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With the invention of the airbag steering wheel, the days of aftermarket steering wheels was effectively doomed. But remember, there was a time when every auto accessory shop worth its name would have a wall full of steering wheels, for you to add your own personal touch to the interior of your pride and joy.

While all those who claimed to be enthusiasts would buy a set of hot alloy wheels, those who really knew what they were talking about, also knew that having the right steering wheel in your car spoke volumes – much more than did a set of alloy wheels. But which aftermarket steering wheel to choose? This was not a decision which could be taken lightly as so much was at stake.

Probably your first and biggest decision would have to be whether to go for wood or leather? Of course, wooden steering wheels and leather steering wheels were relatively era-defined. The big and slim wooden aftermarket steering wheels came first and were popular up through the sixties. Then as the sixties drew to a close, the much smaller and fatter leather steering wheels swooped in and snatched a big portion of the market, thereby defining the seventies and the eighties. However, the popularity and eras of wood and leather did overlap but they have also always represented two distinctly different styles.

But there’s of course more. Choosing which material best enhances your tactile driving experience was and still is just the beginning. Do you then opt for the traditional three-spoke steering wheel, or how about a four-spoke? Maybe even be proper daring and find yourself a two-spoke, which was at one point the obvious choice for small Abarths. Do you prefer the spokes painted black or polished? And do you require a heavily dished steering wheel, maybe just lightly dished or do you prefer it kept perfectly flat? Then there’s the diameter of the wheel – do you want a big Grand Tourer sized wheel or a small rally-style wheel (just to prove to all the chicks that you’ve got the biceps to still turn your tiny 300mm steering wheel on your Capri 3.0 despite no power steering)? The thickness of the rim, whether it has thumb cut-outs just above the two top spokes or perhaps finger-sized indents all along the back of the rim? Last but not least, you need the right steering wheel boss as well, and they of course vary in length. If you want the steering wheel a little closer to you, but you prefer steering wheels without dish, then you’ll obviously need a longer boss. The options and considerations are almost never ending…

Then there’s also the brand of steering wheel. For some enthusiasts, this can almost border on religion. There are in fact people who just won’t wrap their fingers around anything but a thin-rimmed 1960s stamped Nardi steering wheel. Others insist on having one of Momo’s many variations of the sporting leather-clad steering wheel, such as the classic Prototipo or maybe one of their rarer early models like the Elite, Monza or Indy. But there were so many other great brands such as Personal and Italvolanti equally from Italy, Walsall, Les Leston and Moto Lita from Great Britain or Petri from Germany.

But it’s not just a matter of finding the steering wheel which best suits you. It must also suit your specific classic car. I’m sure most will agree that a large wooden Nardi steering wheel from the sixties is a thing of true beauty, but it would naturally look utterly out of place in late-seventies Fiat 127. Equally, a small and thick-rimmed leather steering wheel just doesn’t gel with a Lancia Aurelia.

So dear reader, what are your steering wheel preferences? Do you insist on originality and the stock factory-supplied steering wheel in your classic car? Or do you perhaps have a period-correct aftermarket steering wheel in your classic car? If so, which one? Wood or leather? And what made you choose that particular steering wheel over all the others? Maybe you have a dream steering wheel which you just haven’t managed to find yet – or simply can’t afford because it’s become collectable?

We’ve recently allowed pictures to be uploaded within the reader’s comments, so as to hopefully make the whole ViaRETRO experience a bit more interactive (now there’s a modern concept for a retro website!). So on that note, please do share pictures of your wooden or leather aftermarket steering wheels. We would love to see what you have…

 

 

Todays free-of-charge ViaRETRO top-tip: Remember, you can never own too many cool vintage steering wheels. If you, like me, end up with more steering wheels than you have classic cars you can fit them in, simply mount those excess steering wheels on your garage wall.

9 Responses

  1. Christian V
    It’s difficult to pick one particular type over the other – The steering wheel has to complement the looks of the car/interior in a natural way.
    Heck, in some cases metalflake vinyl looks just right…

    Reply
  2. YrHmblHst
    I snooze I lose… Christian V beat me to it. Sometimes, ya just gotta have a metalflake wheel… [have a very similar – blue even – unit as above sitting on a shelf myself]
    As stated, the main variable is the car; the steering wheel should fit with the design and era of the car. Par exampl – wood wheels look ‘right’ on 63-7 Corvettes, but not on a 68 up. I have a ‘new-in-the-box’ wood wheel for a GTV6 Alfa out in the garage, and it just doesnt look right on the car, even tho it was an option. [I put a thin rimmed, stock diameter leather clad 3 spoke Nardi on it when the stock wheel began to disintegrate btw]
    too small diameter never looks right imnsho, unless youre driving a Formula car on the street. Personally dont like fat rims either. Nor too deep of dish. but thats just me.
    Basically, if the cars dashboard is wood, so should be the steering wheel and shift knob. [shift knobs are pretty important too] As an example, I think a 68 GTO can get by/actually looks right with a wood [or woodlike…] wheel, but a 68 Chevelle really doesnt] If the vehicle in question is much later than mid 70s manufacture, probably needs leather. [there are exceptions naturally] If its pre-68, it can use either in appropriate size and style. I worked at a parts store part way thru college in the early 80s, and we sold a bunch of thick rimmed, small diameter leather wheels, ranging from good quality items to cheap knock offs, and they invariably ended up on 60s and 70s American cars driven by late teens/early 20 somethings – and they never looked right. Especially a little Momo F1 on a 66 Impala…
    NEVER are little chain wheels acceptable, nor is neon colouring.
    AND…when i take the world over, I am immediately going to outlaw those #$^&ed two piece Grant GTs!

    Reply
  3. Søren Navntoft
    I my opinion nothing beats the looks of a proper wooden steering wheel. They are works of art. I would go a long way to fit an aftermarket and have always done it to my different cars, even my 911S from 1973 I forced to drive with af Momo Woody. But I have to admit, I have not found a decent solution to my Citroën DS and I guess the standard one spoke in rubber will have to stay.
    Reply
  4. Niels V
    sadly though, many fit their late fifties British sportscar, with hideous thick rimmmed large hub modern wooden steering wheel and the matching bulky wooden gear knob with the logo of the car as a sticker. Nothing screams bomber jacket, grey hair and make/model club cap more than this. I really prefer the original Bakelite wheels and knobs to these modern and I have rarely seen aftermarket wheels of the correct dimensions. And then something thing nice to look at, a 1965 dated Nardi steering wheel for a BMW 700
    And a link to a Facebook group dedicated to vintage BMW steering wheels https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2049850561910449&set=gm.121852268476054&type=3

    Reply
  5. Anders Bilidt
    Yes, if you’re a steering wheel affectionando, it can almost become a religion. Of course, it needs to suit the given car – in both style and era. And as such, I suppose there is indeed a time and place for a blue metalflake steering wheel, though it’s a rather narrow niche!


    I agree with the majority of your considerations there. Especially when you start including the gear knob. My OCD requires gear knobs to always suit and compliment the steering wheel – you never mix wood and leather! Wooden steering wheel + wooden gear knob. Leather steering wheel = leather gear knob.


    That pictured Nardi is fabulous! Like you, I just love the large thin-rimmed wooden steering wheels from the sixties – be that Nardi, Personal, Les Leston of whatever… But I equally despise those current super fat-rimmed and overly glossy wooden steering wheels. I struggle to think of a single application where they look right – at least to my eye…

    After having the BMW optional Petri sports steering wheel in my red 2002 for more than 20 years, I recently needed to try something different. It’s bit borderline to be honest. My 2002 dates 1973, so according to rule, it shouldn’t have wood. There’s also no wood to be found elsewhere in the interior. But I just so love the BMW optional wooden steering wheel which could be specified for the late sixties 1600ti and 2002ti. So I had one restored, and while it wasn’t strictly available any longer from BMW by 1973, it now embellishes the inside of my 2002. Needless to say, the gear knob was swapped for a wooden item at the same time. What’s the verdict? Have I sinned? ;-)

    Reply
  6. Anders Bilidt
    In stark contrast – though still a BMW 2002 and a year older – my Green Devil has a very different steering wheel. It’s a hillclimb/sprint car. It’s rather rough. It’s a tool! So I’ve opted for a period Personal leather steering wheel with quite a bit of dish. There’s also a lovely light patina to the leather, so it suits the rest of the interior and the whole car for that matter…

    Reply
  7. Anders Bilidt
    ….and when it comes to fairly small and fat leather steering wheels, well there’s a time and place for those as well = at least in my opinion. I loved the Momo Cavallino with center cushion which I had in my twincam ’77 Toyota Trueno 1600GT Coupé…

    Reply
  8. YrHmblHst
    No Mr Bilidt, no harm no foul on the wood wheel on that 02 – it suits the ‘style’ of the car fine. Plus its just plain lovely. The leather one looks good on that car too; some cars can pull off both/either. Things like your 02, an GTV Alfa, Cortina and the like spring to mind. As do several sports cars from the mid 60s to mid 70s. I think the imperative is when the design itself dates. For example, either works on your 02, but the wood one wouldnt look right on the 325es I once owned.
    As alluded to above, there are times when only the OE unit will do, and sometimes the original is the actually the best choice. But, the niche may be somewhat narrow – and its really not THAT thin – but there are times when other than plain black vinyl, ONLY a metalflake wheel will do!
    Reply

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