Remember back in the day when you could get a factory black interior in just about every truck? We do, but long gone are the days of the dark interior, unless you buy a Harley-Davidson Edition Ford. The manufacturers still give you options, and that is great if you like tans or grays. With some stitching and dying, you could convert any interior to black, but would you still have to contend with the steering wheel. You can dye the wheel, but eventually, you will wear it off and that will look crummy. You could do what a lot of custom truck builders do and chuck on a billet wheel, but what if the rest of your ride is devoid of billet?
Alan Budnik, founder of Budnik Wheels, has a pretty cool option to feed the nostalgic bug. He now offers the option to have steering wheels powdercoated, which means the color options are only limited to what powders are available.
We have been working on a '68 C10 with a musclecar theme. Because we are sticking to an era-specific build, a shiny billet wheel would look out of place, and the factory Camaro wheel we have in the truck just doesn't pop. We like the size and design of the Camaro wheel, but it won't be helping us win any awards, so we are glad Budnik has given us another option.
We opted to use his Dragon wheel from the Split Grip-series, because it features the same four-spoke design that the Camaro wheel has, but this one is billet and cool. The spokes of the Dragon wheel also feature small round holes that will match the instrument cluster of the C10. If you are not into the Dragon design, Budnik has 24 different wheels in its arsenal. All of the steering wheels come in either 13-3/4- or 15-1/2-inch diameters with nine different leather wrap colors and two different horn button options, so you can build the wheel of your dreams.
We went to the Budnik facility in Huntington Beach, California, because we were curious on how a steering wheel was actually made. Alan was nice enough to let us in the manufacturing bays to watch as the CNC machines whittled away at huge pieces of 6061 T6 forgings to create these new steering wheels. The following photos will show the process of how the wheels are made and how we installed one in a '68 Chevy.
Part One: In The Beginning
Here is where it all starts. Before any billet is cut, Alan's ideas are drawn up in a computer program to produce a digital rendering that will then be fed into a CNC machine. The CNC will read all that information and cut out a steering wheel. The wheels start out as a 6061 T6 forging (below, left) that is close to the shape of a steering wheel. By having specific forgings made, Budnik can cut down on waste and, in turn, keep the products reasonably priced.
1. The disc on the right is what the forging looks like when it comes out of the first mac
2. Here is the milling process as it is happening. You can see the machine cuts the design
3. Unlike some of the other companies out there, Budnik makes the adapters in-house. Here,
4. Budnik offers two different options when it comes to the horn buttons, a small and a la
5. The steering wheels are offered in two different sizes: 13-3/4- or 15-1/2-inch diameter