Oil Leak from Steering Column!

I shiipped my XK120SE FHC transatlantic in May this year. It was transported to the port with the engine inclined up which I believe has caused the steering box to drain oil into the column etc as I now have a drip from the steering column telescope arrangement!
I am inclined to remove all the oil from the steering box and replace it with Cornhead grease and raise the rear end to let any oil drain back down.
Strange thing is the steering box never leaked as it had been rebuilt but now has a drip.
Anybody have any better ideas? Should I dismantle steering?

No, definitely no grease, just put the car level and let the oil run back down to the steering box. Top it up with SAE140 in the filler plug.
There is a dry sleeve bearing inside the column at the top/rear end. Oil normally never gets up there.
That’s pretty strange to transport a car tilted up that much in the front, at least 10 degrees, maybe 15.
Or was the ship rolling in rough seas?

Hi there,

Your car was almost certainly transported in a tandem tralier, one car heavily tilted above another. In trans european transports it’s not uncommon, perhaps also the case in boats now.

I do use so called “red and tacky” grease, so far (almost 1.5 years) without adverse effects.

Lubricants seem to be a matter of religious faith, so I will not recommend anything, although what I use works great for me and has stopped all leaks. Steering is really smooth too.



As example:

PS: Red and Tacky Grease is a Lucas Oil Product (no affiliation):

You wouldn’t want to own the car below my 140 if it was stacked like that. It still has the factory scroll seal…

Someone on the pre-xk forum reported sudden steering box failure on his Mark V, which has the same Burman-Douglas recirculating ball design as the XK120. He removed the top cover and found it full of gooey grease.
Post-mortem analysis is pending, but my suspicion is the balls were not recirculating as they should, and would with oil.

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Good point. I certaiy will keep that in mind in winter. but I think am not too worried about that most time. The hardening temperature of red and tacky (and others) is far below 0C (far under what I am used to in The Netherlands).

Having rebuilt my steering box (new seals and new ball bearings) many years ago and seeing the importance of correct lubrication I’ve always been focused on using straight 140 weight per factory specs. These parts are very special, and very hard to come by. If kept properly lubricated they will last much longer than I will. Keep good seals in the box, check the oil level every now and then, tighten the adjuster gently, and the steering should still be light and accurate while at speed. When stopped or at very slow speeds, well; that is why they gave you such a large diameter steering wheel!

This failure occurred in the summer. The car became stiff and difficult to steer.

Yes. And equally prosecuted.


Hi all,

What is the specificity of a Jaguar Burman? Mercedes and Alfa use similar boxes and all use Li grease.



Ps: i mean that in case the grease goes hard, as you sate Rob, of course it fails, but i would not associate this at all to using semi solid lubricant, which is recommended for any other Burman.

From the Service Manual:

The recirculating balls are inside parts X and Y.

Yes and this is from Merc/Alfa (had one in my long gone W115).

I understand they are model specific, but these are with semi solid lube (special grease, low linear speed), so unless something else is wrong, I do ot see any issue Rob as an alternative to liquid.

But be it clear: in case i ever do the seals (but I really do not intent to take out the column) i will pour in liquid.

How does one check the level when installed and what should the level be?

Hi Luis,
The very modern semi-liquid greases like Shell Retinax are thixotropic meaning their viscosity increases as the shear speed decreases - exactly what you want in an application like our steering box where you have almost zero movement but you still want to lubricate the mating surfaces. Another positive like you said as being semi-liquid they are almost leak sealing due to the additives. I think Jaguar would have specified this category of lubrication for our steering box if it had been around in 1954.
I think your tacky “red grease” may have the same formulation with probably synthetic fluid additives allowing operation down to -40 deg.C.
My car was transported in a closed transporter normally used to move race cars and as a luck would have it it was put in nose up. The small leak in the car was spotted before the car went into the container. Now after about two months there is still a drip of oil out from the telescoping coil which I look for.
I am seriously thinking about raising the rear end for a while to accelerate the drainage back into the box.
Even taking Rob’s comments about 140wt oil, I cannot see a reason not to use a much superior lubrication product for this application!
The Cornhead grease I mentioned is a John Deere product used on combines in a similar type of application
Just beware though if you ever ship your XK!


I’m concerned that the balls would not circulate properly in grease.
To check the level, take out the filler plug and look inside. It should be full.
Curiously the filler plug is not shown on the drawing in the manual.

Hi again,

My main concern with Burman boxes is excessive play between the worm and the balls and uneven wear, which can make them jam (like real jamming in the engineering sense).

I am sure that letting semi-solid lubricant turn solid due to lack of maintenance, or letting oil drain itself empty due to bad sealing, can certainly cause it, as you say.

This is also the reason which I would never fit a power steering to the Burman: would the balls jam, the only way out is to ease pressure on the system (which is not really intuitive). With a power steering on the “upper column”, you do not feel it and simply explose the thing.



Take out the filler plug and fill it all of the way up. I fear for all of the steering boxes using other than the factory recommended straight 140 weight oil, these are some of the hardest parts to find and once they’re damaged they’re toast. Mine is now 70 years old and works just fine, in fact I love the feel at 60 - 75 MPH. New seals and new ball-bearings. Check it now and then, if the seals are leaking fix the seals, adjust it “gently”, and it certainly seems to be willing to serve forever.