6 October 2016

Swing-Away steering for comfort and control

Tillers were tried and joysticks were promised, but ultimately the steering wheel became the standard for automobile control. Getting comfortable behind the wheel was not always as mundane as it is in today's world of laser-guided automatic adjusting steering wheels. One size did not fit all or make getting in or out any easier or stylish. An innovative step on the way from fixed to telescoping and fully adjustable steering wheels was the Ford Swing-Away.

As sports cars got lower and sleeker the steering wheel was no longer something to ape over. The British developed telescoping steering wheels in sporting machines before the war, race cars got around the problem with removable steering wheels, and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL featured a flip down arrangement. Chevrolet might have been first to American sports with its Corvette, but Ford was ahead in personal luxury with its telescoping steering wheel in the 1955 Thunderbird.

Telescoping improved driving comfort and control but may or may not have made entry or exit any more graceful. The Swing-Away steering wheel enabled elegant entry and egress by simply moving out of the way. Driving a 1961 Thunderbird so equipped meant that the entire column and steering wheel slid over towards the center of the cabin once the Cruise-O-Matic transmission was in park. The 1961 Ford Thunderbird brochure touted the Swing-Away as part of what made their personal luxury car “totally” new.

7 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Edward Greenberg NY October 12, 2016 at 17:25
    Had one in my 1967 Cougar XR7. Loved it when I was a kid. I could really use one now at my age as they made getting in/out of the car much easier.
  • 2
    Thomas S N. California October 12, 2016 at 17:28
    I have my Grandma's 61 T-Bird with a swing away. I'm surprised it didn't catch on with more buyers and wasn't adopted by other car manufacturers. It's a wonderful idea.... Especially when coupled with Tilt, and Telescopic. What more could u ask for?
  • 3
    Larry Fl. October 12, 2016 at 17:37
    My Dad had a 63 Galaxie 500 with what we use to call "the same options as the Thunderbird" 390 CID engine, Air and Swing away Steering Wheel. I was 16 then and on the odd occasion when he'd let me use it, I couldn't wait to go to the Dairy Queen, keep getting in and out of the car to show off the Swing Away Steering Wheel. Great memories.
  • 4
    Aaron IL October 12, 2016 at 22:40
    Ford offered this option in many platforms in the early 1960's. I don't know when they stopped offering them but I know for my 64 Galaxie 500 owners manual they were quite keen on this rare option. Though I believe stock in the t bird you were a heavy hitter with a swing-a-way steering wheel in a mid market full size family car; all be it you had to go with the automatic for the "house wife ." You should read the section on the easy of driving a cruise-o-mastic; but that's a different thread I'm sure.
  • 5
    Dick Washburn Florida October 13, 2016 at 14:59
    I have a '62 T-Bird and could not get my bulk in nor out without the swingaway steering wheel!
  • 6
    BillB OH October 13, 2016 at 09:56
    No one is looking at the steering wheel! The model is gorgeous!
  • 7
    Clancy Bowling Green Ohio June 14, 2017 at 21:51
    Remember these on the T birds very well. I had a 67 Bird, the steering wheel would automatically flip up to the right when the door opened.

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