It is funny how we just get used to things when they happen gradually. I have owned my 2CV6 for nearly 12 years, and I was quite content. Then last summer, I attended the 2CV World Meeting at Salbris in France. For that wonderful event, a friend of mine near Orléans lent me a 1982 2CV6 E. You can see that car in one of the postings in Bob’s Blog here.

That was one of the few other 2CVs that I have driven at length, and I immediately noticed that the steering felt quite differerent. It was very precise, very direct, and the steering wheel was “quiet” in my hands, even over rough or irregular roads.

When I got home, I was no longer satisfied with the way my car drove. It was vague on-centre, but not too bad once it took a set through a corner. The car did not like rough roads, and kicked back through the steering wheel. Through the fall, I made some half-hearted attempts to locate the source of the problem, but was still wondering about it when the car had to go into storage.

This spring, my wife was planning a trip back home to France, so I saw the opportunity to have her pick up some parts from a supplier I met at Salbris, who has a store in Orléans. All I need to do was figure out what parts I needed.

Thus began a serious analysis of the problem. Having worked on many types of cars over many years, usually I am fairly good at narrowing down a problem like this. I started with the basics, by removing the front fenders so I could get a good look at things.

Before I go on, I’ll provide a quick overview of steering on a 2CV:

  • The steering wheel is bolted to the steering column. This steering column engages via splines into the pinion of the steering rack. Thus, turning the steering wheel rotates the pinion, which in turn moves the rack to the left or the right. Still with me? Good.
  • The steering rack moves a central carrier that has two spherical projections. To each projection is attached the inner tie-rod end, one left and one right. These inner tie-rod ends are the inboard ends of the two steering arms, which extend out to the front wheels. At the outboard end of each steering arm, there is the outer tie-rod end which connects to another spherical ball on the end of a lever attached to each of the front uprights.
  • The uprights can swivel (steer) to the left or right due to the presence of the famous kingpins.
  • Lastly the wheels are attached to the upright through a wheel bearing.
  • Any of these elements can wear out and develop play, which will translate to some sort of steering problem.

OK, lesson over and let’s get back to our story.

First I wiggled the steering wheel left and right, to look for slack in the response of the tires. To my surprise, no matter how little I moved the steering wheel, I could see both front tires responding. Normally, this would mean that there is no play in the pinion, the rack, or the inner and outer tie-rod ends.

Nonetheless, I proceeded to check the tie-rod ends. You do this by wrapping your bare hand completely around each tie-rod end in turn, then then getting someone to wiggle the steering wheel. If there is play, you will feel a very slight movement in at the point that the tie-rod end fits over the spherical ball. There was no play at any of the tie-rod ends. Hmmmmm.

OK, well let’s check the rack for play. You can do this in two directions. First, you can move the steering wheel very slightly and observe the central carrier. It should move in perfect unison with the steering wheel. And so it did. The other option is to grab a front road wheel and wiggle it as if it was steering. This will push and pull on the steering arms, which are connected to the central carrier (remember?). Sometimes this reverse loading will reveal play that is not evident from the steering wheel method. But not in this case. The central carrier did show a wee bit of up and down movement (which is generally OK), but nothing from side to side which is what would be perceived as sloppy steering.

In fact, during that reverse loading from the road wheels (I did both sides), it was clear that the steering wheel was reacting directly to the small movement imparted into the rack, and hence to the pinion, through the splines and up the steering column.

This was getting really weird!

Not having ever owned another car with kingpins, I did not really know if or how play in the kingpins might translate to steering feel. Nevertheless, I checked both kingpins. You can do this by putting a jack under the big front suspension arm (no, not the steering arm!) to raise the road wheel off the ground. Then you grab the tire at the 12 and 6 position (top and bottom, think of a clock) and try to wiggle it in and out towards the engine. There will always be a very small amount of play, since it is necessary to allow the wheel to steer. I was looking for a real “clunk clunk” kind of action. Once side was pretty much perfect, the other was a bit looser, but not alarmingly so. Still no bingo moment.

While I had each wheel jacked up, I also checked for play in the wheel bearings. You do this in a fashion similar to checking for king pin play, except that you grab the tire at the 9 and 3 positions (remember the clock analogy) or possibly at 10 and 4, to make it easier to exclude steering movement. I found a little play on one side, and none on the other.

So, what did I have so far? Well, no play in the steering mechanism itself, but a small amount of play in one king pin, and a similarly small amount of play in the opposite wheel bearing. This was just not adding up. And so far I had no list of parts that needed replacing.

One of the luxuries of having a Collector’s Car is that you don’t HAVE to repair everything on any given day. So, I decided to let the facts stew, and also to consult local member Terry H, who has a deeper history in older automotive technology.

Terry came over, and he drove the car, agreeing that something was indeed amiss. We then repeated pretty much every check that I have described above, thinking that a second set of eyes might spot something I had missed. To Terry’s point of view neither the king pin play nor the wheel bearing play was enough to explain the car’s behaviour.

At one point, we were rocking the car from side to side and heard an odd clunking sound. Now we started to wonder about things like the huge bearings that connect the big suspension arms to the traverse. That would be a pretty weird source for what we were feeling, but we didn’t have any better ideas, so we jacked up under the chassis on one side to let the suspension arm droop all the way down.

Once it was up, we were trying to figure out how to test the arm bearings for play. While we were discussing this, I absentmindedly grabbed the tire that was up in the air and wiggled it, watching the various elements of the steering system without really thinking about it. Suddenly, I snapped to attention! Although the steering arms and the rack were reacting as expected to small inputs, I could not see the steering wheel responding. What the heck….?

Terry and I were now both focused on this new development. Sure enough, with the suspension loaded up on one side (due to the other side being jacked up) there now was definite play at the steering wheel. With renewed zeal we both started peering into the darkness around the pinion and the bottom of the steering column. To our amazement, we could perceive a tiny amount of movement between the steering column and its socket at the pinion.

Using the bare hand technique described above (for detecting play in the tie-rod ends), I was able to confirm that the steering column was very slightly loose in its connection to the pinion. The splines on the steering column once engaged in the pinion are secured with a clamp and a pinch bolt. Further investigation showed that the pinch bolt was not quite tight. Could it possibly be that simple?

Grabbing my torque wrench, I quickly tightened the suspect bolt to the required 13 lb/ft. Sure enough, the steering wheel now obediently followed every input from the road wheel.

We lowered the car off the jack, and took it for a quick drive (without fenders!). The change was immediately noticeable. No more sloppy on centre feel. Hooray! High Fives all around.

So, why did it take us so long to figure this out? Here is how I see it. The pinch bolt was only very slightly loose. When the car was stationary in the garage, there was enough tension that small movements of the steering wheel could be transmitted perfectly well. That was why I could not detect any play with those tiny inputs. However, when the car was driving, and the tires were under load from road traction, cornering forces, and engine power, the clamp would flex slightly, and allow the splines to move very slightly where they insert into the pinion. It would be especially noticeable in a transition from a left turn to a right turn. It also would be felt if a wheel hit a pothole, since there would be a sudden and sharp loading through the clamp. That was the kickback that I was feeling under those conditions.

So, tightening one slightly loose bolt was able to restore the pleasure of driving this 2CV. Once again the car has given me a lesson in simplicity.

Oh, and the only part I decided to buy was a new pinch bolt, just in case the nut or the threads on the original are damaged. I think it cost me $5.

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