Simple modifications that improve the Human-Machine Interface are critical for driving pleasure. Basically, anything that you touch, sit in, and control need to be comfortable. The steering wheel (or “handle” in Japan) is a major component of this, particularly since it connects you and the all-important direction of the vehicle.
I have a particular affinity for Italian-made steering wheels, particularly Nardi over the arguably more common Momo, mostly because I like the feel of a slightly slimmer grip and the very classic look. I personally love the feel of slim-rimmed and small-diameter wheels, having fallen in love with them since I first put one on my Roadster. Nardi has made racing car parts since 1946 and with their heritage tied deeply with Ferrari, they certainly have the right prestige.
Momo and many other companies make good products, undoubtedly, but there is something just right with a Nardi Torino. I will admit, though, I recently switched to a Momo wheel on my NA because I think the wood Momo Indy look complements my classic Roadster (plus) theme. I also got the Momo wheel at a steal, so I couldn’t pass it up. Now I need a wood knob to match. Which looks better to you guys, the Nardi or Momo?
Not all is well with replacing a wheel, however. The main drawback is that, if the car was originally equipped with an airbag, you lose a very important safety aspect in a daily driver car. (Exploding Takata airbags notwithstanding.) If the steering wheel also has some utility buttons, such as those to operate the radio or cruise control, you will lose them, too. But perhaps most importantly, you also have the possibility of the passenger airbag not going off, too, putting a passenger at potential risk.
Of course, some of this can be mitigated. With proper safety gear like a harness, the risk of faceplanting in the steering wheel is lowered. (There are other associated risks with that, but let’s forego that extremely complicated discussion for now.) If you also install a proper airbag resistor, the airbag computer will believe the airbag is still installed, allowing the passenger and other airbags to continue to function properly and remove any airbag error lights in the gauge cluster. The airbag resistor, though, comes at a significant price cost or requires a bit of knowledge to make a DIY resistor. (You’ll need to know exactly the correct ohms resistance the airbag module uses.)
I’ve been using my classic 350mm Nardi wheel for awhile since my first Alto Works and it’s come full circle back on another Alto Works. It has definitely seen better days, but it’s still in good condition; no tears or rips in the high quality leather yet.
To install one, though, is simple, if not costly The steering hub needs to be adapted over to the 6-bolt pattern found on Momo and Nardi wheels, requiring a hub adapter. HKB Sports makes a wide range of inexpensive hub adapters, so finding one is easy. Luckily, this car was not originally equipped with an airbag, therefore it doesn’t necessitate a pricey airbag resistor. The HKB Sports hub was inexpensive at around 2000￥($18 USD) online, though the versions that are offered with airbag defeats are around 6000￥ ($55 USD) and up.
Turn your steering wheel and wheels as 12 o’clock straight as possible and begin. On most cars, to remove the old steering wheel cover or airbag, you have to undo some bolts on the rear of the center / horn. There was none I could find here. It turns out the trick to remove the front panel is to push in and up. I put a bit too much force and ended up bending the metal brackets holding the horn cover. Oh well.
Afterwards, it is a simple matter of undoing the tight nut attaching the wheel to the steering column, wiggling the wheel out, and putting in the new hub. Make sure the top arrow of the hub lines with the top dead center, otherwise, your turn signal cancellations may not work properly. This car had no airbag, so it’s a simple matter of connecting the horn and bolting it all in. For hub adapters with a airbag defeat resistor, you have to make sure they are carefully connected and taped or zip-tied snugly before the wheel is put in, offering enough slack and length for the wheel rotation.
Nice. Now I just need a 30mm hub adapter to get the steering wheel closer to me and I’ll be a happy driver. The feel of the right steering wheel makes the driving experience so much better. Now that the car is feeling better, we can make the car perform better...