Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

May 3, 2010

Suicide Knob

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

How about a quiz?  What is a suicide knob?  This can stump a lot of people.  A few fellows my age might know, but I doubt that many know unless they are a trivia person.

Hint:  The name comes from something attached to the steering wheel.  There is a more common name for it, but the term “suicide knob” came from those exceptionally fast hotrodders who had accidents as a result of using it.  Any clue?

Perhaps some would understand if I used the name steering wheel knob, also known as a steering wheel spinner.  These were very popular in the 1950’s, especially with street rods or hotrods.  The steering wheel knob attached to the steering wheel to make it easier to make turns.  Look at the picture and perhaps the description will make more sense.                                                                                                     

You could place it at the top of the steering wheel, at the bottom, or on either side. They came in all colors and designs.  Some of them were made so that you could flip it down and out of the way.  There were at least two good reasons for having one on your car.

For all our street rods, and other cars, driven by teenagers, none had power steering.  Power steering was not available until 1951 on a Chrysler.  And our old cars certainly predated that!  Without power steering, it required both hands to make a turn, unless you were traveling rather fast.  The faster you went, the easier it was to maneuver the vehicle.  Otherwise, you had to re-position your hands a couple of times to make the turn.

But with a steering knob, you could make the turn with one hand.  That meant caution!  If you were traveling too fast and made a sharp turn with the steering knob, you could over-steer . . . and lose control. Thus, an accident would occur.  So the slang expression “suicide knob” was coined.

Because of this danger, and the later cars with power steering which obviously would result in over-steering, these knobs became illegal.  Declared unsafe, most states have laws prohibiting them, except for the disabled.

But there was an even a better reason to have a steering wheel knob.  Especially if you owned a 1936 Chevrolet Touring Car.  (See blog for December 26,2009, entitled My First Car.)  This extremely heavy automobile required a lot of muscle to make turns.  It had a large steering wheel to aid in the turn, but you were greatly assisted if you had a steering wheel knob.

The greatest advantage of having such a knob was that you could drive with one hand on the steering wheel and wrap the other around that special person.  There were no bucket seats and so it was easy and natural for that date to slide close.  Besides, it was easier to hear one another over all the engine noise!  You always talked low so she could not hear you, and you always asked her to repeat what she said as if you couldn’t hear.  The suggestion was that if she was closer, the hearing problem was solved!

Of course, there were more mechanics to the car than just steering.  Automatic transmissions were also a thing of the future for us.  We only had stick transmissions.  It would be sissy to have anything else, even if it was available and you could afford it.  Manual transmission covers all non-automatic transmissions.  The transmission lever might be attached to the steering column, but a “stick shift” meant that the “stick” came from out of the floor board.  It was in the center of the car. 

Now imagine that you have solved the problem of steering while embracing that someone!  But how do you change gears?  It was constant as you would slow down, speed up, or come to stop.  This problem was solved by having that someone change gears for you.  She had two free hands, so why no let her use one!  It would not take long before the two had synchronized the depressing of the clutch and shifting.

Can you see what an ordeal it was to date in that era?  But, oh, those were the days of steering wheel knobs! I must confess, however, that it was too often a suicide knob for me.  Not for over-steering, but for over-assuming that the someone would sit close and would permit one arm driving!

Lawson

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