Lecarra Steering Wheels

Steering in the right direction

Jason Walker Jan 25, 2003 0 Comment(s)

Without a doubt one of the coolest and easiest ways to customize the interior of your ride is to swap out the factory steering wheel for a totally custom, and usually more attractive, aftermarket wheel. The fact that a smaller diameter wheel with a fatter grip is far more comfortable and easier to handle is also of utmost importance. Besides, most modern street rods have such updated suspensions and drivetrains that using a steering wheel that complements the tremendous change in handling is a must. In these days we have a rich selection of styles and options thanks to companies like Lecarra.

We spent some time touring Lecarra's facility to get a better understanding of how these overlooked, but always in demand, pieces of our street rods are put together. After the tour we got a chance to sit down with Lecarra's owner, Chuck Losey, to learn more about the interesting history behind his business.

In 1976, the originators of the Lecarra steering wheel company, brothers Dick and Roy Ostein from San Diego, California, joined the military, and, like some living the military life, ended up stationed in France. Being car types at heart and having a plethora of sporty European cars around, the brothers decided to start a steering wheel business. The name "Lecarra" actually came from the brothers' mom's maiden name, Carra. It didn't take long for Lecarra to grow into an international name amongst sports car enthusiasts and musclecar freaks alike.

Soon, the company entered the whole new market of street rodding, which embraced the stylish and comfortable steering wheels they produced. After twelve years of building the France-based business, the two brothers sold it to American Ross Adams, who also took a 12-year stint working the steering wheel market. It wasn't until 2000 that Lecarra's current owner, Chuck Losey, transformed the 90 percent French manufactured business, into a 100 percent U.S. business.

According to Chuck, this was a long, tedious, and oftentimes expensive investment that he wouldn't trade for anything. Chuck's original idea was to always keep the good name of Lecarra, but to utilize American-made products and labor. Now the entire operation is done in-house with the help of 12 skilled and dedicated employees.

All this work behind the scenes, however, hasn't kept Chuck from focusing on where the steering wheel market is going today. In fact, Lecarra is about to introduce a new wheel to the lineup. In addition to its line of more than 37 different wheel configurations offered in dozens of finishes, grip materials, and colors, Lecarra has come up with a version of Ford's '40 Ford wheel in a 15-inch diameter with either a gloss black or a ready-to-paint finish. The wheel is designed to pop right onto an original '40 steering column or, with its newly designed adapter, can be mounted on just about any aftermarket street rod column out there. Once you see this wheel close-up, you will understand how much time and energy went into designing it; the quality manufacturing Lecarra is so well known for is evident. Chuck knows firsthand what an impact the retro-style of late has had on the aftermarket business simply because he is a hot rodder as well. We definitely feel this will only bring Lecarra and the street rod industry closer than ever before. Look to Lecarra for a few more retro surprises in the near future, but for now we'll take a closer look into how some of Lecarra's manufacturing processes are performed.

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Here is Chuck Losey, Lecarra's owner, showing off the newest wheel to the line. This '40 Ford-style wheel incorporates unmatched detail and versatility, perfect for any street rodder wanting a smaller performance feeling wheel with a retro/factory look.

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A good CNC machinist is a must when manufacturing quality billet aluminum anything. This is exactly why Chuck has longtime friend and top-notch machinist Steve Knoll working the machines almost non-stop. Lecarra's billet line includes the appropriately named "Bike Rim" wheel. They call it Bike Rim because the outer rim of the steering wheel looks just like the outer portion of a bicycle rim. These are Lecarra's high-end (without the high-end price) wheels finished with a rich leather grip surrounding a billet center; they're mostly seen in some of the finest street rods around.

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This machine, appropriately called the "Roll Forming" machine, transforms flat steel into a "U" shape before rolling it into a predetermined diameter as seen in this shot.

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Each outer rim is then TIG-welded onto one of the many styles of centers by Carlos Mendez.

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After Carlos welds each wheel together, they are stacked and waiting for the high-pressure foam molding process.

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Here's a shot of Chuck showing Classic Trucks Editor Kevin Lee how to set the bare wheel into the foam-molding machine. The high-pressure foam is made from polyurethane for extreme longevity.

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You might think the wheel is finished at this step from how good it looks, but there are still a couple of steps left in the process.

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Kevin Lee is obviously in steering wheel heaven looking at the array of billet wheels laid out in front of him. "I'll take one of each please."

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Before these wheels are shipped out, they are fit with one of Lecarra's hand-stitched leather wraps. These wheels are offered in a choice of 12 different colors of cowhide. This pattern, or "die" if you will, is laid on top of the leather (facing down on the table) to be pressed...

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Once the "die" is set into place, it is all rolled into a specially designed leather press or, as it is actually called, "Beam" press.

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This is what the wrap looks like straigt out of the press. It's now ready to be sewn onto a wheel.

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Skilled labor is hard to find, especially when it comes to hand-stitching leather. Lecarra relies on a few talented staffers for this, including Stacy Jeffers (seen here). You really know the quality of a steering wheel when you grab a handful around a tight corner. These wraps are tight as a drum.

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Wow, check out the issue of SRM lying around the shop (and we didn't find it in the bathroom either). This company is truly filled with hot rodders.

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As for the last step in the process, we can only imagine where we'll see these wheels end up. Don't forget, Lecarra is known the world over, and ships to just about everywhere.

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Sitting proudly in the driver's seat of one of Bobby Alloway's beautifully built highboys (the same car that SRM's extremely lucky Editor B.B. got to tool around in for a couple of weeks this summer), Chuck sees firsthand what a quality steering wheel can do for the fit and finish of one of our country's finest built street rods. It's no wonder he's smiling.

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