How to add wire wheels to a classic car

It’s hard to beat the elegant good looks of chrome wire wheels. This probably explains why they were fitted to so many of our favorite classics, although many more cars left the factory without wire wheels than with them.

Fortunately, it’s often a simple matter to convert cars to run on these wheels, especially if the cars came with wires as an option. We did a wire wheel conversion on our Triumph TR6 using parts sourced from Moss Motors, and the entire project took less than an afternoon.

Step 1: Remove the Old Hardware

This step is fairly self-explanatory: simply remove the old wheels and put them aside.

Step 2: Fit Hubs

Since wire wheels use a center mounting point, a splined adaptor hub must be bolted to the stock hub. There are two ways of doing this:

  1. The stock studs can be cut down so only 5/16-inch protrudes from the face of the hub. If you’re going this route, remember that the studs will need to be replaced with new ones before the stock wheels can ever be reinstalled.
  2. The other option is to remove the hubs so that the stock studs can be replaced with shorter ones. A hydraulic press is needed to install the new studs. (Hint: Moss stocks the shorter, wire wheel-spec studs.) Now the wheels can be physically bolted to the hubs. Note that the hubs are threaded so that the knock-offs won’t loosen themselves as the car drives down the road: The left-side hubs have a right-hand thread pattern, while the right-side hubs feature a left-hand thread pattern.

Step 3: Fit New Wire Wheels on the Car

Now it’s time to put the mounted and balanced wire wheels on the car. Apply a light coating of silver anti-seize to the splines and install the wheels. Each one is simply held in place with the center nut.

Replacing Old Hardware

A lot of wire wheels have been in service for 50 or more years, and these components do age: splines become worn, while spokes loosen or go missing. If the hubs have worn splines, simply replace the unit. Wheels can be rebuilt, but it is sometimes just quicker and less expensive to replace them, too. Worn wheel splines are usually a sign that it’s time to replace the entire wheel.

Get Balanced

Properly balancing wire wheels takes a special technique, but fortunately Moss Motors also offers some easy-to-understand directions. Moss includes a copy of these directions with every set of wire wheels sold, while a copy can also be found online.

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wspohn SuperDork
6/27/16 4:41 p.m.

You said that you either need to cut the wheel studs down or press in shorter ones. You missed one. Simply use a thin spacer the thickness of which equals the amount you'd need to cut down the studs. These are Triumph wire wheel adaptors on MGB hubs (fitted to an MGA, but that isn't relevant) with such spacers.

PS - you might also want to note that you need to use special shallow wheel nuts so the adaptors don't cause the wheels to bottom on the nuts instead of the bevel on the adaptors (regular wheel nuts hit the inside of the wire heel rim)

bkwanab New Reader
2/2/21 11:49 a.m.

I think I would have invested in some new brake rotors before spoked wheels.  The ones shown in the article are severely rust pitted.  I assume that will be addressed in a later article.

On another cautionary note, it's worth mentioning that chromed spoked wheels are more liable to breakage than the painted ones shown in the article.  The process of chroming can cause the hard chrome to be deposited in the smallest flaws that will then become bigger flaws over time.  I don't know if this is still true but in Britain chromed spoked wheels were not permitted on cars to be raced because of their potential for failure under heavy cornering loads.  The shiny Borranis used on the vintage racing cars used polished alloy rims with stainless spokes, not chrome.

frenchyd UltimaDork
2/2/21 3:11 p.m.

I heard that rumor. But I used chrome wire wheels on my Jaguar based race car.  155mph into turn 5 ( about 35?mph ) brake rotors glowing red from eating all that energy in such a short distance. Dunlop racing tires chewing up rubber at Road America often sliding sideways. 
Raced all over the country and the Bahama's. From 1976- 2015. Those are the original wheels on the Black Jack Spl. Sitting in the Packard museum.  
Nope not a broken spoke.  In fact I never had to even tune them. 
  By the way Jaguar  wire wheels are all chrome. Right from the factory. That's a real 150 MPH potential car. 

frenchyd UltimaDork
2/2/21 3:21 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

You can even adapt chrome wire wheels to some cars that never had wire wheels. MSW ( motor Sport wheels) offers adapters for Morris Minors, and several other cars.  You haven't seen anything until you see a Morris Traveller ( the woodie )   With those flashing in the sun lite.    
       However Dayton wire wheels offers a variety of sizes of wire wheels including 18"&20" and knock off adapters ( Rudge 54 ) for heavier cars. They go up from the standard 72 spoke to 100 spoke wheels though.  The nice thing about Dayton wire wheels is they are true tubeless wheels. 
Wheel King is another supplier of wire wheels especially for American cars. Again they use a knock off style hub. But they are not suitable for Jaguar hubs ( Rudge 54's)    

APEowner Dork
2/2/21 5:55 p.m.

Chrome plating can cause hydrogen embrittlement.  There's no cost effective, non-destructive test for hydrogen embrittlement and not all chrome platers have the facilities to perform the post plating heat treatment required for mitigation. As a result most sanctioning bodies don't allow chrome plated roll bars.  Wire wheels were before my time but I suspect that the roll bar tabo was just carried over to wire wheels.  There's no reason why a wheel company couldn't produce chrome plated wire wheels that were properly post processed and completely safe.  In fact, I'd expect any reputable company to do just that. 

wspohn SuperDork
2/3/21 10:54 a.m.

FWIW the Dayton chrome wires actually use stainless steel spokes and only chrome plate the rims in order to avoid any embrittlement issue.

bkwanab New Reader
2/6/21 10:14 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

I suppose the painted E Type Mk1 wheels below are Scotch mist then.

Jaguar did not supply only chromed wire wheels on any model.  Chrome wires were an option but I suspect may have been installed on export cars to America, increasing the profit margin and satisfying the flashy types.


wspohn SuperDork
2/6/21 10:43 a.m.

BTW, Zenith Wire Wheel (now called Wire Wheel King) in California made wire wheels that fit American cars. They used a serrated adaptor that bolted to the hubs  and the inside of the wheel had matching serrations that locked them in place. North American Jensen dealers offered them as a dealer option in North America.  I've never used them as I prefer the stock alloys.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
2/11/21 9:38 a.m.

In reply to bkwanab :

Personally, I love painted wire wheels, but don't care for chromed wire wheels on many cars. They look garish to me.

Don2001l New Reader
3/7/22 1:32 p.m.

What do those California Low Riders use ? 
Where do they get them ?

Chrome too garish, how about Gold ;)

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