10 Of The Greatest Wheel Designs Of The ‘80s
The 1980s conjures windbreakers, denim on denim, and a, well, unique approach to design. Since we are here for cars, though, let’s focus on one of the more salient pieces of the decade’s 4-wheeled creative endeavors. Fire up the Delorean for a ride through time to look at some of our favorite wheels produced in the epoch of opulence.
1984 Renault Alpine GTA/A610
The automotive world in the ’80s was suffering from (reveling in?) a bitchin’ bout of turbo fever. And while the era did see a surge in snail-augmented motors, the theme was more pervasive than that, and often bled into the overall vehicle aesthetic. A prime example of this trend can be seen in the Renault Alpine GTA’s rolling gear. The archetypal “turbo” –styled wheel consisted of a predominant solid face around the hub area, which then ramified into a circumference of tightly packed openings. Though cleaning out the brake dust may be a constant and arduous task, downright Sisyphean even, the look of the gleaming impellers rolling along switchbacks in the south of France is a worthy reward.
1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA
Continuing the Trans Am tradition of wearing wheels that suggested far superior performance stats than its under-the-hood reality, the GTA donned arguably the most motorsport-inspired wheels of the period. A brief aside: replica wheels (aka “but I can’t afford the real things, and these are just as good”) are a lot like cockroaches in that a single set/roach doesn’t cause much damage, but in large numbers they tend to degrade the original industry/structure.
But this feeling of mine applies only to aftermarket offerings, and so I just absolutely love the OEM GTA wheels for being the glaring replica of BBS E50s that they are, complete with gold mesh and deep dish step-up lips. Choice.
1981 Alfa Romeo GTV6
Listing Alfa Romeo’s on-track successes would span encyclopedic length, and the GTV6 would certainly command its own chapter. The car was dominant in a number of touring car series, recording back to back to back to back European Touring Car Championship manufacturer wins from ’82-’85. The GTV6 road car was no slouch either, and it certainly looked the part what with its bulged hood and aggressive aero kit. The wheels pulled their share of styling weight too of course; the gorgeous Ronal A1 option being our clear favorite of the factory offerings. Harkening back to the brand’s timeless design of no-nonsense lightweight alloys (though German made), with period-appropriate sizing updates; it’s a tough task to find fault here.
1980 Audi Quattro
While we’re on a race-styling roll here, few would argue that Audi’s UR-Quattro is about as close to a rally car for the road as you can get, barring of course the more unobtainable icons like the Lancia S4 or Ford RS200. The ludicrously dangerous and brain-mangling times of ’80s Group B evoke squared cars, fireballs, 100+ mph sideways jumps in the rain, that kind of thing.
Another thing: many-spoked, white, monoblock wheels that would survive being pounded into rocks, roots, spectators, whatever. Now check out the Quattro’s factory-fitted Ronal R8s, available in white of course.
1982 Toyota Celica Supra
Anyone worth their salt in Japanese classics will invariably say the Mitsubishi Starion did these wheels “better.” Yes, that car came with absurdly wide (for the time at least) staggered 8- and 9-inches in the same style, but this is the ’80s and so 4-spokes are better than 5. This is inarguable. Originally equipped to the 1982 “P-style” Celica Supras (P for performance, with the more sedate L-style Supras geared toward the luxury-inclined), the deeply-channeled contrasting spokes are an admirable representation of the sexy boxy styling of the decade. The brutal edges and aggressive slants are fitting not just for the squared-off Supra, but for the time’s dominant design language as a whole.
1980 Isuzu Piazza/Impulse
Like everyone, everyone, you are correct in making that face you’re making at the sight of the word “Isuzu.” But hear me out because this one’s actually worth some of your attention. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, of too-many-beautiful-cars-to-list fame, this wedged wonder is arguably one of the prettiest 3-door hatchbacks in its time or otherwise. And it’s driven by the rear wheels, so you can legitimately slide it around parking lots instead of wearing out the emergency brake on your VW GTI.
On to the wheels then, or at least one of the many styles offered over its production run; what’s more wicked rad than circles made out of squares? I mean, a lot of things are, but come on, this is the paragon of ’80s car-styling if I’ve seen it.
1984 Saab 900 Aero/SPG
If 4-spokes don’t get you hot and bothered, then 3-spokes probably won’t set anything alight inside you either. But maybe they will, and in pursuit of that let’s fly over to the Saab 900 Aero. While the prototype’s ultra-pearl white paint was deemed too expensive to take care of/repair, the wheels did manage to make it to showroom floors. With a steeped tradition of funky tire-wearing designs, it’s no surprise that the car with large swaths of flat planes would rock equally minimalistic-chic wheels. The less-is-more styling somehow simultaneously exudes Miami Vice gaudiness, and for this, the Aero’s wheels get a spot on the list.
1989 Lancia Delta HF Integrale
Another rallying offspring like the earlier Audi, this Delta variant is relevant not for its aping of the sport’s racing wheels, however, but for its ability to blend that style with classic Italian wheel design. Aside from wire Borranis of the likes of early (read: best) Ferrari fame, nothing is more fitting for cars from the boot-shaped country than an orbit of circular cutouts under all four corners.
On the Lancia, that provenance has survived, but not without an outer edge full of, well, edges. It almost looks like a half-assed way to maintain the wholly un-round styling of the vehicle that sits on top. Almost. What they are completely, though, is gorgeous. Often overshadowed by the webbed design of the ’90s Integrales, these wheels seem more iconic for their grace in mixing such disparate styles; the inner old looks like it’s retreating from the teeth of the outer new, and somehow it isn’t too busy but instead unexpectedly coherent.
1986 Porsche 944
If we’re being circle-centric for the moment, let’s call to memory the Porsche 944’s “Phone Dials.” Like the Isuzu—and probably only like it in this regard—the Porsche shipped with a number of different factory options over its lifespan. The one that falls most squarely in “Big Time Bodacious ’80s,” though, has to be what’s pictured here.
While maybe a little more ’70s-psychedelic than ’80s-hard-edged, it would be remiss to think of these wheels as being more appropriate on anything but the 944 or the 928. With the company’s first foray into common sense (aka motors not behind the rear wheels, please don’t crucify me) it did not make the mistake of staid styling. I take back that ’70s vs ’80s comment. The ridiculous curves on these things look like topographic scans of the most gnar of gnar secret snowboard spots. That’s like, totally ’80s, if you ask me.
1981 Mazda RX-7
I bet you weren’t wondering, but here’s my favorite. If the shape doesn’t immediately register, here’s a hint: with the introduction of the first generation RX-7 came the public’s first foray into the delights and nightmares of rotary ownership.
I hear you, I know the Wankel oddity was born in the ’60s, but the RX-7 was undoubtedly the motor’s shining hour, we can agree on that, no? If the sound of a wounded lawnmower coming from the car didn’t clue people into your eccentric automobile, then dammit these rotor-shaped wheels better do the trick. It’s like wearing a shirt that says “Shirt.”
There are even little bits of space cut into the tips to represent where the dreaded apex seals would go. These are more than goofy 3-spokes, they are miniature lessons in innovative engine design. While said engine looks to have lost the fight to its cylindered cousin, it certainly holds the trophy to blatant self-promotion and most diagram-derived design. For whatever that’s worth.