The SS Degenerate Press

Replacing the steering wheel on my 1971 Chrysler Newport CE

The steering wheel on the car was so badly cracked that the plastic covering was about to come free of the metal frame in several places. Unfortunately around 1970 Chrysler started adding a grained texture to steering wheels so you can't just fill the cracks, sand and paint without the obvious damage to the grain and flat filled cracks. I searched a few yards and found lots and lots of cracked steering wheels so it's obviously a design flaw. I finally stumbled across a replacement wheel (originally off a Plymouth but the wheel, minus the center details, is the same part) in the correct color through Frank at Mopar Restos.

To remove the steering wheel you first pop off the plastic center insert. Two of the little arms popped free easily, but a third required some serious levering with a screwdriver, to the point where I worried I'd break it. But it came free, exposing the phillips head screws that allow you to removed the horn assembly. Here's what it looked like with the new wheel on:

Unscrew the three phillips head screws and pull off the vinyl horn assembly. When you do there will be two wires attached to the steering column.

The one that goes down into the slot simply pulls free with a snap. The other wire is attached by a screw that can easily be stripped, I discovered. If you want to avoid this problem remove it with a pair of vice clamps, or even a pair of pliers, instead of stripping it with a screwdriver as I did. I was surprised at how easily it came free with the pliers after I'd completely stripped the head with a screwdriver.

Then remove the center nut with a ratchet. Now there's nothing really holding your steering wheel on except a grooved shaft coming out of the steering column. However, this is an extremely tight attachment! You can bang on it all day with a hammer, pull, twist, spray WD-40 all over the place and pull your back muscles out before you give in and either take it to your mechanic buddy with a steering wheel puller or give up and keep your original. You'll never get the thing off without the right tool.

A steering wheel puller is basically a pair of bolts and a braket. There are holes in the steering wheel for the bolts.

The braket goes between them with another bolt in the center that screws down and pushes on the steering column shaft. This bolt pushes up on the bracket pulling the steering wheel strait off the steering column.

On a 71 Newport the wheel can only go on one way - you don't have to worry about straitening up the wheels and putting your wheel on crooked. On the shaft one of the ridges is wide and flat to match a slot in the steering wheel.

When putting the plastic components back on don't forget to attach both wires so that your horn will work. You can test it before you screw everything back into place to make sure you've done it right. Otherwise you'll just be taking the thing apart again, as I found out the hard way.

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