Nothing says “cool car” like a great steering wheel. That might not be the first thing people think of when they think of how great an expensive car might be, but the steering wheel is the king of the car no matter what you might think. Without one, you won’t get very far. Carmakers seem to have made up their minds to change this, though. With the advent of joysticks and the inspiration of drive-by-wire, the steering wheel always seems to be under attack.
In the end, it’s the consumer who will decide the final fate of the steering wheel, as it has always been. With one spoke or four, either round or flat-bottom, bumpy or smooth, the steering wheel has been bent and twisted in all sorts of shapes. Some might ask why, but car manufacturers seemed focused on providing better visibility for the instrument cluster, or sometimes embedding the entire cluster in the center of the wheel.
Sometimes, manufacturers want customers to try something new and release their cars with the next great thing, so to speak. But whether these "ground-breaking" innovations are truly ever going to make inroads into the industry is highly questionable. Read on and decide for yourself if these so-called “innovations” in steering wheel design are really advancing the thrill of driving or if they're just strange beyond belief.
25 1972 Maserati Boomerang - All Or Nothing
The Boomerang might’ve looked like something that Maserati glued together from scrap parts, but it was chock-full of technological goodies—at least, for 1972. The DeLorean certainly borrowed heavily from the concept car’s design pages. One of the more interesting features of the Boomerang was its crazy steering wheel. It seemed to have every instrument gauge that could be found stuffed directly into it. It proved to be impractical because people would’ve been constantly confused attempting to find the right gauge when they needed it, but it was a novel approach nonetheless.
24 Rim Blow Steering Wheel - Stop Honking At Me
The Rim Blow certainly was a weird steering wheel that tried to solve the problem of the horn taking up so much space on the steering column. Rim tackled this problem by installing the horn into the steering wheel’s grip. I think it was a cool idea, but it performed like most people thought it would, which was terribly. You see, the Rim Blow wheel’s horn could be activated by squeezing anywhere on the steering wheel. This caused many an unintentional horn blow because of the rather sensitive sensors. Humanity was quite pleased to see this “feature” go away.
23 Steering Wheel Cubed - Square Steering Wheels
I have never understood the need to try and change from round steering wheels to square ones. It’s nothing more than a cheap gimmick, as far as I’m concerned. I suppose if you are shorter than average, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. But for tall people, I feel that the concept would be traumatizing, always having to be careful when making quick turns so your knee doesn’t become a barrier. Plus, I cannot imagine watching a show involving a chase scene using these steering wheels, simply because it would look silly when someone tries to come out of a power turn.
22 Bertone Lamborghini Athon - Steering From The Dashboard
The steering wheel for the Athon had to be one of the coolest around back in the day. But being a Lamborghini, it would have to make a fashion statement. The steering wheel was actually mounted to the dashboard by mean of a collapsible steering column. When retracted, the one-spoke steering wheel actually looked like it was floating just above the dash. It really was one cool optical illusion and people loved it. The entire column turned into the dashboard when steering. Lamborghini really takes their time to get the simplest details perfect. I guess that’s why people with the means love these cars.
21 Messerschmitt KR200 - Bar None
The three-wheeled KR200 was one crazy-looking vehicle. The name KR stood for Kabinenroller, which translates to “scooter with a cabin”. It was quite popular back in the day and sold quite well. Elvis Presley was one of the car’s most famous owners, among others. It might be hard to believe but 40,000 of these scooters were sold between 1959 and 1964. The Messerschmitt proved to be a celebrity car back in the day in Hollywood. Steering was achieved by a rather long, downward-pointing t-bar. Connecting directly to the wheels, the bar provided sharp and responsive steering.
20 Subaru XT - Where’s My Pistol?
The Subaru XT was just a plain-looking car, period. Is was sold from 1985-91. It was wedge-shaped, and no one knew exactly why it existed in the first place. The car’s most famous claim to fame was that an XT6 (six-cylinder) was given to the Super Bowl MVP Jerry Rice as a prize. Something tells me he probably never even drove the thing. Although the car had many quirky qualities, the strange, L-shaped steering wheel took on a life all its own. It looked more like a large pistol to me, with the barrel housing turning signals.
19 eRinGo - The Vomit Comet
This bizarre EV is the creation of Mohammad Gehzel, who is based in Tehran. The electric motors and rings make the vehicle go, while gyroscopes keep the thing upright and allow for steering. It seems more like an all-weather bike to me, but the eRinGo is supposed to seat two people. I don’t see how the thing would protect anyone from more than a stray wind. The weird contraption does have a two-steering-wheel system allowing the passenger to take over when needed. What reason that could possibly be for I hope to never, ever find out.
18 Austin Allegro - Worst Car For A Square Steering Wheel
The Telegraph calls the Allegro “The Worst Car of All Time”. Much like the Yugo, the car was full of problems that were largely ignored during its introduction in 1973. What things, you may ask? Well, the car’s rear window was notorious for popping out if you needed to jack up the car at the wrong position, and the wheels did have a problem with falling off for some reason. The Quartic (or square) steering wheel was of no help because the Allegro’s seats were so large they hindered the knee space even further. The steering wheel became rather famous for being nearly useless.
17 Aston Martin Lagonda - One Wild Steering Wheel
The Lagonda was full of quirkiness when it was introduced. And of course, Aston Martin had to take is a few more steps from ordinary with the Lagonda’s steering wheel. This extra-wide, single-spoke wheel actually allowed for an unobstructed view of the instrument cluster. Simple, yet very elegant (like the Lagonda), the steering wheel column from the dash was just a single flat piece, keeping things in a very neat and orderly fashion. Of course, the steering wheel matched the rest of the interior perfectly. Many car reviewers, surprisingly, loved this steering wheel design because of its great simplicity.
16 Honda EV-STER - Space fighter Steering Wheel
The joystick-themed EV-STER’s steering column was designed by Honda and had all sorts of neat tricks to it. Officially called twin-lever steering, the controls would pivot back and forth to control the car’s steering. According to Honda, the g-forces encountered while turning would be canceled out by the two sticks. This is similar, in a way, to driving a tank, which isn’t very practical when driving a car. All in all, the feature didn’t make much sense to normal human beings. Thankfully Honda didn’t add this feature to any of its current lineups.
15 Lancia Orca - Like Playing Space Invaders
I’m not sure if the steering wheel of the Orca was meant to be more like an arcade game or futuristic Blackberry phone, but it sure was unique if it was anything. It held a multitude of buttons that could be used for things like operating the exterior lights to controlling the environmental unit. The ambitious design came for the minds of Italdesign, who produced the concept car in 1982. The steering wheel did go along with the rest of the car’s interior, whose basic theme seemed to be channeling the interior of the movie spaceships of that era. At the very least, the button panel stayed in a fixed position so no one got sick.
14 Lancia Beta Trevi - The Sad One
The strange and baffling steering wheel of the Beta Trevi was meant to complement the interior of the car but failed to do so, in my opinion. The interior dash of the car was widely referred to as a “Swiss Cheese” design, but when you pair it up with a steering wheel shaped like a sad-face emoji, it just takes the fun out of it. Even stranger, the sad-looking steering wheel’s frown seemed to be oddly off-center, giving it an even more gloomy appearance than normal. Perhaps it kept the rear instrument cluster clear, but I’m not sure why you’d need a cluster at all for a car this slow.
13 SEAT Ronda - Nothing To Be Proud Of
To say the steering wheel from the Ronda looks pitiful would be giving it a compliment. The Ronda’s plain steering wheel probably reminds people of a large brownie sitting in the middle of a plate. Hiding what must be one massive horn, the steering wheel seemed to be created to house nothing more than the horn, now that I think about it. Not that the rest of the car was worth mentioning, but it was basically a rebadged Fiat Ritmo, which would remind you more of a Chevy Chevette than anything else. I doubt you could add another function to this steering wheel without risking the structural integrity of the entire vehicle.
12 Spyker C8 - Prop Power
Looking every bit like an old airplane’s propeller, the Spyker C8 car’s steering wheel is a thing of beauty. Then again, the steering wheel's theme seems to match wonderfully with the rest of the car’s interior, which of course has an airplane-cockpit design. The propeller shape is made of very shiny polished metal and serves no other purpose except to look good whilst zooming down the road. Road and Track say they can’t imagine anyone walking away unscathed from such a steering wheel design if the car was to crash, but as Jeremy Clarkson added, “What a way to go.”
11 Pagani Zonda R - New Spot For The Tach
The Zonda R had a steering wheel that could’ve come straight from the guts of a robot. But that doesn’t mean it was useless. Much more than a gimmick, the Zonda R’s steering wheel was highly functional, featuring a cool tachometer built into the center of it. There were also some multi-use buttons built into the steering wheel, one of which allowed you to control the rear wing of the supercar from the cockpit. It’s a beautiful piece of work that proves you can build real functionality into a steering wheel if you can figure out a smart way to accomplish it.
10 1965 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket - We Don’t Need No Stinking Column
This cool-looking, futuristic concept was quite a hit in 1956 on the auto show circuit. It instantly reminded people of a spaceship. The speedometer was mounted at the center of the steering wheel. The steering wheel also had a couple of buttons mounted into it for tilting the steering wheel. This was probably one of the very first cars to even feature tilt features. The steering wheel was supported by two spokes rather than a column, which made for a very funky look. The wheel swung up and out of the way when the driver’s door was opened.
9 Mercedes-Benz F-200 - Is It A Tractor?
Dubbed an extremely quirky invention, the so-called steering feature in the Mercedes-Benz F-200 Imagination left a lot to be desired. The electronically controlled steering was performed by a couple of strange “sidesticks” that looked much like joysticks. Even the passenger had a set of these controls, as I’d imagine the main driver would be left dazed and confused for a while after using this crazy steering system. Push the stick for driving forward, pull back for braking, and move the control left or right for steering. I really couldn’t imagine anyone getting used to it, and neither could Mercedes, one would guess.
8 Ford Edsel Teletouch - Hands Never Have To Leave The Wheel
I’m not going to touch on automotive history’s most tragic car, the Edsel, but I will mention the steering wheel. If you’ve never heard of Teletouch, it was the control center for the Edsel’s automatic transmission. The control center was mounted into the center of the Ford’s steering wheel. It seemed like a pretty nice idea at the time. Just a touch of a button would advance the car from gear to gear while leaving the driver distraction-free and their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the Edsel, the system was deemed as utterly unreliable and was banished to the scrapheap, as well.
7 BMW Z22 - Bumper Car Steering
The 1999 model year seemed to be the year for crazy technological innovations from BMW. The Z22 was another steer-by-wire concept that never quite made it to the production line. It was built to showcase how much technology could be stuffed into a compact -sized car. The steering wheel was square shaped and had all sorts of buttons attached to it for controlling the car’s built-in video cameras, head-up display, and more. One really cool feature was the fingerprint scanner embedded into the steering wheel that was supposed to replace the ignition key.
6 1960 Plymouth Fury - Strange But Cool
The Fury employed what Plymouth referred to as the Aero Wheel, which it stated: “provided more legroom and better visibility” for drivers. I don’t think that ploy worked too well, as the company switched back to traditional steering wheels within a few years. To me, the Aero wheel was nothing more than a marketing gimmick in search of a real-world problem to solve. It didn’t really solve anything, although it looked cool in the cockpit of a Plymouth Fury. The Aero wheel did do something remarkable though—it increased the value of the Fury. I’ve seen original Aero steering wheels go for as much as $1,000 on eBay.
5 Chevy Spinner - It’ll Keep Anyone Happy
From the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, Chevy offered built-in “spinners” for a few of its models. Spinners were used to make turning easier by allowing one to use a small wheel or ring attached to the steering wheel to make turns with one hand instead of two. It worked great for cars back in the day that were as wide as a city bus. The concept is popular even to this day, but pretty much useless except with very large vehicles that have a very wide turning radius. Still, the built-in spinners on steering wheels looked really great and had all sorts of unique designs.
4 2002 GM Hy-Wire - Can’t Beat Two-Hand Steering
Although GM came up with the Hy-Wire concept car, it was actually a friendly worldwide creation with designers and engineers from all over the world participating in the car’s creation. The car was fueled by hydrogen and used drive-by-wire for steering and controlling the car. The car looked something like what you’d expect a shuttle to look like when traversing another planet. The steering wheel reminded people of an arcade game controller that could both accelerate and brake using the dual controls. It also had a cool video screen set in the middle of it containing all other relevant information.
3 Saab Joystick - Um, No
In 1992, Saab decided it wanted to test out a Drive-By-Wire concept it was interested in. The company used a pair of Saab 9000 cars to test out this theory, and the cars were controlled by a joystick. I guess they figured if it was good enough for fighter aircraft, then it was good enough for a Saab. Actually, Saab considered the regular steering wheel to be a major safety hazard since people get hurt by them during crashes. It was an interesting experiment but the idea was never really elevated higher than the research cars. These days, I’ll guess that many other carmakers will eventually implement the systems in their future autonomous offerings.
2 1961 Ford Thunderbird - Swing-Away Steering
I know you’ve heard of tilting steering wheels, but how about swing-away steering? Ford introduced this type of steering wheel in the 1961-67 Thunderbird. It was Ford’s thinking that people would appreciate being able to swing the steering wheel out of the way for easier entry and exit of the vehicle. Costing $25.10, the option didn’t really seem like much. As a matter of fact, the option was so popular, it became standard in the cars in 1962. Ford eventually expanded the option to other cars, but it seems only the Thunderbird buyers preferred it.
1 1965 Ford Wrist Twist - Almost Replaced Conventional Steering
During the 1960s, it seems that Ford simply didn’t like steering wheels. For instance, take a look at the Twist-Wrist, Ford’s take on steering a car. It was advertised directly to women, who Ford, at the time, considered terrible at parallel parking, and (their quote) “Non-technical” human beings. The steering mechanism worked by using two small wheels that could be operated by either hand while two armrests provided comfort. The thing is, no one really knew why there was a need for it when regular steering wheels worked just fine. Bye Bye Twist Wrist.
Sources: GM, thetruthaboutcars, businessweek