I like the skinny look of a vintage steering wheel but the one in my old Ford was in pretty pitiful shape. The outer ring was cracked with chunks missing, and the spokes weren't much better. The options were to either buy a retro-looking wheel or find an NOS piece. I didn't like what those options would do to my bank account. So I puicked the third option. Hack up what I had and make it better!
I really like the spindly feel and look of old steering wheels but I'm not crazy about how big they are. Old cars had big steering wheels because they give more leverage to drivers, so even old ladies could drive with relative ease. They needed this because power steering wasn't popular yet. However, I don't need a big wheel because I'm not an old lady yet. Also, anyone who has driven a car with no power steering knows that getting it rolling, even a little, is the secret to easy maneuvering.
So, I decided I'd make a new ring for the wheel. To do that I started with a piece of 3/8 inch round bar. I did some math (with the help of the internet) to find the circumference of a 16 inch diameter ring. I measured that out and cut my stock to length. Then I tacked it onto a 16 inch junk wheel.
Using a torch, a hammer and some patience, I worked my way around the wheel. I heated, tapped and when It looked good I tack welded it in place on the rim. My internet math paid off. When I had worked the rod all the way around the ends nearly met.
I cut all the tack welds and my ring was free. I knew the ring had to be pretty smooth for a later part of the process, so i knocked down all the tack welds with a grinder and rounded the ends so they wouldn't have sharp edges.
Then I cut the old ring away from the spokes on both sides of the wheel. In the first picture you can see how badly the wheel was cracked. In the second picture, the new ring is set on the table behind the wheel. Notice how much smaller the new ring is than the old one.
Before I welded the wheel I sat a level on the wheel hub and checked it against the ring on the table. I wanted to make very sure that the back of the hub and the ring were parallel to each other. I welded the open end in place first, leaving the other side loose for the next step.
The original steering wheel had plastic around a steel core. I tried to recreate this by sliding some PVC pipe over the steel ring. I attempted to push it around the ring while making it pliable with a heat gun. But it was too stiff and wrinkled on the inside of the bend. I ended up using a product called Sharkbite which was much more flexible. It went on without issue, almost too easily.
Once the pipe was in place around the ring. I welded the open side closed and then welded the left side to the steel spokes. Next I had to figure out how to make it look like a steering wheel again. I heard about some stuff called PC-7 epoxy. It's a paste that can be molded like playdoh while it's wet and sets up super hard. I used a cutoff wheel to V out the deep cracks and went to work sculpting a wheel out of epoxy. The PC-7 is really good stuff. While it's still malleable you can smooth it easily with wet fingers. This saved me a lot of sanding later.
Once the epoxy was set up and sanded down, it was time for some body filler. After that came high-build primer and then I wet sanded the whole thing in preparation for paint.
For paint I kind of cheaped out and went with some rattle can appliance paint. I chose white for a classic look. It's been on the car for some time now and has a couple nicks here and there. Overall though, I love the look. It's not hard to steer and I bet most people don't even notice there's anything different about my steering wheel.
Stuff I used in this article
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