Building a Custom Automotive Wheel From Scratch

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

Intro: 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.

Tools;

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.

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    55 Discussions

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    spiderbear

    9 months ago

    TOO COOL!, Man those wheels make the car. I am a composites designer so, I would really love to hear how the body build went.

    1 reply
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    Willys36spiderbear

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    OOPS! sorry I missed this post, it's been 7 months. The body build went pretty smoothly. I have played with fiberglass for many years so knew the basics pretty well. In fact my prior largest project was to build a 'glas mold and 'glas 1-piece front end for my '36 Willys coupe 'gasser' probably 25 years ago. I had a little trouble with wrinkling gel coat in a couple places, getting too anxious to lay up but not bad. All the parts of the molds and the car were done in one try so I consider that a success. The only flaw that showed up (AFTER the car was painted of course) was a void just under the gel coat on the front side of the body. For some reason I allowed a quarter sized air bubble to stay in place under the first layer of mat leaving a soft spot on the body. The whole body building process is discussed in detail in my book about the car.

    hood 2.jpgP5290002.JPGbODY LAYUP 3.JPG
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    Willys36fons-Z-mille

    Reply 9 months ago

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

    big Final McFarland.jpg
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    fons-Z-milleWillys36

    Reply 9 months ago

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

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    sammyscrammyWillys36

    Reply 8 months ago

    Thanks so much for the huge look inside preview of the book. I had planned on reading the "To Win" series by Caroll Smith, but I think your book just pushed "Tune" and "Prepare" down one slot.

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    button56

    9 months ago

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

    1 reply
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    Willys36button56

    Reply 9 months ago

    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.

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    SirCooksalot

    9 months ago

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

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    sundy58

    9 months ago

    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.

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    SirCooksalotsundy58

    Reply 9 months ago

    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.

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    sundy58SirCooksalot

    Reply 9 months ago

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

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    SirCooksalotsundy58

    Reply 9 months ago

    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.

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    Willys36SirCooksalot

    Reply 9 months ago

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

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    Willys36sundy58

    Reply 9 months ago

    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!!!!!!!

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    Gofish

    9 months ago

    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!

    2 replies
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    Willys36Gofish

    Reply 9 months ago

    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.

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    GofishWillys36

    Reply 9 months ago

    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.