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Wire Wheels

Wire Wheels Published: 26th Jul 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
Wire Wheels
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All you need to know about caring for those sexy spokes!

ire wheels look great but not everybody loves them as one road test during the 1970s highlighted. Testing the revised Austin-Healey Sprite the magazine commented on the Sprite’s new “very handsome” steel sports wheels. “Why should anyone want to fit wire wheels which are heavier, weaker and brutes to clean”.

Happily, now we’re talking classics not contemporary, we appreciate wire wheels for their period style. Nothing sets a period classic car off better than a set of period wires. Alloys fads may come and go but the original sports road wheel is as appealing now as it’s ever been although they are still ‘brutes’ to clean and look after. But it needn’t be if you heed our advice.

The techy stuff

Acceleration, cornering, and braking all impose loads from different directions between the wheel rim and the hub, and often the wheel has to cope with differing directions of stress at the same time. Spokes must be loaded in tension – think of it as pulling – as any compression or lateral load will cause the spoke to bend. Sideways forces are controlled by arranging the spokes across the relatively wide hub at different angles, to form rigid triangles. Spokes work in pairs to absorb loads, and fore and aft weight transfer is controlled by these pairs acting alternately in tension. Complex patterns of lacing or ‘crossing’ also adds strength.

Spokes can be made from rustless, stainless or chromed material, with ultra expensive ‘double butted’ (thinner in the middle) variations found on ultra expensive, historic racing wheels. Chromed spokes aren’t allowed in competition because of the effect of hydrogen embrittlement caused by the plating process although rare nowadays.


What if the last time you had wire wheels they were on a push bike and now they are propping up your classic – what’s the difference? The answer is quite enough but don’t expect the wire wheels on a car to be so durable! Regular inspections – say every three months – are wise. Think wire wheel care and most enthusiasts think of damaged/loose/broken spokes but that’s only the start. The time honoured way of checking a spoke’s tension is to tap it with a pencil. A sharp uniform ping should be heard whereas a flat sound indicates a loose or broken spoke.

If it’s the former, they can be tightened, using a proper key not an ordinary spanner, but only if the individual ‘nipples’ that the spokes sit in aren’t rusted up – and they usually are to be honest. Don’t be tempted to run around with damaged or loose spokes as it only places greater strain on the sound ones. Penny to a pound it’s always a front wheel that suffers the most, due to braking forces it is claimed. Certainly don’t run your car if more than one spoke is broken or damaged.

Rather like you did when you kerbed your bike’s wheel, it pays to raise your car to spin each wheel looking for any buckling. If it’s not excessive then it may be ‘hammered’ true. Even if the wheel looks in sound order it may still be clapped out if the locating splines are shot. Lack of periodic greasing (use only a recommended High Melting Point type) will cause the splines to wear, look for pointed edges and a shiny groove where the wheel mates to the hub. With the car jacked up, lightly spin the wheels and feel for wear; it may also manifest itself as a clunk as the drive is taken up rather like a worn drive shaft or slack differential. New hubs are available but can be pricey but it’s the only cure.

Once a week, and before any long journey, ensure that the knock-on nut, sometimes called a spinner, is completely tight and that the wheel is okay on the splines. Many designs used are right-hand thread on the right hand side and left-hand thread on the left side of the car to avoid ‘rotational loosening’ as you drive along.


The best possible way of keeping your wheels in tiptop shape is to keep them as clean as possible. Soap and water suffices but you can use a dedicated alloy wheel cleaner, albeit only if the wheels are painted – bare metal or lacquer finishes will be damaged by aggressive chemical cleaners. Any cleaning regime is also dependent upon your car’s use. Older style brake pads can give off lots of harmful black brake dust, so consider upgrading to Greenstuff pads which are a lot cleaner in operation (and work better).

If the wheels are tarnished, then use a paintwork renovator (such as T-cut) followed by a good polish . This will keep up appearances and help resist dirt in the future. If you have chromed wheels and/or spokes, a light polish with an Autosol type polish is fine (try the new Miroxol metal polish, it’s really good-ed), but don’t go too hard or too often with this type of cleaner.

At the start and end of each motoring season it’s wise to remove the wheels, and give them a detail cleaning right up to the spoke heads front and back. This will allow you to find loose or broken spokes, and also give a close examination for stress fractures at both hub or rim.


New wire wheels aren’t cheap, so any decision to replace will be based on either cosmetic or wear deterioration. If your wheels are old but sound, you may get away with a re-paint. But a new set of wheels will ensure a perfect finish. If you experience any sort of clonking on taking up drive in forward or reverse, or worse still, when cornering, then your wheels will need expert examination – spline wear can affect hubs and stub axles, too plus cause ongoing loosening, which is dangerous and must be fixed.

The good news is that the general quality of aftermarket wire wheels has improved substantially over the years and they can be as good as OE equipment if you go for quality types. Leading players such as MWS International, Longstone Tyres and Vintage Tyres of Beaulieu who market a full range of replacement wheels which can make refurbishing the old ones uneconomic and certainly a safer bet than buying secondhand ones.


You may want to move away from painted wheels to chromed, or strengthen by changing to a 72 spoke design. Beware though, as these can be more difficult to clean. If you are already at the chromed, 72 spoke level, then why not go for the ultimate in beauty? Whilst Dunlop or Dayton rim designs in steel are great, there’s nothing that confers exotic status like wide Borrani alloy rims, as fitted to greats such as Ferrari GTO and Lamborghini Miura.


It’s possible that you can fit sexy spokes to your classic as many mainstream cars were available with wire wheels as an optional extra when new. Fitting involves swapping over the hubs although on certain cars it may even mean the complete axle change.

Triumph Spitfires are a doddle, for instance, as the fitting spline bolts directly on to the existing hub but Jags and MGs can be a lot more involved, perhaps requiring a new axle assembly – check with a specialist for fuller details. Easier options include wire wheels which fit on conventional hubs although they don’t look as good.

Be wary if you intend to save money by purchasing secondhand as you could be acquiring junk. It’s generally accepted that for many classics, long term it’s more cost effective to purchase a set of refurbished items.

Motor Wheel Service International (who has an excellent website – www. – containing lots of helpful information) markets a line of bolt-on wire rims that look authentic yet simply fit existing hubs. Prices start from just over £200 a wheel but at least you are still left with the option of reverting back to normal items if you desire.


Years ago only tubed tyres could be used, as the air would escape via the spoke holes. However it’s not the case now thanks to a change of design that can have the spoke location moved away from the edge and towards the centre of the rim. That said, it is okay to use a tube in a tubeless tyre. If your rims are of the original sort then special tape has to cover the exposed inner nipples to prevent chafing against the tyre. Fitting new tyres to a wheel is an art that many high street tyre centres lack, so beware if you don’t want the rims damaged. Similarly, balancing can be difficult and you should really seek either a wire wheel or specialist rather than high street fast-fit.

MWS is wired with the answers

Established as Motor Wheel Service and Repair Company in 1927, MWS has been manufacturing and restoring wire wheels for three generations of this family-run business. The MWS Workshop, located in Langley can manufacture or restore wire wheels, reusing parts where possible or replacing components from an extensive range of stock that includes rims, centres, spokes and nipples. MWS can supply wheels in a variety of finishes: powder-coated, wet-painted, chromed or polished. MWS offers a free of charge inspection and report service during which the experienced Workshop staff check your wheels for structural integrity and advise on any repairs required. We put these questions to the company’s Oliver Smith.

What are the most common mistakes owners make when caring/cleaning them etc?

I would say that would probably be not cleaning them enough. Wheels are the first to pick up any dirt and water from the road and anything left to sit on the wheel can cause them to rust. The most important thing is just to clean and dry them if they have been used on wet or salted roads. This is particularly important if the car is to be stored for long periods, we suggest a light coating of WD40 if this is going to be the case as it helps keep moisture at bay. Just remember to make sure your brakes in particular are clear of any residue before driving There are lots of tools available to help make the task easier but unfortunately it comes down to good old fashioned elbow grease.

Is there a life expectancy of a typical wire wheel before it needs overhauling etc?

Not really, we see wheels 20+ years old still in very good condition. It comes down to how well they are looked after and what condition you are happy with. Of course some owners like to ensure they have brand new looking wheels all the time so may replace them after 5-10 years.

Can you fit modern tubeless tyres to a classic original wire wheel and what should you look out for?

Most of the MWS range of classic wire wheels are tubeless and can be fitted with tubeless tyres and do not require inner tubes. Our wire wheels have safety humps on the rim that prevent the tyre bead moving, and also application of sealant to cover the spoke heads and prevent any air from escaping. Any wire wheel must have both of these features to have a tyre mounted without an inner tube, as well as a tubeless rated tyre. None of our vintage range are tubeless but then again there are no tubeless crossply tyres available.

We understand that the quality of replacement wire wheels is probably better now than ever, after a period of varying quality. Is this so?

I would say that our product now is definitely of a better quality than ever before (including the original Dunlop wheels). Since our product is a continuation of the original Dunlop wheels (we were the sole distributor for Dunlop before we took over their product) we’ve been able to monitor this since the ’70s. With factory improvements to tolerances and quality control in both materials and production we have delivered very consistent high standards for many years. As well as the better quality of the original products we have introduced innovations such as tubeless wheels and polished full stainless steel wheels, offering a better resistance to corrosion than standard chrome and painted wheels.

At MWS how much would you charge for a wheel overhaul and how does it compare to buying a new one instead?

If you are looking at a wheel that we stock, particularly chrome, then it is very often more cost efficient to just replace the wheel. We sometimes repaint wheels if they are in a good condition but otherwise most of the jobs we take on in our workshop will be older or peculiar wheels that we do not stock, or very expensive wheels like Borranis where the cost of replacements are exceptional. Our workshop will also manufacture bespoke designs from scratch if required.

As an example of something we would be likely to rebuild at MWS: A vintage 3” x 18” wheel with 60 spokes, the rebuild price would be £246. This would assume we can reuse the rim and centre, we would replace all the spokes and repaint the wheel in a standard colour. Obviously there are various factors that could affect the price, including having to replace the rim or centre and special paint colours. If we were to build this same wheel from scratch you would be looking at £555.60. If we look at a classic wheel then a 4.5” x 15” XW452S would cost £175.15 new from stock, whereas a refurb replacing the spokes would be a similar cost to the last example, so here we would suggest the customer purchase a new wheel.

Prices stated include VAT and exclude any delivery charges

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