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Steering Wheels

Steering Wheels Published: 23rd Jan 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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 also 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 steering wheel, which only built upon the experience and knowledge gained by the aftermarket designs 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 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 and it means that 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 classic has an old style steering set up with a lot of ‘inherent’ slop a smaller wheel masks this, although is no stick-on plaster to compensate for wear in the system.

A sports wheel invariably improves steering feel and precision all round and this could be of 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 an OE one and may telegraph more road feel and also highlight any wheel imbalances.

Size really matters when selecting the right steering wheel for your needs

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’ size tried out made the car (a Hillman Avenger GT) quite dangerous at speed and few drivers liked it, even when fitted 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 switchgear 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 brute 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 set dead straight before removing the wheel; take care here as it will probably be stuck solid and require some persuasion. Do this by rocking the wheel firmly or by hitting the spokes sharply with your palms – but in all instances leave the securing nut on by a couple of threads so the old steering wheel doesn’t come flying off and hit you in the fizzog – it happens!


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