Introduction to classic racing wheels
I don't claim to be an expert about anything, including old racing wheels.|
We know who the experts are. They're the guys that are in the swap meets before the sun is up, buying up as much as they can of whatever they think other
people will want. Some of them hoard hundreds of old wheels. Several of them have over a thousand of them. If you try to sell them something, it's quite
possible that they'll tell you it isn't worth much, in the hope of being able to buy it cheap. They almost never pay more than a hundred bucks or so for a pair
of wheels, but then they act like they're doing us a big favor by expecting us to buy them from them for several times what they paid.
These people certainly know more than I do.
One of these guys once told me that he thought that it wasn't fair when someone who was actually going to put some old wheels on his car beat him to them at a
swap meet, because they kept him from earning a living.
Guess I'll just never be an expert.
Since nobody else seemed to be writing anything online about them, in the spring of 2001 I spent a weekend writing this page. Since then it's become one of the
most popular pages on
this entire site, and it grows regularly.
If you take a look at any book or magazine dealing with
Top Fuel dragsters and Fuel Altereds from the early Sixties through the mid-Seventies, you'll see
that virtually every one of these cars used cast magnesium rear wheels that were made by one of two companies: American Racing Equipment, and Halibrand
Here's a bit of background on both of them, followed by a quick look at some of the other companies that played a significant role in the American aftermarket
American Racing Equipment history
American Racing Equipment was started by Romeo Palimedes in 1959. By 1960, American Racing Equipment was advertising their magnesium rear wheels from six to
ten inches wide, along with magnesium spindle-mount twelve-spoked front wheels in 15 by 3 1/2 inches.|
Several years later, in the mid-Sixties, when the M&H Tire Company began making their revolutionary M&H Racemaster wrinkle-wall drag slicks in wider sizes,
American Racing Equipment (and Halibrand Engineering) wheels were produced in sizes as large as 16 by 13 inches wide.
The American Racing Standard was an aluminum four-spoke wheel that went into production in 1967.|
The Standard was intended for use on light trucks, and had no provision for attaching a center cap.
This is a pair of 15 by 8 1/2 Standard wheels that was drilled in the early Ford 5 1/2-inch bolt pattern.
Part of the appeal of these wheels is their uniqueness. This is an original design that was produced in small numbers and never copied.
These wheels were never very common. I've never seen a car with a set of four of them. I've seen four pair of these wheels: three pair in California, and the
pair shown here. One pair was 15 by 7 and the other three pair were 15 by 8 1/2.
Through the Sixties and into the Seventies, virtually all Top Fuel dragsters used motorcycle-style laced wheels on the front, which were made by lacing
machined aluminum hubs to aluminum motorcycle rims that were commonly made in Italy by Akront or Borrani.|
When someone built a new dragster, American or Halibrand might have sold several pairs of rear wheels, but no fronts. For all practical purposes, it was only
when someone built a Gasser that American or Halibrand would sell a pair of narrow, five-lug, bolt-on, magnesium front wheels. This has become significant to
those of us who are now building cars with old magnesium wheels.
American Racing made magnesium twelve-spoked spindle-mount front wheels in 15 by 3 1/2, 17 by 2 1/2, and 18 by 2 1/2-inch sizes, for Altereds with Anglia or
early Ford spindles.
By the time the altered-wheelbase A/FX (Factory Experimental) drag cars of the mid-Sixties evolved into full-blown Funny Cars in the late Sixties, American was
also producing a magnesium spindle-mount version of their classic five-spoked wheel.
Many styles of American magnesium racing wheels were produced. One was the Le Mans, which was cast so it looked like a Torq-Thrust that had been faced off in a
lathe, with the outer surfaces of the spokes being completely flat, similar to the 1970s Pontiac wheels that they inspired.
Another was the rare 'bear paw' five-spoked wheels, which have a very large rib running down each side of the spokes, so they almost look like ten-spoked
wheels. (You may never see a pair of these on a car, but while I was at the 1999 Rat Fink Reunion at Mooneyes in San Leandro, California, I saw a custom-built
show trike from the Sixties with a pair of them.)
Other styles were the original four-slot Standard wide rear wheels; and the extremely successful five-spoked Torq-Thrust and Torq-Thrust "D"
American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels
One of the first American Racing wheels that were intended for the street was the aluminum Torq-Thrust, introduced in 1963.|
The original Aluminum Torq-Thrust wheels were only produced in 14 by 6 (shown on the right), 14 by 7, 15 by 6, 15 by 7, and 15 by 8 1/2 (shown on the right).
The 15 by 6 versions all had "Sport Wheel" cast into the insides, and all of the other sizes were marked "Torq-Thrust".
Although they have been seen on virtually every type of race car and street car imaginable, the first aluminum Torq-Thrusts were especially popular with
The early Torq-Thrusts could be considered to be the definitive aluminum hot rod wheel.
Early Torq-Thrusts are easily the most widely-copied aftermarket wheel in history. Versions of it have been produced by many companies, including Ansen,
Appliance Industries, Crestline, Durachrome, E-T, Fenton, International Manufacturing ("IMCO"), J.C. Penney ("El Tigre"), and Superior. Here are some clues for
identifying some of them:
Appliance wheels were popular in the Seventies. Their five-spoked wheels can be identified by the word "Japan" stamped on the inside, and also by their
large, recessed holes for the lug nut washers to seat in. As long as you don't mind the deep holes for the lug nut washers, Appliance five-spoked wheels are
considered to be good-quality Torq-Thrust copies.
Crestline wheels were popular in the 1960s due their low price. The Crestline name is cast into all of their wheels as well as the inside of their
aluminum center caps. Crestlines can also be identified by a rough edge around the outside of the mounting flange, which is neatly radiused on all of the
original (aluminum and magnesium) Torq-Thrust wheels. In the 1960s and 70s, Crestline was the only company that made a narrow, aluminum 15 by 4 Torq-Thrust
copy. Generally speaking, Crestline wheels are fine for most nostalgia cars.
Fenton five-spoked wheels were inexpensive and not outstanding in any way in their day. Aaron Fenton was a marketing man, whose most notable
accomplishments were taking over Don Edmunds' cylinder head and intake manifold company and then shortly thereafter ending all of its production, and providing
cheap parts on time to department stores. Fenton wheels have as much prestige as a Spark-O-Matic shifter, and about as much class as your daughter's
Superior five-spoked wheels have no name cast into them. They were made in Van Nuys, California. Superior wheels were popular in the Seventies and are
considered to be quality wheels.
The original Torq-Thrust "D" was released around 1965, and was configured to provide disc brake caliper clearance on then-current Corvettes. The hub of
the wheel was moved outward a half-inch, and the spokes curved inward at the ends.|
The original aluminum Torq-Thrust "D" was only produced in 15 by 6 and 15 by 7.
The wheels that are pictured here were originally made as 15 by 6s and then narrowed on the inside to 15 by 4 1/2s.
Magnesium versions of Torq-Thrust "D" and Torq-Thrust wheels were produced in a variety of styles. Sizes ranged from 15 by 4 to 16 by 13 bolt-on for bolt-on
wheels, as well as a 15 by 3 1/2 spindle-mount that was often used on Funny Cars. They had either straight or "dog-leg" spokes, the latter being made for race
cars with disc brakes, and known as the Torq-Thrust D. Straight-spoked wheels were offered with spokes that were peaked along the center, or rounded. Early
magnesium rear wheels are most commonly found with straight spokes, and about equally divided in popularity between peaked and rounded spokes.
Although American Racing hasn't made magnesium wheels for decades, and no longer makes the original Torq-Thrust, the company currently produces several modern
versions of the aluminum Torq-Thrust wheel. The Torq-Thrust "D" and the newer TTO are the only ones that are one-piece castings.
The only vintage racing wheels that American Racing Equipment ever made without casting their name into them were made out of magnesium.
If you are looking at the inside of an old aluminum wheel, unless the name "American Racing Equipment" is cast into the wheel (along with the wheel's size and
offset), it was made by someone else.
A newer version of the Torq-Thrust "D" was introduced in the 1980s, with spokes that are completely curved. Regardless of whether you like the shape of the
curved spokes of the current Torq-Thrust "D", it remains a classic wheel that is somewhat faithful to its original version.|
However, to make room for larger wheel bearings on cars built after 1983, the company decided to change the bolt pattern of the center caps, which had been an
industry standard for about thirty years. The move to the larger bolt pattern meant moving the bosses that are cast into the wheel for the cap mounting screws
outward. This in turn created clearance problems for the wheel's lug nut washers, which now fit into machined recesses that are created by the end mill that
provides the seats for them. The result is a truly classic design that was changed into something that just doesn't look right. But they're available in 15 by
4 1/2, 15 by 6, 15 by 7, 15 by 8 1/2, and 15 by 10-inch sizes, in 4 1/2 and 4 3/4-inch bolt patterns (with a few of those sizes also available in a five-inch
bolt pattern), from most any speed shop or tire store.
American Racing introduced the Torq-Thrust "Original", also called the TTO, in April of 2004. The TTO wheels have several changes compared to the
ones from the 1960s. The new product announcement on page 26 of the June, 2004 issue of Street Rodder says that "Instead of reissuing the disc-brake-unfriendly
design, American Racing retro-engineered the original design and re-released it under the TTO (Torq-Thrust Original) banner."|
The first visual difference that you may notice is that the holes for the lug nut washers are recessed more than the company's early wheels were, like they
were recessed on the old Appliance wheels as well as the way they are on American Racing's other current wheels.
Also, the wheel pictured in the ad for them on page 22 of the same magazine shows that the cast-in recess that is found between the inner-most area of the
machined lip and the outside edges of the spokes on the original aluminum Torq-Thrust and Torq-Thrust D has been eliminated.
A further difference is that the center cap is American's late-style cap, which has a larger bolt circle than the original wheels that American made. This was
done to allow the center holes to be larger, to fit later-model cars.
In June of 2004, American Racing sent me the following message. Quote:
"The Torq-Thrust Original (part number AR309), like all of our later-generation vintage wheels, uses a conically-seated lug fastener, not a mag shank with
washer. The TTO is a one-piece, low-pressure casting of aluminum alloy, which is heat-treated. The original Torq-Thrust wheel featured backspacing of 3.5",
while the new TTO offers a backspacing of 3.75". By using a .75" head lug nut with a thin-wall socket, there is no contact or clearance problem with the hub
area or center cap footprint of any Torq-Thrust."
Other American Racing Equipment wheels
Aside from the Torq-Thrust, the most popular aluminum wheel made by American Racing Equipment was another five-spoked design, called the 200-S (with the "S"
standing for Satin), also known as the "Daisy". The earliest ad that I've seen for the 200-S was in the January, 1969 issue of Rod & Custom.|
The 200-S was available two ways: in a standard, as-cast finish with a machined lip, which was by far the most common; or with the outer faces of the flat
spokes polished. I've also seen these wheels with spokes that were fully polished, but doubt if they left the factory this way.
In the design of the Daisy wheel, American Racing deviated from their usual practice of using center caps that attached with five screws around the outside of
the cap. Instead, the wheel used a smaller center cap with threads around its edge.
The 200-S was also made in a four-spoked version for cars with four-lug bolt patterns, and in that form was called the Libre. On the street and in SCCA racing,
these were very popular on import cars, especially Datsun 240Z coupes and 510 sedans, as well as MGB and Triumph roadsters.
These wheels, like many other American Racing wheels, were cast at a foundry in Portland, Oregon. When the foundry shut down in the late 1970s, American Racing
then contracted their casting to Rockwell industries. Those wheels do not say "American Racing Equipment" on the insides like the earlier ones.
The T-70 and T-70R wheels were other five-spoked designs. These had a very unique look due to their narrower spokes, which had a more pronounced peak. The
T-70R, with the "R" standing for "rib", had a flange running down each side of the spokes. T-70s were produced from 1969 through 1971.
Here is a pair of rare old wheels with spokes that are similar to the ones on the 200-S wheels.|
The American Racing S2 was a two-piece magnesium racing-only wheel that I've never seen in an old catalog or ad.
The few pairs of them that I've seen have all been 16 by 10.
Ansen Automotive wheels
Ansen Automotive was started in 1948 in Los Angeles, by Lou Senter.|
A gifted mechanic and engineer, Senter produced an extensive line of innovative speed equipment that included pop-up pistons, competition shifters, and the
first NHRA-approved bellhousings.
The most popular Ansen wheel was the Ansen Sprint, which was introduced in 1963.
The Sprint was the first "aluminum slot" wheel, being centrifugally cast, a technique seldom used in the wheel industry back then. They were produced on a
tracer lathe and shipped in their natural, machined finish.
Ansen Sprints featured five slots in the side of the wheel. This design was later copied by many wheel companies, including American Racing Equipment, Cragar,
Fenton, Mickey Thompson, Superior, and US Indy.
All Ansen wheels were made of aluminum and had their name cast into them.
Ansen produced some five-spoked wheels were unique in having no provision for the standard five-screw, bullet-shaped center caps that were originated by
American Racing Equipment. Instead, Ansen used their own smaller, round center caps (along the lines of the caps used on the American Racing 200-S "daisy"
wheels). Another Ansen five-spoked wheel used a center cap that interchanged with American Racing caps. Ansen five-spokes were only produced with rounded, as
opposed to peaked or creased, spokes.
Another company, American Dragmaster, produced a unique version of the aluminum slot wheel, using a rounded, bowl-shaped face with six slots. As far as I know,
this is the only style of wheel they ever made other than a Torq-Thrust copy. I've seen several sets of 14 by 7-inch American Dragmaster six-slot wheels, but
only two pair of their 15 by 7 and 15 by 10-inch wheels. The outside face on these wheels looks okay, but they are the only cast wheels I know of that were
rough-cast and not machined around the rim.
The design of the Cragar S/S began in 1962, with marketing starting in 1964. Its styling was influenced to some extent by American Racing Equipment's
highly-successful five-spoked Torq-Thrust wheel.|
The S/S was one of the first production wheels to use a cast aluminum center with a rolled steel rim (both of which were chrome-plated), the way some 1957
Cadillac wheels were made. The S/S was also the first die-cast aluminum wheel. The wheel was designed with ribs and extra material added near the hub. The
result was a wheel that offered a load-carrying capacity that was unmatched in the aftermarket wheel industry. Its classic styling made it a huge success with
drag racers, hot rodders and custom car builders.
Cragar S/S wheels were made in 15 by 4 1/2, 6, 7, 8 1/2, and 10-inch sizes, and I've also seen early versions of them in 16 by 10.
In addition to the standard 4 1/2, 4 3/4, and 5-inch bolt patterns, S/S wheels were originally also available in the then-popular early Ford 5 1/2-inch bolt
The original Cragar S/S is still being produced, along with a newer version, designed by the late Larry Shinoda, which is offered in larger diameters.
Several Cragar S/S promotional items were released, that included belt buckles, T-shirts, jackets, and even women's earrings that looked like little Cragar S/S
wheels. Cragar earrings were not sold, but were given to racers' wives and to some Cragar employees.
On display in my shop you'll see a big Cragar banner, a new Cragar T-shirt from the '70s that I got from former Cragar owner Joe Hrudka, seven of the big cast
aluminum Cragar mugs, and a chrome Cragar S/S belt buckle. Now all I need is a Cragar S/S tie clasp and a pair of Cragar S/S cufflinks.
The Cragar legacy began with George Wight. Back in 1923, George opened a wrecking yard in Bell, California, and named it Bell Auto Parts. Being a race fan,
George noticed that some of the wrecked Model T Fords that became part of his inventory had been modified for racing. Recognizing their significance, he set
aside part of the shop for speed equipment, which included cams, heads, and intakes. The wrecking yard quickly evolved into the world's first speed
In 1928, racing engine builder Harry Miller put together a group of people that included an investor named George Schofield, aviation experts from Beech,
Lockheed, and Moreland, and engine designer Leo Goossen. The result was the Miller-Schofield Company, which produced carburetors, overhead-valve heads, and
lightweight pistons for the new Model A Ford. The company prospered until becoming a victim of the Great Depression in 1930.
In 1931, a successful race driver, Harlan Fengler, found an investor, whose family ran Crane Plumbing, to put up the capital to save the business. The name for
the new company was created by shortening the investor's name, Crane Gartz, to Cragar.
Manufacturing its overhead-valve heads for the Model A and Model B Fords, Cragar earned an excellent reputation. But near the end of 1932, the Depression again
took its toll, and Cragar Corporation closed.
At that time, between selling used parts and making its own speed equipment, Bell Auto Parts was doing well. In early 1933, George Wight was able to buy all of
the Cragar inventory and tooling.
This move put George in need of some help in running Bell Auto Parts and Cragar.
George was a character. His parents had worked for the railroad, and he claimed to have been born somewhere in Arizona in a caboose.
One night, he happened to meet a talented young mechanic named Elbert "Roscoe" Turner, who had just arrived in Bell after having hidden in a boxcar all the way
from Texas. The two hit it off, and Roscoe became Bell Auto's first employee.
That brings us to Roy Richter, who was born in 1914. As a teenager in the 1930s, Roy was fascinated with race cars, and was one of the many racers who was
often found hanging around Bell Auto Parts. When he finished high school in 1933, he started working at Bell as a pattern maker.
Roy became a master fabricator who led an extraordinarily rewarding life that first included building championship-winning, cast-aluminum tether cars, and
beautifully hand-formed aluminum midget race car bodies. When George Wight died in 1943, Roy took over the business.
As a racer who enjoyed life, Roy recoginized the importance of
safety equipment. Back in the 1930s, he had been among the very first midget racers to wear a real
crash helmet. In a garage behind Bell Auto Parts, Roy and his employees began building
Bell helmets in 1954. First worn at Indy in 1955, they were so well-received that the
Bell Helmet Company was moved into a building next door with four employees in 1956.
Roy's many other accomplishments included overseeing the production of the now-classic and copied three-spoked and four-spoked Bell steering wheels, as well as
Cragar intake manifolds and blower kits for dragsters.
Although Roy Richter has since passed away, his legacy lives on.
Bell Helmets and
Cragar both remain siginificant members of the automotive industry.
In 1990, the story of Roy Richter's incredible career was the subject of one of the most amazing automotive books ever written, called Roy Richter
Striving For Excellence, by Art Bagnall. Long out-of-print, used copies of this superb hardcover book can be found for $40 to $75. If you only ever buy one
book about the history of hot rodding, this would be the one to get. You won't be disappointed with it.
Bell Auto Parts
E-T wheels were created in the mid-1960s by Dick Beith, who started the company while he was working as a high school metal shop teacher.|
Shown here is one of the original E-T III 16 by 10 two-piece wheels. These were the only wheels that E-T made strictly for drag racing.
The reason for building these wheels in two halves was to make it easier to change tires at the track between rounds, although it still takes a lot of muscle
to unseat the bead. The mating surfaces on each of the halves have a machined, stepped recess. This provided adequate sealing without an O-ring or a gasket,
since these wheels were designed to be used with slicks, which use inner liners or inner tubes.
The original E-T III 16 by 10 was sand-cast aluminum. The entire face of the wheel was painted gold, perhaps to resemble the Dow 7 coating that was commonly
supplied on the magnesium Halibrand Sprint that inspired it. Unlike Dow 7, the paint was prone to chipping.
It took a lot of work to get these rough sand-castings this even and smooth.
The most popular vintage E-T wheel was known as the E-T V ("five"), a Torq-Thrust copy.
The E-T V five-spoked wheels were considered good-quality wheels with decent castings and good machining.
E-T wheels often used distinctive center caps. Although they shared the same mounting pattern and chrome-plated, molded plastic construction as the original
American Racing Equipment Torq-Thrust caps, E-T caps were made with a pronounced oval outside surface with the distinctive green and chrome E-T logo. These
center caps, and a modern, two-piece version of the E-T five spoked wheel called the E-T Five, are available today from E-T.
Some of their early street wheels were produced with the E-T Unilug, an oval-track-shaped steel washer that could be inverted or replaced to change the bolt
pattern of the wheel. One version has a centered hole that fits Chevy 4 3/4" wheels, and the other style's offset hole fits the Ford and Mopar 4 1/2" pattern
in one position and the 5 on 5 pattern when it's flipped arouind.
Like many wheels being produced today, the current E-T Five is a two-piece wheel that uses a cast aluminum center and a rolled aluminum rim. This type of
construction makes it possible for a manufacturer to produce a wheel with any offset by varying the placement of a universal center.
E-T is now known as Team 3 Wheels.
Halibrand magnesium wheels
Halibrand Engineering was started by Ted Halibrand in 1946. Originally based in Culver City, California, and later in Torrance, California, Halibrand products
included locking fuel caps, steering boxes, torsion bars and quick-change rear ends for Indy cars and sprint cars, and a wide variety of magnesium racing
wheels for many types of race cars.
A 1970 Halibrand catalog
A Halibrand magnesium 16 by 14 Indy wheel
Halibrand magnesium spindle-mounts
A Halibrand magnesium 16 by 10
A magnesium Halibrand Speedway 16 by 12
The original Halibrand logo
Halibrand wheels were used on Can Am cars, Fuel Altereds, Fuel dragsters, Indy cars, midget racers, and sprint cars, as well as sports racing cars that
included the Shelby Cobra, Ford GT-40, Lola, and McLaren.
The earliest Halibrand wheels I have seen of are 18-inch magnesium wheels that are on a restored Indy car that was built in 1951.
Halibrand magnesium wheels were used on every car that won the Indy 500 from 1946 to 1963.
Many Halibrand wheels were made in the standard six-pin pattern for use with knockoff hubs. (The pins only locate the wheel on the hub or pressure plate, while
the knockoff holds the wheel to the front hub or rear axle.) Six-pin wheels were commonly used in all types of racing except drag racing.
Bolt-on wheels could be ordered from Halibrand for virtually any application.
Halibrand "Kidney Bean" wheels were used on many types of race cars, from 12-inch Midget wheels to the original magnesium 18-inch Indy car wheels.
The Halibrand Sprint was made in a wide variety of sizes for many types of race cars. One version of the Sprint was the "big window", which was made for drag
racing and sprint car applications in sizes ranging from 15 by 4 1/2, 15 by 6, and 15 by 8, up to huge 16 by 13-inch wheels for Fuel Altereds, Funny Cars, and
Top Fuel cars.
Kidney Beans were also available in spindle-mount versions for Anglia and early Ford spindles, and were found on many Altereds, and later on some early Funny
To protect them from oxidizing and pitting, Halibrand magnesium wheels were often shipped after being sent to a plating shop and given a gold coating called
Dow #7. (Keith Black Racing Engines is one of several companies that used Dow #7 on magnesium blower cases and other parts.) Due to changes in the plating
industry, platers that still work with this coating are hard to find. It resembles a flat gold anodizing. It was not extremely durable, and had to be redone
occasionally to keep the wheels looking new. The circumference of the wheels, in the area covered by the tire and tube, was also coated, either with Dow 7 or
an aerosol can of Krylon "Harvest Gold" spray paint, depending on who you ask.
In 1979, Ted Halibrand sold the company he created, and retired. In 1991, the racing community lost Ted Halibrand to a heart attack.
Having changed ownership and being relocated several times, the Halibrand company was last based in Kansas.
Original, unmodified Halibrand magnesium wheels in good condition remain the most sought-after of all vintage racing wheels, and the most valuable.
When Ted Halibrand ran the original Halibrand Engineering company, they made all of their wheels out of magnesium. They never made any aluminum wheels. It's
ironic that both the last and second-last incarnations of the Halibrand company made all of their wheels out of aluminum, and despite the demand for them among
traditional hot rodders and nostalgia drag racers (not to mention those of us that restore old hot rods and race cars), they never announced any plans to
produce any Halibrand magnesium wheels.
In addition to their quality, light weight, and historical significance, something else that makes Halibrand magnesium wheels outstanding is how they transform
the looks of the car they're mounted on. While their function was a much greater design priority than their appearance, we have Ed Weimer to thank for creating
the patterns for casting the original Halibrand wheels. It was his work that gave the wheels' spokes, cut-outs, lips, and ribs their timeless, agressive
According to veteran Halibrand employee Bob Falcon, "Ted's pattern maker was Ed Weimer, the same guy who made the original patterns for the Hilborn-Travers
fuel injection products. Those patterns were made in his home garage workshop, just off of Overland Avenue in the Palms region of Los Angeles. Palms was just
across Venice Boulevard from Culver City. When Halibrand moved the shop to Torrance, Weimer relocated to one of the single-bay shops that Ted built on the west
side of the property. This was in late 1963, when we started building the Halibrand Shrike race cars for Indy."
"One of the neat things about Ted Halibrand was the pride that he had in the high level of quality of the components we manufactured. Nothing irritated him
more than those times when we had a product failure. We really worked to make certain that it would never happen again."
Very few of the original wooden molds that were used to produce Halibrand magnesium racing wheels were preserved. Back when Halibrand Engineering had been sold
and become a division of a company whose main interest was dune buggies, the employees often took old Halibrand wooden molds out to the California desert,
where they burned them in late-night campfires.
Ted Halibrand was an engineer. He knew how to design wheels so they would be as strong as they needed to be without adding extra material to them that would
have made the molds difficult to cast and the wheels heavier than they should have been. If he had ever had a problem with a poorly-designed mold, he would
have corrected the problem instead of taking it to foundry after foundry and then still having problems with porosity in the castings. Ted Halibrand built
wheels that worked well, and that people wanted to buy. He never had a fifty-foot trailer to take his products to trade shows, and he didn't wear an
embroidered Halibrand Engineering tour jacket. And he stayed focused on his established product line without getting sidetracked by trying to develop a line of
engine parts, let alone parts for flatheads. He never shipped reject parts to customers to get them off his back. He didn't copy other people's wheel designs.
He never hired an attorney to send "Cease and Desist" letters to people who made wheels that resembled his. If he had ever run into serious financial problems
he would never have just stopped answering his phone without even informing his dealers. And he sure as hell never tried to have a line of goofy-looking, cheap
wheels made in China or Mexico so he could further exploit his name.
Ted Halibrand was a good man. His vision deserved much better.
Hopefully whoever eventually resurrects the company from its current state will show more respect for what Halibrand Engineering was intended to be and what it
stood for, back in an era when the hot rod and race car community remained relatively unpolluted by ignorant drunks, or by spoiled, insecure, ego-driven,
greed-motivated yuppie investors trying to be rock stars.
To learn about what happened to the Halibrand company, please read both pages of the article titled
"Halibrand files Chapter 7 bankruptcy, CEO opens similar
Restoring classic racing wheels
Wheels don't stay looking new for long without being given some care. Anything that's been on the race track or the street for thirty or forty years needs to
To refinish an aluminum or magnesium wheel, begin by completely disassembling it. Have an expert remove the tire and tube, or do it yourself. Just make sure
the wheels don't get scratched or broken.
Next, remove the rubber valve stem by carefully slicing it off flush with the circumference of the rim with a single-edged razor blade, and popping the rest of
To remove the center cap, it pays to be very careful. Being cheap Grade 2 fasteners, center cap screws are notoriously weak and brittle. If you're smart,
you'll spray penetrating oil down into the threads of all of the center cap screws every day for several days. When you start turning the screws, work very
slowly and carefully. If it's frozen in place and won't turn, tighten it a bit first before trying to loosen it. To minimize the chance of the screws breaking
off, after every half-turn counter-clockwise, turn them back in a quarter turn. Work slowly and carefully. You'll realize that all this is not overkill the
first time you break one of them off and then waste a perfectly good day by trying to get it out.
If you break a screw, you've got a few options, but none of them are fun. A good machinist can try drilling out the broken stud. If you have access to a
reversible drill press or vertical milling machine, Snap-On Tools sells reverse-rotation drills that tend to loosen a broken fastener while it's being drilled
out, rather than driving it in tighter like conventional drills.
Remove all of the wheel weights by prying them off without marking up the wheel. To remove the adhesive left behind by the wheel weights, scrape it off with a
single-edged razor blade, working only in the same direction as the machining was done. It's best to scrape the entire inner "barrel" of the wheel to make sure
it's completely free of adhesive residue and any road tar before going any further.
If the wheels have mud on them, you can wash them off with warm, soapy water and a soft brush. The discoloration from brake dust found on the inside surfaces
of aluminum wheels that have been used on the street for a long time is virtually impossible to remove with blasting, so that's what we're going to do,
Aluminum wheels should never be sandblasted, and don't even think about ever sandblasting magnesium. You want to use a lower air pressure and a finer abrasive
to blast them with. Otherwise, small pits can become craters that you'll never polish out, and if the pressure is very high, small details in the wheels can
become rounded and smeared.
Use a beadblasting cabinet with fine abrasive. Put on a clean, tight-fitting dust mask. When I beadblast a wheel I do the entire wheel, concentrating on the
inside, where it's most needed. Different results are possible by blasting with plastic media or walnut shells.
When I started working on my magnesium Halibrand 16 by 13 "big windows", the insides had a build-up of brake dust, and the circumference of each wheel had a
fair amount of rubber residue left behind by the many sets of slicks and inner tubes that had been used with them over the years. I had these surfaces blasted
at a restoration shop that uses plastic media blasting to strip car bodies down to bare metal. The wheels were done carefully at a very low pressure. The
result was that all of the brake dust, dirt, and rubber was removed, but the original gold Dow 7 coating around the circumference of the wheels was
After they have been gently blasted you can assess the damage of your wheels. Tire changes (especially at the drag strip between runs), curbs, and flying rocks
all take their toll on wheels. Some damage can be worked out with emery cloth, as long as it is blended over a large area. Bad scrapes, usually damaging the
lip, have to machined out by refacing the wheel in a big lathe. If you have to do this, make sure that you remove only as much material as is absolutely
necessary, and be sure to exactly duplicate the contour of the bead at the edge of the lip. Extreme damage, such as deep scratches and chips, calls for welding
and remachining, which is beyond the scope of this article. Basically, you find a competent machinist with a lathe that has a two-foot swing, and a master
welder with a sense of adventure. This is a last resort, though, because it is almost impossible to get a perfect color match between a casting and filler
Once the wheels have been stripped, cleaned, beadblasted, and repaired, you're ready to refinish them.
Some people that claim to restore wheels professionally take them to the sandblasting shop (and to the machine shop if needed), take them to the polishing
shop, wipe them down, and then paint the circumference one color and the inside another color, polish them a bit more by hand, wrap them and box them, and call
these wheels restored.
If you're restoring your wheels, remember that "restoring" means to make something the way it was when it was new. To accomplish this with your wheels, you're
going to need to accurately duplicate their original surface finish.
It pays to do a bit of research to be sure of how your wheels originally looked by looking at ads in old magazines. Classic aftermarket wheels were commonly
originally sold with an as-cast or as-machined finish (or a combination of the two). Sometimes, as in the case of American Racing aluminum Torq-Thrusts, the
spokes were painted gray. The lips were never polished. They were sold with the lips looking like they had just come out of the lathe that machined them. You
can't make them look exactly like this without machining them again, using the same tool bit, speed, and feed. But you can get convincing results with some
80-grit emery cloth, patience, and some practice.
For a smoother finish,
3M makes two products that in my view have revolutionized metal finishing: Scotch-Brite pads and
discs; and their SandBlaster sanding sponges. I use these products regularly and highly recommend them.
To protect bare aluminum or magnesium from oxidization and fingerprints, I know of nothing better than
Gibbs Brand. Please read
the page that I wrote about it. It's amazing.
Restoring old racing wheels is like anything else, in that your results will depend on how much care you take, both in learning what needs to be done and in
actually doing the work. If you appreciate your classic wheels and you do good work, it will certainly be worthwhile. You'll have something that nobody can
just walk into a store and buy, and the car that they go on will have far more character and class than it could have without them. Have fun!
Taking care of magnesium wheels
Magnesium is beautiful. If brightly polished aluminum resembles chrome plating, polished magnesium is more like nickel plating, with just a hint of gold to it.
No other metal looks like it. Magnesium that has been brightly polished is unique and striking.|
Magnesium is strange stuff. After you polish it to a beautiful mirror finish, as time passes it will gradually turn gray, and then dark gray, with a bit of
Magnesium is extremely difficult to weld. Generally speaking, the more someone knows about welding, the less likely they are to want to have anything to do
with repairing magnesium castings.
Magnesium is dangerous. If it ever catches fire, throw a bucket of sand on it and run for your life. When magnesium burns, it virtually can't be stopped. Small
quantities of magnesium are used to make photoflash bulbs. Larger quantities are used to make bombs.
Magnesium is exotic. In the world of vintage race car parts, there is no other metal that is so tough to deal with. But many of the most desirable drag racing
parts were made out of magnesium, including blower housings, end plates, manifolds, and pulleys, fuel filters, fuel injectors, late Hemi timing covers, oil
pans and valve covers, Ford and Olds differentials, quick-change rear end center sections and covers, and some really neat wheels.
Magnesium is a pain. But its use plays an important role in hot rodding, and we deal with it.
The biggest challenge in taking care of magnesium parts is preserving them. With exposure to humidity, magnesium oxidizes, and tiny craters that are commonly
called pits are formed. When magnesium parts are left unprotected and exposed to moisture, these pits eventually can grow to over an eighth of an inch in
I've seen a pair of magnesium racing wheels that were left lying outside in a field for many years. They had craters as big as three-eighths of an inch across
all over them.
The twelve-spoke wheel on the right is on an old Willys Altered that has sat outside for several decades.
This stuff is alive.
A sign that magnesium castings are getting ready to become pitted is the appearance of a fine white powder in places. While very minor pitting can be removed
with emery cloth, the best thing to do is to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place.
Most magnesium wheels were produced by sand casting. You should expect to find some imperfections in the castings. As far as telling whether you're looking at
pitting or casting flaws, that's a tough call without seeing them. It's a safe bet that they have a number of relatively minor casting flaws, and it's
inevitable that they've got some pitting on parts of them unless they've been stored in an airtight drum filled with oil.
If you're shopping for vintage magnesium parts with the goal of building something that's show-quality, you have to start with something decent. Unless the
parts you looking for are extremely obscure, there's enough of this stuff out there that you don't have to settle for parts that are badly pitted.
Magnesium parts must be stored in a dry area that is free of humidity. Bare magnesium wheels can be sprayed with WD40, which will offer some protection until
it evaporates. Some people store their magnesium parts in thick plastic bags, and use a vacuum cleaner to draw as much of the air out of the bag as possible
before tightly sealing them.
I've experimented with some ideas to keep my magnesium Americans and Halibrands shiny. WD40 did okay, but it leaves metal parts sticky and makes dust hard to
remove. The one product that amazed me was
Gibbs Brand, which is advertised as being a "mega penetrant". After spraying Gibbs Brand all over
my satin-finished magnesium Halibrands (and aluminum Torq-Thrusts), it has proven to work amazingly well. You can learn more about it on this site's page about
Wheel bolt patterns
A variety of tools are available for measuring wheel bolt patterns.
Made For You Products
offers a handy molded plastic circle template with holes in it that line up with the standard 4 1/2, 4 3/4, 5, and 5 1/2-inch five-lug bolt patterns. It only
weighs a few ounces and costs four bucks. I've used one of tools these for years and it works fine.|
If you buy and sell wheels for a living, and if you can deal with using four different, heavy tools that you can barely carry at the same time, you can take
four wheel adapters, each with studs for a different bolt pattern, and paint each adapter a different color. This system is well-suited to production work,
when you're checking a group of wheels that are supposed to be the same bolt pattern, where the particular adapter you're using becomes a simple "go / no-go"
gauge that's quick to use.
If you're ever stuck without a bolt pattern tool and you need to measure a wheel to see what it fits, you can just measure from the center of one of the wheel
stud holes straight in to the center of the wheel. Double that measurement, and there's your bolt pattern.
Six-pin knock-off wheels go back to the late 1940s or early 1950s. They are used on many Indy cars, sprint cars, midget racers, sports racing cars, and Can Am
Up until the mid-1950s, the most popular bolt pattern used in drag racing was the 5 1/2-inch pattern used on the early Ford rear ends that most racers used. In
1957, due to the instant popularity of the virtually-indestructible 1957 Olds rear end (especially the heavier station wagon version), this standard was
replaced by the Olds five-inch bolt pattern. This series of Olds rear ends ran from 1957 through 1964.
Although modern Top Fuel dragsters and Top Fuel Funny Cars now use purpose-built rear ends made by companies like Chrisman Gears and Strange Engineering, the
five-inch bolt pattern remains the standard today. It's also the most common bolt pattern used on five-lug NASCAR race cars.
The other bolt patterns you'll find early racing wheels drilled for are the 4 1/2-inch pattern used on most Ford and Mopar muscle cars, and the 4 3/4-inch bolt
pattern that Chevy used for decades, until they cut their hair and went metric.
Hot rod wheel manufacturers
American Racing Equipment
Boyd Coddington Wheels
Center Line Wheels
Dayton Wire Wheels
E-T Wheels / Team 3 Wheels
Early Wheel Company, Inc.
Gilbertson Machine Shop Lon Gilbertson can widen or narrow your aluminum wheels
Independent Racing Wheel
Pete Paulsen Motorsports
Radir Custom Wheels
Rally America Gary McLean
Eric Vaughn Machine Eric Vaughn repairs and modifies vintage aluminum wheels
Vintage Wheel Works
Weld Racing Wheels
Racing wheel manufacturers
Aero Race Wheels
American Racing Equipment
Bassett Racing Wheel
Bogart Racing Wheels
Center Line Wheels
Circle Racing Wheels
Diamond Racing Wheels
Dymag Racing Wheels
Hayden Enterprises front wheels for dragsters
Ken Huff Racing Wheels Land Speed Record racing wheels
10827 Larrylyn Drive
Whittier, CA 90603
Independent Racing Wheel
Keizer Aluminum Wheels
Ken Lowe Race Cars front wheels for dragsters
MRT Marsh Racing Technologies
Glen Sander Engineering, Inc.
Taylor Made Wheels Land Speed Record racing wheels
9220 South Atlantic Blvd., Building #29
South Gate, CA 90280
Weld Racing Wheels
Wheel accessory manufacturers
Custom Wheel Accessories, Inc. lug nuts and wheel locks
D.J. Edman and Company Wheel Lug Gauge for measuring bolt patterns
Gorilla Automotive Products wheel locks
Made For You Products wheel bolt pattern tools
McGard wheel locks
Motorsport Technology wheel adapters
Prestige Wheel Accessories
WheelWorks, Inc. manufacturer of the MountMate wheel sizing tool
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are Copyright 1996-2012 Dave Mann