Hand-somethings

Did two minor comfort/aesthetic additions recently.

I’m not the kind that’s much concerned with how things look, within reason anyway. But to my eye, the stock Vanagon steering wheel has always been a kind of throwaway, uninspired, “bleah” design. But that alone wouldn’t be enough reason to change it. What is is how intermittent the horn function has always been, it’s a coin-toss whether the thing sounds or not. The brass contact ring and shoe is a phenomenally crappy design, you can tell because VW stubbornly stuck with it since the Beetle days, but I’ve dealt with those for 40 years and know how to keep those bits working. No, it’s the internal contacts under the hub pad, they put about as much thought into that aspect as they did the aesthetics, which is to say not much.
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The only car I ever bought brand new was a 1983 Rabbit GTI, a really fun, eminently tossable little machine. I flogged that car mercilessly for a couple years until the time and money I had to start spending to fix things plus the payments I was still making plus my unemployment at that time all said “time to dump”. But one of the things I liked most about it, for reasons I don’t understand, was the distinctive 4-button steering wheel. It had a thick, firmly-padded rim, which always felt good in the hands, and of course those buttons that looked so cool and clean and always did their job without fail. I guess considering the wheel is the main component the driver interacts with, liking or not liking any particular one isn’t that silly. Or maybe it is. But I liked that steering wheel.
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So, hunted around the webs for a used one in that configuration. I didn’t want the GTI logo because it’s a little too on-the-ironical-nose to put that in a Vanagon, just the VW logo would do. Found a leather-bound one at Bezo’s place or maybe the e-place, can’t recall. Paid a pretty penny but many were over twice that price for the same thing. I knew if I got an 80’s model it would have the same shaft spline size, I think this one was from an ’88 or so.
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Received it in good time, well packed and in good condition. First trial fitting showed it fit the splines and met the shaft taper it wedges against, with about 7mm gap that had to be closed to get the horn contact ring to touch the shoe. Out comes the steering column to work out how to close the gap. Two steps: first I milled a second slot for the bottom u-joint bolt, opposite the first and 3 or 4mm further up the shaft. That will move the shaft downward by that much. Second, cut 3mm off the top plastic spacer sleeve and spun up a little alu spacer ring the same width to put under the lock assembly, which moved that upward that much. Between the two, the wheel fit perfectly with a normal gap to the switches’ top plates and the horn contact shoe.
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And the cute little bussy horn blows smartly every single time. But the change in relative heights of the shaft and lock assembly means the steering lock pin is a bit too high to drop in either of the two slots. I suspected as much but couldn’t be sure until it was assembled, and by then it was late in the day and I needed to drive to get my second COVID shot next morning so I buttoned it up. Some time I’ll take the shaft out and mill the slots a bit higher.

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Other impressions: the change in hand position and reduction in leverage made by it being just ¾” smaller in radius are both noticeable, but things I’ll get used to (my Syncro does have power steering). The other is the wheel rim blocks the top of the gauges. That’s not so great, but I have a complete gauge upgrade planned so I’ll deal with that when I build a whole new instrument housing. I could just remove the swivel base under the driver seat, it never gets used, but I’ve gotten so accustomed to the higher position and the extra visibility it affords, I don’t think I’m willing to give it up.
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And since my Syncro is a little lifted, plus that swivel base, and I’m often getting in with things in one hand, I’m always grabbing at the wheel to climb in. So I thought a left A-pillar grab handle would be nice. Stole the right side one from my ’87 GL, took a bunch of measurements to mirror the right side position, and went to town with the drill. Gotta say, this is really great when I need it, left or right hand, I’m bounding up into the seat like a bunny.

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