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How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic

Putting a spoke in it Published: 18th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Regularly ‘ping’ the spokes with a pencil. A dull sound indicates the ones which need replacing
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Fitting tyres to spoked wheels is job for an expert, as is balancing them
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic If the rims (usually newer designs) features these centred spoke location then you can run tubeless tyres. Otherwise they need to be taped over and use tubes
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Regularly inspect the wires by hand running your fingers over them to feel for loose/broken ones
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Replacement hubs are available but can be dear
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Compare prices of new wires against refurbished as the gap can be small
How to maintain the wheels and rims of your classic Splines wear and lead to clunking. Check and grease them regularly

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Wire wheels are great – until they go wrong? We show you how to make the most of those classic rims

Nothing sets a period classic car off better than a set of period wire wheels. Alloys fads may come and go but the original sports road wheel is as appealing now as it’s ever been. Supposing the last time you had wire wheels they were on a pushbike and now they are propping up your classic car – what’s the difference? The answer is enough – so read on if you want to get the best out of them.


Okay, so your pushbike’s wheels were reliable enough but don’t expect the wire wheels on a car to be so durable. Regular inspections – say every three months – are wise. Essentially wire wheels are quite tough; the problems stem from age and mileage. Think wire wheel care and most enthusiasts talk of damaged/loose/broken spokes but that’s only the start. The timehonoured 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 the car if more than one spoke is broken or damaged. Incidentally, new spokes generally cost under £2; it’s the fitting that’s the hassle as the tyre has to come off the rim and usually many old spokes removed to gain access. As invariably they break during their removal you usually end up replacing a lot of them… Rather like you did when you kerbed your bike’s wheel, it pays to raise your car and 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 show up as a clunk as the car takes up drive rather like a worn drive shaft or slack differential. Replacement hubs are available but can be pricey – a couple of hundred pounds per hub depending upon car – but they are the only cure. One of the best ways to preserve your existing wire wheels is to keep them as clean as possible. Dirt, brake dust build up and water ingress can seep into the spoke’s nipples and promote premature decay.


Years ago only tubed tyres could beused, 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 chaff i n g 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 marque specialist.


Not everybody is a fan of wire wheels. Some very high performance cars can’t run on them (such as the heavyweight Aston Martin DBS V8s) and while they are approved for motorsport, chromed spokes are not as they are more brittle. Even so conventional wire wheels can be pretty heavy which is why most competition cars run on alloy or mag rims to save on unsprung weight. However super lightweight wire wheels are available for track use. Specialised Automobile Services (01260 253119) recently released a quality Turrino 5.5” x 14 wire for the likes of the Stag and MGB that’s claimed to be a useful two kilos lighter than a standard spoke wheel. If you want to retain wires for road or track, then a specialist can widen the rims by altering the offset. Also wires can be beefed up with added spokes; 72 is the accepted norm.

Want to be wired up?

Many classics can be converted to wire wheels, but it’s a costly business and something you’ll hardly see a return on if you intend swap- ping over for investment purposes. How easy it is to convert to wires depends upon the car concerned. Triumph Spitfires are a doddle 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. Wire wheels used to be the preserve of the UK motor industry, but the likes of Dunlop sold up years ago and the majority of wire wheels are now made overseas and it’s said that the quality can vary, so check what you are buying. There again it’s all down to price and a superior set of wires from a UK specialist manufacturer can cost well over £2000. 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. Want to fit wire wheels the easy way? Motor Wheel Service International (who has an excellent website – – containing lots of helpful information) markets a stylish line of bolt-on wire rims that look authentic but 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.

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