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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I owned an XT for a few years. I put tons of miles on it. It was a well built little car, but eventually it rusted badly. It did have a weird interior, steering wheel included. The XT6 did come with a manual transmission but I don’t think it was a popular option. The SVX, Subaru’s next 6 cylinder car (and XT replacement) did not have a manual transmission option.
The Austin Allegro has to be a contender. Build in 1973 this was the worst car British Leyland had ever made and the square steering wheel was one of the main talking point . They must have realised this square design was a mistake as the "phase 2" models from 1976 onwards had conventional round steering wheels.
The DeSoto Adventurers' steering wheel center and wings are shaped like a Jet! Inspired by aero. design lines. That is somewhat overshadowed by the fancy clock though. If you didn't see it look again.
60 mph in a Messerschmitt?? I have a friend who is restoring one and although I have never sat in it (as I am afraid I could never get out) its a terrifying prospect to drive one much less make 60!
The new Corvette C8 steering wheel looks like the 1960 Plymouth Fury wheel.
I loved the Kleenex box steering wheel on Caddies. Not because it looks great...although it was pretty good compared to many other airbag wheels of that area! (looking at Chrysler K-cars)
Lets not forget Mercury and their Wrist Twist Steering system that made the rounds in 1965 on some of their show cars. I remember seeing this back in '65 and praying it never makes it to production, thankfully it didn't! Take a look at it here:
My dad had a '51 Studebaker Business Coupe that had a clock in the center of the wheel. It was clear and pointed like the nose on the grille.
When the title said Eleven, I figured it would probably be all of them, but reading all the comments and thinking about others, wow, there are literally dozens of crazy, beautiful and or interesting steering wheels. Cool article!!
The photo is actually a 1961 Fury though the 1960 is similar.
As a 5 year old in ‘61, I vividly recall my dad at the dealership asking me (welling with pride) if I wanted to see our new car. Already a car lover, I eagerly followed him to the prep area and saw our 1961 Plymouth Savoy wagon in robin-egg blue staring at me. Even at such a young age I knew “That is the ugliest car I’ve ever seen.” wasn’t an appropriate response!
That instrument cluster and steering wheel made up for the exterior shortcomings. All the kids in the neighborhood loved the sequential thermometer style speedometer!
The Citroen DS/ID wheel wasn't done that way just to be quirky. It was actually a safety feature. https://citroenvie.com/why-was-the-ds-steering-wheel-designed-that-way/
The more you know...
When we were packaging the Chrysler LH series of cars and the later Neon, we researched alternative tilt wheels to the clutzy GM Saginaw wheel. it was not very good or cheap, so we looked at what different packaging and cost benefits could be had. The Subaru with the attached cluster that pivoted at the floor, was the winner. The cluster was always in the right place for all heights of drivers. Somewhere after throwing our recommendations over the wall to engineering, our electronics division in Huntsville AL, made a high pivot one, that became the default wheel. I still have the Subaru column and am holding out for a rod project...
Balerie Allen of Chrysler Design Interior Color and Mastering studio, proposed and developed, a tortoise shell plastic, upper wheel section. Unfortunately, the vendor did NOT maintain secrecy and gave it to a competitor at the same time, despite all of her work!
Some very interesting steering wheels. My top three are; First Place. The 1960 Plymouth. Second Place. The 1956-60 DeSoto Adventurer, with the clock in the middle of the horn. And bringing up the rear in Third place. The 1949 Delahaye 135 M Cabriolet. With honorable mention to the Volvo (Volvinski) PV 444 banjo style wheel, and the Messerschmitt KR 200. Although it should be turned over so the ends are up like horns on a bull.
When I was about 14, the family car was a '60 Fury. Although too young to drive yet, our house had a paved driveway easily 75 to 100 yards long. I thought it a good idea to back the Fury out to the road and see how quickly I could reach the garage, leaving as much tire tread on the driveway as possible. I had a blast, my Dad had other thoughts. I'm tempted when I see one occasionally come up at auction.
1972 Maserati Boomerang; everyone always looks at its wedge body, but it had that steering wheel with all the Gauges, switches and HVAC levers recessed into the middle of it!
You're wrong regarding the TVR. The 3 lower gauges are not attached to the steering wheel, but just fixed below the steering column. How would the cables work if they were on the steering wheel?
I used to own 1980 Renault 5 Turbo 1 (R5) S/N 0012 That originally was owned by Francois Castaing when he was head of Renault Sport. 280 HP Monster!!! It had a very cool steering wheel and a wild interior.
Probably only worthy of an honorable mention, but 'any 1967 Ford product steering wheel', with its Donut center cushion. Not sure how many lives it could have saved, if it really wanted to... always seemed to me to be a chest impaler.
Nash steering wheels of 1940 & 41 were unusual. The 40 had a large teardrop center section. The 41 switched to a large round center section but they changed the horn ring to a large disc of clear plastic
Not that unique for an article like this, but always wanted one of those wooden type steering wheels of muscle car Mustang era. Very hard to adapt anything cool to these later model cars with the big air bag pods built in. But they are much much safer if the unfortunate ever does happen. Hopefully we will still have steering wheels in the autonomous vehicle vision of today's youth!
Not actually unique, but I always wanted a wooden steering wheel with the notched finger grips from the Mustang muscle car era. Its very hard to adapt an older steering wheel to a later model car with the bid air bag pod in them. But much much safer in the unfortunate ever does happen. Hope there are steering wheels in the autonomous car vision of today's youth!