Introduction: Building a Custom Automotive Wheel From Scratch

Picture of Building a Custom Automotive Wheel From Scratch

Problem; I needed a set of custom wheels not available from any commercial supplier

I just completed a life-long dream project of reproducing a famous but long lost show car from the early 1960s. I fell in love with Ed Roth's Mysterion show car as a kid in 1963. Ed built the fiberglass car in 1962 and showed it around the country until around 1965 when he destroyed the car forever. It had such a poorly designed frame that it kept breaking just riding around to shows in the transport trailer. It has been a bucket list thing ever since to make a reproduction.

A key part of his creation is the custom made front wheels. At first they look like commercial 'mag' wheels. On further inspection you see they are actually custom built, one-off wheels.


tape measure

drill press

jig saw

hand drill

220 amp welder

7" angle grinder

table saw

drawing tools, pencil, compass, straight edge

assorted metal files

60deg taper counter sink

Step 1: The Design

Picture of The Design

I first found the black and white profile picture of the wheel so I could extract the dimensions. The car existed for such a short time there isn't much documentation on it. Revell Model Co. made a popular plastic model kit of the car but it isn't very accurate when it comes to reverse-engineering parts.

Step 2: Making Patterns

Picture of Making Patterns

I made two full sized patterns for the wheels, one for the cutouts (5 slots and center hole) in 1/2" MDF board from the dimensions I garnered from the photos, and one for the 5" diameter, 5 bolt early Ford lug bolt pattern. The OD of these patterns fits snuggly inside the wheel rims.

The slot pattern board has one slot cut out 3/16" larger than the finished slot so a plasma cutting torch nozzle can be traced around and the nozzle orifice is spaced to perfectly cut the proper opening.

The lug pattern board has the locating holes drilled to accept machine shop hardened drill bushings to accurately guide the drill bit. One drill bushing was moved around the board to fit over a bolt in an already drilled hole to index the drilling of the other holes. The other drill bushing was transferred to the other 4 holes to guide the drill for them.

These patterns fit snuggly inside the wheel rims so are self-centering.

Step 3: Assembling the Wheel

Picture of Assembling the Wheel

The wheel had to be the width of a motorcycle wheel as on the prototype. I didn't want to use an actual motorcycle rim since it would have the holes for the spokes which isn't part of the desired look. I purchased some brand new 16" x 6" outer wheel rims from Stockton Wheel Co. in California. The wheels needed to be 3 1/2" final width so I used my plasma cutter to split the rims. Then I set up my disk grinder in a jig to grind the cut surface smooth and to size. The grinder was started and the rim halves were rotated under the spinning grinding dusk until cut to the proper width and dead flat so they could be seamlessly mated to the disk wheel web.

The circular web of the wheel was simply cut from a sheet of 1/4" thick steel plate. To assemble the wheel blank I built the wood clamping jig from four pieces of 2x6 pine screwed to a 3/4" plywood base. The boards were space to tightly constrain the two wheel rim halves. One rim half was loaded into the jig, then the steel disk set on that, finally the other wheel rim placed to complete the sandwich and that was securely held together with some woodworking clamps. All that was needed was to weld the three pieces together with my Lincoln 220 amp welder by running a couple of beads around the inside circumference with 7014, 1/8" welding rod.

The final steps were to use the wood hole cutting patterns made in the first step of this Instructable to plasma cut the slots and center holes and the drilling jig to drill the lug holes. The lug holes were tapered using a 60deg tapered counter-bore tool in the drill press to accommodate common lug nuts.The final picture in this section is the completed raw wheel.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

Picture of Finishing Touches

Finally I had the wheels chrome plated then ran a bead of urethane caulking around the root weld to protect the inner tube from damage by any welding irregularities. The final wheels are exact copies of the originals and really compliment the completed clone.

When I spin the wheels on their axles, they are as true running as any commercial wheel I have seen. Also, the joints between the webs and wheel halves are so tight it is impossible to tell these are not one-piece wheels.


fons-Z-mille (author)2017-12-07

please post more about the car, this thing looks awesome

Willys36 (author)fons-Z-mille2017-12-07

I wrote a book all about it. It's available on Amazon.

fons-Z-mille (author)Willys362017-12-17

cool I might order it, not much of a book reader but this seems worth reading n.n

button56 (author)2017-12-12

If you're picking apart hotrodding projects using modern concepts of "safety", then you're not a hotrodder and will never understand!!!!!

Willys36 (author)button562017-12-13

Couldn't have said it better!! 'Hot Rodder' was a much more pejorative term in the 50s than 'Gang Member' or 'Terrorist'. Hot rods by definition are rebellious, not following the rules.

SirCooksalot (author)2017-12-12

You’ve got my vote for the ‘Wheels Contest’... I can’t imagine a more awesomely executed wheel project. Good luck sir!

sundy58 (author)2017-12-10

I rarely comment but I must say something. Do not make your own wheels for driving on the street. If I missed that caveat in this Instructable I apologize. Home made wheels are not safe not and not approved for street use.

SirCooksalot (author)sundy582017-12-10

Not DOT approved clearly, but that’s not synonymous with unsafe. There isn’t necessarily any difference between say a Foose custom wheel and this wheel, aside from the DOT endorsement. If your materials and assembly and end result are as good as (or better than) a big manufacturer with the DOT label, how is yours less safe? It’s not. This is the creation of a master craftsman with exacting standards and skill- there is no caveat involved. (Did you see the car? Not exactly an amateur project) I’d trust his wheel over a Chinese tuner wheel with a DOT on it, any day.

sundy58 (author)SirCooksalot2017-12-11

Put your family in a car with wheels like this. I will not.

SirCooksalot (author)sundy582017-12-12

If you can fit your family in this car then you and your progeny are Lilliputians and likely needn’t be concerned about wheel safety. I would think just existing in our ‘full-size’ world presents enough dangers as it is without getting into a car.

Willys36 (author)SirCooksalot2017-12-12

It is a misnomer to call the Mysterion a car. It is fine sculpture in automotive motif.

Willys36 (author)sundy582017-12-11

This may be a concern but it is quite a stretch form the intent of the instructable showing construction of a decorative wheel for a strictly show car to making wheels for the Wagon Queen Family Truckster! This car will hopefully drive a short distance and be filmed doing so but it will be at idle speed and a very short distance. It will never conceivably be a street driven car for a myriad of reasons. That being said, I would have no qualms putting a similar wheel on a hot rod that is street driven. This of course assumes the builder has good welding skills but the finished wheel is rock solid, true and balance. I see no danger in it.

Disclaimer for EPA/OSHA/CALOSHA/NTSA/NAFTA/SSI/APCD/TSA/DOE/NASA, and any other governmental agency that might throw me in jail; I deny ever saying the things in this post!!!!!!!

Gofish (author)2017-12-10

Ahhh.... The '60's and early '70's when a man could do what he wanted with his ride and we were soon all going to be flying around like the Jetsons.

Great job on the wheels and I love the paint, that Yellow is gorgeous!

Willys36 (author)Gofish2017-12-11

Lime gold candy over white pearl just like Ed had Watson paint the original. That Lime gold candy is weird stuff; paint it over a silver base and it comes out bright lime green. However paint it over a white base and it comes out that lemon yellow.

Gofish (author)Willys362017-12-12

I guess that the photograph though excellent does not do justice to the view in sunlight. You have done an amazing job. Thanks for the paint info.

Peter.Steele (author)2017-12-10

Jesus, dude. You are my new hero. I would have had a tough time getting that done right and I've got a CNC mill in my garage. Color me thoroughly impressed.

Willys36 (author)Peter.Steele2017-12-10

This method was pretty much fool-proof. Can't see how it could go wrong! Pretty much made themselves once I figured out the necessary jigs.

Peter.Steele (author)Willys362017-12-10

Yeah, but you spent more time making the jigs than you did on the cutting, I bet!

Still. Doing it with hand tools? That's damned impressive no matter what jigs you had.

Willys36 (author)Peter.Steele2017-12-11

Actually the jigs wen pretty fast. My shop is 1700 sqft with a welding/metal working bay, a 2-post car hoist, a woodworking bay and a full feature spray painting booth. Just took measurements of what I needed then went right to the table saw/band saw etc., and made the needed part. That grinder holder did take a bit of time to make but comparing the alternative of buying a 36" x 8' metal lathe, vertical milling machine, submersion welder, or paying a machine shop $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to do the work, hacking out my own jigs seemed the more logical choice. Anyway I have more time than money, don't really care how long it takes to finish a project. Hacking on wood or beating on metal is my shrink!

dewey302 (author)2017-12-10

Willys36, great to see you posting your inventive creations here on Instructables and to catch up with an old Hotrodders.Com friend. Your long time dedication to the Mysterion project has really paid off. What a masterpiece.


Willys36 (author)dewey3022017-12-10

Thanx Cboy. Means a lot coming from Mr. fabrication. Building a T truck from scratch is quite an accomplishment too!

graydog111 (author)2017-12-10

I compliment you , Willy36. It takes guts to spend big money for some rims, and then cut them in half. I attended the first NSRA drag races at Great Bend, Kansas in 1954 (or was it '55?). Ready made hot rod parts were either "one offs" or shop made back then. Great job on the car & writing this instructable. Thanks for posting it.

Willys36 (author)graydog1112017-12-10

They were bought to cut so no problem!

steveofthenw (author)2017-12-10

Must have cost a freaking fortune to have those things chromed.

Willys36 (author)steveofthenw2017-12-10

I have no idea how much I spent building this car. Was going to finish it anyway so why worry about it? I am guessing I have more than $12,000 in chrome maybe? I go with Jay Leno's theory; he says he has no idea how much he makes. He goes into a parts store and says, 'You mean you will take this green stuff for that shiny thing? Great deal!'

NightFire (author)2017-12-10

Wow, that's amazing

austinc94 (author)2017-12-10


trike road poet (author)2017-12-10

Well, we'll start with WOW and go from there!!!

Great idea and well executed, you used sound logic and mechanically sound layout to create a very good wheel design. Loved the original car, Roth was ahead of his time. Will be looking for the book. Thanks for posting a great instructable.

Pa1963 (author)2017-12-10

You could have them made by a good machinist on their CNC equipment. I'm pretty sure that they would have to be D.O.T quality. Also, Big Daddy's Orbitron was found sitting in front of an adult bookstore in northern Mexico in 2008 and rescued, and presumably restored by now.

relbatto (author)2017-12-10

that your use of tools is the precise thing that i read instructables for is obvious, that your genius in solving a one off problem in an artistic, careful , functional manner is what elevates any readers ambition and accomplishment. anyone who has ever read of the craftsmen who fabricated great works of art in japans edo period has to be struck with the knowledge that we still have their spirits roaming free. thanks for proving it with simple tools. ..

Willys36 (author)relbatto2017-12-10

Me and Harbor Freight - an unstoppable combo!!

Pa1963 (author)Willys362017-12-10

I wish I could afford to buy all of the tools that I have in their USA made versions, but Snap Off is usually what is in my budget. They're not just good, they're good enough! Plus, so many formerly American made tools are made in China anyway.

ddoug42 (author)2017-12-10

A thought on cutting the rims apart. I use a lazy Susan for the wheel and a simple brace to hold the plasma torch steady. Minimal or zero grinding needed to weld back together

farna (author)2017-12-10

"Homemade wheels are not safe" isn't necessarily true -- it depends on the builder. They aren't DOT approved, but that doesn't mean they aren't safe. This is a judgement call every hot rodder has to make. There are always things that a rodder makes on their car that could be an issue if they failed. That's just part of the rodding culture. There is some risk involved, which is why I do some things on my car I wouldn't do for someone else.

ddoug42 (author)farna2017-12-10

Well said farna.
I grew up near a rental yard. I remember as a youth (looking time ago) walking into the shop and the owner had cut the ways on a lathe to accommodate the cutting apart and welding some rims for some really wide tires on a jeep. This was way before such things were available to buy.
The results and safety are always dependent on the Craftsman doing the making.

andrea biffi (author)2017-12-10

That car is a dream!

Ralphxyz (author)2017-12-10

Wow simply WOW!! Great project thanks for posting.

akeene (author)2017-12-10

Fantastic job ! I remember that car also.

But I was more into the RAT FINK side than the cars.

But you are an artist. thank You

Mike Caruso (author)2017-12-10

Awesome job slow and steady wins the race. I saw that car too once wondered why it vanished so early on in it life. I'll have to buy the book great job.

LaDave (author)2017-12-10

that is one of my most favorite show cars as well. I would love to see more of your project.

crittell (author)2017-12-10

I love it. Great to see others build cars like before. Not store bought

PeterB411 (author)2017-12-10

Ambitious project, totally cool. I recall making our own wide wheels in the early off-road days (1960s) but most of them didn't run true <sigh>.


AMbros Custom (author)2017-12-09

i really love this idea.

altomic (author)2017-12-09

that is really cool. thanks for sharing.

blkadder (author)2017-12-08

A pretty amazing project you had there. I have been thinking about getting a custom set of wheels for my 65 MGB. Something like these.

MillennialDIYer (author)2017-12-07

The title picture doesn't really illustrate the project well. You might consider selecting the actual project image. It would probably do better.

ClenseYourPallet (author)2017-12-07

This is crazy cool. Love it

gm280 (author)2017-12-07

Sounds like you had a very good plan. And it looks like it as well. Once you put you mind to do something, you are the only obstacle that can stop you. Bravo on a dream job come true.

ahunt18 (author)2017-12-06

Great custom fabrication,how did the balance turn out.

Willys36 (author)ahunt182017-12-06

Balance has to be good. Everything is uniform and concentric. I am not worried about that on this car though. If I ever do drive it, it will be @ idle speed around a show parking lot. There is NO room for feet so couldn't sit in it very long and it is really impractical to drive. Strictly a show car.

About This Instructable




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