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by Jon Mikelonis and Tom Zuloaga

Introduction
They're not as common as Torque Thrust D's but custom steel wheels are making a run for "most popular wheel" among enthusiasts lately. It's no wonder, they look great and if you don't mind the weight they are much more affordable than equally wide alloy counterparts.

Did we just say affordable? At least in concept, steel wheels should be more affordable considering they're made up from the same material and subcomponents of the throw away stock wheels that are adorning your storage shed or side yard. The fact is however, custom steel wheels are not relatively cheap when compared to 100% new American Racing standard Torque Thrust style wheels and they are much more expensive than Bart D-slot steel wheels of similar dimension.

FordMuscle put a call into the custom wheel manufacturer Stockton Wheel. We requested pricing on a set of powder coated 15x8 steel wheels with a 5 on 4-1/2" bolt pattern and 3.5" backspacing. As of February 15, 2006 those wheels are running $157 each. We agree the style of a widened stock steel wheel with a factory cap is worth some coin, but what makes a 15x8 steel wheel worth $157 when an American Racing Torque Thrust D of the same size retails at Summit for $195? Better yet, why pay $157 for nostalgic steel when you can get a Bart IMCA wheel for only $42? Is the ability to get a Ford center cap on your wheel worth the difference of $110? The marketplace seems to being saying so.

As we eluded to above, steel wheels are usually fabbed up from the throw-aways you see at wrecking yards. The process is simple, a specialty custom wheel house gathers a bunch of factory steel wheels, separates the centers (the part that contains the bolt pattern) from the rim and keeps hundreds of these valuable, but used, components in an efficient staging area waiting for an order to come in. Once a customer calls specifying diameter, width, bolt pattern, center cap size, and backspacing, the raw materials are pulled and combined by splitting rims to make wider wheels and positioning the centers to create the requested backspace. The assembly or assemblies are trued on a jig, welded together, sandblasted, painted, or powder coated for an additional fee. A lucrative business based almost entirely on recycled materials! While there is quite a bit of hands-on work that goes into fabricating these wheels, something just doesn't seem right about paying $157 each for a wheel that FordMuscle member Tom Zuloaga makes in his spare time. Let's take a look at how he does it on his own.

 
Ford never made a steel wheel wider than 6 inches that would accept this center cap.
   

15x8 Custom Offset Ford Steel Wheels
Tom went into action upon discovering that Ford never produced an 8" wide steel wheel that would accept the common 10-1/2" Ford center cap. By removing a 5 on 4-1/2" center from a 15x6 Ford steel wheel, Tom figured he could find a readily available rim from a wider steel wheel to accommodate the center. Once Tom removed his first center he was able to identify the OD as 13-1/4". At that point the issue was to find rim whose inner diameter matched the outer diameter of the removed center. After some measuring Tom found that mid 70's to mid 80's 15x8 Chevy truck wheels have a 13 1/4" I.D. By using the two wheels Tom can make up a 15x8 nostalgic steel wheel.


These recognizable 15x8 Chevy steel truck wheels use the same ID as readily available 15x6 Ford steel wheels.
 
Here are the 15 x 6" stock Ford wheels that Tom uses for the centers. A wheel that many FordMuscler's have lying around.
     

These are the Ford centers after Tom has cut them out of the Ford wheels. At this point they are ready to be mated to the 8" wide Chevy wheel rims.
 
This is the weld that holds the center to the rim on the Chevy wheel. There are four of these welds that Tom needs to grind down to separate the rim and wheel center.
     


Using a small die grinder with a 3" cut off wheel Tom makes quick work of the welds. He grinds into the center and not into the rim since he will be reusing the rim.

 
Here are the Chevy rims after the centers have been removed. Did you know that the term "rim" and "wheel" should not be used interchangeably? This picture shows rims, a wheel without a center.
     

A simple fixture made from an old Ford spindle and hub was bolted to a work table. Tom uses the fixture to true the wheel before it is welded to the Ford centers.
 
The center is tapped into place on the wheel. Tom reversed this wheel, meaning that the former inside of the wheel will now be the outside of the wheel to give it the "deep dish" look. The backspace is also set by measuring from the outer lip of the wheel to the mounting surface. The backspace on this wheel will be 3 1/2".
     

A dial indicator is mounted to the work table to true the wheel. According to Tom's sources, anywhere from 0 -.045" is acceptable. He tries to get the wheel as true as possible with little or no run-out.
 
The wheel is tack welded in four places, and the run-out is checked again. The wheel is then finish welded alternating the welds from one side of the wheel to the other.
     

When the wheel is reversed, the valve stem hole is now on the wrong side of the wheel. The hole is welded shut, and it will be re-drilled in the correct location.
 
These are the completed assemblies waiting for a trip to the sandblaster.
     

Tom's dad (aka "Blastmaster Z") sandblasts the wheels.
 
Once complete they are all clean and ready for paint.
     

These particular wheels were painted with Sahara Beige urethane since they were going to be used on Tom's '66 Falcon.
 
The valve stem hole was marked and drilled on a drill press.
     

The 26" x 10" MT drag slicks were mounted. The tires were mounted tubeless, and with no sheetmetal screws holding them to the wheels.
   

Conclusion
Steel wheels were once a nice outlet for budget racers. Trends and the recent upswing in retro styling have indirectly affected the market price for "cheap" width. Tom Zuloaga's motivation to build what he can on his own represents a hot rodding mentality that is still alive today. In order to make sure this hobby remains one that is something for all of us to be proud of, FordMuscle urges you to continually challenge the marketplace by fabricating whatever you can with your own devices. If you have any questions about the steps Tom Zuloaga performed in this article please feel free to contact him directly by email.




Posted by wayne64, 05/20/07 02:05pm:
excellent article, i remember seeing this done by an old hotrodder in the 60s and being a welder for 30 years may give it a try. Wayne64
Posted by slyhog22056, 06/04/08 08:22pm:
My dad and I used to do this a lot, especially making wheels for racing. Now I just buy overstock wheels from AERO cut out the centers and use some from junk yard with the right bolt pattern. A complete wheel for under $40
Posted by Jim Douglas Jr, 05/18/10 08:13am:
Calling one supplier hardly constitutes an accurate quote. Bolton's in So. Cal. makes wide wheels and they're about half the price Stockton wheel charges. Our members get them made there all the time.
Posted by vcharran, 07/03/10 08:17am:
I am trying this for my Mazda mx3. The local machine shop will cut the rims but will not weld them through safety concerns about them cracking. Is it necessary to stress relieve these rims after welding?
Posted by CJade67, 07/18/14 09:05pm:
Refreshing article, so nice to read about resourcefulness and ingenuity rather than your basic info-mercial disguised as a magazine article. Searched for Bolton: Bolton's Classic Wheels 16516 S Western Ave, Gardena, CA 90247 (310) 538-5046

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In This Article:
Just want some steel wheels widened to accommodate more tire? Shouldn't cost that much, right? Last time we checked a 15x8 steel wheel with a custom offset will run you about $102 a pop. Want it powder coated? Well, that'll run you an additional $55. FordMuscle reader Tom Zuloaga shows you how he avoids spending big bucks on wheels that really shouldn't cost that much anyhow.

 
Price Shopping
To gain some quick perspective, we compared the price of a custom steel wheel from a specialty manufacturer to two other options in 15x8 wheels.
 
Stockton Wheel Widened
Factory Steel Wheel
15x8, 5 on 4-1/2" bolt circle,
3.5" backspace
Retail Price: $102.00
with powder coating add $55.00
 
Bart Wheels IMCA
Steel Wheel
Part No. 531-5812-3
15x8, 5 on 4-1/2" bolt circle,
3.00" backspace
Retail Price: $41.87
 
American Racing Alloy
Torque Thrust D Series 105
Part No. 105-5865
15x8.5, 5 on 4-1/2" bolt circle
3.75" backspace
Retail Price: $194.69

 

 


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