Wood Rim Steering Wheels
Installing a wood rimmed steering wheel is a quick and easy way to add a classic and elegant look to your car’s interior. The wheel is that one part of the car that you will continually touch and caress as you guide your ride along the open road, and there’s no doubt that a pleasurable drive will be greatly enhanced when you’ve got your fingers wrapped around a beautiful wooden steering wheel.
But wood rimmed steering wheels are expensive, and not always the highest quality. Unless a wood wheel was available from the factory when your car was new, the installation of a “universal” steering wheel and associated adaptors can be a difficult proposition that leaves you with less than satisfactory results.
Since I’m a Triumph Guy, I’ll walk you through the options for installing a wood rimmed steering wheel on a Triumph TR2 or TR3, but this discussion could be applicable to most any classic automobile. For the British car guys, the most popular accessory steering wheel is the Moto-Lita. They’re readily available from the usual sources, and a basic steering wheel lists for $399.95. For that price, you get a steering wheel that’s made of plywood on an assembly line in some third world factory. There’s little apparent quality control and the clear finish will have some bumps (dirt specks) in it. You can also expect to feel the layers of the plywood as the wheel passes through your hands. What did he just say? That’s right, for $400 you should receive a much higher quality wheel than what you’ll actually get. There is also a Tourist Trophy wheel available from Moss which sells for $80 less, and these M-L knock-offs are of similar quality to the originals.
But wait, you’re not done yet. The cost of the wheel doesn’t get it on your car. These are universal wheels, and you still need to purchase an adaptor to "make it fit”. For the TR2-TR3 owner, just the most basic adaptor and horn button will cost you another $122.95 ($181.95 for an adjustable wheel). Now you’re up to roughly $525 ($582 adjustable), and you’ll have to wire up some sort of switch for the turn signals because the original control head is not going to work. If you wish to avoid the aggravation of engineering some way to retain working turn signals and a more serious problem that I'll mention below, then you’ll have to pop for the more expensive adaptor ($239.95), making your total investment in motoring bliss close to $640. Too bad you didn’t get the highest quality wheel for that much money!
Now all of your bits are here, and you head out to the garage to install your new piece. After another of those ½ hour jobs that ends up taking half the day (as you snake the wiring through a gummed up stator tube and remove/install the wheel a half dozen times to get it straight), it’s time for that first joyous drive with your hands on that beautiful wooden wheel. But with the first turn of the wheel, you quickly realize that there’s a big problem when you bang your knuckles on the dashboard capping!
That’s right, unless you opted for the more expensive adaptor for use with the stock control head, you’ve just lost most of the clearance between the wheel and the dash capping, and you’ll scrape your fingers with every turn unless you are very careful and pay attention to how you hold the wheel. One picture is worth 1000 words, and the photos below show the 2-7/8” finger clearance with an original wheel (left) and the reduced 1” clearance you’ll have with a Moto-Lita (or other flat accessory wheel) shown on the right. Yes indeed, you just lost 65% of the space you had to avoid rapping your knuckles on the dash! (Finger clearance is not an issue on TR4-6 cars, or if you retain the Triumph control head for a TR2 or TR3.)
How did this happen? The original TR2/3 wheels are basically flat (as is the new accessory wheel) but the original TR wheel has a long hub that spaces the steering wheel “out” away from the dash. Your $123 adaptor ($182 adjustable) does not include this needed space, but the $240 adaptors do (at least for TR2/3). All the feelings of happiness you expected from caressing that beautiful wheel vanished the instant you smacked your knuckles on the capping! If your original wheel is dished any amount at all, new flat wheels will move even farther away from the driver and closer yet to the instrument panel. (Note: TRF does list a "dished" Moto-Lita wheel which will gain back most of the lost finger clearance, but you'll still have same quality issues and adaptor requirements as with the "flat" M-L wheels).
There’s still one other thing to consider before you pick up the phone or log online and give your credit card number for a new accessory wheel. Your original wheel (TR2/3) was 16” in diameter, and the new ones are going to be either 14” or 15”. As the diameter goes down, the effort required to turn the wheel will go up. Now I know that a smaller diameter steering wheel is sometimes necessary because as the hair on our heads turns gray (or disappears!) our stomachs tend to get bigger, but if you can still get under that large 16” wheel, your car will require less effort to steer than with a smaller wheel.
Now if you’ve stayed with me to this point, you’re probably wondering how you might be able to improve on the quality, fit, and drivability issues I’ve brought up so far. (Sorry, I can’t do anything about the high cost of wood steering wheels. All I can do is help you get a much better value for your money.) Well here’s the solution, and it’s only available on a very limited basis.
My neighbor has an unusual hobby. He hand crafts wooden steering wheels, and they are truly things of beauty. He has been making wooden rimmed steering wheels since he was a teenager, but he maintains that it’s only a hobby and his present output is only 8-10 wheels a year. Each wheel is built on an original hub and spokes, although he’s made quite a few ‘mid-year’ Corvette teak wheels from scratch that are indistinguishable from originals. He made the TR3 wheel shown here in Teak and Walnut on a totally junk original wheel from one of my parts cars. Here is a beautiful wheel that I was going to throw in the trash, once thought to be way beyond hope. I’m glad I didn’t toss it!
My Neighbor guarantees each of his steering wheels for life, and he’s only in his late 50’s, so hopefully he’ll be around for a long time to honor his guarantee. To date, he’s never had a warranty claim on one of his wheels, but if you ever scratch or gouge it, wreck the car and destroy it, or have it come apart on it’s own (not likely), send it back and it will be repaired at NO CHARGE. You'll never find a warranty like this with any new accessory wheel!
Wheels are built on original cores, so the turn signals will still work on TR2/3's that utilize a control head, and the original spacing from the dash and finger clearances are retained. If you want one of these exquisite steering wheels, you might have to send a core for it to be built on (we generally have TR2/3, TR4/4A, and TR6 cores in stock). This custom wood steering wheel service is not just for Triumphs, but any OEM wheel with exposed metal spokes. If you need some extra clearance from a smaller diameter wheel, that can be modified for you as well. If you’re in a hurry, please do not order one of these wheels from us. My neighbor does not want to make a business out of this, it’s “Just a Hobby”. Backlog is normally 3-4 months, but we do try to keep TR2/3 wheels and a TR4 wheel in stock for immediate shipment most of the time. Those of you who appreciate quality, and are patient enough to wait for it, will be rewarded with a beautiful 'one of a kind' hand crafted steering wheel that will be the envy of everyone with a car similar to yours.
Pricing? Just a little more than you’d spend for the lesser quality M-L wheel and adaptors. Prices for wheels made on your core in teak and walnut design start at just $750. Exotic woods that are harder to work with might be available at slightly higher cost. Please call or e-mail me to discuss your options. You may regret the purchase of a factory made wooden steering wheel, but you’ll never be sorry that you opted for a quality hand built wheel from Macy’s Garage. Your satisfaction is always guaranteed here!
Just a note for all you Concours Guys. Even you can put one of these wheels on your car, with minimal effect on your car’s judged score. Speaking from my experience as a concours interior judge for TRA and VTR, the steering wheel and control head are worth 4 points (on a 400 point scale). If your original wheel is cracked you’re going to lose 2 points for a quality issue (and covering it with a steering wheel cover doesn’t fool me, I just make the 2 point deduction for the non-original wheel cover!). If you replace your wheel with a new accessory wheel, you’ll probably lose all 4 points for originality, 2 for the wheel and 2 for the missing control head (unless you use the more expensive adaptor). If you use the original wheel, and have the rim re-made in wood, you’ll lose 1 point (1/2 of the wheel) for non-originality (which results in a .25 deduction when the judging scores are converted to 100 at TRA). It’s a small penalty to pay for such a beautiful enhancement to your car, so GO FOR IT! You won’t be disappointed!