The Wheel Deal
Mounting Tires on Wire Wheels
Mounting tires on wire wheels
You simply can’t have a cool car without wheels. While you are all saying in unison “Thank you Captain Obvious,” I’ll go one step further: “You can’t have a cool hot rod without cool wheels.” Wheels and tires are one of the most important choices to be made when building a hot rod. They set the mood, the stance, the very spirit of every specialty car.
One might argue the wheels and tires should be the first choice and simply build the car around the wheels. From restorod to Pro Street, wheels and tires make the statement. The choices are many: steelies, chrome reverse, mag wheel, real magnesium wheels, wire wheels, front runners, Lancers, Sombreros, Moons, Baby Moons, spinner caps, spider caps, dog dish, glamour rings, beauty bands, Merc pancake caps, kidney beans, the list goes on. The trick is choosing the right wheel for your car.
The automobile wheel has seen interesting transformations over the years, from the early wood spoke wheels of the first automobiles to wire wheels, then solid and artillery-style steel wheels, and back to optional wire wheels on glamour cars like Cadillac, Chryslers, Packards, and the Buick Skylark, to name a few. Wire wheels would largely disappear from the scene by the mid ’50s to the early ’60s when once again wire wheels adorned some Thunderbirds that resurfaced in the ’60s.
While wire wheels aren’t right for every hot rod or custom, they are also the perfect wheel for other-style hot rods. If you are going for an early vintage hot rod look on a '35 or earlier hot rod, a set of painted wires goes a long way to cementing the look. Building a ’50s custom? Chrome wires work there and often a vintage-styled restorod needs a little sparkle from a set of chrome Skylark wires.
Now, we’re not going to get into the myriad of choices of wire wheels, be it 32-, 36-, 40-, or 56-spoke wheels, but we thought it might be interesting to follow along as a set of brand-new, chrome-plated Thunderbird wire wheels are mounted with new tires. These
Thunderbird wire wheels feature 56 stainless steel spokes connecting a chrome center to the chrome outer band with a T-bird spinner hubcap in the center. As it turns out you can buy both the Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels (chrome or painted) and the correct vintage-style tires at Coker Tire. Coker Tire has a wide selection of differentstyle wire wheels.
If you buy the wheels only, be sure to find a quality tire store familiar with mounting wire wheels. We know all this because we recently toured the Coker
Tire and Honest Charley facilities, and part of our “insider” tour by Corky Coker included the warehouses and the mounting and balancing shop. Tours of the Coker Tire and Honest Charley facilities are available daily showcasing a great selection of vintage cars and motorcycles (although the tour does not include warehouse access). If you are in or around Chattanooga, Tennessee, be sure to stop by Coker Tire; it is a tour worth taking.
Wire wheels require a little extra care when mounting tires. First, regardless
of the type of tire you purchase, wire wheels require the use of an inner tube. For clarification, “tubeless tires” mean the tire bead is designed to provide an airtight seal against the rim. It does not mean you cannot use an inner tube. Of course tires produced prior to the tubeless technology will always require an inner tube as will any wire wheel. This may seem obvious, but whenever you are mounting new tires on wire wheels remember to use new inner tubes. Inner tubes will degrade over time just like tires, and while the tube
may look good, you should still use new tubes.
The neat part about purchasing the tires, inner tubes, and wheels from Coker Tire is the wheels are delivered to your door with the tires mounted and balanced. Since the Coker team mounts only vintage wheels and tires, they are experts with wire wheels, ensuring a perfectly balanced set of wheels and tires every time. To complete the job simply open the box, mount the wheels, and apply your favorite tire dressing.
Of course tires only work if you put a wheel inside it and once again Corky Coker took us for an inside look at the rows of wheels in the Coker Tire warehouse; the inventory is impressive.1
■ If you’re looking for brand-new, period-perfect tires for your latest hot rod, muscle car, or vintage restoration Coker Tire has one on the shelf for your application. This is just part of the vast inventory in the Coker warehouse.
■ When most hot rodders think of Coker Tire they may be thinking street tires, but Coker Tire also manufactures an extensive line of race tires, such as these Phoenix racing slicks.3
■ Also stored in the warehouse are the molds for vintage tires. Many of the tires sold through Coker Tires are made from the original molds. After a manufacturing run of tires the molds are returned to the warehouse.2
■ Taking the Coker tour means old cars and trucks of every description. Corky loves them all, from muscle cars to wood-wheeled, brass era cars. We found this 1914 AmericanLaFrance truck napping in the warehouse; just one of many future projects.4
■ This is one of the tire mounting stations. State-of-the-art equipment like the touchless mounting machine and computerized spinbalancing ensure flawless mounting and precise balancing of every wheel and tire.5
■ First the tire is mounted on this simple examination rack and checked to be certain there are no foreign objects or sharp areas inside the tire that could potentially damage the inner tube.7
6 ■ After our tour we made our way to the tire mounting and balancing service area to follow along with the proper mounting and balancing of wire wheels. We have a Thunderbird wire wheel, a radial tubeless whitewall tire, and a new inner tube. Together they will make a great vintage package.
8 ■ If you are using an inner tube inside any tire it is important to remove any object that could be abrasive to the tube. This hard label is actually bonded to the inside of the tire and could be a problem for an inner tube.
■ A small air grinder removes the label and smooths the potential problem area. Very little rubber is actually removed in the process.9
■ The brand-new Thunderbird wire wheel is mounted to the tire-mounting machine, being careful not to damage any of the chrome plating in the process.11
■ Here we can see the small area smoothed by the sanding disc. Talcum powder is sprinkled inside the tire prior to installing the tube to help prevent any potential chaffing of the tube.10
■ Now it is time to press the front tire bead over the rim, but first the tire bead is lubricated so it will easily slip into place.16
■ With the back bead over the rim some air is added to the tube to inflate it inside the tire. Just enough air pressure to make the tube round is used at this time. This will hold the tube in place on the rim.15