Journal: What’s So Great About Wire Wheels, Anyway?

What’s So Great About Wire Wheels, Anyway?

By Michael Banovsky
November 20, 2015
23 comments

Photography by Dorothee Auldridge, Wogbe Ofori, & Clayton Seams

I’m aware of how wheel technology developed, how in the early years it’s not as if Enzo Ferrari could have picked a modern set of lightweight alloy wheels and low-profile tires from the shelf and gone racing. Wire wheels were a necessity because there was nothing better, for a time.

My memory of them has been irrevocably shaped by the wire-like hubcaps that General Motors installed on everything for at least a decade, a look that ensured cars made during the Roger & Me years looked obsolete before rolling out of the factory.

But why did they live on well past their sell-by dates, as alloy and pressed steel wheel technology improved to the point of ubiquity? Moreover, why bother with the upkeep today, when many older cars can benefit from a tasteful upgrade onto steel or alloy wheels?

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Dave Jorgensen
Dave Jorgensen
5 years ago

Not worth the effort – well, maybe on modern cars. But here’s a shot of my TD with a set of 16″ wire wheels vs another TD with a set of steel wheels and 5.60-15’s – yes, I know, the other TD is still about to start a restoration. But I think you might agree that mine loks a wee bit more imposing.

Mike Clarke
Mike Clarke
5 years ago

I will give you wire wheel guys a christmas present, balancing wire wheels and splined hubs is a PITA right? Check out these balance weights, I did and I use them on all my classic cars. Gone are the sticky weights, clamp on weights……
another big no no that a lot of people use because of maintenance is stainless steel spokes, yea they stay clean and don’t rust but the temper is wrong.
Check out http://www.dynabeads.com

Nathan
Nathan
5 years ago

I suspect a lot of it comes down to authenticity in restorations and that alloys on a classic car would look ‘wrong’. Other potential reasons are lower weight (compared to forged/cast steel), cost of repair (replace spoke not wheel) and maybe simple compatibility with specific vehicles. (My 2c from a theoretical point, I have no qualifications in this realm)

James McColl
James McColl
5 years ago

I put silver painted Borrani wheels on my Daimler for two reasons: my dad would have loved them (he was the first owner, I’m the second), and the stock steel wheels are prone to cracking.

They look right on the car, I think.

Willam Giltzow
Willam Giltzow
6 years ago

Wire wheels are heavy, fragile (though better than the wood spokes they succeeded) and look bad more often than not. Chrome being worst on all accounts. Deep alloy Borranis look great on a Fantuzzi or Scaglietti body, and body or interior color match can look spectacular. Envision the XK 140 FHC as a black car with red wheels. Then ditch the 140 bumpers for XK120 parts and it is really pretty….

Mike Clarke
Mike Clarke
5 years ago
Reply to  Willam Giltzow

I think wire wheels with a alloy rim are maybe a bit lighter than the first all alloy rims, but alloy won because of strength. Campagnolo being the leader with their special blend of aluminum and magnesium know as ” Elektron” it didn’t have the downsides of straight magnesium. Elektron was even used by NASA.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
6 years ago

There are simple rules about wire wheels;
Bugatti radial laced – A work of art
Borrani on an Italian 60s GT – Always right
Dunlop wheels on a 50s sports car, painted body colour – Always right
Dunlop wheels on a 60s sports car, painted sliver – Tolerable
Chrome – Always wrong

Chris Moody
Chris Moody
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

Precisely ! And always with chrome knock-offs

Tosh Brice
Tosh Brice
6 years ago

Sorry to admit my ignorance but what is the green car above? from a Google image search the hard top does not seem right for an MGA

Clayton Merchant
Clayton Merchant
6 years ago
Reply to  Tosh Brice

Tosh, It’s a Jaguar XK-140 Coupe.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo
6 years ago

Or what he said…:)

Clayton Merchant
Clayton Merchant
6 years ago
Reply to  Frank Anigbo

Frank, you’re right about 1 thing, the proper terminology is Fixed Head Coupe.;)

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo
6 years ago
Reply to  Tosh Brice

Jaguar XK120 FHC (fixed head coupe).

Tosh Brice
Tosh Brice
6 years ago
Reply to  Tosh Brice

Many thanks!

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo
6 years ago

I think wire wheels compliment the delicacy of other parts of the whole car, like the thin stem of rear-view mirrors and dainty side-marker lights, as well as the prominent use of chrome. The whole package just looks more balanced on most cars that originally came with wire wheels.

Highnumbers
Highnumbers
6 years ago

Couldn’t disagree more.

The MGs, Jaguars, 60s Ferraris and countless other cars just look [i]wrong[/i] with anything other than wire wheels. It just goes against nature!

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
6 years ago

Completely agree with you. The E Type and MGA above both look better with the steel/ alloy wheel option IMO.

Clayton Merchant
Clayton Merchant
6 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

Sorry Matthew, I could not disagree more. British sports cars of the 50’s & 60’s along with many sports cars of the era do not look right without wires.
As for upkeep, having owned cars with wires for many years, I have not found them to be any more work to maintain than other wheels. They do require a bit of OCD to keep them clean, it’s all part of the experience. They just look soooooo good.

William J. Earl
William J. Earl
6 years ago

Having had wire wheels on my Jaguar XJ6 for a while, I found they were not worth the trouble if one drives “briskly.” I would break 3 or 4 spokes per year, and am back to the factory alloy wheels.

I have the original factory-option pressed steel wheels on my 1969 Jaguar E-Type (same as used on the XJ6 Series I), and regular get compliments on them. I like the precise handling (with 42 PSI in 205/70 tires).

I did restore and drive a 1931 Ford Model A town sedan with wire wheels, which handled surprisingly well, given the 4.75×19 tires, but those were welded wire wheels with 1/4″ “wires.”

Robert Evans
Robert Evans
6 years ago

Maybe it the connection to a bicycle. As a kid it was your first own vehicle that gave you the sense of speed, freedom, adventure, and dreams of owning a cool car when you grew up. Fro me it’s the same reason for buying Hot Wheels of cars I actually own because it’s a reminder of all the dreams I had when I was a child. Some of the those dreams came true.

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson
6 years ago

We get a few vintage cars in at the tire shop, when they have wire wheels we only let the older more experienced guy’s mount tires and balance them. It’s pretty much a hands on job getting it right.
As to the question posed; personally i like the look and never minded the additional maintenance required to keep them looking good and well tuned. True there are pressed wheel replacements available for many cars that came with wires, but they never seem to look quite right IMHO.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
6 years ago

I mount and balance my own tires at home, mostly because I don’t want my wheels messed up. Definitely a hands on job to get it right… and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. 😉