My little pick-up truck – with a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine – has exactly the same size wheels and tires (225/70R-15) as the ones my 1976 Pontiac Trans Am – with a 7.5 liter V8 – was shod with when it rolled off the Norwood, Ohio assembly line back when Jimmah Cahter was angling to be Decider.
No classic muscle car came from the factory with wheels larger than commonly fitted to today’s economy cars. Many came with 14s. You can get a new Prius with 17s. No muscle car from the ’60s or ’70s ever came with larger than 15s.
The small size of muscle car wheels and tires relative to the size of their engines – and their output of horsepower and torque – is considered a deficit today. It’s argued – correctly – that classic muscle cars aren’t as quick as they could be, because you can’t lay down V8 power on four cylinder-sized wheels (and tires).
Well, you can – it just goes up in smoke.
But – to me – this is part of the fun of owning an old muscle car. I submit that modern performance cars are less fun – though they are much quicker – because the experience is more anodyne. You go straight – not sideways. It is much harder to chirp 17 or 18-inch tires on the 1-2 upshift.
They hook up almost too well.
AWD performance cars being the worst in this respect. They have so much grip it’s almost a non-event. I’d rather go sideways, smoking and chirping. I like the challenge of trying to keep the thing from going up a tree, feeding just enough throttle to keep it on the knife-edge of control, just barely.
Same goes in the corners, where the classic muscle car’s sideways grip is also much lower than almost any modern ordinary car.
It is easier to get a classic muscle car’s tail out and steer the thing as much with your right foot as with your white-knuckled hands. You may not corner faster than a Camry – but you will have more fun cornering than you will in a Corvette, which has cornering limits so high it’s almost impossible to reach them.
But then, I am a hooligan and a freak and my views are probably not representative.
There is also the aesthetic issue. Small though they were relative to the capabilities of the cars, muscle car wheels looked great – and were much more distinctive. The brand (and often, model) specific wheels part of the package. A connoisseur can ID a classic muscle car under a tarp – by its wheels.
Only Pontiacs had Honeycomb and Snowflake wheels. Only Fords had Magnum 500s – and so on. Like steering wheels (which were ruined – homogenized – by air bags) modern wheels are bleakly generic. Large-sized but one size fits all.
Wheels larger than 17s also look awkward on cars designed decades before wheels that large – that tall – became available. The proportions are wrong. The relationship of the wheels (and short sidewall tires) in relation to the wheelhouse – and then the car itself.
There is a functional issue to consider, too.
Swapping a muscle car’s factory 14 or 15-inch wheels and tires for 17 or 18-inch wheels and tires without making other, probably drastic, changes will likely queer the factory suspension geometry of these 50-year-old cars. Seventeen-up wheels/tires may not even physically fit and will also add a lot of rolling resistance, despite these wheels being (usually) alloy vs. steel.
This will probably negatively affect steering – and braking, too.
I suspect it would be necessary to heavily modify the rest of the car – its suspension, steering and brakes – maybe even the body – to get 17s and up to fit and for the car to sit right and to not queer its handling/steering. Many people do exactly that, of course – replacing the factory steel control arms and coils, etc., with modern tubular A-arms and even coil overs. Big brakes, rolled fenders – even tubs.
But now you have a modern car that looks like a classic car – and in that case why not just buy the modern car?
You’ve lost the experience of driving the classic car.
It’s a shame it’s either – or. And it is, because there’s no middle-ground option. You have to jump from 15-inch wheels to at least 17s. And to generic wheels.
But why not sixteens? In the stock patterns?
I would, if I had the money, consider having a set of 16×8 Honeycombs made for my Trans Am. These would be larger (and wider) than the factory 15×7 wheels but not as obviously so – and not as preposterously tall. I could use tires with sidewall height not too far off what was stock. The car would sit right – and it would probably handle right, without doing major mods to the suspension/brakes/steering.
It would also allow me to shoe the TA with tires rated for the speed the TA is capable of, the factory 455’s output having been upgraded since Jimmah Cahtuh was Decider. The Great Pumpkin is probably capable of pegging the 160 MPH speedo – something it could not do back in ’76s – but even I am not willing to make the attempt on BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires.
These look great – with snarky white lettering, just like the Trans-Am’s original Uniroyal tires – but they aren’t high-speed tires; they are basically all-season radials – as is the case with pretty much any tire you can find in a 15-inch size.
The BFGs carry an S speed rating, which means they are fine for up to 112 MPH, Prius speed.
I’d like at least an H-rated tire, good for 130 – which would give me enough comfort margin to exceed that by 20 or so for a few fun seconds. But pushing the limit by 40 or more doesn’t seem . . . what was it the Chimp’s sire used to say?
A 16×8 wheel would be ideal. There are H-rated (and higher) performance tires available for that size. And that size would look right on a classic muscle car like my TA. They would look like the factory wheels, without being obviously aftermarket wheels. 16×8 inch Honeycombs for classic Pontiacs; 16×8 Magnum 500s for classic Fords.
You could still lay rubber – and chirp the tires, too.
Which would be . . . what did they used to call it?
. . .
Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos.
PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)
If you’d like an ear tag – custom made! – just ask and it will be delivered.
My latest eBook is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here. If that fails, email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy directly!