The full experience of enjoying a classic car out on the road is the result of every little component coming together as one – spiced of course with a fair portion of difficult-to-quantify character, soul and old-worldly charm. However, if I were to highlight only one particular component which in my opinion contributes especially towards the experience, it would have to be the tactile sensation of holding a beautiful steering wheel between your hands and guiding your classic car through the flowing curves of a backroad.
Now I’m more often than not, a dedicated OEM-guy. But my appreciation of all that is kept original is not the whole truth, as I’m also more than happy to compromise originality as long as it’s done in a period correct and tasteful fashion – be that a set of period aftermarket alloy wheels, spot lights or naturally, that all-important steering wheel. But for me, it’s essential that whatever you bolt on to your classic car, it simply must be period correct as that will ensure the presentation and very spirit of your classic is still coherent and true to form. In fact, when it comes to period steering wheels, I’ve touched on the subject previously here on ViaRETRO with the article Wood or Leather.
Since sharing my thoughts in that piece, I’ve gone and bought my current daily classic car – a 1978 Reliant Scimitar GTE. Its original and unmolested condition was a large contributing factor in me choosing this Scimitar over so many others. That originality included the factory steering wheel too, though in this case, I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of the stock wheel. The rim is too thin making it tiring to grip for longer periods of time and aesthetically the two-spoke design and somewhat cheap centre pad just don’t please the eye either. Right from my first day as a Scimitar owner, I knew something would have to be done.
But which steering wheel would complement my Scimitar best? Well, had my Scimitar been a very early SE5, I would have certainly considered wood, but being a 1978 car, I knew I wanted a leather steering wheel. Furthermore, I personally felt a British manufactured wheel would be more authentic than would an Italian or German wheel. No problem, as there are plenty to choose from. But the big challenge would be finding a steering wheel where the patina of a second-hand wheel wouldn’t end up clashing with the virtually flawless interior of my Scimitar. Then again, as Moto Lita are still in business – and doing remarkably well at that – perhaps not such a big challenge after all.
Yup, more than sixty years after the first Moto Lita steering wheel was produced, you can still to this day order a brand new Moto Lita wheel handcrafted in the spirit of the mid-fifties – or any era thereafter I suppose, as Moto Lita steering wheels have never been anything but handcrafted!
A very young Simon Green completed his apprenticeship with the Cooper Car Company where he was tasked with making steering wheels for Cooper race cars. From here he moved to Connaught Engineering and then to the innovative HWM who at the time were building some spectacular race cars. However, in 1956 things took a sudden turn as Baron John Heath, partner in HWM, crashed his car during the early hours of a very wet Mille Miglia and sadly died from his injuries two days later. HWM went into a rapid demise leading Simon Green to consider his options and make the bold decision that the time had come to set up his own business.
Armed with his tools and plenty of ideas, Simon started designing and producing steering wheels from a redundant old chicken shed on a farm. A photo advertisement was placed in AutoSport, and Alfred Moss – father of Stirling Moss and partner in British Racing Partnerships – became the first Moto Lita customer as he soon after placed an order for two steering wheels. From here things took off with Simon soon having to employ two friends just to keep up with orders and eventually opening his first shop in 1959.
Growth continued, and not just from the interest of enthusiasts wanting to spruce up the interior of their Mini Cooper, hot Cortina or stylish MGA… During the early sixties, Simon Green was approached by none other than Aston Martin, requesting that he produced steering wheels for them as original equipment. Needless to say, Simon accepted the offer. From here, others followed suit, such as AC Cars, Shelby, Jaguar, TVR and many, many others. Within only its first decade, the qualities of the handcrafted Moto Lita steering wheel had become well established right from the private enthusiast car owner to some of the most respected marques in the automobile industry. To this day – allowing for a couple of moves to satisfy the need for more space – nothing has changed.
With such heritage and authenticity, my mind was made up: I needed a Moto Lita in my Scimitar. Now I just had to decide which one, which with such a vast catalogue of options proved daunting enough. I had of course already decided upon leather and eventually narrowed it down to a 15” diameter (no, I don’t like tiny little steering wheels on cars which shouldn’t have them – this was a terrible trend which is best left in the late seventies…), slightly dished wheel with three narrow-slotted, polished spokes. The jewel on the crown would be opting for the more expensive billet cap instead of the more common plastic one. As a thoroughly nice touch to the steering wheels still being handcrafted, Moto Lita can even accommodate personal wished, which seems a rarity in these days of mass-produced China-tat. So after I found a suitable Scimitar badge online somewhere and sent it to Moto Lita, they were happy to machine a small recess into the billet cap for the badge to sit in. What more could I possibly wish for?
Personally, I feel the steering wheel has transformed both the atmosphere of the interior in my Scimitar, and not least the driving experience as a whole. The Moto Lita looks – and is – period correct, and it has that lovely feel of a quality product – soft leather, beautiful stitching and with a nice weight to the steering wheel.
If you too feel it’s time to adorn your classic with a Moto Lita, have a look a the many different models available on their website: www.moto-lita.co.uk