Steering Wheel – Decades of Changes

Steering Wheel - Decades of Changes

Although autonomous cars of the future may have no steering wheel at all, at present the steering wheel is still an indispensable part of the dashboard and does not seem to be changing dramatically. Yet steering wheels have gone through interesting development over the more than hundred years of their existence. Let’s have a look at what has changed since the beginning of their history.

23. 11. 2017 Škoda World

The very first cars were controlled with levers or a crank - the first steering wheels appeared in the late 19th century. In general, they have gone through substantial changes in terms of materials as well as control elements that are part of them. Check out some of the changes on products owned (and exhibited) by the ŠKODA MUSEUM in Mladá Boleslav.

  • 1905

    Laurin & Klement
    (vehicle on display: 1905)

    The first car produced by Messrs Laurin and Klement was fitted with a steering wheel, but the overall control of the vehicle was way different from what we are used to today. A lever in the middle of the steering wheel performed the accelerator function, and the car only had two pedals on the floor - clutch and brake.

  • 1925

    Laurin & Klement
    ŠKODA 110
    (vehicle on display: 1925)

    A third floor pedal, the accelerator, was added, but the steering wheel lever remained in place and was used as a manual accelerator - in other words the predecessor of modern cruise control systems! At that time, however, this was a safety solution rather than a comfort function, because on broken roads and with fairly primitive suspension systems the driver often found it difficult to keep their foot on the accelerator pedal, and this way they could control the car’s performance on the steering wheel.

  • 1932

    ŠKODA 860
    (vehicle on display: 1932)

    Levers to control the lights and blinkers appeared under the steering wheel in the 1930s - at that time the brand produced, among other models, a luxury car named ŠKODA 860. This solution did not last long, though.

  • 1940

    (vehicle on display: 1940)

    The light and blinker controls disappeared from the steering wheel - the controls moved to the dashboard.

  • 1952

    ŠKODA 1201 „Sedan“
    (vehicle on display: 1952)

    As the traffic grew, the horn became increasingly important. Pressing a button somewhere on the dashboard would not be practical and comfortable, so it was moved to the middle of the steering wheel.

  • 1959

    ŠKODA 450
    (vehicle on display: 1959)

    The horn again. To make the horn control even simpler, the steering wheel of the ŠKODA 450, the predecessor of the famous FELICIA, was fitted with a special semi-circle.

  • 1966

    ŠKODA 1000 MB
    (vehicle on display: 1966)

    After many years of absence, levers get back to the steering wheel! Lights and headlight flasher on the right side, blinkers on the left side. The horn was honked by pressing one of the levers towards the middle of the steering wheel.

  • 1984

    ŠKODA 120 L
    (vehicle on display: 1984)

    While the first steering wheels were wooden, most post-war steering wheels were made of hard, glossy plastic. The steering wheel in the ŠKODA 120 L was made of softer material – polyurethane foam. The lever configuration changed slightly again: the lights, blinkers and horn on the left side, the windscreen wipers and washers on the right side.

  • 1989

    (vehicle on display: 1989)

    Although the legendary FAVORIT featured a huge number of design changes and innovations, its steering wheel, paradoxically, was not dramatically different from that used in the 120 L, except that its shape was more elegant. Later, however, the FAVORIT offered a range of optional extras, including a leather-clad steering wheel.

  • 1996

    (vehicle on display: 1996)

    The steering wheel function is extended with another important safety solution - as an optional extra, the steering wheel can be fitted with a driver’s airbag. Moreover, the control system changes dramatically, including the first buttons appearing on the steering wheel - e.g. the horn function on both arms.

  • 2017


    Modern steering wheels are multifunctional, i.e. designed to control a multitude of functions so that the driver does not have to remove their hands from the steering wheel, and their shape is often different, too - rather than a regular circle, they are flattened at the bottom to emphasize sports character and to make the climbing into the car more comfortable.