W H Greenhough became the happy owner of a “small car” back in 1902, but he also had a small problem with it — he found it hard to squeeze behind the wheel.
Maybe Greenhough was a big man, or just stiff from age. More likely, it was a winter malady because of the “thick fur-lined coat” he donned every time he went out in his open car.
The problem became worse when Mrs Greenhough accompanied him. We don’t know what make of car they owned, but steering wheels were uncommon those days and the car would have resembled this 1902 Haynes-Apperson runabout. Notice how the controls got in the driver’s way. Some models also had a spare wheel stuck on that side.
“Having lately purchased a small car, I found much inconvenience in getting in and out of the driver’s seat after my wife had taken her place,” Greenhough wrote to the editor of a motoring journal in February 1903.
“The difficulty, of course, being caused by the position of the steering wheel, and the trouble being increased by having to wear a thick fur-lined coat during cold weather. When driving, if I had to get out to attend to any matter in connection with the car, or for any other purpose, much difficulty was experienced, unless my wife got out first, an inconvenient arrangement.”
Here was a gallant husband, contrite about inconveniencing the missus, and thoughtful enough to find a solution to their problem. In the process, Greenhough became one of the earliest implementers of a tilt-steering system. Not inventor, because he was inspired by another man’s letter published in the same journal. What did he do?
“With the aid of a good cycle-maker I have devised a simple method of tilting the wheel vertically in front of the steering column, and by this means obviating the trouble. A small wrought-iron hinge is placed immediately under the wheel…” wrote Greenhough.
He fixed a 3 square-inch hinged iron plate in between the wheel and the steering column. A bolt passed through the steering wheel, hinge and the column kept the wheel from bouncing up and down while driving. The bolt itself was spring-loaded. “To tilt the wheel it is only necessary to pull up the brass knob fixed on the top of the bolt.”
When Greenhough had to get out of the car, he pulled up the bolt, lifted the steering wheel out of his way, and then let it drop back. “The wheel and bolt fall into their places by the weight of the wheel.”
Ingenious. Now tilt-steering is a premium feature in the small cars sold in India.