Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

November 4, 2012

“THE SUICIDE KNOB” BY: NEAL MURPHY

Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:26 am

 

 

I was able to purchase my first car in 1955 after my sister lent me the down payment.  The car was a 1950 Chevrolet two-door with fender skirts, a sun visor, and an automatic transmission.  I always referred to it as “slush-matic drive” as it was rather sluggish on the takeoff.   One final amenity was added to my chariot, a brodie knob on the steering wheel.

Unknown to me at the time, these steering wheel spinners were also referred to as “suicide knobs”.  These spinners were very popular during the 1950s before the advent of power steering.  With one of these knobs on your steering wheel, one could steer with the left hand and wrap the right one around the sweet young thing who had her head on your shoulder.   It sure worked well for me.

The brodie knobs, steering wheel spinner, or suicide knobs were widely popularized on the west coast of the United States.  Their original intent was to be used as an addition to a Hot Rod.  The knob was used to spin the steering wheel rapidly in one direction or the other, while accelerating to cause the tires to spin while rapidly whipping the car 180 degrees, or half of a “doughnut”.  This maneuver became known as “laying a brodie”.

During the 1950s, a person could go into any Western Auto store and choose from a large variety of brodie knobs with every conceivable theme, from “Candy Apple colored”, “Product Logos”, to “nude women”, and everything in between.  Some automobile dealerships even used them for advertisements.  They were very useful during a period of auto manufacturing when power steering was truly a luxury.

After some practice I became quite adept at steering my Chevrolet with one hand, even on icy roads. Yes, the “suicide knob” was a good friend until I got married and purchased a 1956 Chevrolet four-door sedan.  At that point in time, it had to go.

Soon the knob became a distant memory as my attention was shifted to earning a living and rearing two children.  Suddenly it dawned on me that one never sees a  steering knob these days.  What happened to them?  They are not available at the local Western  Auto of Pep Boys for some reason.

It seems that the Department Of Transportation in most states outlawed them in street vehicles as well as the big rigs many years ago.  What was the reason for this?  The main factor was that automobiles in the 1950s and 1960s did not have collapsible steering columns, seat belts, or air bags. In a collision the driver would hit the steering wheel with great force.  The spin knob would most likely finish you off.

In addition, the DOT claimed that the driver did not have full control of the vehicle by not having two hands on the wheel.  I feel that this law banning the steering wheel knob has outlived its usefulness.  I would like to have one on the steering wheel of my new Chevrolet, however it would need to be on the right side this time.  My wife no longer likes to ride with her head on my shoulder as she once did.  So that leaves my right arm free to use the “suicide knob” as I motor down the road prepared for any steering emergency.

One final thought – the steering knob is legal for helping drivers with disabilities. However, I don’t want one badly enough to get it this way.

++++++++++++

BY: NEAL MURPHY

 

107 Hemlock Street

PO Box 511

San Augustine, Texas 75972

936-275-9033

cell: 936-275-6986

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