This article will describe the Y type
steering wheel, and the following stages of restoration for normal wear and tear.
Gluing and clamping
Filling and sanding
I am grateful to Ben Cordsen for his interesting
article on the MG TA, TB, TC series steering wheels on our sister web-site http://www.mg-tabc.org/techn-up/mg steering wheels.htm. Also there is a concise description of the
steering wheel on Page 38 of “Let There Be Y’s. The steering wheel has an outer steel rim
which is shrouded in a plastic material which has been described as Bakelite,
(elsewhere described as celluloid or cellulose acetate, which are in fact completely
different plastics). Y steering wheels were normally a tan
colour or had a swirled marble effect right through the plastic, and it’s this
plastic that has been prone to splitting.
The plastic rim covering is smooth at the
front, but underneath there are finger-grip indentations around the
circumference of the wheel. There are three sets of four spokes grouped in
pairs, which have been described as chrome plated, but I’m pretty sure that
mine are stainless steel as I was able to easily repolish them with fine emery.
My conclusion that the spokes are stainless
steel may only apply to the steering wheels I have seen in Australia, which may be export versions and
differ from the types sold on cars sold in the UK.
The spokes radiate from a central solid aluminium
alloy hub, which typically was originally painted bronze. In my restoration I
did not attempt to replicate the original colour of the rim or wheel, as I used
a modern, highly durable finish that is not available in bronze.
Wear and Tear
Generally the paintwork on the hub may be
worn, the alloy may be cracked
(I’m no expert on that), the spokes could
be in good condition or in the worst case bent. The most common problem is
severe splitting at the “fillet”, the joint of the spokes and the rim outer
covering. This does not necessarily mean that the steering wheel is terminally weakened,
as it is a very strong piece of equipment. Even if the steel rim is broken, and
spokes bent, the steering wheel is repairable. The splitting at the fillets looks
terrible, but it’s mainly cosmetic. Note that there are three fillets, each
with a back and front, which on my wheel, were splitting open, so there were six
places to repair.
In making this decision, repair will
require about 10 hours of work and about AUD $20 in materials, although you
will have unused and expensive paint and filler left over at the end of the job,
which will have cost you about AUD $100.
To have a steering wheel professionally
refurbished, in Australia,
would cost several hundred dollars including freight, but it’s worth mentioning
that if you want the ultimate finish, Pearlcraft in Queensland restore steering wheels to a very
However, if you live in the UK, you may
find a good one on eBay for less than £50.
Superglue is reported to be an ideal
adhesive for Bakelite (e.g. for the repair of antique radio cabinets), and it
was this that encouraged me to try to repair my steering wheel, thereby also
giving Superglue some credibility in the vintage car world.
You will need:
Superglue –small tube
Superglue solvent if you are a perfectionist.
Three G clamps, or (better still) bar clamps
Epoxy filler – small tin ( I used Epifill)
Wet and dry carborundum papers in 360, 600, 1200 grades – 2
sheets of each.
½” paint brush
100 ml paint – POR 15 is perfect but colours are restricted to
black, white, or grey.
Two plastic drinking straws, and/or some masking tape
Remove Steering Wheel
Disconnect the battery,
On one side of the
steering wheel boss you'll see a screw. This holds the horn switch in place.
Remove the switch & undo the wire,
now use a socket to undo the steering wheel nut. As you'll see, it's very big.
You'll probably also find evidence of previous removal in the shape of chisel
or centre punch marks which is the "usual" method of removal when a
large socket isn't handy.
Undo the nut a few
turns but don't take it right off.
Hopefully, with a
bit of wiggling & holding your tongue the right way, the steering wheel
will release & come loose. This might be easy, or this might be hard
depending on when it was last removed. Sometimes banging the steering wheel rim
can shock it loose but if it's really, really tight, then a puller might be
required (I've never come to that stage though).
When the steering
wheel is loose, remove the nut & then the wheel.
There are two types of steering wheel to
The first step is to clean the wheel
thoroughly and get rid of any loose paint and Bakelite fragments. Inspect,
clean and polish the spokes. I suggest cleaning with fine (000) steel wool,
finishing with 1200 emery and metal polish.
Chip away the Bakelite from that area (it
will probably be falling off anyway, and expose sufficient of the rim that you
can see what has happened. De-rust and have it welded back together, prior to
re-modelling the plastic covering, using epoxy filler as described below.
at the Fillets (Spoke/Rim Junctions)
Do some more cleaning, try to clean inside the splits with a
solvent such as iso-propyl alcohol, using a small brush. A CO Contact
Cleaner aerosol spray of the type sold for cleaning electrical contacts may
Get four G clamps or bar clamps ready, with some wood or felt
packing pieces to prevent additional surface damage to the bakelite
Starting with one spoke/rim fillet, work Superglue deep into
the splits at the back and front, as quickly as you can. Use a piece of thin
card to really tease the glue right into the split.
When you are sure the split has taken all the glue it can, clamp
this junction up tightly – as tight as you can make it without further
damaging the bakelite. It’s quite tough in fact. Wipe away excess glue.
Clamping will force the fillets quite close to the original shape.
You may like to leave the job for a couple of days at this
stage to see how glueing your first joint has worked out.
When all three fillets are clamped, leave for a couple of days
to allow the glue to fully cure. Obviously a warm place will help, I will
leave that to your ingenuity and domestic tact and diplomacy.
After two days, carefully remove the clamps. You should not
have any problem with splits opening up again.
The next step is to fill the remaining
cracks which will now be significantly narrower than when you started. However
before you mix filler, I suggest you mask the spokes at both the centre and rim
ends. I used short pieces of ordinary plastic drinking straw, split along the
length, which curls nicely around the spoke – secured with tape at the end
away from the fillet. However this method is rather tedious and fiddly as it requires
the cutting and attaching of 24 pieces of drinking straw. It could be almost as
effective to wrap some masking tape around all four spokes at each fillet and
the middle ends, although, to work in between the spokes you will need to poke
under the edge of the masking tape.
I used white Epifill two-part epoxy resin
filler bought from a marine supplier, but you may already have a suitable
Use the filler sparingly as some careful
shaping at this stage, will save a lot of tedious sanding later on. I suggest you
do this work in several stages, mixing small quantities of filler at a time,
and also being sure not to spoil sections not yet set, whilst trying to do too
much at once.
Once the filler is all set, the work can be
sanded carefully to shape using rat-tail files, and wet emery papers,
progressing through say 360, 600 to 1200 grades. Be very careful not to scratch
the spokes whist filing and sanding around the ends of the spokes. If the
finger indentations have been treated with filler, pay attention to re-shaping
them evenly. Use a strong light, and your sense of touch to help achieve a good
shape and finish. You are re-sculpting your wheel at this stage of the work. Inevitably
you will need to do some additional filling to achieve a good final result.
I strongly recommend POR 15, which is an exceptional
and forgiving paint product that flows on beautifully from the brush, and cures
by drawing moisture from the atmosphere, to an almost flawless glass-hard
finish, free from brush-marks.
POR 15 is available in black gloss and
semi-gloss, white, clear and silver. I could only buy gloss black in
Perth, so that is what I
used, but I think semi -gloss would have given a more authentic looking finish.
It is an expensive paint but you will find other uses for it after you have
finished your steering wheel. A primer is not strictly necessary.
If you prefer to retain an authentic colour
you will need to look for an alternative paint – you may find a two part epoxy
paint in a tan or brown shade.
Personally I think a black wheel looks
rather smart and will go with any other colour scheme on the car. The important
thing is (perhaps) to restore the original wheel so it can give another 60
years of service, rather than fit a wood/aluminium substitute.
To support the wheel during painting, I clamped
a 10mm bolt upright in a vice and sat on it a tapered bottle cap of suitable diameter,
which fitted tightly into the hole in the central alloy boss. This set-up supported
the steering wheel and enabled it to be rotated without touching the rim.
After final smoothing with the 1200 grade
emery, dry the wheel and wipe it very thoroughly with a dust and lint free
cloth (“tack cloth”), a clean microfibre duster is suitable.
Cleanliness, and precautions against dust
are essential during painting. You may wish to get a new, good quality brush, ½
“size is suitable. I suggest you transfer about 80 ml of the paint from the
tin, into a clean coffee jar.
Use a strong light whilst painting. I
painted the front, (top) of the wheel and boss first. By turning the wheel as
you paint, you can paint most of the underside at the same time, by peering
underneath, but it will be difficult to get the finish right, and it’s more
important to concentrate on getting a good even finish on the top part and
sides, which will be visible. You can finish the underside of the rim and boss later.
Make sure you pick up all runnels of excess paint, and at the same time that
you paint carefully into the gaps around and between the spokes. Lay off your
brush strokes, and examine the wet paint surface carefully for dust specks and
Leave the area and close the door to avoid
raising dust into the air, and allow to dry for at least six hours, then inspect
the finish to see if any major flaws need removing. Turn the wheel over and
finish painting the underside and allow to dry for 6 hours.
If you have been very careful with your
brush work you may not require a second coat, but if you do need to apply a
second coat, you may have to do a little more work with emery papers, which should
be done before the paint is fully cured, (i.e. in the first 24 hours).
When the paint is dry your renovation is
almost complete, but you will need to remove the making tape from the spokes,
and clean and repolish any places where your painting was more successful than
I hope you will be more than satisfied with
the end result, which in my case, using the gloss black POR 15, was a gleaming
steering wheel that looks almost as though it has come straight out of the
factory. A fellow Y owner pronounced it to be “better than new”, so I did
consider attempting to sand it back to resemble a more vintage patina, but -
having tried previously to rub back POR 15, and discretion being the better
part of valour, I have contented myself with the high gloss finish for the time
If you see anyone quietly smiling whilst closely
inspecting steering wheels, at any vintage car event around Perth, it’s probably yours truly.
If you have any questions, please contact me here.