New wheels for old cars (and some not so old)
Old-style wheels aren’t just for vintage cars anymore, and that’s come as a pleasant surprise for Wheel Vintiques, a California company that has been making new wheels with old-time styling since 1986.
It turns out that some young owners of boxy imports like the idea of mounting their Kia Souls and Scion xBs on retro wheels.
In addition to its extensive catalog of wheels for classic cars and custom cruisers, Wheel Vintiques offered some old-style wheels but for more recent, front-driven vehicles that were inspired by the panel deliveries of the past. These included cars such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Chevrolet HHR. But those wheels have been discovered by younger owners of Souls and Scions and such, said Tim Kawasaki, who manages sales and shipping for Wheels Vintiques, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
“Some run Smoothies with Baby Moon hubcaps,” he said. “It’s a different age group, which is good, and is feeding into the next generation of car guys.”
Smoothies are a style of wheel without a lot of design details and are available in bare metal or chrome finishes and in colors as well. Baby Moons are a small, smooth style of hub cap that covers the lug nuts that hold a wheel to a vehicle. After World War II, Moon wheel covers became popular, first with drag racers and then with hot-rodders and custom car builders.
While the next-gen car enthusiast has become a welcome customer for Wheel Vintiques, its mainstream business remains people with classics and customs who want to maintain old-style looks but like the enhanced safety of new wheels produced with modern materials and technology.
“Time does take its toll on bias-ply tires and original wheels,” Kawasaki said. “We can provide the same look with new technology, which is safer and truer, and you’re not putting 50-year-old re-chromed or even repaired wheels on your car.”
Since its founding, Wheel Vintiques has produced all of its wheels in California, moving to the City of Industry near Los Angeles around 2013. The company originally was located in Fresno, but in 2011 was purchased by the Coker Group, a Tennessee-based company that produces specialty tires for classic collector vehicles, including modern radial tires that look just like the old-fashioned bias tires. At the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, 15 best in class winners and the overall Best of Show car rode on Coker tires.
“It’s not the cheapest way to do it,” Kawasaki said of producing wheels in the United States instead of overseas, “but we care about what we do. Quality is a big deal. We’re not just business people; we’re car guys and we care not only about the parts we make but the cars they go on.”
Recent new products from Wheel Vintiques include wheels for vintage off-road vehicles, which are becoming popular with collectors, as well as a new line of Tri Five wheels for Tri-5 Chevrolets (the 1955, 1956 and 1957 models that are very popular with car collectors).
To make their cars safer to drive, many owners are installing front disc brakes, which likely will not fit behind their factory-original wheels. Tri Five wheels are designed to keep the original look but to provide room for the larger brakes. Kawasaki said Wheel Vintiques has such wheels for other classics as well, even with back spacing, and can do custom orders to meet a customer’s specific needs.
The company produces its wheels in multiple finishes and colors.
Wheel Vintiques wheels are available at retail outlets or online. For information, visit wheelvintiques.com.
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.