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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

'68 Hurst/Olds Convertible

In 1965, as a response to the Keystone Kustomag and Cragar S/S, Hurst business partner Bill Campbell unveiled the Dazzler. Unlike the die-cast aluminum centers used in competing composite wheels, this wheel used a patented, forged aluminum center spider made by Harvey Aluminum. Riveted to Kelsey-Hayes steel outer rims, the Dazzler was touted as the strongest aftermarket wheel available.

Photographed at the '68 NHRA Winternationals, L.V. does her Miss Golden Shifter act while perched atop one of two Hurst/Olds ragtops built that year (only one with Dazzler rims). Despite aggressive marketing efforts that included full-page ads, Dazzlers were heavy and expensive at as much as four times the price of competing wheels. Each rim carried a specific sequential identification number and lifetime warranty, and thanks to a variety of paint, surface texture, trim ring, center cap, and lug-nut designs, more than 100 combinations were possible. Much to someone's dismay, Dazzler wheels enjoyed not a dot of popularity, and even Hurst-modified Detroit muscle cars were not retail-equipped with Dazzlers. The program was quietly terminated in mid-'69.

Car Craft 340 Dart Swinger

Car Craft teamed with Dodge and numerous advertisers in 1969 to prepare this nifty Dart Swinger 340 giveaway. For maximum exposure, mismatched wheels were used. The rears are Cragar S/S composite 14x6 die-cast aluminum and steel—small-bolt-pattern Mopar Cragars were never offered with a 15-inch hoop diameter. The Cragar name is a mash-up of Depression-era investor Crane Gartz' first and last names. Up front, what initially appear to be American Torq-Thrusts are actually Cragar Swinger wheels. New for 1969, the Swinger, also marketed as the S/X, was Cragar's first one-piece, all-aluminum five-spoke. Visually, the Swinger emulated the Torq-Thrust's one-piece cast appearance but with subtle differences. First, the center cap lacks mounting ears. Cragar devised internal mounts using five screws to secure the caps from the inside of the rim, making removal impossible with the wheel on the car. A round plate with a single machine screw to keep them in place retained Cragar S/S centers. The Swinger wheel is not to be confused with the Cragar G/T, which was an unpolished five-spoke that emulated the no-nonsense look of magnesium racing wheels—at one fifth the price. Introduced in 1967, the G/T used an unpolished steel hoop with a die-cast aluminum five-spoke center spider that differed from the S/S in that it extended all the way to the edge of the rim hoop.

Cross-Eyed Duster Pro Stock in Pits Getting Trans Fixed

By the time this fresh '71 Hemi Duster Pro Stocker was photographed, Keystone's Kustomag wheel had been in production for five years and had been renamed Keystone Klassic. Aside from a change in the K cast into the center cap (from script to block font), the wheel design was otherwise unaltered. Like the Cragar S/S, Keystone used die-cast aluminum center spiders with integral steel tabs that allowed them to be welded securely to chromed steel hoops, but the result wasn't much lighter than a traditional stamped steel wheel of the same dimensions. One of the most prominent Keystone customers was Sox & Martin, and every S&M Plymouth from 1965 to 1971 rolled on them. The team campaigned a Hemi Duster in 1970, often piloted by Herb McCandless while Ronnie wheeled the team's 'Cuda, but this cross-eyed rig ain't it. Note the upscale Duster Twister grille, deep-sump pan, Weiand tunnel ram with clear plastic spark-plug holder for between rounds maintenance, and lightweight Hurst Airheart front disc brakes. The extreme toe-in tells us the steering tie rod has been disconnected, perhaps to allow oil-pan removal for bearing inspection. Ironically, Cragar now owns and manufactures the Klassic, which is commonly available in several popular sizes.

Dick Landy's '75ish Dart Sport

The two-piece Cragar Super Trick arrived in 1971 and marked a controversial turning point in aftermarket wheel design. Lacking spokes, slots, ribs, or vents, the Super Trick was virtually devoid of character in the traditional sense yet made a very distinct statement. The novel spun aluminum construction left a multitude of fine lines in the textured surface of the wheel, not unlike that of a 331⁄3 record, and the 15 bolts used to hold the wheel halves together lent a no-nonsense vibe. Best of all, it was lighter than any preceding race wheel, even the best magnesium offerings. Immediately, Top Fuel and Pro Stock racers ditched their traditional rims for Super Tricks. By 1972, they were common on the dragstrip, but the lightweight design was easily damaged on the street. To satisfy the lucrative street market, the Super Trick concept was watered down into the SST (Street Super Trick), which swapped exotic spun aluminum construction for a heavy steel hoop and die-cast aluminum center. Since the Super Trick's distinctive record album texture couldn't be rendered in the cast aluminum pancake, thick chrome was substituted. Worst of all, Cragar added a constellation of fake bolts around the inner circumference of the hoop, but none of that detracts from the lean and mean Super Tricks seen here on Dick Landy's '74 Dart Sport B/Gas contender. A Cragar-sponsored racer since 1967, the 15x3 front wheels are spindle-mounted, though bolt-ons were also offered.

Arlen Vanke Duster Pro Stock

Fenton rolled through the '60s as a proprietor of down-market copycat wheel offerings like the Ram Rod, a cheap steel-hooped take on the five-spoke American Racing Torq-Thrust. But for 1970, Fenton struck pay dirt with the lightweight Gyro. A one-piece machined aluminum item, the Gyro was offered in several sizes and quickly became the darling of early Pro Stock racers looking for a lighter alternative to heavy composite wheels. Here, "Akron Arlen" Vanke has invaded an Arco station for some impromptu night work beneath his '70 Duster Pro Stocker. This brutal four-speed monster rides on 15x31⁄2 and 15x81⁄2 Gyros. But the industry's first slotted aluminum wheel was the Ansen Sprint, which arrived in 1963, not the Gyro. Despite sharing its name with Ted Halibrand's more costly magnesium Sprint wheels (first by several years), somehow Ansen and Halibrand never met in court. From the "payback is a bitch" department, numerous wheel makers, including American Racing, Cragar, Mickey Thompson, U.S. Indy, Superior, and Fenton, quickly latched onto Ansen's unprotected five-slot dish design with copycat versions of the Sprint slotted wheel. The Fenton magic was offering the Gyro in an ultra-skinny 15x31⁄2 size, perfect for drag racers looking for the lightest front rims possible.

By Steve Magnante
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