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…