties the steering column, brake pedal, and master cylinder/booster assembly was fabricated from flat stock and tubing.

06 the firewall, toeboards, and front of the transmission tunnel were removed
To accommodate the Coyote engine the firewall, toeboards, and front of the transmission tunnel were removed. The good news was the factory tubular headers fit without modification.

Building the 1957 Ford Del Rio has been a real family affair for the Radfords, which is fitting considering station wagons were once the ultimate utilitarian family vehicle. Who knows, cool as this one is turning out they may be again. MR

07 The engine sits back roughly 2 inches from the seam where the original firewall joined the cowl
The engine sits back roughly 2 inches from the seam where the original firewall joined the cowl. Despite the recess all the engine components, such as the intake manifold and cam covers, can be removed with the engine in place.
08 With the bottom of the heater plenum removed a paper pattern was made to form the replacement
With the bottom of the heater plenum removed a paper pattern was made to form the replacement. The large hole in the cowl is where the windshield wiper motor mounts from the engine compartment side.
09 The replacement sheet metal was temporarily held in place with sheet metal screws
The replacement sheet metal was temporarily held in place with sheet metal screws. Ultimately it would be secured with rivets and panel-bonding adhesive.
10 The brace attaches to the firewall
The brace attaches to the firewall with the bolts for the brake booster, a bolt in the cowl, and it will also be attached to the dashboard steering column mount.
11-1957-ford-wagon-firewall-modification
Securing the bottom of the steering column is a mounting plate with a swivel socket from Flaming River.
12 the steering column is a mounting plate with a swivel socket from Flaming River
Here the flat lower firewall section has been installed, the brace and steering column are in place. Note how the socket in the Flaming River mounting plate swivels to accommodate the angle of the column.
13 At the top of the Flaming River steering column a Flaming River 2-inch dash mount was used
At the top of the Flaming River steering column a Flaming River 2-inch dash mount was used, however it was modified to fit.
14 Due to the steering column recess in the Ford’s dashboard, the Flaming River dash mount was modified
Due to the steering column recess in the Ford’s dashboard, the Flaming River dash mount was modified by cutting off the mounting ears. Then two holes were drilled and tapped for mounting studs.
15 The modified column mount was used with a spacer
The modified column mount was used with a spacer that then fit in the factory dashboard recess perfectly. The modified mount will be hidden behind the original Ford sheet metal cover.
16 Our Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip
Our Art Morrison Enterprises Bikini Clip was equipped with a Flaming River 1979-1993 Mustang-type power rack-and-pinion steering gear (PN FR40002PLN).
17 it requires a Flaming River U-joint FR Power
A unique feature of the Flaming River rack is the triangular shape of the sector shaft; it requires a Flaming River U-joint FR Power x 3/4-inch DD (PN FR2589P).
18 the required U-joint is unique
Not only is the shape of the required U-joint unique but there are also no splines as it uses a bolt to clamp onto the sector shaft—note the slot that allows that to happen.
19 a 1-inch double D x ¾-inch double D U-joint was used
To connect the steering shaft to the Flaming River column a 1-inch double D x ¾-inch double D U-joint was used (PN 2517 DD).
20 The hole is for a zerk fitting that will be added
To make a slip shaft Colin Radford used a combination of ¾-inch double D solid shaft and 1-inch double D tube. Note the welds on the upper shaft. The hole is for a zerk fitting that will be added.
21 The lower solid shaft fits far enough into the 1-inch tube
The lower solid shaft fits far enough into the 1-inch tube that it can never come apart while it is free to move in and out to absorb any movement between the body and chassis.
22 no other transmission tunnel modifications were required
A minor modification was necessary to the floorpan to provide room for the transmission’s shift linkage. Other than that, no other transmission tunnel modifications were required.
23 Note the flat steel strap that’s being clamped in place
With the upper portion of the firewall in place, attention was turned to the toeboards. Note the flat steel strap that’s being clamped in place—it will serve to reinforce the floor.
24 Colin used a slip roll to form the section of the floor
Colin used a slip roll to form the section of the floor that would cover the bellhousing.
25 Here the firewall is completed
Here the firewall is completed. Note the round plug in the trans tunnel. That’s where the transmission fluid was checked back in the day—not particularly convenient.
26 a Ford Swift Sure Power Brake pedal pad
A brake pedal of undetermined origin was equipped with a Ford Swift Sure Power Brake pedal pad and the electronic throttle has a cable-style pedal grafted on.

Sources
Flaming River Industries
(806) 648-8022
flamingriver.com

Ford Performance
(800) 367-3788
performanceparts.ford.com

Radford Automotive
(208) 745-1350

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