What were they Thinking? Mercury’s ‘Wrist-Twist’ from the 1960s

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Styling trends come and go, but if there's one thing that has remained relatively unchanged in the past 105 years of personal motoring: the steering wheel.

Although plastics have replaced iron and wood and airbags (1970s) and radio controls (1990s) have been added, the basic design remains the same: a circular ring with spokes connected to a central hub.

Some cars had horns in a ring circling the hub (Mercedes-Benz 300SL), others had oblong steering wheels (Austin Allegro) and a few had only one spoke (Citroen DS). At the end of the day though, they all had some sort of steering wheel... except this car.

At Mercury, engineer Bob Rumm produced this one-off 1965 Mercury Park Lane convertible with so-called "wrist-twist" steering controls. The standard steering wheel has been replaced by two 5-inch, wrist-operated dials, that the promo claims frees up knee room, improves visibility and makes parking easier. Now take a moment to consider why Mr. Rumm is an "ex-"missile engineer at the height of the Cold War.

The promo also cheerfully informs us that the wrist-twist can be used by, "a driver who promises to be about as non-technical as they come," by which they mean a woman. Carscoop is reliably informed they can vote now [...].

I suppose we should be thankful that a lot of these concepts, including the wrist-twist, never left Ford's Dearborn proving grounds.

It's the sort of thing that could only have been made in the 1960s, the decade that gave us the laser, manned spaceflight and Astroturf. Like everything else, cars were becoming more futuristic, and by futuristic we mean daft. And by daft we mean Modern Mechanix of the 1930s daft.

It's also the sort of thing the Ford Motor Company was coming up at the time. Just for fun, type 'Ford Nucleon' into Google, and see what other disastrous innovations motorists of the 1960s were spared.

By Tristan Hankins



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