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Steering Wheel Restoral, Horn Repair

1/20/00 -- Another good, productive day. My UPS driver arrived with a lot of stuff. I had purchased some used chrome items from Keith Burns in San Andreas, California. Keith's box also contained what I'd really been looking for -- an original, early Spitfire steering wheel with what appears to be the original factory leather wheel cover stitched on. The wheel needs some minor refurbishing; the horn button has some minor stress cracks. the plastic where the spokes meet the wheel needs some attention and the center hub needs to be repainted, but I'm looking forward to that project. I've already got it on the car, temporarily. The shaft nut securing the aftermarket wheel I bought the car with was only on hand tight and I was able to remove it with my fingers!

When the car arrived it was missing one of the horns. I'll have to ascertain whether the high note or low note horn is missing and find a suitable replacement.

Additionally, the steering wheel I just bought needs a clip and horn brush to work with the horn button. Right now, as you can see, I'm missing these items... I'm assuming that the clip grounds to the steering column, the brush attaches to it; and the metal contact on the horn button presses against the brush, closing the circuit and causing the horns to sound.

While the rack and pinion steering unit appears to be very tight with no play in the steering whatsoever, something in the steering shaft iteslf seems not quite right. I hear something rubbing when I turn the wheel as if something in the column isn't aligning just right. My guess is that some bushings need replacement, but this is a very minor problem at present and in fact may not really be a problem worth delving into at all at this point.

1/23/00 -- Late tonight I got restless and decided to start on the refurbishment of my steering wheel. I treated the leather wrap with Armor All Leather Conditioner (I had a free sample and thought why not!). It turned out fairly nice. A lot of the dark color has come back and the leather feels and looks a lot better than it did -- but not as good as I think it probably can... I'm going to keep working on softening and shining it up without disturbing the factory cross stitching. Update: 6/23/00: I cleaned the leather with Lexol leather cleaner, which removed a lot of dirt. After the steering wheel leather was dry the next day, I applied two or three coats of some good 'ol fashioned Kiwi black leather shoe polish and buffed out the wheel to a very nice shine. It almost looks new again.

Masking off the three wire spokes to paint the center hub was real easy. 3" width masking tape covers both the front and back of the spokes. I had a can of Dutch Boy acrylic enamel black satin finish spray paint and decided to give that a try. If I decide I don't like it, I'll just bead blast the hub and start over. I'm not sure if gloss black would look right. A satin finish sounded good to me. We'll see how everything looks when it's dry.

1/25/00 -- Here's how it looks when it's dry. I'm pleased with the outcome.

2/9/00 -- Bill McDevitt, a fellow who has good naturedly chastised me for not buying his pristine, award-winning baby blue Mk2 (ah, timing is everything!) very generously donated a spare horn clip to my cause. While I was digging around at my local British used parts house, I asked the owner if he happened to have a horn brush. As it so happens, he did!

Unfortunately, it must be for another kind of car because it is too long to work in my Spitfire. Putting it another way, I can't install the horn button while the brush was in there since it stuck out too far -- even with the inner spring of the brush compressed fully. I ended up breaking the darn thing to boot. Oh well, twelve bucks out the window! The exciting news is that I did momentarily hear the click of a relay somewhere. The horn was trying to honk at least! I'm going to see if I can return the faulty brush and while I'm there, I'm going to pick up a new replacement set of horns. I'm missing one, anyway... In case it helps anyone else, the nut that holds the steering wheel on is one and one-sixtheeth inches in diameter. Who knows? Maybe I'll get the horns working by the weekend!

2/10/00 -- Success at last! After I learned that I was "stuck" with the broken brush, I did a bit more research and realized that the $12 brush I'd purchased locally was probably for later model Spitfires. Rather then shell out another $25 plus shipping to order the correct brush, I decided to improvise a solution that worked out great. I made my own...

The idea is to create a shielded electrical "bridge" from the wiring ring (directly beneath the steering wheel) to the brass clip on the rear of the horn button.I created the shielded casing for the brush shaft with simply mini-PVC tubing (the stuff used for drip irrigationin the garden). I inserted a short length of zip cord (the same wire on your table lamp with the copper strands) through the tubing and stripped about 1/4" of insulation off of each end. I ended up recycling the broken factory-style brush by using the end with the rounded face that rubs against the wiring ring. I shoved that brass fitting into the end of the PVC tubing and it was a tight, perfect fit. In this manner, the brass piece is shoved snugly against the bare copper strands of the wire. On the horn button side of the fitting, I roughed up the copper strands a bit to create more of a "brush" look to them (also insuring good contact with the brass clip on the horn button. Inserting the new "brush" into the mounting hole, I placed the button cap back on the wheel and gave my horn a try! All I could hear was the click of a relay -- so I reversed the polarity of the leads to the single horn (one of the horn units is missing) and I was rewarded with a cheerful high pitched beep!

My homemade brush is working great with no intermittent outages of any kind. Now all I have to do is pick up a low note horn, connect the leads and this project will be complete! Another Spitfire list member said that he made his own brush also, using a sawed off ball point pen barrel as his casing. That would have looked more like the factory brush that I was sold.

2/14/00 -- This past weekend, I completed the horn project. My car was missing one low note horn and bracket. I picked up a matching "Chrurchill (I think) Hooter" horn -- a low note, from my local British parts stockpile and repair shop. The horn was $10 and the bracket was another $5!! I educated the shop owner to the fact that you can tell whether the horn is low or high note by observing the letter on the bottom part of the cone, as illustrated below. Also note the slight difference in width of the low and high note horn where they're pictured side by side. The freshly bead-blasted low note is on the left, the gold painted high note that my car came with is to the right.

After some deliberation, I decided to buck the trend of painting horns black and opted for bright silver instead to reflect the cheerful and optimistic piping of the dual notes. I reasoned I can always paint them black later if I change my mind.

The low note horn I purchased came off a '71 Spitfire, and although the horn was a perfect match, the bracket was not. Rather than going back and looking for another bracket, I simply made a couple of opposing right angle bends with my bench vice on the bracket and was rewarded with a very good fit.

Getting both horns to work together was, oddly enough, a real challenge. I'd connect the low note and the horns would work together momentarily -- then quit. Neither horn would work! All I'd get was a clicking noise. The solution? Banging on the high note horn (lightly, with the plastic handle of a large screwdriver), right on the adjuster screw. The sound came back, then on both horns. I have the feeling that the high note horn will need replacement at some point, but for now, both horns are working consistently -- or rather, so far...

This project is finished.

Please. Always wear your seatbelt while driving -- and that goes double for your children if you have any.

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