Classic Wheel Upgrades

By: Guy Allen, Unique Cars magazine, Photography by: Unique Cars archives

Presented by

bmw 635 bmw 635

Finding the right aftermarket wheel that suits your classic takes a little care

Let's say you’ve just bought yourself a classic car that you just might want to take on the odd event. Only problem is, it’s a car that has older 13 or 14-inch rims as stock, which means that finding a modern performance tyre conducive to enthusiastic driving is harder than drifting a B-double.

Many, many enthusiasts have come across this problem. I circumvented the issue by doing what most do:  going for a bigger size wheel to accommodate more rubber.

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Finding the right aftermarket wheel that suits your car’s aestheticdeserves a bit of research, especially if your pride and joy is more than two decades old.


But, it can be done, and in the case of my own car, and BMW E24 635, I not only kept the car looking period but drastically improved the handling thanks to simply having more (and better compound) rubber on the road which, in turn, led to more mechanical grip. The wheels? In this case they were a set of Superlites.

However, there are a few things you need to take into account before you start loosening the wheel nuts. For a start, each state in the country has rules about changing wheel and tyre sizes on your vehicle, and they vary

This can be a complication if you happen to buy a car interstate.

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Something to keep in mind is older cars often rely on a decent sidewall as part of the suspension package – lose too much and it may ride like a dray. So going from a 13 to an 18 might sound great, but may not work so well in practice. In the case of the 635, we went for 16s, which were perfect. You’ve also got to consider that if you do go for the upgrade, you either need to keep the total rolling circumference standard (get the calculator out and be sure) or recalibrate your speedo.


Clearance can be an issue if the rolling circumference or the width changes, and you’ll need to check this out at full compression on the suspension – with the front wheels turned. There are ways around this, such as rolling your wheel arches.

In fact, you need to get your head around several measurements: wheel stud pattern and separation, offset, diameter and the circumference of the whole package, to name a few.

Bottom line is, upgrading your wheel and tyre sizes is a worthwhile strategy that can lead to serious handling improvements, but like most things, you need to do your research and find the combination that’s right for you. This is where a knowledgeable wheel or tyre shop can be very useful in simplifying the whole process.


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