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History Straight-Arm or Close-By?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Ned Ludd, Jan 19, 2019.

  1. Ned Ludd
    Joined: May 15, 2009
    Posts: 3,875

    Ned Ludd

    The years covered by the HAMB encompass both extremes of driving position. Piero Taruffi's 1959 book described them as two distinct approaches, with a correct way to do each. In the "close-by" position associated with the 1930s you sat with your elbows by your sides and your forearms pretty much horizontal, holding a fairly large steering wheel at 9 and 3, some 9" or so from your chest. This requires large movements but affords quite a lot of leverage. In the "straight-arm" position which became the norm after about 1960, you sit much further away from a smaller steering wheel, with the arms bent such that they are almost but not quite straight when gripping the top of the steering wheel. This allows small, quick movements but requires either a relatively light front end or power steering.

    I've always tended to the latter on my cars, though I've never owned a car with power steering. Even the Morris Minor lends itself to this, despite its 16" stock steering wheel. On the other hand, Nascar and oval-track racing seem to favour something more like the "close-by" position despite using smaller steering wheels. In recent years things like rally cars have tended to have steering wheels much closer to the driver than in 1964.

    What driving position is your car built for? What is your preference?
  2. Relic Stew
    Joined: Apr 17, 2005
    Posts: 1,117

    Relic Stew
    from Wisconsin

    I prefer the close by position. A 15" to 17" wheel right up to my chest. Feels more relaxing to me than the modern car "air-bag-deployment" location. Hand at 11 o-clock, elbow at 5 o-clock, just sort of draped there. Switch to resting my arm on my leg and hold the wheel at the bottom of the rim. Or left arm resting on the door and hold the wheel with that hand. Easier on the shoulders than straight-arming it on long drives. Better leverage for manual steering as well.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2019
    alanp561 likes this.
  3. I 'm stuck with the straight arm technique in most cases because of my 6'4" height and really long legs.
    Most vehicles are not built for tall people. My cars are built around my size, others would find them difficult to drive.
  4. gnichols
    Joined: Mar 6, 2008
    Posts: 10,550

    from Tampa, FL

    I think a lot of folks call the near straight arm position, 10-2. Seems the faster you go, the less leverage and steering angle is needed, eh? So the wheel can be moved forward a tad. But as I get older and slower, the steering wheel can be a little closer so the leverage is better! But don't forget to factor in your added girth!

    I've had a bunch of Fiats and an Alfa, and I think Italian cars are built in a sub-set of the straight arm style, "Italian ergonomics" (often sarcastically called ape-ish) that seems best suited for folks with short legs and long arms! So you can lay the seat way back and do the 10-2. Gary
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2019
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  5. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 44,036


    right in the middle, elbows bent about 90 degrees.
  6. DDDenny
    Joined: Feb 6, 2015
    Posts: 12,725

    from oregon

    Which brings up that whole hanging one arm out the window deal.
    What's that all about?
    Stogy likes this.
  7. 41rodderz
    Joined: Sep 27, 2010
    Posts: 3,331

    from Oregon

    What about dragging your knuckles on the pavement while one handing the wheel? :D
    Stogy likes this.
  8. X-cpe
    Joined: Mar 9, 2018
    Posts: 760


    Early 60's I was a sports car type and it was straight arms for quickness. Late 60's I graduated to stock cars (3700 lbs., no P.S.) and it was close up for leverage. Old folks used to drive at 7 and 5, the driver ed teachers called it the Seizure World shuffle as they slid the wheel back and forth between the hands that never left their lap.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  9. DDDenny
    Joined: Feb 6, 2015
    Posts: 12,725

    from oregon

  10. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 25,959


    The older I get the more it seems I drive with both hands on the wheel. I used to drive with my left arm on the door and my left hand on 9 or 10 and drive one handed most of the time when I was younger.
  11. gene-koning
    Joined: Oct 28, 2016
    Posts: 1,492


    Blowby's 1st picture needs the seat a bit higher and have the guy with his arm out the window. That also gives more room for the enlarged belly. I can't stand to have the seat back reclined very much. Having the arm out the window makes it a bit tougher to city drive with a standard trans.
    I think the arm out the window was from years of not having AC and trying to deflect a bit of air into the car while its moving. I don't need no stinkin air as long as the car is moving and I can have my arm out the window! Gene
    Stogy likes this.
  12. Boneyard51
    Joined: Dec 10, 2017
    Posts: 3,265


    The arm out the window was just comfortable and you could still hold onto the steering wheel and put your right arm around your girl. When I was a youngan I always drove with my window down, unless it was real cold. Cars back then had “ wind wings” little trianglar shaped windows in front of the main window to somewhat control the air flow. On some cars you could turn them so that they acted like a scoop.
    People today almost always drive with their windows up, check it out, at least here In Oklahoma. I grew up with no A/C in our cars and it was just natural to drive with the window down and elbow out!

    Stogy and alanp561 like this.
  13. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,832



    We learned in our high school driver’s education classes and behind the wheel cars that the 9 and 3 is not good, but the 10 and 2 is much better for safety. The sports car fanatics at Road and Track, specifically mention the 10 and 2 for better control going around a course or street driving. So, like ants, we all follow the leader and end up at 10 and 2. In thinking about the old driver’s ed classes, the steering wheel and shaft was pointed out, that was the cause of plenty of teenage deaths at the time.

    But cars that we liked and drove had different steering wheel arrangements to make driving comfortable. Our 1958 black Impala came with the standard stock wheel set at the 8:30 and 3:30 positions with the thumbs at 9/3 positions. The “close by” notation is misleading because no one wanted to have that steering wheel in your chest. That stock configuration was very comfortable for all kinds of driving.
    upload_2019-2-7_5-1-42.png 1958 Impala

    The 1940 Ford Sedan Delivery had a distinct 9/3 wheel as the stock configuration. So, the steering positions were pre-set at the factory.
    upload_2019-2-7_5-3-33.png upload_2019-2-7_5-3-45.png
    When we changed over to a 4 spoke Bell steering wheel, it was 9/3. We tried a 3 spoke, but it felt uncomfortable with the hands up in the 1030/230 positions that most evenly spaced 3 spoke wheels offer.

    AAA also recommends the "9 and 3" position, explaining guidelines for drivers, that it enables "180-degree steering input without removing your hands from the steering wheel;" "a high level of arm leverage and vehicle control;" and "an awareness of where the wheels are pointing and how to straighten them."

    For the straight VS. close by techniques, this might be the sports car wheel positions in cramped quarters or coupes. Those drivers had straight arm at 10/2 for complete control in those twisty turns. For the rest of us, hanging on to the steering wheel was natural at 10/2 in a slight bend elbow position, not straight arm. Most of our friends, as teenagers, liked the seat back with a half bent elbow resting at the 10/2 position as were told in high school. But, we were all different in our different cars, so the factory set up the pre-determined grips on the steering wheels.

    As a teenager, I have to admit I did use the straight arm 9/3 location with a death grip on the wheel. I had just finished a elimination race at Lions, coming from behind and winning by a fender. But, as happy as I was, I forgot to start putting down the brake pedal and just let off of the gas. By the time I saw Willow Street crossing coming up fast, the dirt pile and the chain link fence were looming ahead. I jammed on the brakes. I started skidding towards the dirt mound and came to a halt just before the pile. It was a straight arm death grip for sure!

    Everyone thought I was crazy…Yes, forgetful, but crazy happy we got to go to the next round of eliminations. My arms were very straight and had a grip as if that would stop the Impala. Of course, I did not tell my brother, for fear of being called a “lunk head” and taking over the driving for the next elimination rounds.

    As happy and nervous as a teenager could be, I lost to another Impala by a fender in the next round. It was very close, as stock car class racing should be. In this race, I stopped in plenty of time…with no panic in the exit to the return road. It was sad that I lost. But, happy I was paying attention after the race and did not skid again.


    Yea! for the recent, adjustable steering wheel position for cars with multiple drivers. When I get in my wife’s car, it is a race to see which position in the moving seats is first, mine goes back and down, hers goes forward and up. Then the steering wheel gets adjusted for comfort at whatever the factory thumb grip allows. But, it is a slight bend at the elbow, not straight or close by.

    By the way, there is no one position that is good for long distance driving. The hum and drum of the cars is a good numbing effect, so we all tend to move around the wheel positions. 6 o'clock, 8, 11, 4? It is safer to be awake with your grip on the wheel at all times. But, in a position to be able to make quick reactions in any situation.

    Stogy likes this.
  14. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,832



    My wife’s dad tried to teach her how to drive a stick shift car back in her teenage days. (1961) Her knowing the short fuse, short temper of that old “stick in the mud”, did not go too well for my wife…lots of yelling and such. (we all know) But, as teenage anxieties and wanting to drive a car ruled the day, she stuck with it and blanked him out. The family 55 Chevy was also blanked out… She took her driver’s license in her mom’s automatic car, and never drove a stick shift car, again… until…

    After we met in college, she was driving an automatic 62 Corvair Coupe. It was a cool looking car and did not cost too much from her then, meager salary as a phone operator. If you were a So Cal local and made a long distance phone call, you probably talked to her. In these old days, the operators plucked the myriad of cords from one hole to another on the old style phone company connection boards. Then she flicked the switch to silence the phone conversation. These days, it is automated.

    Her experience with learning to drive a stick shift was a bad memory. But, she knew the value/advantage of a stick shift car over an automatic version for fun driving and at the time, gas mileage. We wanted a car that got 20 mpg and the only way was with a stick shift car. So, the search was on for a replacement car for her. Being twenty somethings, we looked at a ton of cars. (Hot rods, factory GM cars, station wagons, and sports cars.)

    She was anxious for me to teach her to drive a stick shift car, 4 or 5 speeds. The 3 speed was out since the column shift was daunting from her (1961) past experience. So, a floor shift unit was part of the search. For some reason, she took to a floor shift easier than the column shifting ones we tried. (She liked the floor shift so much that with 3 cars, she drove for 25 years)


    We have all learned to drive in a choice of steering wheel hand positions. I taught her the options of the 9-3 grips and of course, she already knew of the 10-2 position. After I taught her to drive a stick shift car…very patiently, we took off on a 1000+ mile final exam road trip up Highway One, all along the coast and coastal cities. She loved the freedom of the shifts, the downshifting around corners, and smooth transition while on the high speed roads. I was just the patient side kick.

    Our destinations were “the hilly streets of San Francisco”, in addition to those off camber hills that required a “hill start” with the brake, clutch, throttle, and emergency brake lever.

    She got an “A” grade for the whole road trip driving a stick shift car in all kinds of traffic. I was just the passenger and navigator. Recently, upon researching our old photo files, I came across a great example of the final exam cruise over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
    upload_2019-4-6_17-40-34.png San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge …
    An unusual “11-1” death grip, that was “not” in the curriculum! WHAT?????
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2019
    Ned Ludd likes this.
  15. 19Fordy
    Joined: May 17, 2003
    Posts: 6,517


    I recall the ENQUIRER back in the early 60's had a photo of
    what happened when a fellow was driving with his arm hanging
    outside the door window and another car sideswiped him.
    Made a lasting impression.
  16. 26Troadster
    Joined: Nov 20, 2010
    Posts: 518

    from Texas

    most cars and trucks i drive are different. my off topic work truck i drive is with left arm resting on window seal and right hand on the stick, my personal off topic truck is so far away i am almost stiff armed trying to reach the wheel. so i just try to make myself comfortable as i can.
  17. gene-koning
    Joined: Oct 28, 2016
    Posts: 1,492


    I suspect if I think there is a possibility someone is going to sideswipe me, I'll be reacting way more then leaving my arm out the window to get turned into hamburger. I'm likely going to be cranking the wheel with both hands trying to avoid contact with the fool. I pay a lot more attention to my surroundings and take as much preventive action as the time allows. Gene
  18. Stogy
    Joined: Feb 10, 2007
    Posts: 14,212


    I try to touch the running boards but there isn't any...:D

    Now actually hanging ones arm out in knuckle drag mode is akin to a dog with his tongue out cooling gets hot in the traditional space of the Ole Hotrod as alluded.

    When I am cooled off or a bee hits my arm it's back to 10 and 2 with whistling of course as there is no radio...:D...and the vintage wheel is a 40 Ford. In the Lil Sport Coupe.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
  19. Fortunateson
    Joined: Apr 30, 2012
    Posts: 2,629


    10 and 2 is what I usually use but change it up from time to time. However, in my modern car with a big honking airbag just waiting to blast its way to my face the issue of being at 9 and 3 came up. Apparently this will negate the possibility of having a couple of broken arms if you use the 10 and 2.

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