The first motorcars were steered by means of a tiller, just like motorboats.
Photos by Larry Edsall
The first motorcars were steered by means of a tiller, just like motorboats. The driver held the end of a bar that, through a series of joints and gears, was attached to the front wheel — remember, the first car was a three-wheeler — and later to the front wheels, which changed direction when the driver pulled or pushed the tiller.
It is believed that it was in 1894 that one Alfred Vacheron first outfitted his car, a Panhard he was driving in the Paris-Rouen rally, with a steering wheel instead of a tiller atop the driver’s end of the steering column. We also know that by 1898 French automakers Panhard and Bollee were installing steering wheels rather than tillers on the cars they were producing.
Today, steering wheels are covered — even cluttered — with all sorts of switchgear designed to make it easy for the driver to adjust everything from a vehicle’s audio system to its HVAC, with paddles to change gears and buttons to make telephone calls.
But such things really are nothing new. Once upon a time, not only the direction in which a car traveled but such things as gear selection and fuel supply (and you thought cruise control was a new-fangled invention) were controlled from the steering wheel, or at least by levers or switches attached to the wheel or steering column rather than by pedals mounted on the vehicle’s floorboard.
Today’s Eye candy presents some vintage — and in some cases quite colorful — steering wheels we’ve seen in recent weeks.