Steering Wheel Restoration Part 1

Well, as a follow on from the last post, the rattle from the gear selector is still there, albeit a little less often.  At some stage I will have to remove the linkages from the transmission and see if I can tighten them up.

The steering wheel in the Cadillac has lots of cracks. which is pretty common for a car of this age.  The plastic shrinks over time, compounded by the inner steel rim which grows in the heat and shrinks in the cold.  I had considered sending the wheel to Pearlcraft for a full restoration however the prices are more than I am prepared to spend.  The results they get are spectacular, but with a single colour costing around $650 it’s not for me.

The wheel in the Cadillac is a two tone wheel with two shades of turquoise/green/blue.  It looks a bit ‘limp’ in my opinion as the colours are too similar.  Most of the other Cadillac colour combinations were a higher contrast which made them more interesting.

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The wheel definitely needs to be restored so I decided to restore the wheel myself.  The first step was to remove it from the car and strip it down.  This is pretty straight forward as I have done it a number of times.

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I did a lot of research on the web before starting – fortunately there is plenty of information out there.  The first step is to open up the cracks so you can fill them with putty. I tried using a cutting wheel in a Dremel type tool with a flexible shaft – this just melted the plastic and also smelt pretty bad.  I used a hacksaw blade instead to open up the cracks.  It became obvious that the slots were not big enough to be able to ensure I was able to push the filler in effectively.

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A number of the forum posts on the web stated that the most important part is to make sure you have an irregular shape so the putty can ‘key’ in to the crack and not fall out.  I used a carbide ball burr to open out the cracks and slots.  The shape of the ball cutter means that you are able to make the grooves larger at the bottom to ensure the filler is positively retained.

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I spent a total of about 3 hours working my way around the wheel.  I found that I needed to keep the burr moving so the plastic didn’t get too hot and start melting.  The end result is a steering wheel which has a lot of grooves cut in it.

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As you can see from the pictures above, the wheel has 50+ years of dirt and grime on it. so after grinding out the cracks I started to clean it.  I first tried using methylated spirits (rubbing alcohol for the Americans) with a scourer, however I was totally surprised to see that the plastic started going soft and sticky, like it was dissolving.  I guess the plastics in the late 50’s were rather primitive, but I never expected them to dissolve in alcohol.  I changed my approach and used a water based soap cleaner with a scourer.  I spent 15-20 minutes working around the wheel scrubbing the dirt and grime from it.

When I dried it off, the colour had changed!

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Now that it was clean I dried it off with compressed air.  A couple of the chrome rings were loose, so I used some super glue to fix them back in place.  Once the filler is added this will hold them in place however the super glue will make sure I don’t have to fiddle and fight with them while filling the cracks.

I hung the wheel it in the shed where it can stay for a couple of days to ensure it is totally dry before proceeding to the next step.  I am not sure how hard it is going to be to work with the chrome rings, but I am going to give it a go.  I believe Pearlcraft remove the rings and use metallic tape to re-create the effect.




2 thoughts on “Steering Wheel Restoration Part 1

  1. Great to hear you have taken on the steering wheel restoration project, but no surprise, as you indicated in a past blog, that you would get it done OR do it.
    I was thrilled to go for a ride with you in the Caddy over Christmas. Thanks for the experience.
    I was blown away with the finished product. The reliability, smooth running, sound and even suspension performance over speed humps and on the highway were impressive – especially after following the project blog and recalling details like fixing the rattle in the mufflers by performing ‘open muffler’ surgery!! Well done and thanks again
    Tim S


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