Alloy wheels are commonplace on vehicles rolling off the production lines in 2018, but it wasn’t always this way. In the past, true alloy wheels were reserved only for the most expensive and exclusive cars on the market.
For most people, alloy wheels became a consideration in the 1980s, (although they had been used in road vehicles since the 1920s). Alloys offered owners of high-performance cars additional stiffness and stability while cornering and braking, helping to improve handling characteristics. They also reduced rolling weight – the kind of weight that matters most when trying to accelerate – helping to enhance straight-line performance.
Early alloy wheels were of rather simple construction. Often, engineers would just cast aluminum in a single die, and then rivet it to an outer drum. Manufacturers, like Vossen alloy wheels, refined this technique and eventually cast both the inner and outer parts of the wheel together.
Alloy wheels were an upgrade over the previous wheel design which involved pressing two pieces of steel together using welding or rivets. The join made these wheels less sturdy than their alloy counterparts, but it was cheaper to manufacture. Molding a wheel from a single billet of aluminum was expensive and required specialist equipment.
Automakers Start Including Allow Wheels On High-End Cars
Many luxury automakers began using alloy wheels on their cars in the 1960s and early 1970s. Maserati, for instance, introduced alloy wheels on its new Ghibli in 1969. Aston market did the same for its DBS V8 in the same year.
Mercedes, the German carmaker, joined its European rivals a year later, pairing alloy wheels on the highly coveted 300 SL. The alloy wheel design would continue in production for another decade until the arrival of the 1982 190 Series.
In the Far East, the search for better wheels was spearheaded by Toyota. The Japanese car company introduced alloys on its 2000GT, featuring a spoked design which set them apart from the more conventional automakers in America and Europe.
Citroen, the French carmaker began using alloy wheels on the SM in the early 1970s. The company, however, didn’t use aluminum. Instead, it released one of the most advanced alloys on the market, made from a steel-resin composite.
The Evolution Of The Market After 2000
In the early years, the market for alloy wheels was small. A few companies controlled the majority of global production, and wheel designs did not change significantly from one year to the next. After 2000, however, the tastes of consumers began to change dramatically as new alloy wheel designs hit the market. The switch appears to have driven increased alloy wheel uptake to the point where entry-level models, like the Ford Fiesta, soon offered alloy wheel options.
Today, dozens of companies compete in the alloy wheel market. Major manufacturers spend billions of dollar each year investing in new alloy wheel technologies, bringing high-performance components to mid-range vehicles. The transformation in the market has been nothing short of breathtaking, with hundreds of aftermarket options from which to choose.