Vintage Racing Wheels

I love drag racing, and I go to the track quite frequently, but I can’t help but wish I could’ve been a part of drag racing in its heyday. It’s still cool, but back in the ’60s the cars, the people and the tracks made it so much better…at least in my opinion, which is based purely on stories from my dad and his friends, as well as photos from years ago. Innovation was a big part of drag racing in the ’50s and ’60s, and reducing weight was always high on the list of modifications. Wheels became an easy target for weight reduction, and two individuals paved the way for lightweight wheel production.

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A couple of pieces from my wheel collection. The front runners are magnesium American Racing Torq Thrust, and the rears are Romeo Palamides (pre-American Racing) wheels, wrapped in flawless M&H 7.60-15 slicks from the mid-50s.

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I sold this set of Halibrand wheels a few years ago. They are not super old, and they're not magnesium but pretty rare nonetheless. True knock-off wheels are pricey.

The first was Ted Halibrand, founder of Halibrand Engineering. He first developed wheels (and other lightweight parts) for midget racers and Indy cars, but would later create a line of drag racing wheels, which were popular on funny cars, dragsters and altered roadsters. Another innovator was Romeo Palamides, who went on to create American Racing Equipment. These days, all drag racing wheels are made of aluminum, but when the idea arose for lightweight racing wheels, magnesium was the material of choice.

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Funny cars generally had "mag wheels" on all four corners, while dragsters ran a laced spoke wheel up front. This Halibrand spindle-mount wheel is awesome!

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On the rear of the same funny car is a pair of American Racing "Bear Paw" wheels. These things are rare and high-dollar, and a common size for them is 16x12.

They’re pricey and they’re hard to find, but a good set of magnesium wheels is like gold in the hot rodding and nostalgia drag racing hobby. Maybe even better than gold. Anyway, I’ve really started searching for vintage racing wheels for the past couple of years. Swap meets are the main place to look, but you never know where you’ll find the right deal. My dad and I go to a bunch of car shows and swap meets, so we’re constantly scanning the aisles for “the good stuff” like vintage intake manifolds, valve covers, wheels, etc.

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I would love to have a pair of American Racing LeMans front runners--they look great on gassers!

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These wheels are fairly common, but still bring good money. I've heard lots of people call these Halibrand wheels, but they're not. They were made by American Racing and were only available in a spindle-mount configuration.

Good deals on magnesium wheels are few and far between because most folks know what they have. They can do a Google search to find that most pairs of magnesium wheels fetch 600-800 bucks, even in poor condition. Good ones can go for as much as 2,000. If you know me, then you know I’m not going to fork over two grand for a pair of wheels, unless they’re worth twice that much. So, in my research, I’ve found a bunch of cool wheels that I’d love to find someday. I’ve also photographed TONS of wheels at various nostalgia drag racing events that I cover, so I have plenty of reference material.

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Not related to drag racing, but still cool, these Halibrand GT40 wheels are in flawless condition. These wheels were made in the mid-60s and ran on lots of racecars, from Indy cars to LeMans cars.

There isn’t much to this blog–just wanted to talk about vintage wheels and my love for them. All of the photos are wheels that I’ve run across in the past few years, and I hope to find more that I can actually buy! Most of them are out of my league, but I guess I need to be ready for the right deals to come along.


8 thoughts on “Vintage Racing Wheels

  1. we have some magnesium american racing wheels i want to find out some info on them. we bought a 1955 f100 and they where on truck in front 14 x 8 – 5 lug 5 1/2. in the back we have american racing mag n50 x 15 – 5 lug 51/2. can you help us we can send pics.

  2. Need your expertise please. I have a chance to purchase two 18 x 3 1/2 12 spoke
    Halibrand/Americans with new anglia bearings….excellent shape but he wants $2000 for the pair. Would look great on my 48 Thames gasser….your comments would be greatly appreciated.

    • $2,000 seems pretty steep in my opinion, but the wheels are probably worth it if they’re in really good shape. The 18-inch 12-spokes look really cool and fetch good money, so it would be a good buy if that’s the look you want. However, at 2 grand, you may not be able to make a profit if you decide to sell them somewhere down the road.

      –Tommy Lee

  3. Hi i have a pair of Bear Paw 16×12 American Racing wheels, what can i get out of them since they are worth more than gold no pun intend, they are in great shape need to be polished other that that ready to mount.

    • Doug, those Bear Paws fetch good money. The 16×12’s were always used on funny cars and dragsters so that’s what everyone likes to find. I’d say they’re worth around $2,000 for the pair if the condition is good. The real question is: would you take $500 for them? Haha

      –Tommy Lee

  4. Hello,
    I have some magnesium spin off wheels I would like help identifying. Please send me a mail for pictures.

    Thanks, Chris

  5. Can anyone tell me if magnesium American Racing Torq Thrust wheels came with identification stickers rather than writing that was actually embossed on the wheel?

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