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Hey, Tesla: This Failed Car Shows Why You Probably Shouldn’t Reinvent the Steering Wheel

Let us, and Jeremy Clarkson from the year 2000, explain.

The newly refreshed Tesla Model S, including its hardcore Plaid version, may not actually come with a goofy KITT-style steering wheel after all—sorry, Knight Rider fans. Yoke steering wheels are generally a terrible and unsafe idea, so maybe it’s lucky that Elon Musk could’ve just been toying with the people again. Remember when he did the same in November of 2017, announcing the Tesla Roadster, a car with a 650-mile range, a zero-to-60 time of 1.9 seconds, and a top speed in excess of 250 mph, yours in due time for just a $50,000 deposit? Yeah, well, it’s 2021 and we still don’t have it.

Roadster or not, certain things just don’t need reinventing, and the wheel happens to be pretty high on that list of done designs. British Leyland of the early 1970s had to learn that again the hard way after having spent 21 million of post-Decimal Day British pounds on the Allegro, a car that was supposed to be as innovative and funky as a Citroën, only to end up being nothing like its original concept after all the fine choices made by British Leyland’s management.

John Shepherd | Flickr

Also sold as the more premium Vanden Plas 1500, and as The Times reported in 1973, the Innocenti Regent in Italy, the Austin Allegro came with a bloated, rounded off body to show the likes of designer ace Giorgetto Giugiaro in Italy what curves can do for a car. The Allegro’s most handy feature was its Hydragas suspension system, while its probably most hated turned out to be its “Quartic” steering wheel, a boringly brown piece of disappointing plastic that was more rectangular than round, ready to give you extra legroom.

Back in 2000, while comparing the two competing British Leyland cars—the Austin Allegro and the Morris Marina—Jeremy Clarkson argued that at a Leyland board meeting sometime in the rainy ’70s, they made the mistake of nodding instead of throwing their pencils at the person who suggested the “square” steering wheel, no doubt in hopes of a brighter future.

Needless to say, there is a vast number of Austin Allegro fans out there who will swear by the vinyl interior, pointing out that the “Quartic” steering wheel was indeed kinder to one’s knees on bumpy roads that were already made smoother by the nitrogen-filled suspension system connecting the front wheels to the rears.

Meanwhile, aimed at the much more conservative folks out there, the Morris Marina came with a regular steering wheel from day one.

Because of the vast success of the Mark 1 Allegros after their 1973 introduction, British Leyland decided to equip the model with round, yet still mostly brown steering wheels from the 1975 model year. This, along with several more mild upgrades later helped the infamous conglomerate to just under 650,000 Austin Allegro sales in a decade, which still counted as a massive failure considering not just Austin’s previous, but the competition’s figures as well. 

Starting at $81,250, the Tesla-rivaling 2021 Porsche Taycan comes with a regular, three-spoke leather steering wheel. Your move, Elon, yet if this yoke stunt was done only so that we keep talking about Tesla, you’re welcome.


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