Restoring A Classic Boat Steering Wheel!

1 Banjo Wheel 4 spoke

Pre Restored Banjo Wheel 4 spoke

Fellow Woody Boater, neighbor and great guy,  Eric Zelman, took the restoration of his steering wheel to a new supplier to us and the results are wonderful. You may recall Eric from his insane over the top restoration of a Wagemaker. He is now under way on his U22. Take it away Eric.

I thought this might be interesting to those embarking on a restoration journey this winter. I started on a 1951 U22 a year ago using a combination of “hobby time” and “professional services” for the portions of the process that I’m not comfortable with. The following will focus on one small but prominent feature, the steering wheel.

2 Throttle Assembly

Throttle Assembly

The removal of the wheel was a chore. I reviewed a couple of videos on the ACBS web site and found them helpful. Noting the process of removing the throttle lever and the important retention clip at the bottom of the tube.

I worked through the removal of the horn ring, finally figuring out that it just had to be rotated approx. 30 degrees to free it from the 3 retention blocks. Now the hard part; the tapered shaft and key seemed to have fused with the wheel hub after 64 years. I had gone through this process before with a runabout but this wheel was going to be much more stubborn. After a few applications of PB Blaster and a couple of days of pressure from a make shift adapted gear puller there was no movement. I started to crank on the center screw even more and more, there was movement but the wrong kind. The eye portion of the eye bolts were actually opening up, unrolling!

3 Eye Bolt Failure

Eye Bolt Failure

It was time to bite the bullet and get the right tool. I found a slotted heavy bar puller on ebay, rigged it under the hub and with a few more shots of PB Blaster and turns of the screw it popped!

4 Bar Puller

Bar Puller

As most of you know refurbishing a wheel can be expensive, sometimes exceeding $1,000. My chrome was in good shape so I really only needed the urethane replaced. I tried a test spot of the epoxy putty process as I had done on a rubber coated wheel in the past and it did not seem to yield the results I wanted.

5 Chris Craft Wheel - 39 or 40 champion

Chris Craft Wheel – 39 or 40 champion

Turning to the internet and researching the use of car wheels on boats I found that my 4 spoke banjo wheel was from a 1939-1940 Studebaker. A few more clicks searching for Studebaker parts brought me to the Shrock Brothers web site where you can read more about Tom & Dave Shrock, their restoration projects and parts We determined that the later model hollow center Champion horn button would work. I packed up my wheel, horn button and retention block assembly and off to PA. The wheel is first stripped and the stainless spokes polished.

6 Chris Craft Wheel Core

Chris Craft Wheel Core

Then the clean core is placed in the mold and pressurized pot for the urethane injection.

7 Shrock Bro Mold

Shrock Bros Mold

After curing for a few weeks, the urethane is buffed and ready for installation as is or a finish coat of your choice. Tom explained that the original wheels were either supplied in ivory or black.

8 Chris Craft Wheel Molded

Chris Craft Wheel Molded

He remounted the metal base plate in my new horn button and replaced the 3 cracking rubber retention blocks between the rings. The rear of the hub was also refinished.

9 Completed Wheel Front w Horn

Completed Wheel Front w Horn

10 Completed Wheel Rear Hub

Completed Wheel Rear Hub

The Shrock Brothers were very easy to work with and the process took less than 6 weeks. My parts were just over $500 including Tom mounting the new rubber retention blocks and back plate on the horn button. I hope this helps one of you with your project!

20 replies
  1. Phillip Jones
    Phillip Jones says:

    As always Eric great info. We had the Shepherd out three weeks ago and hit 38 with max load in the boat, she should do 42 with two in her

    • Pete L
      Pete L says:

      Phil I realized that the roads were cleaner in November than Feb/March so I already have Canadian Club in storage in Mount Dora, so, make sure you make the trip and for sure there will two Shepherds.

      • Phillip Jones
        Phillip Jones says:

        Pete I am considering it , but I already plan to show my “48” along with our newest find, a 1953 , 22′ model 110 Shepherd, one of the first Shepherd Hemi boats, so Gravenherst is a long haul in its self. We will see.

  2. don vogt
    don vogt says:

    Don’t know that much about post war steering wheels. In the pre-war period, i think cc was limited to the 4 spoke and later the 5 spoke banjo versions, with a sort of mottled plastic look in grey/brown.

    What boat models after the war used a banjo? Would be interested to know. thanks. (I thought they all used that standard 2 spoke plastic one at least in the early post war years??)

  3. Gary
    Gary says:

    I just got back my steering wheel from Quality Restorations in CA. Dennis Crooks did an excellent job. It is from a 55 21′ Capri and my experience was painful.
    In the process of restoring the wheel I met a source of parts and a steering wheel restorer who was just really bad.
    Trying to find assembly and part number information didn’t happen but finally figured out what parts were really needed.

  4. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    I am always amazed at the skills people develop and preserve.
    I just had my enclosure done on my Fairchild scout and sewing and etc is just beyond my comprehension…so too is craftsmanship like that displayed in steering wheel restoration .
    Boggles my mind. Great post and pics.
    John in Va.

  5. Al
    Al says:

    Does anyone have this above information in a printable formate. I am trying to remove and restore a 1950 baby riviara but am unable to print the above and this would be helpful as I am not sure how to remove it or restore it.

  6. Brian Robinson
    Brian Robinson says:

    As Jim eluded to, the original wheels from Chris-Craft, like the Ford deluxe wheels also used, were translucent. Although Studebaker and Ford painted their versions of these wheels, Chris-Craft did not.

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