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Join The Steering Committee

Chris Haining February 7, 2018 All Things Hoon 31 Comments

Sometimes you’ll learn something that changes everything. A rumour, a theory, or a chance glimpse at something you’ve never seen before, can be enough to turn your world upside down and inside out. This was what I felt when I found that the Australian 1982 Ford Fairlane was fitted with a wildly asymmetrical steering wheel.

Get a load of it! Not one thing about it as you’d expect. The Ford blue oval is offset to the right of the rectangular boss, which is, itself, offset to the right – if only naggingly slowly. Why? Well, I can’t rightly say. Quickly Googling for ’82 Fairlane interior shots reveal a dashboard that had nothing to gain from such a peculiar design of steering wheel – it’s not as if the massive gap on the left hand side provides an uninterrupted view of anything particularly useful. Very odd, yet almost iconic, and now a much-loved feature of ZJ Fairlanes and XE Falcons alike.

So, having now added this remarkable find to my internal databanks (and cursed the fact that my ’81 Fairlane brochure features the earlier, altogether less inspirational ‘wheel), I figure it’s about time that we celebrated the great steering wheels we have known.

And yes, I had to start off with the Austin Allegro so that nobody else would gets the chance. The ‘Quartic’ steering wheel is, to this day, one of the very most infamous pieces of British automotive design ever to have made it from drawing board to showroom. So powerful is its notoriety that it’s among the first things that people bring up when the Allegro is mentioned – “oh, yeah, and its square steering wheel” – despite the fact that a wholly conventional round item took its place for BL’s dumpiest model’s second production year.

Unlike the Fairlane / Falcon wheel, the Quartic was conjured into being for entirely noble reasons – it was argued that a flattened shape allowed extra knee-room for the driver. This theory was later validated by numerous Le Mans cars and high-performance road cars with flat-bottomed steering wheels, but none have ever taken the curve out of the top as well, nor given it actual ‘sides’. Unfortunately, the Allegro already had plenty of failings, from an appearance that ruthless cost cutting had rendered stout and blobby from Harris Mann’s sleek, eye-catching original proposals, to a mechanical package that had its roots in the 1950s. It was only sensible for BL to kill the Quartic and put an end to at least some of the sniggering.

Right. Your turn. What’ya got?

[Top image courtesy of eBay, second image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons]