Bring back the suicide knob

By on June 3, 2015

Let’s go back to the 60s for a few minutes.

Being a young man with a car, there were certain requirements to fit into the upwardly mobile crowd of the day. It didn’t matter if your vehicle was an oldie, or had a little rust here and there. But, it had to be a two-door or a coupe. Sedans and pick-ups were taboo. My friend had a ‘37 Plymouth business coupe. The business coupe had no rear seat and this area extended, unimpeded into the trunk. We could get eleven guys in this car for dollar night at the Comet Drive-in movie theater.

You needed to have fender skirts and white-walled tires. The white walls had to be clean, and without curb scuffs. This was maintained through the use of Comet powder and curb feelers. A big black curb scuff would initiate pointing and giggling, which usually warranted a grudge drag race later that night.

A pair of fuzzy dice or a lady’s garter hanging from the rear-view mirror was definitely a prerequisite of peer group recognition. The tassel from your high school graduation cap was also considered acceptable.

Dual exhausts with glass-packed mufflers would get you a big grin from your buddies but not from the cops. A big V8 with glass-packs could vibrate house windows like the strings of a thousand violins. Loud mufflers (or none at all), and screaming tires were frowned upon by the local authorities. If you were inclined to disturb the peace, it was smart to pre-arrange a quick escape route to get out of town. This was normally done in groups of five or six, each with their own escape plan.

Looking inside the car, one would find a bench seat in the front. There were no bucket seats or safety belts then. Terry cloth seat covers hid the typical stains, rips, and cigarette burns. The sun visors were stapled with snapshots of the “main squeeze” &tstr; 1960’s dictionary: highest authority, sweetheart, lover, big enchilada, etc. On the steering wheel, was mounted the “suicide” knob, “spinner” knob or “necker” knob. (‘60’s dictionary: “necking” is a slang term for caressing your partner on or above the neck; sometimes also meaning to kiss or “make out”).

“Normal” steering was accomplished with the left hand because the right arm was busy surrounding your main squeeze. She was cuddled up against you so tight, that it appeared from outside the car that she wasn’t even there. (This could only be verified by looking directly into the passenger-side window).

Suicide knobs were advantageous to the handicapped or impaired driver. They were found on farm tractors, too. They were an important upgrade to us teens because the knob allowed one to easily and quickly turn the steering wheel with one hand. (There was no power steering). One could accelerate and spin the wheel quickly, resulting in a 180 degree slide accompanied with a profuse cloud of white rubber smoke. This took some practice and worked well on loose stones in parking lots. Once perfected, it could be accomplished on the street with exhilarating results. I must emphasize that this was also frowned upon by the local authorities or the neighbors adjacent to the parking lot, waving brooms and shovels.

A suicide knob (spinner knob, necking knob) graces the left side of the steering wheel of this 1958 Fury. The attachment made one-handed driving a breeze.

A suicide knob (spinner knob, necking knob) graces the left side of the steering wheel of this 1958 Fury. The attachment made one-handed driving a breeze.

If you want further explanation as to the life and times of the 1960s, I would direct you to some old tunes by Chuck Berry namely; “No Particular Place to Go,” and “Maybelline.” After listening to these fabulous hit records &tstr;\\!q try youtube &tstr; you will eventually understand my jest. R.I.P. Chuck!

Now, let’s look at the driving conditions of today. Bucket seats and safety belts are the new standard. There is a center console with cup holders, GPS, and disc storage compartments. This immediately eliminates “spooning” &tstr;1960’s dictionary: deeply affectionate cuddling that makes the body release oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the love hormone. (Bummer). Tires are now black with a certain shine applied. I have noticed that one-handed steering is still in vogue, though. The other hand is now busy holding the cell phone to one’s ear, which has taken the place of close, intimate contact with your main squeeze.

With this fact in mind (the cell phone replacing all semblance of close and personal contact) the spinner knob will optimistically return soon. The millennials are still in the dark about spinner knobs, but hopefully they will realize its benefit to their dilemma about how to steer one-handed. Let’s get the word out!

Today, I see a modified Honda Civic cruising down the road. It has oversized, chrome wheels, low profile tires, and is lowered to three inches off the road, sporting a big chrome muffler that sounds like a whoopee cushion. There is a bumper sticker supporting “Earth Day.” The girl-friend passenger is texting and sending a selfie to her driver boy-friend sitting beside her. He is fumbling with his phone to receive it. All the while, he is tailgating a Smart Car- (1960’s dictionary: word yet to be defined: also see “death trap”), which resembles a NASA escape pod mounted on wheels.

Wake up young’ens. Bring back the spinner knob and support safe driving!

Richard Martin is a published historical author, historical researcher and genealogist. He has been a resident of Penryn for more than 50 years. He welcomes your comments and questions at

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