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Thread: Don't you miss steering wheels?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Don't you miss steering wheels?

    Modern cars certainly have their merits, but don't you miss - just as an example - the different steering wheels cars used to have?

    I don't just mean model to model, either. I mean within one specific model of car. You used to be able to choose from among several different steering wheel designs, as a way to custom-tailor the car to your preferences.

    The way it usually worked was the base trim came with a "basic" wheel and as you moved up the food chain to a higher-trim (or performance-themed) version, you either got or could add at extra cost a different steering wheel.

    Typically there at least two and often as many as three different steering wheels from which one could choose.

    For example, Pontiac once offered the Firebird with a standard, Custom Cushion or Formula steering wheel. Each conveyed a different impression and formed the visual centerpiece of the driver's cockpit. Two otherwise same-year cars, identical in most major respects, were nonetheless quite different - to a great extent because of their individualized steering wheels.

    You can thank air bags for taking all this away.

    There isn't a single new car that offers more than one take-it-or-leave steering wheel design. Sure, you can dress it up (or dress it down) with leather (or plastic), add a wood insert there, a piece of ornamentation there. But the basic shape is what it is. And what that is, is a blob in the center - to house the air bag - with a generic ring around it.

    It's just too expensive to rig up multiple different steering wheels for a single model of car - at least, if you're going to put airbags into those steering wheels.

    It's the same tendency toward sameness you see reflected in the general shape of new cars. There's only so much room for stylists to work with, given the constraints of federal bumper-impact standards and other safety requirements.

    No more low-backed bench seats, either. Someone might get whiplash - and besides, there's no place to mount the now-mandatory three-point safety belts every car has to have, per Uncle Sam.

    People who've never driven a car built before the 1980s probably can't even imagine just how open-feeling and unrestricted cars used to be. You could hang your left elbow on the top of the door (impossible today, because achieving high side-impact protection has raised the height of doors by several inches) or drape your right arm across the top of the passenger side seatback (which was lower than the height of your shoulders instead of higher, as today).

    A-pillars (the upright piece of metal at each side of the windshield that tapered up to the roof) was generally much thinner, which may have meant less structural rigidity but also fewer blind spots. Ditto the B and C pillars - which in a current year can be thicker than Rosie O'Donnel's thighs.

    Yes, yes, the cars of the past were less safe - in a theoretical sense, anyhow. When people talk about this the assumption seems to be that everyone is going to crash, but of course most of us don't. In which case, a Pinto is just as "safe" as a current Daimler Maybach with all the safety equipment imaginable.

    Meanwhile, we've all lost something in a very certain, not-at-all-theoretical way - and that is the individuality once manifested even by mass-produced cars. Back in the days when Americans fell in love with their wheels because of their looks, or their fun-to-drive qualities; because of the freedom they represented.

    Not because they were "safe."

    It wasn't that earlier generations of Americans were reckless or stupid. They just thought there was more to life - and to driving - than sitting (all strapped in, of course) in a sterile, personality-free cocoon, "safe" though it may be.

    But that was a different America, now long gone.

  2. #2
    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Talking about Steering wheels brought back some memories. Chevy's of the Forties offered Clocks just inside the rim of the wheel, as well as a handle that allowed you to steer with one hand. This also was a legal way of having a 'Knecking Knob' on your steering wheel with out getting into to much trouble. Full Horn rings were another option on some cars, but standard as well. Buick, Pontiac, and other GM cars offered them. Chrysler had some of the most beautiful Steering Wheels ever offered. Some may remember the Flat top Steering Wheels of the '50s. Ford was very proud of their Fiftieth Anniversary Edition in 1953. They embedded their fiftieth logo right in the center of the horn ring. Along with a graphic of a 1903 Ford. What started killing off the Deco steering wheels with their horn rings, some were ultra thin, was they could break during an accident, and puncher a persons chest, impale their face, and rip skin from their body. As well as being functional, they could be lethal. I know of some people that has been collecting horn buttons for years. I'm one of them. Another demise of the Steering Wheel, horn ring combo,was the chance of getting the buttons from your shirt cuff getting caught between the horn ring and the steering wheel spokes. Of course, the Government had a lot to do with the changing of the designs. But, I saw on a commercial tonight what appears to be a horn ring on a Mercedes. Maybe they are coming back. that would be nice.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J. ZIMM View Post
    Talking about Steering wheels brought back some memories. Chevy's of the Forties offered Clocks just inside the rim of the wheel, as well as a handle that allowed you to steer with one hand. This also was a legal way of having a 'Knecking Knob' on your steering wheel with out getting into to much trouble. Full Horn rings were another option on some cars, but standard as well. Buick, Pontiac, and other GM cars offered them. Chrysler had some of the most beautiful Steering Wheels ever offered. Some may remember the Flat top Steering Wheels of the '50s. Ford was very proud of their Fiftieth Anniversary Edition in 1953. They embedded their fiftieth logo right in the center of the horn ring. Along with a graphic of a 1903 Ford. What started killing off the Deco steering wheels with their horn rings, some were ultra thin, was they could break during an accident, and puncher a persons chest, impale their face, and rip skin from their body. As well as being functional, they could be lethal. I know of some people that has been collecting horn buttons for years. I'm one of them. Another demise of the Steering Wheel, horn ring combo,was the chance of getting the buttons from your shirt cuff getting caught between the horn ring and the steering wheel spokes. Of course, the Government had a lot to do with the changing of the designs. But, I saw on a commercial tonight what appears to be a horn ring on a Mercedes. Maybe they are coming back. that would be nice.
    Cars from that era were gorgeous, in part, for just that reason.

    I really miss it....

  4. #4
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    I liked the sort of oval, or rounded-off wheel on the 1960/61/62 Imperials.





  5. #5
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Sure, you can dress it up (or dress it down) with leather (or plastic), add a wood insert there, a piece of ornamentation there.
    I covered the wheel in my Caddy with a leather wrap, but that was mostly to protect the fake wood and chrome from my sweaty hands. I know from experience that over time I would ruin the wheel.

  6. #6
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Do I miss the era of style over substance? Not for a second.

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    Do I miss the era of style over substance? Not for a second.
    I know what you mean but on the other hand, every time I take my old Trans-Am out for a drive, I am reminded how much more alive-feeling the old stuff was.

    New cars (even the very powerful/quick ones) are anodyne and desensitized in comparison.

    There's no heart.

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