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Are spoked wheels played out? One Hemmings editor considers

Published in blog.hemmings.com

My daily-beater van has a factory-equipped set of 17×7 aluminum wheels. They’re a twin-five-spoke variety, with polished face and grey-painted inner, to really make those spokes pop. I’d say they’re ugly as sin, but I’ve sinned plenty in my near 50 years, and these wheels are far worse. They’re a weird size with a weird bolt circle, and so it’s going to take some research to find something that a) I like, b) won’t add 50 pounds of unsprung weight, and c) I can afford.

As I look through catalogs and through online ads, it occurs to me that it’s the spoked look that I’m having trouble with. Spokes have been around forever. Spokes have been with us since the horse-and-buggy days. Spokes are over-done. Spokes are a stylistic tradition that could stand to be put to rest. Spokes later turned into wire wheels, which have to be the spindliest, wobbliest excuses for wheels ever; heavier but prettier artillery wheels were surely a wiser hedge against our nation’s undeveloped highways at the time?
1922 rover haynes museum

The solid wheels on this 1922 Rover give it a more modern look than wire spokes. Photo by the author.

A trip to the Haynes Museum in England this past spring revealed a 1922 Rover 8hp, powered by a 998cc air-cooled flat-twin engine, which had wheels that were solid steel—not even holes cut in the edge for cooling relief for the brakes. (Yes, I like the steelies-and-piepans look too… ) They look terrific and stand to make an old-fashioned car look that bit more modern. Contrast this with the maroon Aston Martin DBS in the same location: it wore a set of wire wheels that looked like it could barely deal with the engine’s 280 horsepower, much less its 3500-pound curb weight. A body that looked right on for 1967, saddled with wheels that should have gone away in the 1940s.
Aston Martin DBS in Haynes Museum

An Aston Martin DBS with wheels that belong on a DB2.

I get that a bright spoked wheel will catch your attention as you go. Brightwork glinting in the sun, catching the peripheral vision of all who drive beside you. Great for a car show, sure. But for those of us who want to get places and not be seen, to turn invisible in traffic, what is a more foolish move than having a set of “look at me” wheels on your ride?
And yet, endless classic cars feature wheels without spokes. Lamborghini Countach. Cord 810/812. The Jaguar D-Type—how sturdy those Dunlop wheels look against a contemporary Ferrari’s spindly wires. MGA steelies, which replace wobbly-looking wire wheels and give the smoothed-out MGA’s look one of purpose. The original Oldsmobile Toronado. Mopar’s eternal Rallye wheel. The first European front-drive Escort XR3i—though truth be told, they look a little like they have bags under their eyes. The phone dial wheels that first showed up on the Dodge Shelby Charger—not the early-run Swiss cheese version, that’s a bridge too far to my eye—and later throughout the Chrysler line including the humble minivans. They all look terrific. None are as flashy as a bright set of five-spokes or, heaven forfend, a set of wires.
Chrysler minivan black and white

When is a spoke not a spoke? That is the question.

Now, are those holes actually holes? Or are they tapered spokes, with the edges ending at a 180 degree angle at the point where the edges intersect with each other? I suppose that depends on whether you’re looking at the positive or negative space, the interplay between material and absence of material. One thing I’m positive about: I need to find a set of less-ugly wheels for my ride.
Dodge Grand Caravan blacktop package

A much nicer van than the author’s daily driver, but with the same wheels. Image courtesy of Dodge.