I have something to say about automotive design, and it’s the same comment that I have always made about the car and music worlds over the last several years: there’s nothing that any one person could possibly make or do that is truly unique. It goes back to the adage that there is “nothing new under the sun.”
And truth be told, there is nothing “new” under the sun, only improvements on older ideas; Ford was the “big dog” of V8 performance until Chevy sold their very first small-block in 1955, the Camaro was Chev’s Trans-Am circuit answer to the Boss 302 Mustang and from the ’80s up until the early ’90s when Japan’s compact market was in full-swing, GM incorporated their small but potent, “Turbo-6″ as a fast and friendly mill solution to the upcoming digital world.
The story of how automakers “piggy-back” off of others’ designs is one that continues to write itself into the present, and this neverending story of rip-offs and heartbreaks is reinforced by a wheel company named Astro and their 5-spoke, “Supreme” wheel design.
A large bulk of today’s motoring enthusiasts may be unfamiliar with the name “Astro;” I even admit that it’s still a new piece of design history to me, and I thought that I knew “everything” (yeah right!) about the “Big 3″ of American automaking. But after coming across this amazing piece of history from our friends over at Los Boulevardos our senses in wheel history were finally fulfilled. Anyone who has ever put custom wheels on a hot rod or lowrider has to know the notorious 5-spoke design that became the “Mag wheel.”
And how could you not? Astro Enterprises manufactured their “Supreme” wheel during a golden era of the custom and performance craft, specifically from the mid-’60s to the early ’70s, as Astro is said to have folded sometime between 1972-74. Regardless of the wheel manufacturer’s silent demise, several companies like American Racing and Cragar have duplicated the Mag wheel design, making into nothing less than a signature.
Starting in 1964, Car Craft and other popular publications began to advertise the “Supreme” wheel. It was in an April 1964 issue that this “Supreme” piece was first advertised, though by the time this issue was released Astro Enterprises had already been on the cutting-edge of the unique design.
Astro Enterprises started making custom wheels during the early part of the ’60s, and in a world of accessories void of 22-inch spinners and over-the-top “bling,” Astro offered enthusiasts a wide selection of OE-style wheels wrapped in chrome, along with “slots,” Mags and several steel/alloy fused pieces.
Originally based out of Gardena, California, Astro’s very first Supreme wheel was not quite as refined as the Mag designs that would later follow; the original Supreme’s spokes were shorter and less-angled, and the wheel’s center was also much larger, making its very first manifestation far less attractive than what we today consider a “Supreme” design.
Needless to say, the Supreme wheel by Astro was short-lived, as the company had only manufactured the piece for a very brief amount of time. The second generation of Supremes, however took several design elements from American Racing’s earliest Mag wheels, though the center cap and hub section were completely different.
Unlike American Racing’s Torque Thrust design, Astro’s Supreme wheels had no bolt-on center cap, which made the wheels’ center hub less cluttered than its competitor. The Supremes also lacked a wide, flat rim lip like the Torque Thrusts.
Most of today’s custom and rodding enthusiasts do not use the name “Astro” in conjunction with the Supreme wheel design, since the now-dead company has not manufactured the wheel in over 30 years. If you ask most of those enthusiasts who have done their field research however, most still consider Astro the inventor of the all-chrome design that we today know as the “Supreme.”
But this piece of what seems concrete history remains debatable, as several companies that were Astro Enterprise’s contemporary released very similar-designed wheels around the same time as them. One of these manufacturers was Wheel Centre Company, whose alloy/steel composite piece was released in the same April ’64 issue of Car Craft as the Supreme.
The Wheel Centre Company’s wheel was not given nearly as much recognition as Astro’s Supreme; it was placed in a cut-off photo in the lower corner of the magazine’s page and was shown as an unnamed wheel, though this piece looked much more like the modern Supreme than did the first generation of the wheel first introduced by Astro Enterprises during the sales year.
Astro did apparently keep-up before the company’s passing, as they introduced their second and final generation of Supreme wheels during the 1966 sales year. This 2nd-gen piece featured knockoffs that added to the Supreme design a certain flare, and the last Supreme made by Astro was featured in a ’66 issue of Car Craft.
Astro Enterprises continued to make Supreme wheels up until the company’s official closing, and because the design itself was tossed around the market so much, many small, no-name companies continued to make their own versions of the Supreme. Because of this, the Supreme wheel fell off of the face of the custom auto world until being revived by the lowrider community during the mid-to-late ’70s.
The ’90s was the next important decade for the 5-spoke wheel design, as a renewed interest in ’60s custom rodding led many enthusiasts to dig through the archives of old rodding and custom magazines, rediscovering the lost rodding culture and using its popular names. Coincidentally, Astro was a part of this old-school, custom car canon.
Astro Enterprises and the history of their unique wheel design is thus the story of one of the aftermarket’s most important “underdogs,” and though “Astro” is not a name that is thrown around at today’s high performance dinner table, the name is one that will always remind us of the Mag wheel design and how it bounced like a basketball from one custom wheel company to the next.