Wide Stance?

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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.

Looks wrong . . .

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.

Looks right!

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.

Still looks wrong…

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.

Which arguably defeats the whole point of owning the classic car – unless all you care about is how it looks.

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?

Prudent.

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?

Fun!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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31 COMMENTS

  1. 15 inch wheels, lots of rubber and white letters make the classic hot rods look right! It surprises me most of the high dollar builds ruin the car with monster wheels.
    I understand I might give up a little road handling but if big wheels gave that much more traction wouldn’t dragsters use them with a rubber band wrapped around them?

  2. I heard from a friend that knew of an Avanti that had most of the factory/Granatelli stuff on it. An R-2 only with ORIGINAL Hallibrand magnesium wheels. The guy that was selling it didn’t bother to clean it up at all so I figured that it would be an economic sinkhole.
    Real magnesium wheels need considerable care to stop corrosion. These weren’t obviously pitted and the tires held air but the five grand went back to the bank. I do know what the Avanti was, but it was a distinctive car that had fairly good looks. After all, the R-3 version with stock everything other than the rear end ratio had four people including the Granatelli brothers in the back seat doing 160 on the salt flats. That salt would have been hell on the magnesium wheels. I bet that they sped like hell to get to a car wash.
    Good tires on 15″ rims give a good ride and squeal like a banshee on hard corners.

  3. I do miss the car styles from the 1960’s. Everything got lower, wider, and there was lots of glass with no blind spots. Also, with rear-wheel drive, the biggest V8 could be installed in the smallest compact, and it was long enough under the hood to take a straight six. I miss the many different body styles that were available then, the standard shift and overdrive transmissions, and the many different paint colors. Nowadays everything is short, they have too many blind spots, there’s only 4 door sedans, and just about every car you see is white or grey.

  4. There are few things more fun than a sports car on balloon tires on a track- or a lonely road. All that pitch and yaw are the fun of it. I like to go to track meets exclusive to vintage performance cars. The Ferrari days are the best- 12 cylinders shreeking, balloon tires, quirky gear boxes make for some amazing times. Sadly the really amazing Ferraris were from the early 60s (250 GTO 75 million dollars) to the late 70s (512 Boxer now 4 million dollars) are too valuable for most of us to own- and the guys that own them WOULD race them- until their insurance nannies basically said “1 tire on the track and all insurance revoked forever- and you get your name on a do not insure list” Well, that ended that. Now it’s the V8 Ferraris and while they are far more fun to drive than my ’65 K motor fastback they are lacking in the pure amazement department.

    As for American muscle cars being pieces of history thus needing to be preserved- they are BUT take my ’65 Fastback for example- Ford made 559,491 Mustangs in ’65. Too many to be considered rare- thus the justifiable resto-mod stuff. Another example is Shelby- they made 36 R’s in ’65. Now that’s a low enough production number to make them preservation candidates. Ditto the Ram Air V, the real SD 455s, the 455 GS or the LS7 Vette- those cars deserve to be preserved. The mass produced cars were not “special” then and won’t be valuable to hold in a preserved state- let alone the fact that most Concourse restorations have a 10 year life span then need re-doing again- often at 100% of the value of the car. “buy restoration get the car for free” is a favorite joke in the rare cars clubs.

    IMO it’s been WAYYY more valuable to have guys tweek, hotrod, alter and modify these mass-produced cars. Look at tall the innovation and personal expression that grew from the California Hot rod movement. Simply amazing! Therefore, put the tires and wheels you want under your regular guy’s racer. Put the engine mods you want on too- have fun with it as it’s a toy and should be your personal expression of taste. We are NOT running out of American pony cars in your, or your kid’s lifetime thanks to the fact you can buy every single part of most of our favorite muscle cars including the frames in the aftermarket. Heck, Dynacorn makes the whole unibody and frame for cheap. Bolt on your idea of a good suspension, drive train and rubber and peel out!

  5. “But then, I am a hooligan and a freak and my views are probably not representative.”
    Not at all. Cars are fun playthings, and speed isn’t everything. Stuff like snowmobiles and super bikes (and a lot of modern cars) encourage a lot of rookies with no real appreciation of physics and their own limits, to get seriously hurt because by the time you lose it you’ve built up a hell of a lot of energy. That’s why drifting, and dirt track, and Baja racing are so much fun, and why NASCAR, NHRA drag racing, and even Indy and formula are kind of boring. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

  6. You nailed it, Eric!

    Funny that you mentioned steering wheels, too. For some reason, that’s a recurring theme with me; I miss REAL steering wheels. I hate the generic-feeling everything of modern vehicles…..pretty much anything made in the last 30 years. And I miss the feeling of control over the machine that I am supposed to be controlling. Sure, the newer vehicles may be more stable, get better traction, etc. but at the cost, ultimately, of ceding control to a machine, rather than YOU controlling the machine…..

  7. When was the last time you saw a car with factory dished wheels?

    Like on the GNX, 3rd Gen Trans Am GTA or the Koenig Testarossa? Hell, even the 90’s Crown Vic with the HPP Package.

    Those were great. 3 or 4 (or more) inches between the outer lip and the wheel face. They looked powerful.

    Now, cars all have effective moon discs in the sense of the wheel face and the lip are almost in the same plane – for aerodynamics. Right.

    But they don’t look as good.

    • Hi Ice,

      Yup; I miss them. Their distinctiveness especially (like steering wheels, which once were that, too). What’s happened is that numbers have become the Prime Directive. How quick to 60? How quick around the track? Lateral G forces – etc. All the emotion is being drained away in the name of this.

      Focusing on numbers uber alles makes sense if you’re racing for money. Otherwise, form is at least as important as function – if you feel anything about cars.

      • Felt lateral g force has always been an emotional experience to me. Joy…to the whirled.

        Form does have function, but all animals ain’t equal, since some are more equal than others.

        All the cool cars that have been scoured from the streets & countrysides, restored, parked in museum collections. Perfect forms serving functions like asset diversification out of crap fiat “money,” or just scratching acquisition compulsions…

        …& say g forces functional emotion is way out in front of those paled out form-functions.

        And the old forms that have been refitted to the cutting & bleeding edge – truly personalized, not to mention closer to perfection — are higher in my pantheon than most stock jobs. New spirits in old casks.

        Like some of this Fesler stuff. The “Draco” ’69 Camaro, mmmm…..
        https://feslerbuilt.com/

      • So true, Eric.

        The obsession over saaaaaaaafety, performance numbers, and aerodynamics has destroyed the automobile as an art form. Without beauty and character, all you have is an appliance.

        For the record, I cannot recall any modern car giving me goosebumps like a Jaguar XK120 can. Not even the Aston Martin DB9!

    • RWD vehicles do not need high-offset wheels (which are required for FWD for steering dynamics) that are so common today. It’s a shame that most modern RWD vehicles (pony cars, pickups, etc.) are designed with high-offset (i.e. the opposite of deep-dish) wheels when they are not necessary. Sadly, unless you want to implement a pro-street or other suspension modification, you can’t swap the high-offset wheels for low without having the wheels stick out from the vehicle body.

      • The IFS 4wd on pickups is much like FWD and requires the “high offset” wheels. It’s been that way since 1988 for Chevy/GMC.

        I suppose they don’t want to make a different wheel for 2wd.

        • I do remember the S-10s had low-offset wheels for the 2wd versions and high-offset for 4wd all the way until their end (like around 2003)

  8. That Mustang restomod/reproduction outfit you mentioned a while back should read this.

    The fools took out the beautiful period correct center console in order to fit a massive 10-speed automatic! The replacement center console is bulky-looking and reminiscent of the 2005 model.

    This why I hate restomod people. They are always too entrenched with modernity and end up making these hideous Dr. Frankenstein cars. Like you said, why not buy a modern car?

    • Amen, Handler –

      These cars – the original-era muscle cars – are now literally pieces of history and I think ought to be respected as such. My TA is a literal time machine; it takes me back to the world of the ’70s – and that is why it is so much fun and so different.

      What’s the point of making everything the same?

  9. Agreed. Year One makes some spiffy 17″ honeycombs, and I think they look alright, but I get your point. I want some 16″ American 200S’s for my old Corvette, and the wheel is available, but no one makes a tyre in the size I need. 🙁 Its all a conspiracy I tell ya…
    [oh, and just about everyone had at least a version of the Mag 500 bitd…including AMC]

  10. The “Wide-Track Pontiac” campaign came decades before former Senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig dimmed its cachet by attempting to find some male companionship in a restroom at Minneapolis airport.

    Craig started playing footsie with him under the partition, said the arresting officer. Whereas the aggrieved Senator said he’d merely been manspreading with his characteristic wide stance.

    With cars, both physical and aesthetic issues impose limits. But far less restraint is exercised with pickups. With a tall enough lift kit, you can install 33-inch buffoon … errrr, BALLOON tires on anything. They stick out several inches past the fender flares, aping a sodbuster’s John Deere 9630.

    It’s a look that makes the original designers weep hot tears. All that clay sculpting for naught.

    When the guy in the jacked-up truck blows past me, he’s thinking, “Me have wide stance! Me like Larry Craig!”

    Whereas I’m thinking, “You fashion victim! And keep your wandering foot outta muh stall, please!”

  11. Just curious what tires you are going to get for replacements for your “little pickup truck” ?

    I just had four 225/70r15 tires “replaced” under warranty because I ruined one, but they apparently no longer make that size and had to upgrade me to LT235/75r15. But of course I had to buy a brand new matching spare on my own dime, to replace the previous brand new spare.

    Fortunately I talked them out of the other three tires, so those and my spare are going to go on a tandem axle flatbed trailer.

  12. There are still a few speed rated 15″ tires available. Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R (H rated), Maxxis marauder MA-S1 (H), Pirelli P600 (W rated, only available in 235/60-15), and Avon CR6ZZ (V rated). The Maxxis are probaly the most affordable.
    If you can gird up your loins and run a bias ply, American racer has several DOT tires in various compounds. The only compounds I am familiar with are the KK704 (about the same as an all season radial – durometer ~55) and DIRT (very soft – durometer ~30, makes an excellent drag tire).

      • A marketing gimmick from the days when radial tires were new…now, IDK of any that aren’t, even in large truck tires.

        Yeah, no tricked-out raised white letters…but then again, I don’t see T-tops either. For a 70s Trans Am, quite alright, but looked ridiculous on other rides, for the most part. More or less, Eric, your T/A is a call back to Burt and Sally boogieing along the highways in the South, giving ol’ “Buford T. Justice” the finger, along with Burt’s “porn-stache” and Sally’s six-inch heels. Burt’s now taking the “dirt nap”, and as for Sally…well, that little nun ain’t “flying” no more, save in her whacked-out mind. She’s become that crazy aunt that everyone grits their teeth and just smiles at and tries to ignore, painfully.

        • Ignominious ends is the only rad(ial, not radical) egal there is.

          Until then, Gator McCluskey rides driver-side. & Lewis strings a mean recurve bow, whilst the inbred & Drew similarly string a banjo & a guitar. Bobby votes. But so does Lewis, & Ed, both of whom had plenty of time to throw the second bum out into Big Sleep dirtnap – but didn’t — as Mitchum would surely have done. Ma’am, can you hear the thunder road?

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMbCH93Gxu4

      • Never been a fan of white letter tires (always put them to the inside if so equipped). The prices on some of the tires I listed above would make me seriously consider different wheels (IF I were dead set on a high performance radial).
        The “radial tuned suspension” was designed to compensate for the softer sidewall of the (new at the time) radial tires. Pretty sure a modern speed rated radial has little in common with the tires of that era (i.e. stiffer sidewalls). caveat emptor

  13. Hooligan and freak!
    I get it.
    I’d like 16” Magnum 500s for the old Ranchero GT I need to get freshed up!
    Keep it up

  14. There IS a market for the “classic” sized tires which will cost a lot per tire, but the overall cost of keeping your vintage ride looking and HANDLING like when it WAS new (or close to it) will still be much lower than dicking around with larger wheels, suspension, brakes, etc.

    The only modern upgrade I can agree with is, where readily possible, changing out front drums for discs. In a lot of cases, there’s replacement parts for disc brakes of THAT era and it’s a bolt-on swap. Also swapping out the single master cylinder for a dual with a proportioning valve. Likely, as #1 son already learned (I DID warn him), when you grab something out of a barn or pasture, the brake lines are questionable anyway. Invest in a good tubing bender/cutter/flare tool and have at it!

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