Our favorite wheels
Life in quarantine can be a little on the boring side. To keep ourselves busy in between writing assignments, the Autoblog staff tends to chat all throughout the day, and sometimes our little side conversations turn into something a bit more. Enough, in fact, to share with you, dear readers.
What started as a simple discussion over a set of wheels quickly turned into a whole long and drawn-out conversation where we all highlighted some of our favorite wheel designs of all time. And here are the results. For the purpose of this gallery, we’ve decided to stick with wheels that were available on production vehicles, so nothing from the aftermarket was considered. In other words, no Ronal Teddy Bears.
Just to be clear, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of the best factory wheels of all time. Rather, it’s simply presented as a diversion to your day. Take a look at some of our favorite wheels, and feel free to share your own in the comments.
Saab 99 Incas
Contributor Joe Lorio: Saab’s Inca aluminum wheels made their debut on the ’78 Saab 99 Turbo. The design of these wheels takes its inspiration from the ancient pyramids of South America (thus the name) and from the fins of a turbocharger impeller. Exclusive to the Turbo model, the wheels helped promote the then-exotic technology. Saab would retain these Inca wheels on the 99 Turbo through 1982, and they also appeared on the 1979–’80 900 Turbo. The brand used the Inca name on two other wheel designs in later years, but the originals are the coolest.
Pontiac 1962 GranPrix 8-lugs
Contributor Joe Lorio: Pontiac’s 8-lug aluminum wheels were a hallmark of its full-size cars during the brand’s 1960s heyday. They appeared on coupes, sedan, convertibles, and even station wagons, on models ranging from the humble Catalina to the swaggering Grand Prix, and they looked great wherever they appeared. Developed by supplier Kelsey-Hayes, the wheels actually are a combination of exposed, finned-aluminum brake drums that are visible through the large center opening of a steel wheel. The eight lugs connect the two components, while the drums bolt to the wheel hub with five bolts (under the hubcap) in a conventional pattern. Not just handsome, the design helped dissipate heat and thus reduce brake fade, a major issue for large, heavy cars with drum brakes. The design first appeared in the 1960 model year and lasted through 1969, when the arrival of disc brakes ushered them off the stage.
Pontiac Trans Am “Snowflake”
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: As someone who grew up on classic cars, and Pontiacs in particular, the so-called snowflake wheel design holds a special spot in my heart. Pontiac never actually called the wheel a Snowflake, referring to the wheel as simply as a “cast aluminum wheel” that replaced the much-used Rally and Honeycomb wheel designs (both of which I’m also fond) of the past.
The Snowflake originally appeared in 1977 and would go on to grace hundreds of thousands of Firebird and Trans Am models for the next few years. They came in plain aluminum to go along with a few assorted other colors — like red on the Redbird and blue on the Skybird — but I especially like the look in black and gold, as seen above in full Smokey and the Bandit trim.
Halibrand knock-off wheels
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: Why did I choose an image of the Ford GT40 at speed with motion-blurred wheels in a gallery that’s specifically meant to showcase our favorite wheel designs? Because the GT40’s wheels were meant for racing. Halibrand, which popularized the term “mag wheels” due to their magnesium alloy construction, made the wheels used on the GT40, along with a whole slew of racing competitors. They featured knock-off pin drive hubs to make wheel and tire changes faster during pit stops. Take a look at this video from the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race and skip to about the 6:45 mark to see them in action. These are the very definition of classic, and they look great in orange on the Gulf-liveried GT40 above.
British wire wheels
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: Only one kind of wheel will do on a British motor car, and that’s wire wheels with spinners. Jaguar, Aston Martin, Triumph: If it’s British, it benefits from these traditional and intricate beauties. No roundup of favorite wheels would be complete without them. You’d hate to have to clean these, but that’s what the servants are for.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: There are many reasons we’re eagerly awaiting the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric car, not the least of which are these basket-weave wheels.
Mercedes AMG Hammer
Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: I love that AMG is bringing back monoblock wheels, but there’s no beating the old AMG wheels mounted on Mercedes AMG Hammers. These black painted wheels with their silver surround on a 1986 Mercedes AMG Hammer are the epitome of this design for me. The look fits the car so perfectly.
The wire wheels earlier in this gallery are all fine and dandy, but I’m partial to the big, blocky star shape here. AMG bringing the design back on modern cars speaks to the timelessness of this design, too. Plus, I can never argue with extremely easy to clean wheels.
Mercedes AMG Hammer Information
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: The carbon fiber wheels on the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R have always mesmerized me. Ford managed to put carbon fiber wheels on a car that was under $70,000 when it was first released. It’s the kind of thing we see on supercars that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And even then, many don’t go the carbon fiber route.
Carbon Revolutions actually produces the wheels for Ford. They account for a 58-pound weight savings over regular GT350 wheels, which is huge when you’re talking unsprung weight. That aids both acceleration and braking hugely. I am disappointed that Ford didn’t go for an exposed carbon fiber look, opting for a much more low-key appearance. Those that know, will know.
Ford Mustang Information
Packard wire wheels
Senior Editor, Green John Beltz Snyder: Wire wheels were ubiquitous in the early days of the automobile, but I find Packard’s variety mesmerizing. I was lucky enough to judge the Packard category at the Ypsilanti Orphans Car Show last year, and found myself drawn to the wires regardless of the model or year. They different sizes, colors, gauges and bends of the wires — even the wire wheel covers were impressive. Packard may not have been the first or only, but its wire wheels exclaimed timeless luxury over the decades.
Mazda RX-8 (2003/2009)
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: Yeah, yeah, this is cheating, to an extent. The Mazdas of the oughts were blessed with unique, attractive styling that often filtered down all the way to the corners. The sportiest RX-8 models got very attractive wheels that not only looked good on the suicide-door coupe, but on just about everything else in Mazda’s showrooms.
Mazda figured this out after introducing the rotary-spoke wheel design on the RX-8 40th anniversary edition for 2008. That design carried over to the refreshed RX-8 in 2009 (and is shown here with the unique finish offered for the R3 model), and then ended up being adapted for the front-wheel drive Mazdaspeed3 when it was refreshed in 2010.
As an added bonus, Mazda’s approach to chassis engineering meant its rear-wheel drive cars came with wheels that had offsets compatible with their front-wheel drive cousins, making it effortless to slap a set of RX-8 wheels on the likes of a Mazda3 or Mazda6, which many owners did.
Mazda RX-8 Information
1999 Dodge Viper ACR
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: I’ve been in love with the second-generation Dodge Viper for as long as I’ve been into cars, and I think the BBS mesh wheels on the track-special ACR model introduced in 1999 are the perfect touch of European style on an unabashedly American performance car.
As a fan of just about every fun car Chrysler/FCA has produced over the past couple of decades, it was tough for me to decide between these and some of the “Brass Monkey” styles offered on recent Chargers and Challengers, but there’s a simple elegance to lightweight BBS wheels that is really hard to beat.
Dodge Viper Information
Renault 5 Alpine Turbo
Contributor Ronan Glon: Choosing two of my favorite wheel designs is difficult. My obsession with steelies and alloys began turning into a collection about 10 years ago, and there are now wheels from cars I’ve never owned taking up space in my shed. With that said, my first choice is the three-lug, 13-inch turbine-shaped alloys that Renault installed on the 5 Alpine Turbo because they’re decidedly sporty yet delightfully simple. They’ve fascinated me since I was a kid.
Contributor Ronan Glon: I’d highlight Saab’s Inca wheels as my second choice but my colleague Joe Lorio already claimed them, so I’m choosing the 13-inch steelies fitted to early example of the Fiat Ritmo (sold as the Strada in the United States). It’s a clever design that’s well-suited to the car’s eccentric lines. They look full because the 10 slots are nearly perpendicular to the surface.