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Steering Wheels

Steering Wheels Published: 26th Mar 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
Steering Wheels
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Deserves another… perhaps, a sports steering wheel for your classic?

During the swinging 60s and 70s, one of the most popular go-faster add on was a sports steering wheel. It set drivers apart from the rest and no self-respecting boy racer would be without one. Not only did they look good, but they could improve the car’s handling as well as driver comfort – plus took only minutes to achieve this. And it’s as true today as it was back then.

For classics at least, because – admittedly – it’s pretty difficult to improve on the modern fare, which only built upon the experience and knowledge gained by the aftermarket decades previously; compare a standard spindly Mk2 Cortina’s tiller to the chunky design used on the fab Focus and you’ll see what we mean.

It’s believed that the craze for sports steering wheels was started by the legendary racing specialist Vic Derrington, just after WW2, but the market only really flourished when the Mini came along, chiefly because of its atrocious bus-like driving position, with its massive steering wheel – look how their size diminished over successive Mini models.

Comfort and feel are the main reasons for fitting a sports wheel. Factory ones are, understandably a compromising one size fits all, so, by choosing a specialist type, you can elect for a smaller diameter alternative plus a opt for a modified ‘dish’ which means that the wheel can be brought further or nearer to you according to taste. Add a wide choice style, colour and rim thicknesses and there’s bound to be one that’s right for you.

Such a small change can completely transform the tactile feel of your classic at your fingertips and enhance its handling by way of a sharper steering response. As, is likely, you’ll opt for a smaller diameter wheel. It means you have effectively fitted a higher ratio steering requiring less arm movement for a given radius. This has other positive effects, such as improving the handling characteristics by reducing understeer and oversteer simply because there’s less work at the wheel now required. Furthermore, if your clasic has an old style steering set up with a lot of ‘inherent’ slop a smaller wheel masks this, although is no stick-on plaster for wear.

A sports wheel invariably improves steering feel and precision all round and this could be particular benefit on classics fitted with lifeless over-assisted power steering – such as Jags and Stags – by requiring more manual labour. If there is one side effect, it’s that some lighter made aftermarket wheels do not have the same ‘damping’ effect as a OE one and may telegraph more road feel and also highlight any wheel imbalances.

Size matters – selecting the right wheel

Forget about single-seater sized tillers where only slight steering inputs are demanded. The typical diameter for a 60-70’s saloon was 16 inches as it was an ideal compromise for the majority of motorists – no PAS on 95 per cent of cars then, remember! Don’t go too small for not only will it make the steering tiresomely heavy (a point to remember if others are to drive your classic) but may also become too sensitive and make the car ‘darty’, a trait not ideal at higher speeds.

It’s all down to matter of personal preference, but in an excellent 45 year old issue of Cars & Car Conversions (great old mag, sorely missed-ed), where various sized sports wheels were tried on wide ranging group of motorists, the overall verdict was that a 14inch type was the best happy medium for ease of use, sporty feel and comfort.

Several testers felt the small 11inch ’tea plate’ tried made the car (a Hillman Avenger GT) quite dangerous at speed and few drivers liked it, even on a Mini.

There’s also a matter of fit to consider and resultant trade offs.

It may be due to the design of the steering shroud or switch gear location which will hinder fitting plus, inevitably, visibility to the instruments will probably become impaired.

A different boss or dish wheel may get around some of the problems while simple old fashioned spindle indicator stalks can be tweaked by using pliers deftly at the point of fouling. A little heat helps – but whatever you do don’t use force on the tip of the stalk as it will probably snap.

The problem concerning choosing a new wheel is that you never know what it’s going to be like until you’ve bought it which by then is too late. About the only thing that you can do is talk to a specialist and fellow owners at a car show who may let you sit in their pride and joy to handle their choice of tiller to see if it has wheel appeal for you.

Fitting tips

Fitting another steering wheel is very easy although you do need a larger than normal sized socket to deal with the nut behind the wheel (no, not you-ed). The fiddliest bits may be removing the old wheel shroud, trim and crash pad to gain access and releasing the lock tab that holds the securing nut – a flat blade hammer and screwdriver is best. If a centre horn is incorporated, disconnect the wiring. Ensure the steering is dead straight before removing it; take care here as it will be stuck solid and require some persuasion. Do this by rocking the wheel firmly or by hitting the spokes sharply with your palms – in all instances leave the nut on by a couple of threads so the old steering wheel don’t come flying off and hit you in the fizzog – it happens!

Overview of today’s market from Michael Toole, managing director of Springalex

I have been involved in the manufacture of car parts and accessories for the past 40 years. For the past 30 years I have mainly been involved in the design and manufacture of Steering wheels and boss adaptor kits for classic cars. The manufacture of steering wheels and bosses started in the 1960/70s with a few companies manufacturing in the UK. Around the mid to late 1990s there was a shift for these companies to stop manufacturing in the UK and buy from China.

With the import of wheels from China the quality varies drastically. With higher prices not reflecting better quality. Some of the wheels on the net for sale may look the same. But! You cannot see the inferior quality of materials some are made from, or some I have seen which have been made to an unsafe level, which would only show in an accident.

Imported bosses are even more questionable. I see bosses advertised for cars they do not fit or bosses from China to fit, say, Japanese cars which UK models have a different spec column. Also even for British cars, people have told me that a particular boss will fit another car when it will not. The only way around this is to buy from a reputable outlet which will supply you with fitting instructions.

If you wish to replace your steering wheel, again it is best to buy from a reputable seller, tell them what you are looking for and they will help you through the whole buying process. The style of wheel you will be looking for will probably match the trend which is being fitted to that model. It is important to remember that original steering wheels are not all the same height. This height is important for you to reach the controls, indicators and so on.

So it is important that the combined height of replacement wheel and boss must match the height of the original wheel.

It is possible to pick up a used wheel or/and boss from the net or an autojumble. But the question is what condition is it in or have they been in an accident! I have seen wheels that have been bent and pulled back. So unless you have a keen eye to spot this or small surface cracks in the spokes I would not buy.

For the boss, you only know it will fit your car because the seller says it will. In my opinion, unless you are buying for reasons to hang on your office or garage wall, I would suggest, for the price of a new one, buy new simply for peace of mind.

I have been asked many times if I can recover an old sports wheel, which I have done in the past. The problem, however, is usually with old wheels the foam moulding under the cover has usually perished. So when you cut the old cover off, the perished foam simply disintegrates in your hands.

Also this old foam collects moisture which rusts the metalwork inside the wheel. With the selection of wheels on the market to-day you can probably find a wheel very close to what you are looking for.

The other alternative is to have a bespoke wheel made, but this is very a expensive ploy.

Steering wheel gloves have been available maybe even before aftermarket wheels were made. We are not talking about the ones you buy just to stretch on that are still around. There’s two types to consider, one you wrap the lace around the cover and the other which you lace up, this latter one looks better but allow two hours to fit this type.

Around the mid/late 80s cars started being fitted with airbags. Due to of insurance implications I would not advise anybody to remove the airbag. I do supply some bosses to replace airbags but only for off-road purposes.

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