Mar 272014

At some stage the previous owner had fitted an aftermarket 16″ Moto-lita steering wheel. Even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, I was toying with the idea of swapping for either a 15″ or possibly even a 14″ wheel, which a number of owners fit to increase the leg room. The steering would also be more direct with the smaller wheels with the obvious trade off being progressively heavier steering around town and parking.

Still, the unanswered question was, how much heavier would the steering become? Finally I decided to stick with my approach of keeping to the standard specification and only making changes once I’d driven it for a while. However, while I was dithering on what to do, I got distracted by an original rather ropey 16″ wheel on eBay. The wood had dried and split beyond repair so it needed to be re-rimmed … as though I didn’t have enough to be getting on with already!

16″ Moto-lita wheel Original wheel from eBay Splits in the wooden rim

The splits in the rim ran almost for the full circumference which made its removal very straight forward. Fortunately there are a couple of people offering replacement mahogany rim kits. The new rims are ever so slightly thicker and so will have the benefit of being more rigid.

Unlike the very early E-Type steering wheels, the aluminium ring is entirely enclosed, in a groove cut into the bottom half of the wooden rim. The two halves are then bonded and a gloss varnish applied to the wood.

Splits made removal a doddle Aluminium section freed Replacement rim kit

The Series 2 steering wheels changed from the polished finished to avoid the reflective surface. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to get a satisfactory brushed effect and so have decided to go for a polished finish.

The numerous scratches and light pitting in the aluminium section were too deep to be removed by polishing alone. So it was necessary to lightly sand it to remove the blemishes, prior to polishing. Initially 600-grit paper was used and then 800-grit until the scratches had disappeared. It was rather worrying at the start as you tend to question whether you’re making it worse rather than improving things!

Sanding started with 600-grit Followed by 800-grit

The grade of paper was then progressively made finer at each pass, finishing with 2000-grit. The aluminium started to gain an even sheen during the last few passes and then it was ready for polishing.

Fortunately I had a second bench grinder and so replaced the stones with two 6″ polishing wheels; one for use with a cutting paste and one for the final polishing paste. I’m sure it would have been a much more difficult task without it or trying to fit a polishing wheel to a power drill.

Getting close : 1500-grit 2000-grit produces an even sheen After polishing with cutting paste

The polishing cutting paste soon obtains a smooth shiny finish. Once the majority of surface blemishes have been removed, the polishing paste is used to obtain the final finish. The key point is to polish evenly rather than over polishing by concentrating on a specific area. It’s surprising how much heat is generated during the polishing process so there were frequent breaks to allow the wheel (and motor) to cool.

The steering wheel boss was also given the same treatment.

I believe the aluminium spokes were originally protected by a clear lacquer. I used Pro-XL two pack clear lacquer which should provide a tough scratch resistant layer, with both the steering wheel and boss given three coats. The curing time is 24 hours after which it can be mechanically polished.

However, once the aerosol is activated, it only has a pot life of about 24 hours. So it’s not possible to address imperfections in between coats. It was a fine line between getting an uneven orange peel finish and over-spraying causing runs.

I managed to get a combination of the two! Plus a few high spots due to dust pick up and areas where the lacquer flowed through the holes in the spokes and pooled underneath.

The wheel and boss were then rubbed down with 2500-grit wet & dry paper to correct any imperfections, adding a little water to the surface before sanding. A sanding block is a good idea for the wheel to ensure a flat finish.

The lacquer takes on an opaque appearance once sanded so removing areas of orange peel was very easy. Once the glossy low spots had disappeared, producing a uniform opaque finish, it was ready for buffing up with some standard polish. In this case, Menzerna Fast Gloss FG400.

Finally, it was time to re-rim the wheel! A suitable epoxy that had been recommended to bond the rim was Pacer Z-poxy. Several types are available, having different curing times. I opted for the 30 minute variety (PT-39) to provide plenty of time to make any adjustments! Like many epoxies, the resin and hardener are mixed in equal quantities.

To be on the safe side, I chose to tackle it in two stages; first bonding the aluminium wheel into the grove in the lower half and then once cured bonding the top half. The only issue was to make sure the countersunk side of aluminium wheel was the right way round!! Numerous clamps were used when bonding the second half of the rim, alternating between clamping the two halves together and ensuring the edges of the two halves were perfectly aligned.

One of the reasons for choosing Z-poxy was that it can be sanded. However any excess squeezed out by the clamping was quickly removed with methylated spirits. If I were to do it again, I’d not use the clamps to keep the edges of the two halves aligned. Clamping in this way did not squeeze out all the excess epoxy, so there is a slightly more visible join in places. Nothing too disastrous but not perfect.

A better approach would have been to use all 8 clamps to squeeze the halves together a firmly as possible. Any slight alignment issues could then be addressed when the rim is sanded down before the final finishing.

I believe many of the steering wheel restoration companies then apply a hard polyester lacquer to the rim. Although I’ve decided not to go down that route for a number of reasons; it’s not readily available, difficult to apply and I think not as pleasant in the hand.

My preference is just to apply Colron finishing oil to keep the natural feel of the wood. The aluminium spokes were masked off and the wood sanded down with 240-grit and then 320-grit sandpaper.

The finishing oil was then wiped on with a lint-free cloth and allowed to dry for approximately 5-6 hours between coats. Once each coat had dried, the rim was rubbed down with ultra fine Steel Wool (0000) before applying the next coat.

Initially the oil produces a matt finish which progressively becomes glossier as additional coats are applied. In the end I had applied about 12 coats until I had the finish I wanted.

To keep the wheel in tip top condition, it should only be a matter of rubbing down with steel wool and reapplying additional coats. Far easier maintenance wise than varnishes or lacquers.

The downside of finishing oil is that it doesn’t offer the same protection against damage that a hard lacquer would provide. I’ll just have to be careful.

After multiple coats of finishing oil …. the final finish

The final problem was the central E-Type motif (or horn push for the earlier cars – the S2 horn being operated via the indicator stalk). The clear plastic had numerous fissures on the surface and some had propagated to reach the base, causing these areas to lose the gold colouring.

Surface cracks on horn push Comparison: Repro (L) v Original (R)

I’d hoped that it might be possible to repair it, in a similar manner to repairing cracks in windscreens. However my investigations so far have not found a suitable method to repair it. The general consensus on the E-Type forum was that it wouldn’t be possible to repair.

A reproduction motif was purchased as a fall back but I hadn’t noticed the differences between the originals and the repro ones until the moderator of the forum pointed them out; the colouring is more of yellowy silver than the deep gold of the original.

Why they can’t get simple things like this right I’ll never know. Chinese no doubt! So I’ll fit the repro one for now until an original comes up on eBay. Fingers crossed …..