There must be a thousand different definitions of "hot rod" and probably 100,000 different opinions about which definition is the most accurate. One definition that is indistinct enough to satisfy almost everyone is "an early American automobile that has been modified for performance." Fifty years ago, when the majority of people building hot rods were young guys, the performance modifications being made to hot rods were almost exclusively in the area of increased acceleration and speed. Nowadays, the hot rod hobby includes at least as many old-timers as young-timers and the concept of "performance" is as expandable as the waistband of our comfort-fit jeans.

Acceleration and speed are still priorities, but they've been joined by other considerations, including ergonomics. Comfort is important, especially as more hot rodders are building their rods for long-distance road trips. Legroom, supportive seats, A/C, and other comfort-oriented modifications have become part of the performance equation.

Repositioning the steering wheel and column is a good way to gain some legroom and improve driving position, especially in early cars where the wheel was originally positioned more horizontally and the column went through the floor-but running the column through the firewall means running into all kinds of obstacles inside the engine compartment.

David O'Connor, owner of Wizard Fabrication, has the solution to the problem: an offset steering coupler consisting of upper and lower sprockets, shafts, bearings, tensioner glides, and a drive chain, protected by an aluminum housing case.

The first time we ever saw the Steer Clear steering system it was a prototype. The product had just debuted at the '05 SEMA Show and had only been installed on a handful of hot rods. Now hundreds of cars are running Steer Clear systems.

We recently photographed this Steer Clear system at Hot Rods By Dean where it was being installed on a customer's '32 sedan, where the Hemi engine almost completely filled the engine compartment. It would've been difficult to navigate a conventional steering system through the limited remaining space, but there was just enough room for the Steer Clear.

Safety First
When we spoke to David O'Connor about the unconventional steering system, we raised the issue of safety, particularly regarding chain-drive failure. We learned that the systems are extensively and constantly tested, and no wear has been discovered. Test units have undergone more than nine million revolutions at 1,500 rpm (can you steer like that?) with no negative effect. In real-world usage, the forces applied to the Steer Clear are so minimal that the tolerance of the parts far exceeds any forces that would ever be put into them. The riveted steel roller chain is continuous with no master link and is preloaded to help eliminate initial elongation. It is capable of handling 2,400 pounds of pressure. Real-world testing has been provided by Steer Clear-equipped cars competing at Speed Week in Bonneville, off-road race trucks, and other race vehicles. In addition, the sealed aluminum case keeps out dirt or any external particles that could jam the chain. Four tensioning guides inside the case are preset to control backlash. The product is delivered with the tensioners set, and the customer will never need to adjust it.