Introduction: Building a Custom Automotive Wheel From Scratch

About: Senior VP of an independent oil company. Never met a hobby I didn't like!

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

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

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

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

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.

Metal Contest 2017

Participated in the
Metal Contest 2017

Wheels Contest 2017

Participated in the
Wheels Contest 2017