Shopping: Real Estate |  Costumes  |  Guitars
This Issue Archived Articles Blog About Us Contact Us

Complementing Leather

A matching custom leather steering wheel and gear knob to enhance your ride.

By Michael Knowling

Click on pics to view larger images

This article was first published in 2004.

Have you got a steering wheel that's a bit ratty? Maybe you have an airbag-equipped wheel that's illegal to replace with a conventional aftermarket job. Whatever the case, you should definitely look into having the original wheel covered in new leather to a style and colour of your taste. And while you're at it, it's also the perfect time to get the gear knob covered in matching leather. For a relatively small outlay, we reckon you might as well...

To demonstrate what can be achieved with leather coverings, we took our demo Mitsubishi Galant VR4 to Adelaide's ATUC (Automotive Trim and Upholstery Contractors). ATUC specialise in steering wheels and are responsible for the leather wheels used by some domestic and overseas car manufacturers - yep, they're a top-quality OE supplier.

Click for larger image
ATUC has a range of 20 leather colours (from mild to wild!), plain and perforated leather, a variety of thread colours and two different stitching styles. This photo illustrates the difference between the two styles of stitch - baseball stitch (done by hand) is on the left and Euro stitch (done by machine) is on the right.

In the case of our Galant we wanted a fairly subtle aesthetic lift so we decided to keep the original charcoal wheel colour (to match the rest of the trim), but with a combination of plain and perforated leather and an eye-catching red baseball stitch. We also gave the original gearknob the same treatment - charcoal plain/perforated leather and red baseball stitch.

Now let's take an in-depth look at how the steering wheel and gear knob are trimmed.

Leather Wheel Covering - A Step-by-Step Overview

Click for larger image
The first step is to remove the steering wheel from the vehicle. Note that both the steering wheel hub and shaft are marked with a line to ensure it can be refitted in exactly the same position.

Click for larger image
With the wheel now removed from the vehicle, it is mounted onto a swing-arm on the corner of a desk - this arm makes the wheel accessible from all angles. Before our Galant steering wheel could be re-covered, the ratty looking factory leather cover needed to be removed. This began by cutting the existing leather stitching (as seen here).

Click for larger image
This photo shows the rubber soft grip that is usually glued between the steering wheel and the leather cover. After more than 10 years of use, the rubber grip broke apart while our cover was being peeled off. Don't worry - this rubber is later replaced.

Click for larger image
Where applicable, the old leather cover is handy for creating a template for the new cover. As seen here, the original cover is first glued onto a sheet of cardboard that is cut to shape. Note that our wheel was being done in combination of plain and perforated leather, so the template was divided into two different sections - a template for the plain leather section and another for the perforated section.

Click for larger image
The newly formed cardboard template is then used as a guide for cutting out the new leather. In this case, both the plain leather and perforated leather patterns were cut using their respective cardboard templates. The cardboard is ideal in its role as a template - workable but stiff enough to hold its shape.

Non-Leather Factory Steering Wheels

As mentioned, our Galant steering wheel came factory-fitted with a leather cover that was used to create a template. But what if the steering wheel isn't covered in leather from the factory? Well, this means the wheel has to be thoroughly measured up and some trial and error is required to get the correct leather fit. It can be a relatively time consuming process.

So now we have all the leather cut to shape - what next?

Click for larger image
Well, our plain and perforated leather sections need to be overlapped end-to-end and sewn together; this creates the cover that wraps all the way around the outside of the wheel. However, to avoid creating a hump at each overlap, a small strip needs to be skived from the end of each leather section. The skiving machine (seen here) shaves the end of the leather to around half its original thickness, which allows the ends to remain flush on the steering wheel when overlapped. Neat, eh?

Click for larger image
After being skived, each end-to-end section of leather is sewn together on a sewing machine. A line of small holes is then punched through the leather along each opposing edge. These holes serve to make the baseball stitching process (which is done by hand) much easier.

Now comes the preparation of the steering wheel.

Click for larger image
Preparation involves removing any parts of the original rubber grip and glue that is left behind. With a clean steering wheel surface, a replacement rubber grip can be fitted around the rim. The rubber grip is cut to length and is glued directly to the steering rim (as seen here).

Click for larger image
With the rubber grip glued on, the new leather cover can now be fitted to the wheel. The cover is first glued into place on top of the rubber grip with care taken to ensure there are no kinks. Following this, the leather edges that meet on the inner diameter of the wheel can be stitched together.

Click for larger image
We preferred the look of the baseball stitch, which must be done by hand. The stitching for our wheel took about an hour of labour - this pic shows how it's done.

Click for larger image
Each line of stitching must terminate at the innermost end of the centre spokes - the stitch terminates by simply cutting, looping and tying the end of the thread. This thread is then hidden behind the leather, which is now glued down at the end of each spoke (as seen here).

Click for larger image
With the wheel fully stitched together, the final step is to wipe clean the leather surface and apply a heat gun around the wheel. This shrinks the leather to give a tight fit.

Refit the wheel to the car and that's it! Now let's look at the matching leather gear knob...

Leather Gear Knob Covering - A Step-by-Step Overview

Interestingly, the process for covering a gear knob in leather is very similar to a steering wheel.

First, the gear knob needs to be removed from the vehicle. Our Galant VR4's gear knob (like the steering wheel) comes leather trimmed from factory, but it was beginning to look pretty tired.

Click for larger image
Next, the existing leather stitching is cut with a blade to allow the leather cover to be peeled off. The factory leather cover is typically glued to the gear knob - any residual glue must be cleaned off the surface before the new leather is applied.

Click for larger image
The original gear knob cover - which is usually two-piece - is then traced and cut from a sheet of cardboard. As before, this cardboard template is used to cut the pattern from the new leather. In this case, the top and rear section of the knob was cut from plain leather while the front section was cut from perforated leather - a perfect match for our steering wheel.

Click for larger image
The skiving machine is then used to shave the overlapping ends of each section of leather before they are sewn together. (The same process as mentioned earlier.)

Click for larger image
The next step is to glue the new cover into position on the gear knob. Again, care is taken to ensure the leather has smooth coverage of the gearknob.

Click for larger image
The final task is to stitch the opposing edges together. Again, we used red baseball stitch to match what had been done on the steering wheel. The stitch is cut and tied off at the end, the leather is tucked over and glued - and the job is done!

The car can be driven immediately - no need to wait for the glue to fully cure.

The Result - Before and After

These photos compare the Galant VR4's original leather steering wheel and gear knob to the newies - any explanation needed?


Click for larger image
Click for larger image


Click for larger image
Click for larger image

The Price

The price for a leather steering wheel cover depends on the stitching you chose, whether an airbag is fitted and the complexity of the wheel (for example, some wheels have extra-long centre spokes that must be trimmed separately).

A straightforward leather cover starts at AUD$150, but you'll need to add AUD$20 for an airbag wheel and an extra AUD$10 if you want the time-consuming baseball stitch. We reckon you might as well go the extra distance and get the gear knob done to match - all it costs is around AUD$40 on top.

In the case of our Galant, the bill amounts to AUD$200 to have the wheel and gearknob covered in a combination of plain and perforated leather and with baseball stitching. Not bad.

The alternative is to go out and buy a brand new wheel and gear knob - but the leather covering process is cheaper, guaranteed legal and you have greater flexibility in styles and colours. If you own a car fitted with an airbag steering wheel, you should note that this is your only option.

Click for larger image

Leather covered wheels and knobs from ATUC come backed by a 12-months general workmanship warranty and, to keep it looking its best, you should routinely treat it with high quality leather cleaner.

Go on. Treat yourself - and your car!


ATUC (Automotive Trim and Upholstery Contractors) +61 8 8243 1383

Footnote: We paid AUD$180 for our Galant's steering wheel and gear knob covering. This is AUD$20 less than the current retail price.

Did you enjoy this article?

Please consider supporting AutoSpeed with a small contribution. More Info...

Share this Article: 

More of our most popular articles.
The consequences

Special Features - 23 March, 2010

153 km/h in a 110 zone

Relays are much overlooked in car modification but they're cheap and effective

DIY Tech Features - 27 January, 2009

How to Electronically Modify Your Car, Part 7

Clearing the space

DIY Tech Features - 10 January, 2012

A New Home Workshop, Part 1

Is it worthwhile tuning an engine cylinder by cylinder?

Technical Features - 4 February, 2008

Cylinder-Specific Tuning

Tweaking the engine management to run non-standard mixtures in closed loop

DIY Tech Features - 12 January, 2005

Altering Closed Loop Mixtures

Peak boost in one-third of a second!

Technical Features - 5 October, 2010

Is This Your Electric Supercharger?

Designing structures so they won't fail

DIY Tech Features - 21 February, 2006

Making Things, Part 1

The advantages of small boosted engines running direct injected ethanol

Special Features - 16 June, 2009

Going Direct Injected Turbo Ethanol!

A salutary lesson in failure

Special Features - 9 July, 2013

Giving up

Squirt your intercooler spray for 5, 10 or 20 seconds - all at the press of a single button!

DIY Tech Features - 2 September, 2008

Intercooler Spray Squirter

Copyright © 1996-2020 Web Publications Pty Limited. All Rights ReservedRSS|Privacy policy|Advertise
Consulting Services: Magento Experts|Technologies : Magento Extensions|ReadytoShip