Carl Heideman
Carl Heideman
12/9/08 2:05 p.m.

One of the things that distinguished the classic British sports cars from many of their contemporaries was their striking wire wheels. Usually laced with 48, 60 or 72 spokes, these wheels offered a performance boost as well as visual punch.

Back before the advent of today’s “mag-style” wheels, racers chose wire wheels for two reasons: They were lighter than the available disk steel wheels, and the single knock-off nut made for fast tire changes. Non-racers sought them out because they provided an elegant enhancement to any car’s looks.

Of course, these pluses are offset with some inherent minuses. Wire wheels require maintenance, and lots of it. Their “knock-offs,” the big nut that fastens the wheel to the car’s hub, must be kept tight. Spokes need to be tightened periodically. The wheels themselves must be trued to eliminate wobble, known as runout. Wire wheels get dirty and can be hard to clean. Finally, they are more expensive than their steel disk counterparts.

Beyond maintenance, there are other issues, like broken spokes. The single largest issue with wire wheels, however, is the condition of the splined hub. The splines in the hub wear, especially if the wheel is not tight enough (which it rarely is).

The wear on the wheel’s hub will wear the axle’s hub, which will further wear the wheel’s hub, creating a vicious circle that eventually allows the axle’s hub to spin within the wheel—a very dangerous situation. In the best case, this will happen on a rear wheel, and the car won’t accelerate properly. In one worse case, the hub will spin the knock-off loose, and the wheel will come off. In another worse case, the wheel will keep spinning on the brakes, and the car won’t stop. These are not good things. Fortunately, there are solutions.

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