And if it really is that ingenious, then why is it only Citroën who use them?
I’m aware that this is a deep and potentially far-reaching question. But we’re happy to entertain those as well here at ViaRETRO. Today’s question is perhaps almost on par with some of our world’s biggest questions, such as “What is the meaning of life?” or maybe even “Is there a God?”. It’s probably also equally difficult to answer logically and unbiased.
Or maybe it’s just one of those where the question is actually more important than the answer? This has been known to be the case at times. Just like it being a well-known issue, that if you ask the wrong question, you will inevitably receive the wrong answer. At least held up against what you were expecting to receive. Or asked about. Well, you know what I mean.
In relation to steering wheels – or just Citroën in general for that matter – seemingly without exception, the French brand so synonymous with all things avant-garde (truth be told, it’s a fair few years since there was anything avant-garde about them, but of course ViaRETRO prefers looking back at what was good rather than forward at what is not) is always praised and celebrated for their bizarre fetish with single-spoke steering wheels. As far as I’m informed, it all started with the DS in 1955, and was consequently a theme for multiple years and decades to come.
If I’m to be perfectly objective, yes I suppose I do see the advantage in the DS’s single narrow spoke pointing largely towards earth for the majority of the time. The whole upper portion of the steering wheel is of course utterly open and free, which surely must give the DS some sort of world record in having the most unrestricted view of the instruments.
But hang on a second… there’s not really that many instruments? After all, the instruments in a DS are placed largely as in any other car: in a narrow band within the upper half of the steering wheel rim. So all of this airy unrestricted view is for what? The stalks either side of the steering wheel? Which you of course don’t need to see in order to use – at least not if they have been designed properly.
Then how about the functionality of the steering wheel in itself? In all honesty, I’m of the opinion that it suffers under its own design – at least theoretically. After all, the steering wheels position (as in the direction the front wheels are pointing at any given time) is visually less obvious, when the only indicator is placed at the very bottom of the steering wheel. Still, I must confess that I’m yet to encounter a DS with a brightly coloured piece of tape wrapped around the dead-center top of the steering wheel as often seen in motorsport – so perhaps it’s not an issue for DS drivers.
What is quite obvious though, is that a single-spoke steering wheel must be heavier than say a three- or four-spoke steering wheel in order to achieve the same strength and rigidity. It’s a given that you must compensate for the inconvenience of channeling all the force down through a single point, and not least for such a large portion of the rim being left unsupported by spokes. Alternatively, if it isn’t heavier, then one will have to accept it being a weaker construction – which approach Citroën chose, I honestly don’t know.
But I do know that they stubbornly stuck with their single-spoke steering wheel for the CX in 1974. For the BX in 1982. And even for the XM in 1989.
Citroën were clearly very enthusiastic about the single-spoke steering wheel. Yet it’s remarkably obvious to the rest of the world that no other marque shared this enthusiasm. Granted, the Aston Martin Lagonda – one of the world’s most expensive cars at its introduction in 1976 – also came with a single-spoke steering wheel. But one would struggle to coin the Lagonda as an icon and role model for other cars. Frankly, quite the contrary. Though that can hardly be blamed on the steering wheel.
Still, I just can’t restrain myself any longer. I need to know the answer. Or at least ask the question: What precisely is so ingenious about a single-spoke steering wheel? Someone, please help me. Worthwhile explanations, experience or objective technical knowledge is hugely welcomed in the replies area below…