Steering wheels have an important job to do. However, like the cars they control, steering wheels are more fun with some extra flair. Since the interior is sheltered from wind and weather, designers of the past let their imagination run wild with shape, color, texture, and style. While the array of aftermarket steering wheels is mind-boggling, we’ve focused this investigation on 11 of the craziest designs that made it to series production. The list covers more than 50 years of automotive history, but we’ll give it away now—one is the clear winner.
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Interesting to be sure. I like the 1933 Buick and the early 60s Chrysler products with things like light switches and gear shifts built into the steering wheel. Didn’t the Edsel have that too?
Yes, definitely a 444; I have owned my 544 for 50 years, a 1965 Sport model (Canada and US) and the first thing that came off the car was the 'bus wheel' in favour of a smaller diameter wheel. Yes, more effort to steer, but pump the front tires up to 38 psi or so and all was well. An anecdote on the original 444/544 steering wheels: this was before technology, even in safety-conscious Sweden, when collapsible steering columns hadn't been looked at for production. My first 544, a '62 with a B16 motor (3-main bearing) was the Volvo I cut my teeth on. It met its end in 1969 when I blew an unmarked t-junction on Christmas Day and landed on a log cross-wise in the ditch. The impact folded the front-end sky-ward; never even broke the headlights. The steering traveled back 18". The thing that prevented it from killing me, other than a slight right-offset, was the fact that my '62 Volvo had robust 3-point shoulder harnesses. We wore them because they were cool. The steering wheel actually touched me in the chest! I was uninjured, my passenger suffered a split chin when the floor-boards buckled and his knees came up. We were very fortunate
I hate to be "that guy", but having spent a lot of time behind the wheel of my Volvo PV444, it deserves credit for having that gorgeous steering wheel. That was from roughly '47-58' before they phased in the PV544, with it's horizontal speedo and less "art deco" steering wheel. The dashes of each car were drastically different, with the PV444 being the more iconic, in my opinion.
Fun article and photos! But surely the Citroen ID had hydraulic brakes rather than mechanical... although manually rather than power assisted?
Also, an early contender for great steering wheels... the 1942 Desoto Fifth Avenue, with a cigarette dispenser in the hub of the steering wheel!
The steering wheels from the 1970-1/2 to 1979 Trans AMs are still the best in the world (IMO) followed by the Wooden Steering Wheels offered in the 65-66 Mustangs (that I installed in my 68 Conv. because I liked it so much).
I was a service writer at a Linc/Merc dealer in 1970, and did not know about the "rim blow" rings on the wheel. As I was driving through Hammond, IN, I could not figure out who was blowing the horn at me! Little did I know...
Last summer I was driving a rented Toyota Corolla on the highway.
I mistakenly hit a button on the back of the steering wheel that dropped the car down into first. I had no idea what had happened and tried to use the gear shift with no luck.
As the car slowed down and other cars were honking I managed to re hit the shift button and get it back in drive. I thought it was a radio control......
The shortage of glass after the war was actually caused by demand for panes to replace windows broken by bombing raids and other fighting. Manufacturers in some countries didn't catch up until the mid-fifties.
IIRC both GM and Chrysler used Lucite in their steering wheels just prior to WWII. They weren't clear, but usually cream-colored. It deteriorated rather quickly, requiring some sort of Pep Boys steering wheel cover to keep the disintegrating plastic from coming off on your hands as you drove.
The Pontiac steering wheel was not exclusively an ASC/McLaren offering, it was an option on the Grand Prix. I have one on my shelf somewhere...
Lucite, is a name brand for acrylic, What we more commonly call Plexiglas or Plexiglass. The same stuff Aircraft windshields and windows are made from.
Lest we forget, Oldsmobile (and probably other GM divisions) In the late '60s and '70s, sported an ordinary looking steering wheel with a unique feature: The inner diameter of the wheel has a continuous rubber or vinyl insert that activated the horn when pressed. The driver needed to merely squeeze his fingers tighter around the wheel rim at any point on its circumference to advise a pesky pedestrian to vacate the roadway.
OK, and here comes a little tongue in cheek word play. In the vast majority of cars ever produced, the front wheels/tires are the "steering wheels". They are essential to steering the car in a specified direction and function as weight bearing rolling wheels. The thing inside the car that dictates the direction you want to steer in is functionally a lever. You apply force to the lever which translates into moving the real steering wheels in front to turn in the direction you need to go. The steering lever probably morphed into a round wheel shape so we could apply leverage from 360 degrees rather than discerning where the lever was at any moment. I'm curious as to why the steering lever is called a wheel. Probably because of its similar shape. This little inconsequential misnomer must have an origin.
Umm..... maybe because it's round, like a wheel and doesn't look like a lever? Maybe it would please you to know that the device used to manually set the brakes on rail cars is called a "handwheel."