As a kid growing up, our next door neighbor had the car that has always been our dream ride: A 1967 Chevrolet Corvette. It was the last model of the C2 line, as 1968 brought on the introduction of the Larry Shinoda “shark” design. In our eyes, the ’67 signified the end of a glorious Corvette era.
Jerry’s Corvette came in the factory fire engine red, with a white interior and white convertible top. It had a four-speed stick, and that glorious 427 cubic inch engine – the closest yet to an actual street legal racing engine. Jerry’s had the addition of a modified exhaust with two gleaming chrome side pipes, and new wheels. Each day when he got home, he used to pull out a cloth diaper and wipe them down. Six-spoke Cragar mags…
Do you know why they called them “mag wheels?”
The earliest metal automobile wheels were steel, but steel is limiting to work with, so you could only do so much with design. Steel also tends to rust and oxidize, so if you were going for a certain look, it was a poor choice. Automakers discovered that making a wheel from a magnesium alloy allowed you to create intricate spoke patterns, and they took on a bright, chrome-like sheen. Hence, the “mag wheel.”
Magnesium alloy mags were popular throughout the 1960’s, but as auto engineering improved, drivers found that there wheels couldn’t stand up to the stresses of more powerful engines and race-inspired suspensions. Magnesium, while a strong metal, has a low ductility – the ability to withstand deformation when under stress. For this reason, most switched to an aluminum alloy.
Aluminum alloy wheels are now standard on many vehicles. While more expensive than traditional steel wheels, they’re lighter, improving fuel efficiency. This lighter weight also created benefits for the braking and handling of the vehicle. They can either be cast or forged, making manufacturing easier, and it’s created a vast market for custom and stylized wheels.
Aluminum alloy wheels are now commonplace on everything from bicycles to heavy-duty trucks and buses.
The 2024 Corvette Stingray comes with a 495 horsepower engine, can hit 60 in under 3 seconds, and has an 8-speed dual clutch transmission. You have your choice of a half dozen different wheel packages, from forged gloss black aluminum to carbon flash painted 5-spoke wheels.
That ’67, though…