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Vintage Hoopla - Summer 2014

What’s What in the World of Vintage Wheels

By Steve Magnante, Photography by Car Craft Archives

'32 Ford "Thunderbolt" vs. Charlie Allen '65 A900 in A/MP

New for 1964, the NHRA's Modified Production spurred unlikely matchups like this '65 A/MP pairing between Charlie Allen's standard-wheelbase '65 Dodge A990 Hemi and the 427 high-riser-powered Ed Martin Ford '32 roadster. Regardless of class, successful drag racers came prepared with several different compounds to suit changing track conditions. To control cost, the extra slicks were mounted to stamped steel wheels, as seen here. Up front, the wheel and tire combo is more or less permanent, so the one-time investment in lightweight aftermarket rollers was justified. Allen's Dodge sports American Racing 15x4 magnesium Torq-Thrusts, while the Deuce's nose rides on Radirs. Factory-issued on '64 Race Hemi Mopars and '65 A/FX Ford Mustangs, the skinny 15x4 Torq-Thrusts weigh 10.5 pounds each. By contrast, the Radir's steel hoop-on-cast-aluminum center construction comes in at about 16 pounds bare. According to a July '65 Radir wheel ad, the same basic wheel was offered with various surface textures and polishing treatments for a total of 15 varieties, a shrewd way to maximize tooling expenditures. We're fascinated by the Ed Martin Deuce. The Thunderbolt Jr. logo hints at the full-tilt 427 Thunderbolt high-riser FE mill under its clamshell hood. Dig how the louvered hood has been slashed to make way for the flexible T-Bolt cold-air ducts.

Jack Chrisman's Red SOHC Cyclone Door-Slammer

Jolly Jack Chrisman's Super Cyclone was the sport's first blown fuel Funny Car. Hatched in 1964 with white paint, Sachs & Sons Lincoln-Mercury sponsorship, and packing a 6-71 huffed 427 wedge, it was transformed for the '65 match-racing season with red paint, a mid-mounted 427 SOHC, and Model A–style front suspension (as seen here). The '65 revamp was focused on the forward half of the car, so the T-Bolt style traction arm rear suspension and huge 15x10 American Racing Torq-Thrust mags of '64 remained in place. Along with the '65 switch to Cammer motivation, the A-arm front suspension and five-bolt polished magnesium 15x4 Torq-Thrusts were swapped for a dropped straight axle, single transverse leaf spring, and spindle-mount Halibrands. The switch excised more than 100 pounds and increased static and dynamic ride height for enhanced weight transfer. Note how the header tubes and front-sump oil pan sump are 2 feet farther back in the chassis versus stock. This modification, which required Chrisman to drive from the rear seat area, produced the same result on front-rear weight distribution as altering the wheelbase but with less bodywork and no loss in product identification.

Street Cleaner A/SR

The Street Cleaner A/Street Roadster combines 15x4 magnesium American Racing Torq-Thrusts and chromed, reverse wheels. The term "reversed wheels" refers to the practice of flipping the center spider 180 degrees in the steel hoop to alter the backspacing in search of a deeper look and added inboard tire sidewall clearance. The better offerings were chromed, while they were cut apart for complete plating coverage, thus eliminating frosted regions (thin plating) where the hoop and spider meet. In the '60s, the pioneers were Appliance Plating, Sebring, and Shore-Calnevar. The Cleaner's drive wheels were fitted with wider-than-stock hoops at about 7 or 8 inches in width. The exotic Torq-Thrusts and workaday steelies aren't the only cool mismatch here.

Unknown 392 Digger vs. Jerry Ruth

NHRA starter Buster Couch is set to send Jerry Ruth and an unidentified Top Fueler on their way in this circa '66–'67 shot. The Halibrand Sprints on the back of the no-name digger in the near lane show just one of the many possible hole patterns for those wheels. In contrast to the usual five slots, these have but four, a trait of rims built in the '58–'62 period. So, too, is the presence of a single bolt pattern, likely a 5-on-5 circle to suit the Olds/Pontiac rear axles used by the majority of Top Fuelers at this time. As reference, magnesium was first discovered in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy but didn't see widespread use until WWII, when its superior strength-to-weight ratio made it an ideal choice for military aircraft applications. A block of iron weighing 451⁄2 pounds only weighs 10 pounds if rendered in magnesium. Halibrand didn't use pure magnesium, but rather an alloy consisting of 88–92 percent magnesium combined with other metals to improve fatigue strength, deflection characteristics, and surface stability. The same formula was and still is used in aircraft wheels. Halibrand pin-drive knock-off rims were the choice for the limited-production 427 Shelby Cobra– and LeMans-winning GT-40 race programs. Studebaker also dabbled with Halibrand wheels in '64–'65, adding them to the Avanti and Lark Daytona option books.

'55 Chevy C'Gas Butch Thuney

Function and form roll hand in hand, especially when they're presented in their raw, as-cast state. Butch Thuney's double-Sprint- equipped (15x31⁄2/15x8) shoe box ran a 327, using a four-speed stick and a 10 percent engine set-back. Butch likely spent plenty of time keeping his rims shiny with hours of elbow grease and gobs of polishing compound. Magnesium has been referred to as a "living metal," and unless protected with a chemical coating like Dow 7, which lends a gold tint, exposure to humid air rapidly causes the shine to become dull gray. If ignored long enough, the gray darkens and white snow-like speckles make pits and deep craters on the surface. Worse, if washed with soap containing lye, stains are immediate. A classic mistake occurs during tire mounting if an installer uses soapy water to lubricate tire beads. Excess soap is trapped inside the wheel and along the bead surface where it turns into a corrosion factory. Safe assembly involves straight water and a very small amount of wax for lube.

By Steve Magnante
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