Follow along as Speedway Motors employee Tim M. explains his decision to run Ford wire wheels on his ’29 hot rod project. He goes in depth, like always, on some of the various differences you could encounter if you dive into the wide world of wire wheels for your project as well!
When I originally pictured what my early 50’s style hot rod Roadster would look like I always imagined it with solid steel ’40 Ford style wheels. As so many of you know once a car building endeavor begins it doesn’t take long for one to deviate from the plan for one reason or another! My hot rod build is no different and it turns out one of the first things to be changed was my plan to go with solid steel wheels and use original Ford wire wheels instead.
The decision to abandon my vision of solid steel wheels and go with wires was spurred by my sentimental connection to an old grain wagon. My wife had wonderful grandparents. They were the type of people you respect from that previous generation who knew hard work and hard knocks in the Heartland of America. They were the type of people you look up to and try to emulate. When I first met my wife’s grandparents I had an immense respect for them immediately. I spent time at their farm and spotted one of their old wagons sitting in the weeds. It was assembled from old Ford parts probably before my parents were born. Up front was a 37 wide 5 complete axle and in the back a stock 1934 axle complete right down to the hub caps. Most of the parts were destroyed having been crudely gas welded to the angle iron frame of the wagon. The wheels looked good so when I had a chance to obtain the wagon I snatched it up and harvested everything I could save. The best parts were a nice pair of 34 wire spoke wheels. After removal they sat in the corner of my garage until I got rolling on my little 29’ roadster this year. I had to include them and can’t wait to tell my kids how the wheels on the front of our hot rod once belonged to their great grandparents!
For a long time wire spoke wheels all looked the same to me until I learned a few of the distinguishing features. Here is a quick guide that helped me understand some of the differences :
Below is a 1928-1929 Ford Model “A” wheel. It is a 21” x 3” with welded spokes. Top spokes are a straight lace and the bottoms are single-cross. The center hubs are very prone to cracking on these wheels from pressure from the spokes pressing inward.
The green wheels below are 1930-1931 Ford Model “A” wheel. The diameter was reduced to 19” x 3”. These wheels also feature welded spokes and suffer the same weakness as the earlier wheels (hub prone to cracking) Lacing pattern is also the same with straight spokes on top and single cross on the bottom.
1932 wheels look different, and are 18” x 3 ¼”. They feature welded spokes and are single cross pattern top and bottom. The hubcap hole is 5 ¾”. This is the first wheel to feature lug nuts that are completely covered by the hubcap.
1933-1934 Ford wheels like the ones I found on the old grain wagon also have welded spokes and are similar to the 32 wheels stylistically. They are 17” x 3 ¼”, feature welded spokes, and have a 5 ¾” hubcap opening.
1935 Wheels are 16” x 4”. These are very plentiful because they were cheaper to buy with tires during the war years. A great way to tell these wheels apart from earlier wheels without measuring is by looking at the location of the valve stem hole. 17” and 18” wheels have the hole located in the raised hump of the rim, while 35’ wheels have it in a flat area of the wheel.
You may also come across aftermarket wheels produced by Kelsey-Hays, or Motor Wheel. These look relatively similar with their bent spokes being a give-away. Here are a few examples with their distinguishing features:
- 16” Bent Spoke Kelsey available in 4” and 4 ½” widths
- 16” Adjustable Spoke Kelsey 4” width
- 18” Adjustable Spoke Motor Wheel, 4” width
- 17” Bent Spoke Motor Wheel – 4” width