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’40 Style 15” Steering Wheel

5/16/2017
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There are few things more beautiful than Art-Deco design. It was at a very young age that I began to appreciate the attention to aesthetics that this style gave to even the most utilitarian items. My first love? A 1946 Ford Deluxe Dash. All that chrome, those massive grilles in the center and a nearly symmetrical design that pleased my five year old OCD brain.

Butterscotch? Seriously?

When I first slid behind the wheel of my dad’s old ’46, after its 28 year absence, I noticed something very odd that had never occurred to me as a kid. What occurred was that the vinyl wheel dad had chosen was really out of place given the styling of the rest of the dash. The old “4-bar” LT Camaro steering wheel was long gone and someone had replaced it with a ’54 Bel Air Wheel. Ostensibly, to get more leverage while still sort-of fitting the ’67 Chevelle tilt column splines.

Circa 1984

The old Bel Air wheel fit the bill on the styling front but it was painted to match the old Bakelite knobs on the ash trays, dash and wiper. Most of which I’d already painted charcoal grey like my dad had. The 50’s wheel was a little on the big side too. Measuring at a massive 18 inches.

I’ve got strong arms and I’m willing to sacrifice things like easy low-speed maneuverability for good looks. That’s when I decided to pull the trigger on a 15”,’40 Ford styled wheel. These are an outstanding piece. They’re designed to fit 69-94 GM splines, have a fantastic finish from the factory and are easily customized. Sign me up.

Perfect right out of the box, let’s see if we can mess it up!

While black would definitely be better than the Butterscotch color the old wheel was keyed to, I wanted it to look like it was totally at home with the grey interior. I selected a warm gray that matches perfectly with the velour. Eventually, I will repaint the entire dash (that the PO painted cool gray) to match the warm interior tone, not to mention the new steering wheel.

I masked out the stainless trim and lightly scuffed the surface with scotch-brite after wiping everything down with wax & grease remover. To give a more detailed look I decided to paint the ribbed insets in the wheel Charcoal metallic to match the knobs and such that I’d painted already.

Much easier to cover the insets than mask the rim

After painting the insets and letting them dry, I masked them off and laid down a couple of wet coats of the Rustoleum gray that I’d found. This paint flows out extremely well and is tough as nails when it dries. Perfect for this application. Unfortunately, it takes DAYS to dry. Even with the part taking up space and gassing off in the house at 68 degrees it took almost 72 hours for it to set up completely.

No honey, I don’t know what that smell is.

After everything was dry and ready to assemble, it all went together like a dream. The size is perfect and the feel is exactly what I like in an old car. Hard plastic with finger grooves. It feels like you’re driving a classic.

The art deco styling fits in much better with the overall look of the dash in a 40’s Ford, even though this one is post-war. Sometimes, I’m reluctant to make changes to dad’s old truck that are this far off what his original vision was. Looking back though, I think he’d have done something similar had these parts been around back then.

Part of keeping Dad’s memory alive is respecting the past while always improving it for who will care for it in the future.

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