Style, Convenience, and Safety Merged
Eric Eikenberry - October 20, 2011 10:00 AM
For your Information:
Ace Custom Steering, LLC
1 To custom build a newly designed wheel, the folks at Ace must first tear down the old steering wheel by removing the attached plastic covers, electronic harnesses and the leather, then grind off the old foam from the rim. Then they place the armature (the correct term for the core of the steering wheel) in the molding machine and create the new shape with “PU” (the plastic mystery foam material underneath those fine leather grips).
2 While the new foam grip is being created on one side of the plant, the tanned, colored cowhides are being examined on the other side of the plant for flaws, which are marked.
3 Using patterns developed for each wheel shape and stitching style, the hides are hand-cut and punched for bulk orders (as for a single retailer).
4 The leather strips are stitched together end-to-end to create a continuous loop of leather, with good side facing out.
5 The continuous loop of leather is now stretched over the freshly reshaped steering wheel rim. The seams where the panels are joined are aligned into the grooves in the foam. After applying glue, the center seam is hand stitched, which pulls the leather tight around the foam. The leather is worked with a heat gun to tighten it and to remove wrinkles.
6 Any plastic trim parts or electronic harnesses are now reattached to the steering wheel, and it is essentially complete (minus the airbag, of course). Barring any flaws found during the final inspection process, it is ready to be packaged for shipping to an anxiously awaiting new owner.
Undoubtedly, the single most important piece of equipment in an automotive interior, from the vehicle control standpoint, is the steering wheel. Not only does it ensure the automobile safely goes where it is pointed, but the very size and shape is critical to comfortable driving.
A proper rim shape can prevent hand fatigue and wrist strain during long race events (or long drives on the freeway).
Auto manufacturers know this, but in the course of bringing an exciting concept car to market at a specified price point, some of those fine details we see at auto shows are lost to the bean counters who keep the manufacturing budgets in line. With the advent of airbag-equipped wheels in every car on the road, quality replacement steering wheels that accept air bags and audio system or cruise control electronics are few and far between. We heard that Ace Custom Steering had just launched a new line of OEM-quality wheels in exciting new shapes with custom leather color options, so we had to take a closer look at their products.
At their facility in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, Ace converts OEM “cores” into new, high-quality steering wheels with an ever-growing range of rim shapes. They’ve created a flattened-bottom “D” shape and have added better thumb grips at the three o’clock and nine o’clock positions to all of their designs for additional comfort. We asked for and received a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the craftsmanship needed to create an Ace product from start to finish.
Stylistically, the Ace wheels win hands-down over stock units. As CEO Art Blanchford points out, nearly all OEM “performance” wheels only come in black leather. “On most cars, even very nice ones like the new Camaro, the SWs are black and basic. An Ace custom steering wheel brings it alive! Makes it pop!” Leather colors can be matched to the exterior of the vehicle, to other interior hues, or can simply be left black, with a “center stripe” at the top just like the wheel from a race car. Suede or perforated grips are also options. They even offer some wood grip steering wheels for pickup trucks. The most remarkable feature of all, though, might be the price. Currently, an Ace custom steering wheel for a Mustang or Camaro retails for just $399, plus a $200 core charge which is refunded upon receipt of your OEM wheel at Ace. To view it another way, you can have the comfort of a top-flight Sparco racing wheel, yet retain the convenience of your steering wheel-mounted radio and cruise control buttons and the safety of your factory airbag system, for a price below the cost of the imported product. We’ll resist the urge to go full patriotic and simply say that this is the sort of innovative thinking we need to display more often in our country. Bravo, Ace!