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Jaguar XKE E-type Restoration : Steering Wheel Refinishing

steeringrefinOne of the first things I wanted to tackle on the XKE was the wood steering wheel. The Series II cars have the same beautiful mahogany rims and lovely growler center piece as the Series I cars. The aluminum spokes are NOT polished and shiny like the Series I cars, but have a flatter brushed metal finish. One important tip – the center of the steering wheel is not a horn button. On Series II cars the horn is activated though an arm from the steering column. So, avoid banging away on that center to get the horn working… I wanted to refinish the steering wheel first because it is easy and fun to do, and because my wheel had some long cracks in the grain of the wood rim that made it a bit bendable. I did not want small cracks to become bigger problems.

The first thing to do is to remove the steering wheel from the car. This is easier than for most cars because it does not require a wheel puller. Now – here is an important warning that I received before I started – DO NOT START BY TRYING TO PRY OFF THE CENTER EMBLEM. If you do this you will only break an expensive emblem. Instead, look behind the spokes on the wheel (between the spokes and dash) and you will find three counter-sunk screws that hold the center emblem. Back-off these three screws and the emblem will be free to pull out of the center. Once you have the emblem free you just need to undo the large 1″ diameter nut that holds the wheel to the splined shaft of the steering column. Once the nut and washers are off gently rock the wheel free of the column – presto!

I used the gentle application of a small screwdriver and some wood skewers to open up the wood cracks in the rim of the wheel and then fill them with glue. I used Elmers Probond (c) wood glue. I then used clamps (protecting the wood with a layer of cloth) to hold the cracks tightly closed while the glue dried for 24 hours. I used four clamps all around the wheel. I did the glue work first so that any residue would be removed during the subsequent sanding.

XKE Steering Wheel Removal

Jaguar XKE ( E-type) Steering Wheel Removal

The next thing I tackled was the metal spokes. I taped up the wheel rim for protection and used a gentle cleaner then some light sanding with a 600 grade paper parallel with the spokes and the original brushed finish strokes. I did not use a metal polish or circular polishing etc. I did not want to over-polish the wheel and make is shiny. I wanted the original brushed finish, but clean of discolorations and minor imperfections. The approach I took worked well for me I think.

The Wheel Finish During Sanding and After Varnish

The Wheel Finish During Sanding and After Varnish

The original varnish on my wheel was pretty dried and cracked so it was easy to remove with fairly gentle sanding. I started with 220 grade paper and then worked my way to 1500 grade for the final smooth sanding. The hard part was getting the old varnish off from the bases of the indentations on the back side of the wheel. Once all the varnish was off and I had sanded the mahogany down to a very smooth finish I was ready to do the final refinish. The wheel is exposed to salt and moisture from the driver’s hands and temperature changes within the car. The finish has to be really tough. I used Helmsman Spar Urethane by Miniwax (c). This is supposed to be be very resistant stuff. I used it in the spray form and over the course of a two weeks did a number of coats – allowing 72 hours between recoats. The stuff goes on amazingly easy and smooth. It produces a beautiful finish. One important tip – I used clear urethane with absolutely no coloring. I have to admit that prior to applying the urethane the wood on the wheel rim looked really light and faded. I was worried about how it would look with a clear coat. However, the wood became much darker and richer looking as soon as I started to apply the clear urethane and really looks perfect. So, I would not advise using any stain or coloring when doing a steering wheel refinish for the XKE.

The final product of all this is a wheel that is solid again – and to my eye looks just great!

The Finished XKE Steering Wheel

The Finished Jaguar XKE ( E-type) Steering Wheel

11 comments on “Jaguar XKE E-type Restoration : Steering Wheel Refinishing

  1. kmkemper says:

    Nice site, and congrats on your E-Type! I am a fellow owner of a Series II, the restoration of which I’ve put on a WordPress site similar to yours,

    Good luck with your restoration, and enjoy

    regards – Kevin


    1. gmmacdonald says:

      Cool Kevin! Good to hear from you. My Blog is a little behind as I have been overseas. I hope to catch-up soon. I look forward to checking your out!


  2. Catherine Durance says:

    I have recently acquired a series II 2+2 which is in reasonable order although I’m having a few problems with the minor electrics such as lights and horn. You mention that “the centre of the steering wheel is not a horn button. On Series II cars the horn is activated though an arm from the steering column.” I’d been doing lots of research on what was missing from behind the horn button and it appears I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Could you please tell me exactly where I can find my horn “button” so I can work from there?
    I’ve much appreciated your website so far, it’s been invaluable.

    Kind regards.


    1. gmmacdonald says:

      The horn is activated by pushing the turn-signal switch in towards the steering column. So just gently push that switch inward toward the column (it is spring loaded). Do not try and push it forward towards the dash – inward along its axis.

      Now – if the horns are still not working – there are two horns – you might have a dirty contact in the switch. First though – have you checked your fuses? The fuses are located behind the center instrument panel. Undo the two hand screws above the fuel and battery gauges. The center instrument panel will then come forward and you will see the fuses mounted behind it. Check Fuse 3 for the horn. I would carefully pull out each fuse – check them and then using some light sand paper clean every contact. Over time these oxidize and get dirty and break the circuit. That could be your problem.

      Now – if the fuse is good and contacts are clean – and both horns are not working – check the horn relay. It is a little silver box (the uppermost of three such little silver boxes) that are mounted on the wheel well just below the heater motor.

      If it gets power when you push the horn switch – but has no output to the horns then the relay is bad.

      If you do not get any power to the relay – then you are going to have to take things apart on the steering column and go after the switch.

      By the way – I have done tons on my Jag since the last post I put up – all the front suspension, hoses, belts, brake master and power unit, carbs, brake calipers and rotors, new starter etc. It is running like a top. just have not had time to post the pictures and things. I have got the old exhaust system off and am about to drop the rear-end and redo all of that.

      Your e-mail has motivated me to get some of the pictures and text up about what I have been up to as it covers quite a bit of ground and all sorts of things that can crop up with the components – and tricks to get things done if you are doing work on a car that does not require a full-tilt rebuild, but a rolling restoration.

      Good luck –and let me know how it goes!


  3. Michael says:

    Thanks for the info.
    Others told me that the horn relay is on the crossmember.
    Drove me crazy. I have 2 relays on crossmember (they’re for the fans) as I have A/C. ’69 series 2, F.H.C.
    Do you know what the 2nd and third relays on the wheel well control?
    Mike at:


    1. gmmacdonald says:

      Hi Michael – Glad to have been helpful. It is funny how many confusing the horn situation on the E-type can be for people – including folks breaking the steering wheel emblem trying to pry it off or pounding on it to make the horn work!

      Now – the placement of things can be different on these cars – including relays on cross-members etc. I guess. For the situation with the three relays on the wheel well (lined up one on top of the other) it is typically horn relay at top, ignition/alternator relay and then air-conditioning relay at bottom (but I think this last one is variable). I am guessing that is what you have.

      Good luck!


      1. Michael says:

        Thanks again, Glen. Can’t wait to try your gluing techniques on the wooden wheel, as I just noticed it’s cracked, too.
        I’ve learned that the E-Type was simply put together differently over time. As one restoration mechanic said to me : “That’s why they’re called ‘Series’ “. I have an original E-Type shop manual and an excellent schematic only book (26 pages or so) from XKs Unlimited. Neither agrees in total with the wiring colors that are in my car; although the schematics are nearly spot on, and I know for a fact mine is an original car. I’ve taken apart nearly every nut & bolt and rebuilt or replaced every system over the past decade and a half. Through the 70’s and 80’s it was my daily driver! 20 years ago I went to repaint it and the rest of the restoration is history.
        Project almost complete.


  4. nick says:

    Hi can you help is the Helmsman Spar Urethane by Miniwax the satin finish one?


    1. gmmacdonald says:

      Hi – I used gloss for the finish. I think that is most similar to the original finish. Good luck! Glen


  5. Jason says:

    What is the name of the gentle cleaner you used on the wheel spokes? Thanks!

    The next thing I tackled was the metal spokes. I taped up the wheel rim for protection and used a gentle cleaner then some light sanding with a 600 grade paper parallel with the spokes and the original brushed finish strokes.


    1. G M MacDonald says:

      Hi Jason – Thanks for the comment. I cannot recall exactly what I used as a cleaner. It was definitely not a metal polish nor something that would discolor wood. Mainly needed to remove grime and grease. I do sometimes use Simple Green.

      By the way – I have been doing a lot more wood refinishing now days on Bentley and Rolls Royce cars (lots of interior wood and veneer). I do not want brush strokes or orange peel. Instead of spraying I dilute the spar varnish with mineral spirits and apply a series of thin coats over a number of days using clean cotton T-shirt type material. Some very fine sanding in between makes sure the finish is super smooth. The finish can be phenomenal – but takes time. Good luck!


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