Preparing a list of the coolest alloy wheels ever made is the easy part. Narrowing it down to 10 is more of a challenge. It’s a highly subjective opinion, of course, but we’re pretty sure you’ll appreciate the examples of circular beauty we’re about to roll out.
The emphasis here is on ‘cool’, rather than the most dramatic or extravagant. In the case of alloy wheels, bigger isn’t necessarily better, while bling leaves us cold.
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Firstly, some ground rules. We’ve chosen to ignore the lure of concept cars, preferring to concentrate on the wheels that have, at the very least, made it into production.
Which means the likes of the Maserati Boomerang have to take a back seat. It might have stolen the show at the 1971 Turin Motor Show, but Giorgetto Giugiaro’s creation – complete with 4.7-litre V8 engine and trick steering wheel – remains an example of one of the best cars that might have been.
Secondly, we’ve chosen to omit aftermarket alloy wheels. While the likes of the Ronal R10 Turbo and many BBS rims could make the cut, we’re sticking to our guns with the whole production car thing.
Of course, this means the ‘iconic’ Ronal Teddy fails to the make the top 10. You can decide whether or not this is a good thing. Stick with us, as we take you through the wheels that made the cut, presented in no particular order.
BMW M1 ‘Campagnolo’
Today, the BMW M1 is – with very good reason – held aloft as one of the greatest supercars of all-time. Famously, it was to be built by Lamborghini, until the Italian firm ran out of lira, with only four prototype models constructed.
BMW, along with designer Giugiaro, rescued the project from the brink of collapse and displayed an M1 at the 1978 Turin Motor Show. The slatted 16-inch Campagnolo alloy wheels were unique to the M1 and so of their time.
BMW M1 Homage ‘sink strainers’
Thirty years later, when BMW paid tribute to the M1 with the M1 Homage Concept, the five-stud Campagnolo rims were a major influence on the design of the wheels. It almost seems rude to call them ‘sink strainers’, but they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s kitchen.
Lamborghini Countach ‘Campagnolo Bravo’
Sticking with Campagnolo wheels, you’ll instantly recognise these as the ‘Bravo’ wheels fitted to the Lamborghini Countach. Indeed, they graced the LP 400 Series 1 cars, and are often referred to as ‘telephone dials’ or ‘five cylinder’ designs.
Lamborghini also used a very similar design on the Silhouette, although the offset and width differed from that on the Countach. Sadly, a fire at the Campagnolo factory left the company unable to continue manufacturing wheels for Lamborghini, which forced the firm into using OZ alloy wheels on the LP 500. The design was similar, but they weren’t quite as evocative as the earlier wheels.
Citroen CX GTi Turbo
The Citroen CX had the unenviable task of following the legendary Citroen DS, but follow the ‘Goddess’ it did, cementing itself as one of the most technologically advanced and aerodynamic cars of the 1970s.
Indeed the streamlined alloy wheels found on the CX GTi Turbo – launched much later in 1984 – were just one piece in an overall jigsaw designed to make the CX as aerodynamic as possible. CX is the French equivalent abbreviation of Cd, or drag coefficient.
Sadly, the trick hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension meant that the glorious simplicity of the CX GTi Turbo wheels were often hidden from full view.
We’ll also give a nod to the carbon-reinforced resin wheels found on the Citroen SM, along with the glorious alloys found on the Citroen BX GTi.
The Isuzu Piazza – also known as the Holden Piazza and Isuzu Impulse – is one of the coolest cars you might have forgotten. It was based on the equally alluring Asso di Fiori concept of 1979, a concept we can once again credit to Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The ‘cube’ design, found on some first generation cars, could only have stemmed from the 1980s. The polished effect simply adds to the appeal.
If you got bored, you could play a game of solitaire at the roadside, or grate some cheese if you got hungry.
The inclusion of the Piazza rims means there’s no place on our list for Ford’s iconic ‘pepper pot’ alloys, commonly found on the likes of the Fiesta, Capri, Sierra and Orion. Don’t worry, Ford fans, there’s room for a blue oval wheel on our list…
If fame is measured by the amount of bedroom wall posters sold during the 1980s, the F40 is probably the most famous Ferrari of all time. Built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque, a total of 1,337 F40s were built between 1987 and 1992.
Everything was honed to perfection, right down to the 17-inch Speedline alloy wheels.
There was a massive five-inch difference between the front and rear wheels: 17-inch x 8-inch at the front and 17-inch x 13-inch at the rear.
The centre-lock design spawned many imitators, but none could match the majesty of the F40.
Porsche 911 ‘Fuchs’
For Fuchs sake, what took us so long to get to what is arguably the most famous Porsche wheel in history? The Fuchs wheel dates back to 1966, when a 4.5-inch rim was fitted to the Porsche 911S.
This was a proper form meets function approach, with the wheel designed to aid brake cooling.
Throughout the 1970s, the Fuchs wheel grew wider and were still standard fitment during the 1980s. The Fuchs died when the 964 was introduced in 1989, much to the disappointment of Porsche purists.
Fast forward to 2014, when Porsche paid tribute to the Fuchs in the form of the 20-inch alloys found on the 911 50th Anniversary Edition.
Ford Escort ‘Cloverleaf’
Ford arrived late to the birth of the hot hatch, but the Escort XR3 ensured it could hit the ground running. It might have lacked the precision of the Golf GTi and 205 GTi, but the XR3 wouldn’t be left standing in the sales race.
The ‘Cloverleaf’ alloy wheels – not too dissimilar in style to the Campagnolos seen on the Countach – were set to become one of the most iconic rims of the 1980s.
It wasn’t long before the XR3 wheels were being fitted to common or garden Escorts, as owners went in search of some added glamour, while Ford fitted ‘Cloverleafs’ to the Escort Cabriolet.
The most famous Escort to wear a set of ‘Cloverleafs’? Probably the one driven by Glynis Barber in Dempsey and Makepeace.
Volkswagen Golf GTi ‘Pirelli’
The ‘Pirelli’ alloy wheels found on the Mk1 Golf GTi are most commonly associated with the ‘Campaign’, a run-out special edition launched to mark the end of production. But as the Mk1 Golf Owners Club reveals, the ‘Pirelli’ wheels have a history dating back to 1982.
Volkswagen had reworked the Golf GTi in order to keep it fresh in light of new competition from other hot hatches. At the same time a new option appeared on the spec sheet: that of ‘Pirelli P’ wheels.
In May 1983, Volkswagen launched what was in effect ‘Campaign’ specification, before the arrival of the ‘Campaign’ model. Meanwhile, in Germany, launched the ‘Pirelli Special Edition’, while French buyers were treated to the ‘Plus’. But whatever the history, the ‘Pirelli’ remains the coolest wheel ever to grace a Golf. Discuss…
BMW M5 ‘Turbines’
We offer no apology for including a second BMW alloy wheel on our list, because this one is a classic. Between 1988 and 1992, the E34 M5 featured five-spoke M-System wheels with directional bolted-on wheel covers.
These so-called ‘blowers’ were made from magnesium and were designed to increase the airflow to the brakes by 25%.
At the time, the covers were criticised for having the appearance of whitewall tyres, but they soon developed a cult following of their own.
As ‘Motoring Con Brio’ says: “They announce performance… the faux whitewall just looks badass. It is the anti 20-inch-rim-riding-on-30-profile-tyres”. Sure, the actual alloys are covered by a slice of magnesium, but a little bending of the rules is permitted, right?
Saab 99 Turbo ‘Inca’
And so to the final alloy wheel on our list. Start penning an angry letter if we haven’t included your personal favourite. The ‘Inca’ alloy wheel found on the Saab 99 Turbo was one of the first to the make our shortlist. A case of saving the best ’til last, perhaps?
The ‘Inca turbo-vane’ wheels, to give them their full name, made their debut at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show and were shod in Michelin TRX tyres. A classic was born, in more ways than one.
The ‘Inca’ wheels represent the epitome of cool, not least because they were specially made for the 99 Turbo. The design mimics the shape of turbocharger blades, which is so very Saab in its execution.
But what of the alloy wheels that failed to make the cut? The Alfisti will bemoan the absence of ‘Teledials’, while we could have included ‘Minilites’, Saab three-spokes and RX-7 ‘Rotaries’. Then there’s the wheels found on the Peugeot 205 GTi, Alpine A310, Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Mitsubishi Starion, third generation Toyota Celica and Renault Clio Williams. The list goes on…