Since the world began customizing cars and making them look better, one of the most popular modifications – and sometimes the first – has been a set of custom wheels. And much like how those custom wheels help define our interpretation of ourselves and our car, there are certain styles of wheels that mean different things to enthusiasts.
Myth: Multi-spoke wheels are built stronger and endure stricter testing than five-spoke wheels.
For example, a five-spoke wheel has often been associated with drag racing, or stoplight to stoplight brawling with a musclecar; a multi-spoke wheel has usually been associated with road racing, or European cars. Not since the General Lee made its debut did we think we’d ever see something other than a five spoke wheel on a Charger.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a multi-spoke wheel is designed or built better than a five-spoke wheel simply because of where the car is raced. As a matter of fact, of the four companies we talked to, each told us that their five-spoke wheels must pass the same standards of quality control as their multi-spoke wheels. It’s true that wheel construction can make a difference on strength, but the number of spokes is actually more aesthetic than structural.
For this article, we looked specifically at two-piece and three-piece wheels from four manufacturers: American Racing, Billet Specialties, Forgeline, and Weld Racing. We wanted to find out what the latest trends are in Pro-Touring wheels and where it’s heading with regards to wheel sizes and widths, as well as design.
The Pro-Touring wheel is simply a particular look, it’s a matter of choice for the enthusiast, and a two- or three-piece wheel is best for the autocross. We asked each company to share with us one of their Pro-Touring wheels and to answer some questions about wheel construction and performance.
Each representative told us that they do get people asking specifically for Pro-Touring wheels. Sometimes, when the market calls for something you simply give enthusiasts what they want, and if they want the Pro-Touring look, each of the four companies we talked to can provide a wheel that looks great, performs well, and is available in sizes that will clear large brakes and accommodate wide tires.
Five-Spoke Wheels vs. Multi-Spoke Wheels
There weren’t many multi-spoke wheels during the early musclecar era, back then they belonged on sports cars that were often built for handling. We saw multi-spoke wheels on Cobras, European cars, and of course many of the other road racing musclecars. But if the car primarily went in a straight line or cruised the streets on Saturday nights, the five-spoke wheel was the popular choice.
As classic musclecars infiltrated the autocross scene, Pro-Touring was born and became more popular than what used to be called “slalom racing” in the 1970s. Pro-Touring enthusiasts adopted the multi-spoke look for their cars, but not for the reasons you’d think. Most multi-spoke wheels were two- or three-piece wheels instead of cast, and they were stronger for that reason.
The truth is, there isn’t really a “Pro-Touring wheel” that is designed only for Pro-Touring, nor is there a five-spoke two- or three-piece wheel from either of these manufacturers that can’t be used for the autocross. We’ve seen plenty of both styles on the track, however the multi-spoke wheel has been a very popular style for this type of racing.
For most of the hardcore competitors, Pro-Touring wheels don’t start until you get into the 17- or 18-inch wheel sizes because of the big brake kits installed on these cars. Some of those wheels are up to 12 inches wide, with tire sizes being a mind boggling 335 mm wide and as low as a 30 percent aspect ratio.
Having less sidewall flex and large, oversized wheels is significant, but many times the wheel size is dictated by the fact that the cars have oversized brake rotors and multi-piston calipers that need to be cleared. There are some cars that will have up to 20-inch wheels in the rear, but having a larger wheel means more weight.
Complete custom builds are possible, but many competitive events like Optima’s Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) require that competitors cars’ can handle some time on the street from one destination to another. Building a full-race vehicle for Pro-Touring won’t cut it in the OUSCI competition unless it can be driven (legally) on the street.
For racing like this, a one-piece cast wheel may not be up to the challenge, they aren’t designed for the lateral strength needed for this type of driving. There are some one-piece wheels that are even stronger than the three-piece wheels, such as Forgeline’s monoblock wheels.
They aren’t cast; the fully-forged monoblock wheels are machined from one solid piece of 6061-T6 billet aluminum. What begins life as a 100 pound chunk of aluminum sheds about 80 pounds to become a lightweight, very rigid wheel designed for the demands of a race car.
American Racing Wheels
American Racing Wheels has been in the wheel business for what seems like forever. If you ran a musclecar in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s highly possible that you or your friends had a set of Torque Thrust wheels; they were that popular and always have been.
But even though the Torque Thrust wheel has been an iconic wheel from yesteryear, American Racing has stayed with the times and continue to develop new wheels for the expanding musclecar scene.
They’ve expanded to the Pro-Touring market with new wheels and designs to keep up with the times – and the demands. Their new line of Vintage Forged wheels were created for the Pro-Touring market, but that doesn’t mean that their other two-piece wheels aren’t more than capable of handling the demands put on a set of wheels when three thousand pounds of Detroit iron is being thrown around a bunch of cones.
American Racing’s new VF497 is one of their new wheels in the Vintage Forged line. The split five-spoke design was designed to clear big brakes often found on Pro-Touring cars, and the smooth lip on the wheel gives it that true deep-dish look of a classic musclecar wheel.
These wheels are forged from lightweight 6061 aluminum, and all of these two-piece wheels in the Vintage Forged line are made entirely in the U.S. American Racing builds these wheels to order by the Wheel Pros Custom Shop here in California.
We build these two-piece wheels with backspacings in 1/8th-inch increments to perfectly fit the customer’s requirements. -Chris Plump
Even though this wheel comes with their bright polished finish, they can be ordered in a variety of custom colors. Available diameters run from 17- to 20-inch with widths from 7- to 15-inches wide.
Sales Manager Chris Plump said, “We build these two-piece wheels with backspacings in 1/8th-inch increments to perfectly fit the customer’s requirements. This allows us to make wheels to fit Pro-Touring cars with min-tubs and narrowed rear axles as well as those with stock wheel wells and axle widths.”
Plump says,”There are a lot of variables that have to be considered when designing the center of a wheel.” But it’s not just about any one detail when building a wheel, they have to consider the overall strength, the weight of the wheel, and even brake cooling. “After all, going fast on the autocross course is great, but we want to make sure the car looks good while doing it.”
Making custom wheels since the mid-1950s, American Racing is one name that has lasted for decades because they can take a classic wheel, like the Torque Thrust, and improve the design and style slightly to produce new wheels that look great on classic and modern cars.
“It’s been an exciting design process for the American Racing Vintage Forged wheels.” Plump said. “A few minor tweaks to a style like the Torq Thrust produces a lighter and more streamlined product that still has that classic look everyone wants to have.”
As you might guess from the name of the company, Billet Specialties has been specializing in billet products since 1985. Their billet two-piece wheels have been on custom and classic cars, as well as Pro-Touring cars at some of the biggest events in the country.
To keep up with the times, they’re always looking for new ideas and styles for custom wheels, and with the Pro-Touring market that continues to grow it gives them new challenges. One wheel they shared with us from their Pro-Touring Series is the Spline, pictured to the right.
Like their other Pro-Touring wheels, it’s a two-piece wheel available in diameters of 18-inches up to 24-inches, with up to 1-7/8-inches of caliper clearance. Multiple finish options are available for the center, and custom offsets are can be special ordered to fit just about any vehicle.
Marketing Manager Scott Sandoval said, “We have always built custom wheels to fit the vehicle and our background comes from classics. The biggest effect on how wheels are made now from back then is the large diameter brakes and the caliper clearances needed for them.”
There are three basic elements that make a car stand out: wheels, Paint and Stance – if you miss it on any of the three it will never look right. -Scott Sandoval
These trends in Pro-Touring require companies to make bigger and wider wheels, and Sandoval says that for the most part, 18-inch wheels seem to be the most popular. “I see more requests for wider wheels, and on the front especially. Up until a year ago it was mostly the rear getting wider,” he said.
Though they do have the Pro-Touring Series, they don’t get as many people asking specifically for that style of wheel. He sees more people looking for the style first and what suits their purpose and taste.
“A lot goes into the design and functionality,” he said. “The spokes do have to clear the brake caliper and provide structural strength as far as the performance side, but the choice is often style driven.” It seems many customers who shop Billet Specialties are looking for a specific style of wheel, and often those customers have specific tastes.
“There are three basic elements that make a car stand out: wheels, paint and stance – if you miss it on any of the three it will never look right,” Sandoval said. They’ve recently added a new line of three-piece wheels called B-Forged, with several styles for modern musclecars, luxury cars, and even classic cars on the Pro-Touring circuit.
The B-Forged line of wheels have multiple finish options for all parts of the wheel: the rim, the center, the cap, and the hardware. They are available in 18-inch to 22-inch diameters with up to 2-inches of caliper clearance, with four concave center profiles and one contoured profile. These three-piece wheels we introduced at SEMA 2013 with a great response from everyone who visited the Billet Specialties booth.
The B-Forged take on a whole new dimension with Billet Specialties, and take them in a direction that they previously hadn’t gone. The highly polished wheels that they are known for still look great on any musclecar or truck, but the B-Forged adds some color to the lineup and allows more options for the enthusiast to match their wheels to their car.
Forgeline Motorsports also makes three-piece wheels for their Pro-Touring customers. David Schardt, President of Forgeline Motorsports, said, “All of our rim halves are made of the same material as our centers – 6061-Heat Treated to T6 specifications. Two-piece barrels are made from non-heat treated 5 series aluminum.”
All of our rim halves are made of the same material as our centers – 6061-Heat Treated to T6 specifications. – David Schardt
This 6061 alloy is stronger than the 5-series aluminum and that allows Forgeline to use a thinner rim. Schardt continued, “This thinner rim decreases the weight at the outermost part of the wheel where it affects the inertia the most.”
Forgeline’s forged wheels for Pro-Touring began as a two-piece wheel several years ago, but after they started making their three-piece wheels they realized that they were stronger than their two-piece, and they made the decision to make strictly three-piece wheels for the Pro-Touring market.
Their stepped lip wheels, like the GA3 and ZX3 are more popular for this venue of racing. Schart says that they do see people going towards their newer concave spoke designs, but those wheels are a little heavier and come in at a higher cost. The stepped lip performance wheels provide the caliper clearance and widths for popular tires sizes for Pro-Touring, which seem to be getting wider and wider as the trend continues.
With their stepped lip performance wheels, there are other options to size and width: finishes for both the center and the shell. Forgeline offers exposed or hidden hardware, several different finishes for the center. For the outer lip, the customer can choose chrome, polished, brushed, or even powdercoated finishes. There’s even an option for adding a hand-painted pinstripe to the outer lip if one desires.
Schardt said, “Another major feature of our 3-piece wheels is the reparability, and the ability to change the wheels as you change your vehicle. If you decide to widen the fenders or change tire sizes, you can swap out your rim shells for a fraction of the cost of a new wheel very easily.” He says their widths and offsets are virtually unlimited with their combinations of rim halves, and they can build to exact specifications for customers.
Weld Racing Wheels
However, Pro-Touring wheels aren’t designed just to clear big brakes or to fit inside of super wide meats, there’s a science to making these wheels. Companies like Weld Racing take into account that with these larger wheels, they need to try to keep the weight down while keeping the wheel strong.
Weld painstakingly designs the wheels, including the spokes, to optimize strength while reducing weight. -Chris Bovis
Weld’s VP of Marketing, Chris Bovis, said, “Weld painstakingly designs the wheels, including the spokes, to optimize strength while reducing weight.” Weld has been making wheels for drag racing and oval track, and has taken their years of experience building racing wheels and applied that to their current wheels for the street, also.
With their ability to keep the weight down and still build a strong wheel, the Pro-Touring market has yet another option when it comes to large diameter performance wheels that can be custom ordered for specific applications. Weld offers Pro-Touring wheels for cars as far back as the 1950s up through modern musclecars.
With wheels this size, it’s important to keep them light, yet strong. Unsprung weight might not make a whole lot of difference to a grocery getter, but on a performance car that relies on a firm suspension, an increase in unsprung weight at each corner can affect speed and handling. This is one reason for making two- and three-piece wheels for the Pro-Touring market. Bovis said, “We do get calls for specific Pro-Touring builds, and we refer them to our RT-S line.”
The RT-S line is a three-piece wheel that Weld offers in thousands of applications, with widths from 4.5-inches up to 16-inches. Making a three-piece wheel allows them to offer a lot of backspacing options that can’t be done with their two-piece wheels. Bovis has seen some huge backspacing needs from enthusiasts, but the RT-S line was designed from the start to accommodate both older and newer cars.
Bovis does see a strong mix of 17-inch and 18-inch requests, but for the most part the customer bases their needs on the budget of the project, and the intended use for the car. “Wheels and tires go hand-in-hand in this regard,” Bovis said. “We see some customers wanting to go larger without compromising width. As more 20-inch tires are produced in Pro-Touring friendly sizes, we expect to see this reflected in our Pro-Touring wheel sales, also.”
Of course, Pro-Touring is all about the performance, but Bovis said that Weld cannot forget about the individuality of each build. “None of these cars are sitting in a new car showroom, there are compromises in every decision, but what makes Pro-Touring a vibrant, exciting market is the individual weighs the options and makes the decisions to produce their perfect ride.”
Weld Racing also offers what they call “pad height” for their entire RT-S line. Pad height refers to brake caliper clearance and comes in low, medium and high pad heights. Low would be for a factory disc or drum brake for many vehicles, with medium and high pad heights for upgraded, multi-piston calipers. The unique thing about changing a pad height is that the wheel offset doesn’t have to change, the curve in the spokes is designed to give that extra clearance without moving the wheel center.
Still, with how great the RT-S wheels look, with the thousands of applications, and multiple styles in both five-spoke and multi-spoke designs, Bovis said that each wheel is subjected to hours of finite element analysis to reach an ideal performance level. These wheels can be jewelry for your car, but it’s more than just a great look and polished finish. The four styles for the RT-S Series include wheels that retain the classic look from the 1970s, as well as a modern take on multi-spoke designs.
As the competition gets more fierce and the excitement for Pro-Touring grows bigger, so do brake calipers, wheel, and tire sizes. Each of these companies provide the market exactly what it needs: style, beauty, strength, and a variety of sizes for just about any car. As you might guess, most three-piece wheels are going to be a little bit more expensive than two-piece wheels. So much of the decision might come down to a budget rather than what is wanted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great quality wheel at an affordable price.
You can always go out and spend as little as possible, and you get what you pay for. When it comes to commuting to and from work, running errands, etc., that might not matter. But when it comes to performance and quality, you get what you pay for there, too.
Each of the four manufacturers has their entire line up of wheels posted to their sites, with all diameters, widths, offsets, and finishes available. And each of them told us that when it comes to getting the proper wheel with the right fit, they’re more than glad to help out with explaining how to measure for backspacing and for widths. A simple phone call can get the process started, and get you on your way to hitting the autocross with your musclecar.
As you’ve seen from some of the pictures we’ve posted, and from many of the events that we’ve covered, the cars navigating around the cones can be a budget build or a complete custom build with all of the best hardware. But whatever your budget is, the fun is the same – and so is the camaraderie. Just get your car out on a track and try to keep it off the streets; Pro-Touring is about the friendships that are made, the lessons that are learned, and the thrill of mashing the go-pedal and throwing your car around on a parking lot – without getting into trouble!