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Street Race Truck More... The Toolbox

Using the Proper Steering Wheel Adapter

1/5/2021
Fit That New Steering Wheel to Your Ride

When you are on the road to that car show or cars & coffee event, or just taking the grandkids for a Sunday drive to get some ice cream, the one thing that directly connects you to the road is your ride’s steering wheel. Having a steering wheel that fits your build theme, is comfortable in your hands, and the correct size for steering effort and visibility are all very important traits that must be weighed before you click that “Add to Cart” button. That said, there is one small piece of the puzzle that many do not consider when it comes time to drop that beautiful billet steering wheel on the end of your steering column—how to mount it! Allow us to explain further in the following buyer’s guide

Why do I Need a Steering Wheel Adapter?

The factory steering column in your vintage car, muscle car, or street rod uses a specific mounting solution for the original wheel the manufacturer or builder installed. You will find some, like the image here, with splined shaft ends of varying spline count, including some with a “blind spline” setup, while others will use a single or double-D shaft end (usually later model columns). There are other mounting designs as well you will find, and they all lead to one thing—trouble trying to add that awesome looking aftermarket steering wheel to your ride. To properly install your new steering wheel, you will need a steering wheel adapter, sometimes referred to as a steering column adapter, or steering wheel spline adapter. These steering wheel adapter plates feature a cast or machined mounting base setup on the bottom to engage the steering shaft in the column, while the top side of the adapter is configured for the bolt pattern of your new steering wheel. Think of a steering wheel adapter as the “middleman” you must deal with to have your new steering wheel work with your existing steering column. These adapters are more for street steering wheels, as the typical racing steering wheel is usually fitted to work with a weld-on quick release adapter.

How will I know What Steering Wheel Adapter to Order?

The steering wheel adapter must be able to securely mount your new steering wheel to your existing or new steering column assembly. For many this will be an easy decision, as you just need two bits of information; the steering wheel bolt pattern and dimension that secures the steering wheel to the adapter and the type of steering shaft in your steering column. For example, if you have a ’65 Ford Mustang with the stock steering column and you have chosen a Grant Classic Series 3-bolt wheel, then the correct adapter is one that mounts a 3-bolt wheel to classic Ford columns.

If you do not know the original application of your steering column in your home-built street rod, vintage car, or kit car, no worries there either. Simply measure the shaft diameter and count the splines on the end of the shaft. We suggest using a fine tipped permanent marker to mark your starting point and every ten splines, as mis-counting those small splines in a dark garage is easy to do. Once you have these dimensions you can search through our steering wheel adapters via spline count and shaft diameter options to find exactly what will fit your column. If you know the original application of your steering column you can save search time by simply inputting your year/make/model information into our website first to correctly narrow down the results. We also produced this great application guide in a past Toolbox article you may wish to reference as well for the common 3-bolt applications.

When it comes to new steering columns it is even easier, as the spline count and shaft diameter, or original application fitment, is provided by the manufacturer. Right in their product description and installation instructions it will state what adapter is required for your steering wheel. New columns do not come with the steering wheel adapter, but most column manufacturers do offer their own adapters separately for an additional charge. The most common column used in street rods, kit cars, etc. is the 1969-1994 GM spline column. Depending upon original application these can be tilt or fixed columns of varying mounting styles, but they all use the same steering shaft specs, thus they will have the widest choice of GM steering wheel adapter to choose from. Classic and vintage Fords and Mopars your choices will be a little more limited, but there are still some great adapter solutions in black, chrome, and even polished and machined aluminum to compliment any interior and steering wheel choice. When it comes to less popular columns our best advice is to shop adapters first to see what bolt patterns are available before purchasing your steering wheel. You do not want to buy a 5-bolt steering wheel only to find out your column has a 3-bolt adapter as its only choice.

What Steering Wheel Bolt Patterns Are Available

Now that you have determined what steering column is in your vehicle, or what steering column you are purchasing, and know what steering wheel adapters will fit, your last fitment decision will be the actual steering wheel bolt pattern. We have mentioned the most common above, the venerable 3-bolt Grant steering wheels setup, which measures 1.515-inches center-to-center of its bolt holes. This is often referred to simply as a “Grant steering wheel adapter” due to the industry wide use of its 3-bolt wheel pattern. We also offer a 3-bolt steering wheel spacer that will place your steering wheel an additional inch closer.

Another common choice also made popular by Grant is the 5-bolt pattern. The 5-bolt wheel features a 2.75-inch center-to-center measurement. The 3-bolt and 5-bolt patterns cover most of the aftermarket steering wheel choices available today and we even offer a 5-bolt to 3-bolt conversion adapter to allow you to install that 5-bolt wheel you want on your existing 3-bolt adapter. However, if you are fitting an original 6-bolt GM wheel from say the Camaro or Chevelle to an updated steering column or prefer the look of the GM 6-bolt wheel for your C10 truck or other GM application you will need a special 6-bolt adapter. There is a second 6-bolt wheel pattern used in the aftermarket, which is the Momo 6x70mm. This is found more in European applications but would be required if you wish to install a Momo steering wheel, Sparco steering wheel, or equivalent steering wheel in your vehicle.

Lastly, we have the 9-bolt steering wheel hub adapter. You will find the 9-bolt adapter is popular for many European steering wheel brands like LeCarra (now made in the U.S. by Lokar) and Moto-Lita. If you are looking to add a correct Moto-Lita steering wheel to your Jaguar, Aston Martin, Shelby Cobra, or Shelby Mustang build you will need a 9-bolt adapter to make things happen. You may possibly find some variances in the center-to-center measurements, as well as bolt pattern clocking, between various nine-bolt hub adapter manufacturers, and for that reason we suggest that you purchase the same brand hub adapter as you do brand of steering wheel to keep any possibility of a mismatch or improper fit from ruining your time in the garage.

What Style of Adapter Can I Expect to Find?

Most steering wheel hub adapters are a simple cast aluminum piece with a metal beauty cover that you affix over the adapter before mounting your steering wheel. This beauty cover hides the basic hub adapter and helps the top of the steering column blend into the steering wheel for a finished look. You will find the most popular options here at this level with either black or chrome beauty covers to tie the steering wheel into the column and interior theme. A nice upgrade is a machined aluminum hub, which can be found in both cast and billet designs, and in several finishes including machined and polished surfaces or even black anodized. These machined aluminum hubs often provide a more upscale or higher-end appearance and match the finish of some of our pro touring and street rod style steering wheels perfectly. You will even find a few billet adapters for the venerable 3-bolt steering wheels from our friends at GT Performance.

Get it Right and Get on the Road

Ensuring you have the proper steering wheel adapter for your steering column and steering wheel of choice means less time and frustration in the garage and more time behind your new steering wheel enjoying your ride and the open road. We hope this buyer’s guide has answered all your steering wheel adapter questions, but if it has not you know the Speedway Motors tech support team is at the ready to help you, both before and after your purchase.

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