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Quality Restorations

A resource for recast vintage steering wheels

Jim Maxwell - January 31, 2013 10:00 AM

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Several transparent colors are available, be it for exact factory replacement or custom applications.

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Dennis has this 1940 Chevrolet “Spinner” wheel, a $12 upgrade from the factory. It features a built-in, six-inch spinner on the left-hand-side of the wheel — perfect for driving one-handed with your arm around the girlfriend.

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In 1960, Plymouth offered an optional steering wheel for power steering equipped cars called the “Aero” wheel. It provided improved view of the road, plus gave more legroom for the driver.

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The even distribution of the glitter material inside the clear urethane plastic has been mastered!

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The “Indian head” logo identified early Pontiac steering wheels and here’s a pristine example from the Dennis Crooks’ collection.

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Here’s the two-tone mold of the 1957-’58 Chrysler 300 steering wheel. It is exactly as Mother Mopar did it all those years ago.

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This is how a 1948-’54 Packard wheel appears after a recast from Quality Restorations.

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The same Packard application. The metal framework in this case, has been painted butterscotch to provide correct OE appearance.

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This recently molded 1956 Dodge Le Femme shows the ability to color match any original hue (the owner of the car sent in some correct unfaded color samples with the core) and once installed, this wheel 100-percent matches the factory unit as supplied by Chrysler Corporation back in the day.

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This copper-colored wheel is what a black-painted reinforcement ring looks like underneath a copper-tinted, transparent steering wheel. An assortment (Pontiac, Mercury, Ford) of custom center caps can be manufactured under special request.

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The 1955-’56 DeSoto wheel exemplifies the extreme detail that goes into grip-equipped steering wheels recast by Quality Restorations.

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For the 1955-’56 Chevy, this reduced diameter (16 inches) wheel looks the part of a stock wheel, but gives a lot more room for the driver to operate.

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If a classic car came standard with a marbled steering wheel, Dennis can match it, plus it can be included in the wheel design if the customer wants to add an upgrade to his car’s interior.

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This is a typical Dodge/Plymouth simulated wood grain wheel from the years 1964-’67.

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Here’s a steering wheel with a Benrus Clock from a 1955-’56 Chrysler 300 model. They were once optional and now are sought by Letter Car aficionados!

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Here’s a steering wheel with a Benrus Clock from a 1955-’56 Chrysler 300 model. They were once optional and now are sought by Letter Car aficionados!

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Many of Quality Restoration’s Corvette customers request that the rim of their wheel does NOT get the standard hand sanding and smoothing when it comes out of the mold. They want the surface to be consistent with NOS Corvette wheels that are no longer available. (Over time stock steering wheels were manually smoothed by the years of driving).

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Pictured here is a customized 1940 Mercury wheel (shown with optional V8 center cap logo) that has seen a reduction in diameter from 18 inches to 15½ inches.

 

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For owners of vintage cars, there’s a well-known occurrence: steering wheels crack and deteriorate over time.

Unfortunately, when the plastics industry first started out, even though this material was a major breakthrough in technology at the time, there was less than ideal success with the long-term durability using the early compounds and formulas.

Without question, the most prominent problem with the early plastic as used on automotive steering wheels is that the material that surrounds the metal core of the wheel breaks down from heat and ultra-violet radiation caused by the sun.

Tenite is the oldest thermoplastic (introduced to the industry in 1929, into the 1930s for steering wheel use) and it provided a much more beautiful automotive steering wheel as compared to the old hard thermoset (what appeared to be hard rubber) material that had been used previously. However as early as during WWII, cars with Tenite steering wheels experienced the plastic material cracking and breaking off in chunks.

The maker of Tenite (Eastman Chemicals, Kingsport, Tennessee) later came up with a Tenite II version in an effort to alleviate the problems. However, the cracking continued, more noticeably in the sun belt states. Over the years, a great deal has been learned in the industry on how to deal with and prevent cracking and/or fading of plastics with the newer materials and formulas. The fact remains that with old steering wheels, nothing can really stop the aging process. If you’ve got some small and minor cracking on your wheel, it can be repaired by filing and filling it in with a product like PC-7, and with a restored (painted) smooth finish, it can appear to be like-new condition. But nonetheless, if the wheel is further exposed to direct sunshine and heat, in time, another part of the steering wheel will crack as well.

Poway, California’s Dennis Crooks is a longtime car enthusiast and has many years of experience with industrial manufacturing and dealing with precision plastics work. About 25 years ago while restoring cars, he realized that there was a need in the hobby for a company that could actually “recast” steering wheels that were cracked and damaged. Because of his hands-on experience around old cars, he knew that performing a patch job on a sun-damaged wheel was likely to crack again.

He set out to combine his manufacturing skills with his passion for classic automobiles, and started “Quality Restorations, Inc.” with the basic idea that car owners could send in their old steering wheel core and get back essentially a brand-new product using all new “UV-stable” thermoplastic technology. It has taken a lot of research and development. He is now able to formulate the exact procedures, incorporating today’s superior urethane plastics (including special blends) and the making of molds. His efforts have been successful in solving the heat and UV degradation problems of the past. In fact, with his proprietary process, he backs the steering wheel with a lifetime warranty on the plastic itself.

In the years since he first started the business, he has built up a large assortment of molds and tooling to produce high-quality steering wheels for many makes and models, all with the exact factory original size, feel and texture. For restorers wanting to get their old wheels recast to their former glory, Dennis offers his services for numerous U.S. cars manufactured from the 1930s on up into the late 1960s including Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac; Ford products (including Lincoln and Mercury); as well as Mopar (Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Plymouth).

He also covers a large part of the “independent” automakers from the past, including Cord, Nash Healey, Packard, Tucker and Willys (early Jeepster), and is always making new molds for other vehicles. For non-domestic marques he can provide recast steering wheels for selected applications (such as Mercedes Gullwing, Porsche 356 plus numerous British cars). He does certain Banjo-type steering wheels and provides (for certain applications) new, matching-color, column shift, turn signal and related knobs.

In some cases, he can also custom-make steering wheel center cap logos. Quality Restorations, Inc., has done the legwork and made the tooling/molds to offer “diameter reduction” steering wheels for selected vehicles, as there has been a market for car owners that have upgraded to more efficient power steering units (or simply no longer want the huge diameters that came with their vehicles). Reducing from a 18-inch down to 16-inch diameter is a growingly popular swap, as the wheel itself still has the general flavor as what the factory installed, however once behind the wheel and driving, there’s a noticeable difference in operating the car or truck. The best way to check out all of Dennis’ concours-quality handiwork is to visit the website or if you’re attending a number of major California car shows (such as Goodguys and the LA Roadster Show). He’s always displaying a large selection of product samples and available for any and all questions.

Quallity Restorations

(858) 271-7374

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