Ford’s “Wrist-Twist” Steering Tried a Tesla Model S–Style Yoke in 196506/30/2021
Believe it or not, the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid‘s new steering yoke isn’t the first time an automaker tried to reinvent the steering wheel. Back in the ’60s, Ford’s Mercury brand debuted what it called “wrist-twist steering,” which looked much like the Model S’ yoke and featured many of the same design goals—chiefly improved visibility both outward and of the instrument cluster. Here’s what we thought of Mercury’s Twist-Grip system after a 150-mile test drive back in 1965.—Christian Seabaugh
We heard of Mercury working on a new wrist-twist steering idea and we’d gotten several press releases on it, but until we drove one, we figured it was just another gimmick. Now that we’ve had a chance to try it out, we’re convinced of its merits. It isn’t a gimmick at all. It works.
Back in Detroit recently, Mercury turned one of their four wrist-twist Park Lane convertibles over to us for a 150-mile test drive. The unit, which reminded us more of handlebars than a steering wheel, tilts up on its column. This makes it fairly easy to get into the driver’s seat, but we noticed immediately that it didn’t tilt quite far enough. Once settled, though, it comes down almost to the lap, and with arm rests on both sides, it’s very comfortable.
View of the instrument panel beats a round wheel by far, and there’s no rim to interfere with forward vision. These are two advantages that—even if there were no others—would make the new Mercury system worthwhile.
Out on the road, it took us only two or three minutes to get completely used to the little wheels at each end of the yoke. It took no mental effort at all—just catching on to using the thumb rings and Keeping our hands resting loosely in place.
Driver control measures up to any present system. The steering ratio is quicker than most U.S. cars’ (2.8 turns lock to lock, as compared with 3.6 turns for a standard Mercury). Even so, we would’ve preferred an even faster ratio, because there seems to be more sensitive control in a person’s wrists than in his arms.
One huge advantage of the wrist-twist system (and this isn’t brought out strongly enough by the Mercury people) is its potential for greater safety. If the yoke were padded, it’d eliminate much of the crash danger of a conventional wheel. There’s no rim to strike a person’s head or knees. Better still, a telescoping column would add even more protection.
The unit itself, of course, is power-assisted. But Merc engineers have gone conventional power systems one better. Besides the regular, engine-driven hydraulic pump, there’s an auxiliary power system that cuts in when (or if) the engine stops. Anyone who’s driven a power-steering-equipped car has had the engine die and felt the steering stiffen—sometimes quite frighteningly. Well, there’s no chance of this happening in the wrist-twist Mercury. If manifold vacuum or main-pump pressure falls below certain levels, an auxiliary electrical pump takes over. This would be a welcome adjunct to current power-steering systems, even if the wrist-twist idea never made the showroom.
Mercury has gotten reactions to wrist-twist steering from drivers in all walks of life. They’ve let any number of people drive these cars, and most commented favorably on the new system’s major points. About 200 men and women answered a questionnaire given them after their drives, and almost all checked the “excellent” column for most aspects. Small objections fell in the areas of comfort—the arm rests being too high or low, ease of getting into and out of the driver’s seat, and other minor complaints that would easily be remedied. So from all practical standpoints, the system has already proven successful.
A small team of Mercury’s Product Research engineers, under the direction of Robert J. Rumpf has been working on the wrist-twist system for about three years. When they started, they were told simply to improve on present steering systems. We believe they’ve done this admirably, and we won’t be at all surprised when Mercury offers a wrist-twist option (at about $100?) in one of their future models. We’ll welcome the change.
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