Wire Wheels Overview
by Arthur Kelly
I have heard many “short” discussions about wire wheels. It seems to me that the reason those discussions were short is that very few people knew a whole lot about wire wheels. First – a story, which will lead to the some conclusions / information about wire wheels.
In 1993, at the VTR SouthEastern Regional in Sebring Fl, while the judges were looking over my TR4, one of them noted that my right rear wheel was a forty-eight spoke wire wheel ( my TR4 should have had 60 spoke wheels). That was interesting and showed me how little I knew – I hadn’t even noticed this in the almost two years since I had gotten the car back. In fact, I really had to look to see the difference. (The 60 spoke wheels have a second row of spokes behind the outer row of spokes). Since the 60 spoke wheels are original for the TR4 and since they are safer, I decided to replace that 48 spoke wheel and figured that as long as I was at it I might as well refurbish the 4 other (60 spoke) wheels. I began to research various options.
I knew that the four 60 spoke wheels were the original wheels on my car and that they had about 95k miles on them. The 48 spoke wheel had obviously been a replacement (my car, which I had picked up new at the factory in ’64, had been sold to someone else who had it for several years before I bought it back in late ’91). I could see that the original four 60 spoke wheels needed to be restored and I thought I could have them trued, tuned and repainted the correct color. I wanted to get the best wheels I could for the least amount of money.
A local TR club member (which is one reason why it pays to join a club) gave me the name of a place in California specializing in British wheels. Then another club member said he had an old 60 spoke wheel which I could have for nothing. I thought I was all set. I could keep the car on the road by sending the 60 spoke wheels one or two at a time (since I now had five 60 spoke and one 48 spoke wheels). My idea was to have the five 60 spoke wheels refurbished and then get rid of the 48 spoke wheel and have “proper new wheels all around” as well as a spare.
I called the wire wheel company in California and inquired about cost etc. It appeared that it would cost $105 for each wheel to be completely refurbished (that included shipping both ways). That appeared reasonable and new wheels were more expensive. I shipped the 60 spoke wheel which I had been given with instructions for them to re-do it. I figured this way that: 1) I would have a sample of their work, 2) I could figure a scheme for sending the other wheels so that the car would never be off the road and 3) I could spread the cost over several months.
After about a week I got a phone call from the company in California. What they said was that the wheel was not worth refurbishing because the splines were too worn. I really didn’t know what they were talking about. However, after a 20 minute conversation I finally began to understand some vital things about wire wheels.
What I Found Out
A wire wheel consists of an inner hub and an outer rim connected by spokes. These spokes can become bent or broken, which will cause the wheel to be out of round, or warped, and possibly weakened. “Rebuilding” the wheel means that the spokes are replaced if damaged or missing, and all spokes are equally tightened so that the wheel is round once again. This is called “truing” and when finished the wheels are said to be “true.” During a normal rebuild the wheel is also stripped of paint and rust, then primed and repainted. When that is all done the wheels are “tuned”. That is not difficult to understand, although I have since found that “truing” is an art. But there is a problem in that the hubs are also vital. If the hubs are worn it is a waste of time to rebuild the wheel.
So we need to understand the role of the wire wheel hubs. Let’s assume the car has disc wheels. In order to install wire wheels the disc wheels must be removed. Then the bolts, on the axle, which held the disc wheels must be replaced by shorter bolts to prevent interference with the spokes