While smacking your hand into the center of a steering wheel is the generally-accepted default way to sound a car’s horn, there’s been a number of other methods over the years: rings, buttons, stalks, levers—honk-producing actions have been wildly varied. Perhaps one of the greatest yet mostly forgotten ways was an option on many American car brands from 1969 to 1974—the Rim Blow steering wheel.
Rim Blow steering wheels were optional on GM cars from 1969 to 1971 (Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks), Ford, Mercury, and Lincolns from 1969 to 1974, Chryslers, Dodges, and Plymouths from 1970 to 1973, and AMCs, even being fitted as standard equipment on the AMX.
The way the Rim Blow wheel works can largely be inferred from its name, provided you can get your mind out of the gutter and forget that its name is composed of two of the most well-known slang terms for various forms of oral sexual contact that precede the word “job.” To make the horn blow, you squeeze the rim.
The inside of the rim was ringed with rubber, and behind that rubber was a conductive ring that, when compressed, would make contact with another conductive ring at the point of compression, completing the circuit and sounding the horn.
You can sort of see the mechanism here:
These steering wheels are a very elegant solution to the problem of horn actuation, and you can see why they’d be appealing: in the days before airbags, these wheels allowed for very minimal inner-wheel hardware, and the idea of just squeezing anywhere on the wheel itself seems like it would be easy and intuitive.
Still, I can see some issues: if you grip the wheel tightly because of some intense driving situation, does that mean the horn will start blowing nonstop, making everything even more tense? That doesn’t seem great.
Also, as the rubber inside ring dried out on these wheels, sometimes they’d harden, not allowing the flexibility needed to activate the horn, or worse, where they’d shrink and then honk the horn constantly, forever. That’s non-ideal as well.
Perhaps it’s for these reasons that the Rim Blow wheel had such a short life. It still has its fans, though, as there are entire businesses set up just for Rim Blow restoration.
I’ll admit, I’d really like to try one of these out; in general, I think we don’t have nearly enough squeeze-based controls on cars as it is.