Steer­ing wheels: How times have turned!

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

STEER­ING-WHEELS to­day are highly ef­fi­cient and do their job ad­mirably but when cars were first thought of steer­ing ac­cu­racy wasn’t at all im­por­tant.

A lit­tle more than a cen­tury ago cars were steered by a tiller ar­range­ment – an idea taken from the boat­ing world. A steer­ing wheel, let alone any fan­tasy of an air bag, multi-func­tion switches and the like, was some­thing of which there had been no thought.

With the an­cient tiller ar­range­ment — ba­si­cally a hor­i­zon­tal stick in front of the driver, to be moved left or right as re­quired, needed con­stant adjustment to main­tain a straight course. To­day it’s all too easy — some­thing of a work of art if the cock­pit of the Fer­rari seen along­side is any­thing to go by. Men with vi­sion

Cars can, of course, even steer them­selves th­ese days by scan­ning road lane-lines.

For­tu­nately, in Ed­war­dian times (1901-10ish), there were a few men with vi­sion – among them French­man Amédée Bol­lée. The rudi­men­tary but recog­nis­able steer­ing wheel and col­umn he fit­ted to his car of the same sur­name seemed to an­noy the gen­darmerie who hadn’t seen any­thing like it and is­sued him with nearly 100 traf­fic ci­ta­tions dur­ing his in­au­gu­ral 18-hour trip from the vil­lage of Le Mans to Paris while show­cas­ing his Bol­lée car.

Around 1895 Karl Benz had fit­ted a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment to an au­to­mo­bile – an or­nate piece of cast iron dec­o­rated with arabesques – sim­i­lar to those found on sewing ma- chines that grand­mas the world over used to own. It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore steer­ing wheels were tilted to­wards the driver — prob­a­bly brought on by race driv­ers’ needs of the day.

Steer­ing wheels back then were ex­traor­di­nar­ily large to im­prove lever­age while ma­noeu­vring through the streets. They shrank as steer­ing mech­a­nisms im­proved and in Amer­ica were soon moulded in plas­tic ma­te­rial; Euro­peans pre­ferred them to be made of al­loy and beau­ti­fully crafted wood.

In the mid-1950’s French au­tomaker Citröen cre­ated quite a stir be­cause the steer­ing wheel fit­ted to the DS (one se­ri­ously for­ward-look­ing car in its time) model was af­fixed to the steer­ing col­umn by only by a sin­gle curvy.

Ten years later, after-mar­ket alu­minium-spoked wheels be­came the “car fash­ion ac­ces­sory to have” for your tuned-up Mini, Anglia or Mor­ris.

While on the sub­ject of steer­ing, have you ever won­dered why only a quar­ter of the world drives on the left, as we do here? Way back in Ro­man times that was the most sen­si­ble op­tion when robbers fre­quented the dirt tracks of Europe be­cause most peo­ple were (and still are) right-handed and sol­diers pre­ferred to keep to the left in or­der to have their sword arm at the ready. Why left and right?

Change oc­curred in the late 17th cen­tury when Euro­pean farm­ers be­gan us­ing huge wag­ons pulled by teams of horses or oxen. The farmer would usu­ally sit astride the last beast on the left and keep his right arm free to whip the an­i­mals to keep them mov­ing along. Be­cause he was on the left he pre­ferred every­body else to pass him on that side so he could see the on­com­ing wag­ons – and their wheels – all the eas­ier.

That meant keep­ing to the right­hand side of the track.

To­day only four Euro­pean coun­tries still drive on the left: the UK, Ire­land, Malta and Cyprus.

Glob­ally only Ja­pan, Aus­trala­sia and South(ern) Africa have stayed with the mi­nor­ity.

— Wheels24

Citröen cre­ated a stir be­cause the steer­ing wheel fit­ted to the DS model was af­fixed to the steer­ing col­umn by only by a sin­gle curvy.

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