Monday, April 1, 2013

The real wheel deal

Nothing makes or breaks the look of a car as much as the wheels and tires.  They can make a grocery-getter into a hot rod, and they can make a show car into a beater.  Get it right, and your car will stand out.  Get it wrong, and nobody will notice anything else.

Of course, looks aren’t the only thing to consider.  There are obviously performance advantages to the right tire and wheel combo.  Radials usually handle better than biased-ply tires, but on an older car, they often don’t look right.  Bigger, wider wheels might help cornering, but cause ride issues.  Bigger brakes may require bigger wheels, and so on. 

But for the purposes of this story, I want to focus less on performance and more on appearance.  Here are some of my personal favorites.

I have always loved vintage, original equipment wire wheels, and I think the most beautiful are these Borrani knock-offs.  These came on various European sports cars.  Between 1946 and 1966, they were bolted to virtually every production Ferrari built.  That deep-dish design with all those thin spokes are perfect for the cars they came on, but I think they’d work on almost any old car.  These wheels were designed by bicycle company Rudge-Whitworth, and remained a Ferrari factory option into the 1980s.

The old Chevrolet rally wheel is another one that always seems to work.  These first became available in 1967 on most Chevrolets with optional disc brakes.  They were actually designed to clear disc brake calipers, unlike some of the standard steel wheel choices.  ‘67s had these flat center caps that said “Disc Brakes” on them.  The wheels became so popular that by ’68, they became a stand-alone option.  After ’67, the flat center caps went away, replaced by larger, sombrero style centers.  I think that virtually any late ‘60s/early ‘70s Chevrolet looks better with these than their standard wheel covers.

The Oldsmobile “Fiesta” three-bar wheel cover is a coveted choice among the traditional ‘50s hot rod crowd.  The basic design appeared in 1953, and was installed on the lavish Fiesta convertible.  They only made 458 Fiestas total (so I guess that’s 1,832 wheel covers), but the design was so popular that similar versions were available in 1954 and 1955.  Some guys use the optional ’56 three-bar wheel covers on their hot rods, or the aftermarket Fiesta-style caps with the checkerboard background (just say “no” to those!), but the’53 to ’55 style are the ones you want.

For a purely aftermarket wheel, it’s hard to do better than the American Racing Torq Thrust.  I’m not the only one that thinks so either, because sometimes it seems like every other car at the car show is wearing a set.  It makes sense, though.  That’s a great, classic design right there.  The basic wheel was designed by drag racer Romeo Palamides in 1956.  The lightweight, magnesium-alloy wheel was meant for the drag strip, but the clean looks translated well to the street.  They continue to be one of the most popular wheels on the planet, and larger-diameter versions are even being built for today’s performance cars.

When Cadillac introduced the Sabre wheel on the Eldorado in 1955, it was quite the sensation.  Aluminum wheels weren’t really available at the time, but this was pretty close.  Actually, there was a steel wheel under there, but the stylish turbine blades were rendered in space-aged aluminum.  These pretty wheels were standard on all Eldorados between 1955 and 1958, and available on other Cadillacs throughout the run.  The design actually changed a little in ’57, and they were available in a silver or gold finish.  Cadillac already had a gorgeous wire wheel available in the early 1950s, so they had to come up with a pretty spectacular wheel to replace it.  They certainly hit the bullseye with the Sabre wheel.

Obviously, this article only scratches the surface.  I haven’t even talked about Cragar mags, Halibrands, Ansen slotted mags, chrome wheels and spyder caps, Buick Kelsey-Hayes wires, Radir wheels, or any of 100 more great choices out there.  But what I can do is offer a photo slideshow.  There are very close to 500 different wheels for you to look at down there, so there’s bound to be something you like. More importantly, I want you to realize how many times I had to squat down to street level to take all of these.  I must really like you.  See a better version of the slideshow at this link.


  1. I only rolled through about half of the photos and my head is spinning already. I'll have another turn at it later - once I have my bearings again.

    It was nice of you to lug all those wheels onto your blog. You must be rather torqued about the subject, jumping through hoops to entertain us all.

  2. C,

    Wow ! There sure were a lot of pics.....W H E E L Y, there were!


  3. You guys are really treading on thin ice here. These jokes are falling flat.

  4. Wheely nice article Craig!