Friday, March 2, 2012

Nothin' but a Necker / Necker Knobs

Tommy felt the warm, smooth plastic in his hand as he one-handed the large steering wheel, swinging around the corner while laying on the gas. The rear of the '56 Chevy spit gravel out from under the skinny white walls, while whipping back and forth laying down a man sized brodie . It was just another night, out with his girl as they headed to the drive-in. So, how was he able to lite up his face wielding a boat sized steering wheel? Here's the story...

A combination of Bakelite and plastic Suicide Knobs. Image © "Along For The Ride."

His hand was most likely grasping a "Necker knob" as they are called. They were very popular, mostly on the west coast during the '40s, '50s and '60s especially with rodders. The knob swiveled and was used to spin the steering wheel, rapidly in one direction or the other, while accelerating, often laying a brodie. They were so in demand that Pep Boys and other speed shops offered a large variety in every conceivable theme, from "glitter" embedded into the plastic, or "car logos", to "nude women" and everything in between. Besides being called "Necker knobs" other names were, "Brodie knob," "Granny knob," "Suicide knob," or "Wheel spinner."

But how did they come to such monikers, you ask? The name, "Necker knob" came from keeping one hand on the knob fastened to the steering wheel, and the other on your girl as you cruised. You can imagine the rest. The name, "Granny knob" came from the idea that it was easy for a granny to turn the wheel without power steering. How about the name, "Suicide knob," well those of you that are James Dean fans probably remember the scene from Rebel Without a Cause when a guy catches his leather jacket on the knob and goes over a cliff. There you go. Last, how about the moniker, "Brodie knob?" Well, there was a daredevil named Steve Brodie in the late 1800s, he actually passed away in 1901 well before the knobs were ever invented. But, his name stuck with doing something dangerous. So, hot rodders in the '40s and '50s would use their steering wheel knobs to whip the wheel back and forth while accelerating, in turn "laying a brodie."

Today, the knobs are illegal in most states and have become collector items. The first ones were made  of Bakelite, but many were made out of metal and even chrome plated. They range from $20 to several hundred.

Two original Bakelite Necker Knobs. Image © "Along For The Ride."

Ladies were popular including Marilyn Monroe. Image © "Along For The Ride."

Plastic Necker Knob on the left and original Bakelite on the right.
 Image © "Along For The Ride."

Original Bakelite Necker Knob. Image © "Along For The Ride."

Original Palm Knob on the left and Metal/Bakelite Knob on right.
Image © "Along For The Ride."

Original Plastic Granny Knobs. Image © "Along For The Ride."

A new plastic Necker Knob for the hot rodder. Image © "Along For The Ride."

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  1. Cool history lesson!! I remember my dad having one on his truck steering wheel and 1 out of 3 times he'd let the wheel spin back the necker knob would nail him on the wrist and he'd curse up a storm while I tried not to laugh. Could of called his knob a "Wrist Wrecker". Good times.

  2. Robert Keith Trinkle facebooked: I remember going to the auto parts store with my Dad when I was a little kid.....I'd sneak over to the "necker knobs" to check out the ones with the pin-up babes!

  3. Actually, they are not illegal in any state nowadays. See for a list.