One of the first modifications that is recommended for AE86s intended for drift use is changing the power steering rack for a manual steering rack. To many people this seems silly, because power steering reduces steering effort. The point of installing a manual rack isn’t so you can get big beefy arms, it actually serves several performance purposes.
The stock power steering system on the AE86 runs a power steering pump off of the engine via accessory/serpentine belt. On small power engines, such as the 4AGE, removing as many engine driven accessories reduces the drag on the engine, which in turn increases the power that is put to the wheels from that little engine. So, removing the power steering pump from the engine, as well as other things such as the AC compressor (if equipped) and replacing the clutched cooling fan with an electronic one makes the engine seem just a little bit more peppy.
The other purpose for it, especially for drifting, is that you get more steering angle out of it when combined with power steering knuckles. The power steering knuckles are a little bit shorter than the manual knuckles, which gives you a faster steering ratio and allows the same amount of steering rack travel move the steering knuckles further for more steering angle.
Now that you know why, let’s talk about how.
First, make sure you get the u-joint with the manual steering rack. The power steering rack u-joint does not fit.
Next, to go along with the u-joint, you will need a longer intermediate shaft (junkyard option is a MK3 supra intermediate shaft). The intermediate shaft is what the other side of the u-joint attaches to on the steering column. AE86s have a collapsible steering column, so the intermediate shaft can slide into the steering column in the event of a crash so you don’t get speared in the chest. The power steering intermediate shaft is about 5.7″ long, whereas the MK3 supra shaft is about 9.75″ long.
To change it out, use a hammer and a punch on one of the notches on the intermediate shaft and hammer it out. The shaft has a bit of epoxy/rubber cement on it to hold it in place for vibration and steering tightness, so it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of heat with a torch to free it up. When you install the new one, I recommend using a bit of black/grey RTV or windshield gasket stuff, let it set up for a few minutes, then re-install. This will make sure the intermediate shaft is tight in the steering column, and it’ll still allow the collapsible column to work properly.
It's also worth mentioning that there are a few companies out there that make "swap" intermediate shafts, some of them come with a new u joint.
With the steering shaft sorted, you’ll need to get the right bushing or rack mount strap. The power steering rack housing is larger in diameter on the passenger side when compared to the manual rack housing (see the image below). This means that you will need to get an adapter bushing (made by various AE86 parts companies) or you’ll need to source the rare OEM AE86 manual rack strap (some AE86s came with manual racks).
Lastly, there is a combination of inner and outer tie rod ends between manual and power to get the right length, and quite frankly, it’s been so long since I put my manual rack in that I forgot what the right combo was (so hey if you know, shoot us a message, you can do this from the bottom of the home page). I believe it is manual inners with power outers, but I could be wrong.
Okay, now let’s cover the different types of manual steering racks. YES, there are a few.
I’ve been able to compare the OEM AE86 manual rack, AW11 manual rack, and the Flo,s Quick Rack. If you don’t want to do a bunch of reading, check out the video I put together.
If you’re still reading… then here I’ll type out the highlights for the difference between the AE86 manual rack, AW11 manual rack, and Flo’s Quick Rack.
In this picture, the AE86 manual rack is on top, the AW11 manual rack is in the middle, and the Flo,s Quick RAck is on the bottom. One thing that you should notice right off the bat is that the AW11 pinion is much longer. For most people, this isn’t an issue. However, I have a BEAMS 3SGE in my AE86, which already has exhaust clearance issues. Using an AW11 manual rack makes the space for the exhaust to fit much tighter. It’s not necessarily an issue, but it is something you have to be cognizant of.
The next major difference is the bushing style on the passenger side of the rack. The AE86 rack uses a metal bushing, and both the AW11 rack and Flo,s Rack use plastic bushings (I was incorrect in the video, Flo,s sent me a message and provided this information). The plastic bushing is easy to replace and easy to obtain, and pretty much every AW11 rack you pull from the junkyard needs the plastic bushing replaced. The AE86 one however… unless you have a good vice, slide hammer, and maybe a pilot bearing puller attachment, you have to carefully cut it out with a dremel, then use a press to install it (or a big hammer and 2×4 or something).
The AW11 is the “go-to” rack for most AE86 guys because it’s cheap, sometimes can be found at the junkyard, and is pretty readily available. It does get you more steering angle over the power steering rack, but it does not get you as much steering angle as an AE86 rack or Flo,s rack. Here is why:
The AW11 rack housing is 3/4 of an inch LONGER than the AE86 or Flo,s rack. This means that the inner tie rod end is hitting the rack housing SOONER than if you had one of the other steering racks. For most people, this isn’t really an issue. I drifted for years with an AW11 rack and it was plenty for me. However, once you get more power, then you get more speed, then you start seeking more angle to be able to enter faster, then you’ll wish you had the other rack housing. I’ve heard of some people who will actually shorten the rack housing by cutting it and welding it back together.
Alright, now the last difference here. The teeth.
The Flo,s rack has straight cut teeth, but I didn’t really notice a difference in feel between the two. But what I did notice a difference with is the Flo,s has a few more teeth cut into it, which gives you a bit more rack travel for more steering angle. It’s pretty neat.