Bee's Rack Replacement - a right saga ...
Replacement No.2!

January 2023 Bee has had a clonk when rocking the steering back and fore gently at a standstill for a while, and a couple of MOT advisories of inner steering rack joints worn. Last year I had a good pull at the track-rods, and disconnected the track-rod ends from the steering arms to check they were OK and test the resistance to articulation of the rods (should be 32 to 52 pound inches). There was little or no effort for articulation on the driver's side and not much more on the passengers, and with the steering turned fully to the passenger side and grasping the rack through the gaiter and pulling up and down there was some play and knocking, so the passenger-side bush was worn at least. Given the complaints about 'new' racks I didn't fancy one, and a look round the suppliers a while ago showed not all had rebuilt, and those that did needed the old one back of course with double the P&P and hassle. Motaclan (Leacy as was) near me means just one trip and no P&P if I take the old one off first, but they only had new at the time. But checking again now showed (and confirmed by email) that they had the rebuilt exchange (but not the new as it happened) so one Saturday morning the old one came off.

Just seven bolts/nuts and nothing else removed to get at them saw it off in about 90 mins, and one scar on my left wrist :o). Lashing down with rain which was less than ideal as I would have rolled Vee out a bit to give me more room, but pushed forward a foot with the door ajar, and with Bee on the full-length ramps in the lowered position I had just enough space between the cars and underneath without jacking the front any higher. I'd slackened the track-rod end lock-nuts first as that is easier with the weight of the car holding the rack steady, and on the bench the driver's TRE came off after 21.5 turns, and the passenger after 20 turns, and removed the lock-nuts. I did that and labelled the TRE's (although they are identical) as that should allow me to get the tracking with the new rack close enough for fine adjustment with my gauge, prior to taking it to an alignment place. Can't move the TRE pins by hand so these can go back on.

Two days later a pre-arranged trip to Motaclan o avoid double P&P. I had to make a special arrangement with them to collect Vee's screen during Covid and didn't notice a collection counter in their new place, which the old one had. Good job I phoned as they only do collection if you order and pay for it in advance, which can only be done over the phone as online is just for mail order. Must be unusual as the chap I spoke to didn't know what to do, saying I would have to pay the surcharge even though I said I'd be bringing the old with me, I said that's fine as long as you can process the refund there and then, at which point he had to put me on hold to find out what to do. In the end he only needed payment for the rack not the surcharge, but I then had to wait for a call-back when they had it ready. More messing about when the Mercedes sat-nav took me to Castle Vale, and I had to use my phone to get me from there to Erdington Industrial Estate which was a bit of a roundabout route. Any road up (as they say rather aptly) it was waiting for me. Did a quick check at the premises, no slop anywhere, track-rods resist articulation well enough. Stiffer to move but I can still do it with my hand round the shaft as well as push-pull a bit so it should be OK.

Fitted the old TREs 20.75 turns each i.e. the half the sum of what was needed to take them both off to get equal turns lock to lock. May have to tweak them from that to set the wheel straight when the car is going straight if it's not an exact number of splines out, but that should be part of commercial tracking adjustment.

Took the pinion cover off to see what lies inside - nylon yoke which I'm not surprised at, and evidence of grease so no more leaks.

Had to wait for a dry day to roll Vee out and give me more room to raise the front of Bee higher to get under the valance easier than before. Back on in a few minutes, didn't even take the wheels off. Wheels up hardly surprising that the steering is a little stiffer, but I can still move it from lock to lock with a finger-tip inside the rim. Squinting down the sides of the car it seemed to be toeing-in a bit so perhaps these track-rods are a bit shorter for some reason. With the front still up in the air and the wheels hanging down I used my tracking gauge and unscrewed each side about two turns before the front to back measurements were about the same with just a little toe-in. Then jacked it down and rolled it back and for comparing the same point on the tyres back and front and still just a little toe-in, so that will be good enough to drive to the local tracking place. This rack shaft has the UJ groove all the way round (unlike the V8 which curiously is notched the same as the column shaft so the two shafts can only go back together in one position) and the wheel ended up at about 1/4 turn out, should have set the steering lock as that is close to dead-ahead. Slackened the nut and rocking the wheel was enough to break it free of the taper, and refitted in about the right position. Went down the road to check the straight-ahead position and made a one spline adjustment, that should be centralised during the tracking as they clamp the wheel in the straight-ahead position then adjust each track-rod to get both wheels toe-in the right amount. Not completely self-centering hands-off but I'm only driving slowly down a short length of road, I'll know more on the drive to the tracking place, which needs another dry day. No more clonks when waggling the wheel slightly, which is good.

Because Bee has the intermediate collapsible column the inner is free to move up and down in the outer, which means when pulling the rack shaft out of the UJ it pulls the wheel towards the cowl, and the slip-ring on the back of the wheel pushes the horn brush back and can bend it out of position. With the rack back in I checked the horn and wasn't surprised it didn't work, but a few minutes to remove the cowl and unscrew the brush so that I could bend it back was all it took. Removing the wheel before you start would probably avoid that, but wheel-off you would only have the indicator cancelling peg or cam (or steering lock) to align the column before fitting the UJ to the rack shaft. Easy enough to slide the later cam (1970 models on) round to the correct position but for the peg the correct position can only be achieved by moving the UJ round on the rack shaft.

Because of winter weather I couldn't get Bee to the tracking place until almost the end of February. Not as much rain as I'd have liked after salt two weeks ago so some traces between the wheel tracks in some areas. I'd been to Concourse Motor Co. a few times before for tyres, Vee's valuation and Bee's tracking once before after new track-rod ends ( or so I thought) so expected them to hang the gubbins on the wheels and get straight on with it, but it took a bit of fiddling, apparently this was new kit. I did say 'MGB wire wheels with spinners' when booking but the equipment is flatter and won't go over the spinners, so the wheels have to be turned to the right angles to get them on, but once on it only took a few minutes. They said it had been 'near as dammit' Checking back previous notes I discovered that the first two places - this probably being one of them, couldn't get the gauges on and it was only a third even further away that had screwed adjusters on the gauges that held them away from the spinners.

That all done and an opportunity on a lovely afternoon to go for a drive as part of the trip. I've always said that driving Bee it was like I only had to think about small departures from a straight line and she would make them. Now the steering - perhaps not surprisingly - is stiffer and although it self-centres it's not right back to the middle like it was before, that last bit needs to be a deliberate action, as is any departure from a straight line. So not as much as a delight to drive as previously, hopefully it will loosen up over time.

Took another couple of weeks before the roads were good enough for a second run with the new rack. I'm getting used to the lack of the last little bit of self-centering about the straight-ahead position, what was more noticeable this time is the effect when straightening up from a sharper turn as at a T-junction. Driving both cars back-to-back Vee needs quite a bit of restraint to a strong self-centering action, Bee used to be the same but when I apply the same restraint as I always have done to the weaker self-centering it carries on turning for longer than needed and I've had to turn back a bit. Hopefully I'll adapt to that, also hopefully the rack will get freer.

But then suddenly woke up one morning realising I'd not checked the alignment of the new rack to the column, for the UJ! Caused by having removed both racks more than once - Vee's several times, and of course simply replacing them didn't need realigning as I hadn't changed anything. Fortunately hardly any miles driven, but the alignment took longer than either removing the old or fitting the new! A decent drive on a subsequent sunny day and for whatever reason (alignment correct, bedding-in, getting used to it) less conscious effort needed to fully straighten up. As the months go by I find I'm not aware of any stiffness at all.

Replacement No.2: August 2023


After just seven months and 1500 miles I get exactly the same advisory at the MOT - both inner joints worn! Surely the tester can't just have copied the previous one? So this week under the car, disconnect the TREs from the steering arms and they flop down - admittedly with the TREs still attached. Only if I push them up and release them carefully will they stay up, and at the slightest touch they flop down again. The force needed to articulate the arms is supposed to be 32 to 52 pound INCHES, and with track rods about 8" long and a typical TRE at just over half a pound the inner joints are obviously 'loose'. When I collected the rack I checked them and they did need some force but I didn't measure it. Shaking the off-side one as hard as I can I can hear some movement, but at least the passenger-side bush isn't worn like the old rack was.

Contact Motaclan who ask for a copy of the invoice (!), duly sent, and I get the following response:

"The steering rack has a full 12 months warranty on it from the date of sale so its still fully covered. If you can return it to us we can send it off to the reconditioners' who will check it over.

"If it's out of spec we will replace it for you. If it's still within specification we will return the unit to you."

So that's going to take a while with the car out of action. If they replace it I'll have to go through the tortuous alignment process again, and before taking it away I'll be testing the articulation force with my spring-balance! If the rebuilder claims it is in spec it will be for nothing, although I should be able to tighten the inner joints up, at least with this one I don't have to replace the passenger-side bush which I did many years ago on a Mini and that was a right pain with the very fine threads. I think I'll leave it through September, then take it off while I still have three months warranty. I may even buy a used one, collecting it so I can check it first, and use that while mine is away.

One about an hour away at £40 so a bit of a trek, one closer but they wanted £120 which was a lot more than the rebuilt exchange. Back to the first one but it had gone. Found another at Andy Jennings for £45 so order that, price includes postage which is a surprise for something that big, what state it will be in is anyone's guess but I will have the opportunity to work on it if needs be. Delivery expected Friday to Monday but no show. Wednesday asked for tracking info and they said they had forgotten to despatch it so would next day. But we were going to be away Friday and Saturday so emailed asking them to hold it until the Friday so it would be delivered the following week. Then get an email on the Monday saying yes they would do that i.e. delay it until the following Friday because they hadn't read the email I sent on Wednesday until the following Monday! Hopefully on it's way now ...

Arrived a couple of days later amusingly in a long thin package and not a triangular one - they had removed the pinion shaft but only a few minutes to put back. Inner joints tighter than the 'newly rebuilt' rack! Gaiters ripped but no big deal. A bit of a struggle to get the TREs off (to fit new gaiters), one side not too bad but the other needed a short length of scaffold pole on the Stilson's to break the TRE free, then angle-grinder through most of one flat of the lock-nut, then hacksaw to the tops of the tie-rod threads, then chiselled round which split the nut and off that came. I packed the pinion bearing, rack and pinion teeth and passenger-side bush with grease to save messing with oil.

It's now September, new gaiters purchased and are of a 'universal' type for multiple rack casing diameters and two narrower sections at the 'big' end have to be trimmed off.

'Old' rack comes off in not much more than half an hour, after having checked the distance between the two tyres with my tracking gauge - helpfully with a white line (relatively new tyres) down the middle of the centre groove which makes it very precise - at 1272mm. On my lowered full-length ramp I can crack the tapers on the TREs and remove the rack with the car still sitting on its wheels. I also measure the distance between the lock-nut end of each TRE and the rack fixing hole centres (297mm R 293L) so I can get these TREs onto the temp rack at about the right tracking, and to give equal steering between the two sides. I also counted the turns to remove at 19 both sides. With one new and one original lock-nut on the temp rack track rods I screw the TREs on to give the same number of turn and nip up the lock-nuts - ready to fit.

Fitting this rack I decide to attempt to get the steering lock to engage with the steering in the straight-ahead position. Neither have ever done that, and I don't even know if they did from the factory! Not really possible on the V8 as for some reason both steering column and rack shaft only have notches for the UJ bolts so the two shafts can only go together in one relative orientation. But the roadster rack shaft has a groove all round so it should be possible - emphasis on 'should'! The mistake I made was doing that first before anything else, and trying to get the rack central i.e. the same number of turns left as right at the same time as turning the column shaft to the locking position before attaching the TREs to the steering arm proved impossible. Running short of time I abandoned that (although in the end I found it was only one spline out) and concentrated on the tracking getting the white lines in the central groove of the tyres (which hadn't been turned on the stub-axles) to the same dimension as before. Then looked at UJ alignment without using the gauges, slotted the rack shaft into the UJ and there seemed to be the about the same gap between the rear bolt position on the rack and the bracket on the passenger side which seemed a good start so used the same spacer there. It's impossible to see or measure the rear bolt gap on the driver's side as everything is in the way, all I could do was insert a feeler gauge from the front alongside the front bolt and hopefully under the rear bolt hole, then nip up the other three bolts. A 4 thou gauge was pinched but a 3 thou wasn't whereas the previous spacer was 62 thou so I thought I'd get away without one that side, but I'm not so sure. I don't expect to be doing many miles on this rack and when fitting the proper rack will pay more attention then. Now waiting on a response from Motaclan after emailing them to say I was ready to bring it back, with a scan of the WSM describing the articulation force there should be.

No response after three days so phoned and spoke to the person who replied to my email to be told "no one here or at the rebuilders could understand the information regarding articulation"! If the rebuilder can't then it's hardly surprising they are not to spec and it's likely to come back just the same. He said I could send or take it back and they would give me a refund. But hang on a minute, this was an exchange rack as I explained in the email and it's on the invoice, so that would leave me without either the old or the new rack! I pointed out that his email said they would send it back to the rebuilder and either be replaced if out of spec or returned if not, and he said "Oh yes we can do that then". So drive over and eventually get to speak to someone who seems to know what he is talking about, and says the comment about not understanding the spec info was probably just wires crossed, had the rack off me, noted it as received on the original invoice which I have kept of course, said he would email the rebuilders straight away and I would probably hear something at the end of next week (this being Friday). We shall see.

Three days beyond the 'end of next week' heard nothing so phoned. "The repairer was away for the first few days and I didn't follow it up after that". Latest is they will chase them then call me back.

Two days later - nothing and it's now October. Phone again to be told he is "with someone ..." and will call me back. Eventually he did and said as they have not had any response from the rebuilder they will give me another one from stock - "and make sure it has tight joints"! Fair enough, but this was immediately before we were away for a week so I would have to wait until the following week to pick it up. But then he's on holiday himself that week from the Tuesday, and we don't get back until early evening on the Monday after travelling all day! But he says he will leave it with someone else so I can collect it in his absence. Busy all day Tuesday, plan to go Weds afternoon so ring in the morning ... to be told "no one here knows anything about it"!! Says he will investigate further and call me back in about half an hour ...

No call so next day I write a polite but firm email outlining the saga and asking when it will be sorted out. Almost by return I get a response from one of the more senior members saying he couldn't find out who I had spoken to (which as happened before) but saying They will give me another from stock if I let them know a date and approximate time. Wasn't going to leave it any longer so arranged to go straight away, it was waiting for me, the email chap came down and apologised for the confusion and said they would start another 12 month warranty again from that day. Back home I emailed thanking him for sorting out, and extending the warranty. I can't see much point in taking it back again if the same problem occurs, but if anything else should happen that will take me past the next MOT. Unless they email back denying the extended warranty as far as I'm concerned they are deemed to have accepted it.

Installation: October 2023


First thing I noticed on collection is that the tube seems to have been squashed slightly between the two mounting brackets. But it moves as well as the others have done (none of them are 'silent' when the shaft is spun by pushing and pulling a steering arm) so I'll accept it and hope it fits the cross-member brackets - otherwise it will go straight back!

The second thing is that the gaiter clamps, both large and small, are of a type I've not seen before - neither the original screwed clamp nor the ubiquitous zip-tie, but something a bit like some types of CV boot clamp. It is a plain band but instead of the end being pulled through a sleeve then bent back and held down under two flaps, the sleeve contains a small ball-bearing in an angled slot which allows the free end to be inserted but will jam if trying to pull it back. When in position a special tool apparently pulls on the free end to tighten it, compresses the sleeve to press the ball bearing into the 'free' end, and chops off the excess, all in one go. Leaves very sharp edges sticking out of the sleeve. Maybe a 'security' feature so the rebuilder can check if it has been interfered with on a return? But I can't find anything online that looks like it. Nevertheless I will have to remove at least one of the small ones as it's impossible to turn the steering arm (for tracking adjustment) without winding up the gaiter.

Annoyingly I can't find my spring-balance so filled a bottle with water and hung that at various points along the steering arms. One arm moved at 5" and the other at 7", but with the bottle weight at 2.34 lb that represents 11 and 16 pound inches, which is way below the WSM spec of 32-52 pound inches! As I have to remove at least one of the small gaiter clamps I might as well remove a large ones and see if the joints are as shown in the WSM with a view to tightening them up.

Gaiters removed both locking rings have obviously been reused - not surprising as MGB ones 17H6574 are NLA, 17H8715 that several suppliers list for the MGB are actually for the MGC and are apparently a smaller diameter. The gaiters are also different but in that case MGB ones GSV1155 are available.

Aiming for the WSM spec of 32 to 52 pound inches (median 42) for articulation I calculate that 6lb at 7" along the arm (they are about 7.25" long) equates to the median and using a bucket of water tighten them to that, which is only a few degrees tighter than they were.

However that was measured with the steering arms pointing straight out from the rack, they don't move far from that when on the car, but when I move them sideways and vertically through their full range of movement they are only that tight around the in-line position, getting looser elsewhere. That seems odd, with wear one might expect them to tighten up when moved out of the normal arc when installed not slacken.

It then struck me that Vee - tested at the same garage - doesn't get the same advisory. So disconnect one of the track-rod ends from the steering arm ... and find it is about as floppy as the returned rebuilt unit, only just staying up with the weight of the TRE! That gets me thinking that what the MOTer has been finding on Bee is nothing to do with articulation force but from some other factor.

In which case maybe as tight as I have put them may cause variable self-centering on the road which would be unpleasant, so I back the bearing cups off the merest fraction until the resistance is about the same over the full angular range, and stake them down there. As mentioned above the WSM quotes 32 to 52 pound inches, but in this old John Twist video they are barely tighter than floppy, and can be rotated by hand seemingly easily (although both depend on John's arms and fingers ...), no mention of a particular force. I've not found any other comments on the WSM force, either for or against. These people are offering a sealed inner joint replacement, pre-set that just screws on to the end of the rack shaft and is staked down, I'm trying to get from them what force they use.

Saturday afternoon turned out to be dry after Storm Babet so time to roll Vee forwards far enough to get at the rack as I did before, and go through the saga of aligning all over again. Temporary rack off, and the UJ from the column shaft, and the new rack fitted minus TREs at this point (in case there is a major problem mounting the rack). First thing was to check the rack mounts were square to the cross-member-brackets, bolting down the rear driver's side first as that is the hardest to get shims on, then its front bolt just nipped up which didn't leave any clearance, then the two on the passenger side also just nipped up and all four were clearance free. Tightened up for alignment I fitted the alignment gauges - on the CB the column shaft can be slid up far enough to fit both with column and rack in position whereas on RB either the column or the rack has to be upbolted. Just a little up and down and side to side misalignment, no more than a couple of mm in each case. Vertical done first by slackening both toe-board and dashboard ends - former pulled down and latter pushed up and nipped up and rechecked - needed a couple of iterations to get it right when fully tightened. Then the heater shelf bolts slackened to the toe-board bracket can be slid horizontally - I say slid but it needed a bit of "encouragement" with a mallet and drift, and spot on in both vertical and horizontal directions. Probably about an hour and a half.

Gauges removed and rack unbolted to fit the UJ - the rack splines had been painted so that had to be cleaned off with a wire brush in a drill and greased before the UJ would go on. TREs swapped over from the temp rack at this point - about 20 turns on one and 18 on the other so I put them both on 19 on the new rack. With the rack centred by eye I refitted it loosely with just the front bolts dropped in, and the TREs nipped up to the steering arms. The car had been on its wheels until now so jacked it up, axle stands under the inner end of the A-arms, so I could check the number of turns of the wheel lock to lock and get both sides the same which should be just under one and a half turns each side for the CB rack, slightly more for the later RB rack. I also wanted the steering lock to engage in the straight-ahead position so with the column locked fitted the wheel with the steering wheel 'straight' then unlocked could turn side to side. Close, but more than one an a half turns to one side, so then it was an iterative process of taking the pins out of the rack brackets, sliding the rack shaft out of the UJ and turning it one or more splines in the appropriate direction and reinserting, and trying again until they are just about equal. All bolts tightened and checked, leaving the tracking until another day but it's not far out as on both the original and the temp racks the TREs were screwed on about 20 turns. This section took longer than the basic removal, fitting and UJ alignment, the whole thing being about 3 1/2 hours.

Next morning dry enough for a drive round the block (but a Sunday so a work-free zone ...) to check the feel before going any further, and I'm immediately struck by how much smoother this rack feels. Can't remember that between the original and the first replacement but the most noticeable thing with that was the initial lack of final self-centering, which is barely noticeable with this one and only when I'm specifically looking for it. Maybe I've just got used to it. As far as the smoothness goes maybe the MOTer was picking up some other issue in the first replacement (and the original) which isn't present on this one. Steering wheel nicely centered but the indicator cancelling cam needs sliding round a bit.

Monday afternoon dry so do the tracking with my gauge - both screwed in by about two turns. Next steps are to get it double-checked at a local place who have done it before, and see if I can get it into my MOTer for them to check just the rack which hopefully will only take five minutes and they can do it at short notice.

But before that I made some enquiries about just how they detect worn inner joints, and received some worrying information. Apparently my MOT station uses 'single person' testing where instead of a second person levering wheels, operating brakes, steering etc, the MOT ramp has shaker plates that pull, push and turn the wheels to put all the joints under stress with the single operator under the car looking for movement where there shouldn't be. Beloved of stations who don't like paying a second tester to sit in the car listening to the radio, David Birkby who is an MOT station inspector says he won't let his station use them on his Midget as it 'puts 50 years of wear' on the car, and after seeing this video I can understand why! If ever there was a reason to stop having MOTs this is it. I'll be talking to mine to see if they will do the test without using the shakers, and if not will have to look for another one that doesn't use them.

Aftermath: November 2023 Back to the MOT station and it's still doing it - without using shaker-plates. I asked about not using shaker-plates in future and the boss was very hesitant saying that's how the Government want it done and if anything should happen as a result of not picking up a defect it would be his head on the chopping-block. A bit OTT because as far as I'm aware it's not compulsory for an MOT station to have shaker-plates installed. Anyway. They show me that with the wheels off the ramp shaking the wheel back and fore grasping it at 3 o/clock and 9 o'clock there is a very definite clonk and movement, and if you pull the steering arm towards you it stops, which tells them it is the inner joint, driver's side worse than the passenger's. Back home I can't hear it with the wheels on the ground, but up on axle stands I can, so at least I have something to aim at. I've ordered and received a column UJ so will fit that next (it needs replacing anyway) and see how that compares.

Replaced the UJ - what a pain to get the circlips out which seemed too big for the holes in the yokes, and to get the cups out. Barely moved hammering on the shoulders, had to press them out as far as I could using two sockets in a vice, which exposed about 3mm, then grip that in the vice and twist and pull to get them out the rest of the way. Got the new ones in using two sockets and the vice again, the new circlips went in a bit too easily and have rather a lot of lateral play. Next time (I'm sure there will be a next time ...) I'll be replacing the whole thing with a one-piece like the RB items which are now the standard item for the CB. And after all that the play was still the same.

So next was the pinion shimming, took one out and tightened the cover bolts to make it bind - and no play! I had a spare shim thinner than the thinnest so substituted it, but tightened down that made the steering a bit stiff (but no play) so the original had to go back, But I noticed it had traces of old gasket on it - not needed now it is grease-filled and not oil, scraped that off, then bolted down that just removed the play without making it stiff. The MOT place said the passenger side wasn't as bad as the driver's, but I'm wondering if it was the same cause but by being at the other end of the rack sounded different. We shall see at the next MOT, but that's a long way away.