Posted on: July 29, 2016

by Louis Brown in the September and October 1991 RootesReview:

I set out to see if I couldn’t find some inexpensive wheels to support some bigger tires for my 1965 Sunbeam Tiger. Inexpensive wheels meant visits to the local junk yard. My findings bring no great revelations, but I think the information will be useful.wheel

Background

In considering upgrading the wheels for an Alpine or Tiger the first step is to choose a reference so some comparisons can be made. Although I doubt whether there are many Dunlop 5.90 x 13 RS.5 tires out there, I have attempted to reference everything to original dimension. That is, original tires mounted on a stock wheel mounted on a stock car. The only data I have is for a Tiger, but I have tried to present the data so it can be applied to the Alpine also.

The stock wheel is easy – 4.5 inches wide and 13 inches in diameter. Also needed, however, is the original tire diameter. That is a little harder. The only tire diameter information I can find for the original Tiger Dunlop Road Speed tires is the Car & Driver article giving 768 rev/ mile. This is apparently wrong. If we use instead C & D’s 24.8 mph/1000 RPM, calculations give 840 rev/mile. Pirelli data from 1967 gives 865 rev/mile for a 5.90 x 13. I suspect that C & D meant 868 rather than 768 rev/mile. Using this assumption we need a wheel / tire combination giving a diameter of 24.5 inches if we are to retain the original tire diameter and therefore ride height.

Since this is to be a WHEEL discussion, not a TIRE discussion, I will skip over my tire experiences such as the Dunlop Road Speeds (20,000 miles), Michelin X (40,000+ miles), Pirelli steel radials (lasted until I rotated them the first time and changed the direction of rotation), Dunlop Radial Sport fabric radial (best so far) and UniRoyal Ralley 180 (tread separation on all 4 and on all 4 of their replacements).

This puts me into a time when the Tiger was finally removed from front line duty and retired to recreational driving including an occasional autocross. I was free to stray away from high mileage all weather tires and see what more performance oriented wheel and tire options were available. In the absence of any Tiger Wheel articles to help, I had to search out these wheels (and tires) myself.

WARNING: Make sure the front suspension welds have been checked according to the warnings given in the various Sunbeam publications!

The easiest wheel change for the Tiger is to get two 13″ used steel wheels from the Mustang II (Pinto?) and put them on the back of the car. These are 5″ vs. stock 4.5″ width. Maybe even more important is that they widen the track in the back. This better matches the front since the Tiger front starts out with a wider track than the back. (These wheels give marginal clearance if used on the front.) These wheels were $10 at C&C Salvage (stored outside and rusty) or $15 at Superior Auto Parts (no rust just dirty). Before we get any farther, let’s review the used wheel world from the Rod & Custom point of view (Oct. ’89 HOT WHEELS, page 58). Those wheels matching the Sunbeam 4 hole, 4.25″ pattern are:

Ford  
Fairmont78-86
Mustang (exc. SVO)74-89
T-Bird80-88
Fiesta, Escort78-85
Taurus, Tempo, EXPto 89
Mercury
Capri71-88
Cougar79-88
Merkur, Topaz, Lynx80-89
Zepher78-86
Porsche
92477-84
Sunbeam
Tiger, Alpine64-70

There are some of these that I have not seen in MY local junk yard, such as a Porsche 924 wheel and the 1970 Tiger wheel!

The 1986 Ford Motorsport Performance Guide gives the following applications for the 15×7 4-hole steel wheel (selling for $126). (This wheel is not in the 1990 guide.)

  • Mustang/Capri
  • Thunderbird/Cougar
  • LTD/Marquis
  • Granada/Monarch
  • Fairmont/Zepher

The above cars are rear drive and their wheels should better match our needs. Also, in the same guide is a 14×6 4-hole aluminum wheel for the front drive cars (still available at $250).

  • Tempo/Topaz
  • Escort/Lynx/EXP /LN -7

Wheels from all these cars should match the Sunbeam bolt pattern. The Ford 4 bolt 4.25 pattern is the same as the Sunbeam pattern, but there are important differences. Ford wheels are built for a larger bolt size. Also, the countersink on the bolt in the steel wheel is different. Using aftermarket wheel lug nuts that match the Ford steel wheels and a little extra care in mounting, I had no problems.

I do not know what difficulties may arise in finding mounting hardware for Ford aluminum wheels.

Before reviewing any more wheels I need to explain how I took my measurements and how to interpret the results:

Reference Basis

I will be comparing all wheel/tire combinations with a 175/75 x 13 tire on a stock wheel. This was the combination on my car when I took the original (Tiger) measurements. One exception is that I will be comparing ride height to the original 5.90 tire. (I have all the calculations on a spreadsheet for convenience.)

Rear

Rear clearances are calculated for a stock 1965 Tiger. Measurements are made from the fender lip 4″ behind the tire center line to the widest part of the tire at an appropriate suspension deflection. Lower profile tires take less suspension deflection to reach minimum clearance. Extra clearance is, of course, available if the lip is cut or bent. Clearance to the rear leaf spring is measured with any spring clamps moved out of the way.

CAUTION: My rear Tiger brake drum sticks out wider than the wheel mounting surface by 0.25 inch! The mounting surface is 6.5 inches in diameter. I have seen one Ford wheel that had a larger mounting surface that would not have mounted properly. Also, I have seen warnings of brake drums with bumps sticking out significantly more than 0.25 inch. My dimensions are based on the wheel mounting properly to the mounting area with no spacers.

Front

Front tire information is given simply as how the tire is positioned compared to the reference wheel/tire combination. TIRE CENTER data is how far the center of the tire has changed compared with the reference wheel and tire. A plus means the movement is away from the center of the car. (Multiply by 2 and get the change in track.) TIRE OUTER is how far the outermost part of the tire has moved in or out. TIRE INNER is the same thing from the innermost part of the tire. (This data is, of course, also valid for the rear of the Tiger and the Alpine all around.)

Clearance to the front apron can be a problem with wider front track, wider tires and larger diameter tires. Remember, any large change in the tire center location will also make a large change to the front wheel bearing loading.

Ride Height

Ride height information will be given as changes in ride height compared to the reference 5.90 x 13 tire. The data will be plus if the ride height is increased.

Wheel Measurement

I used a “backset” not an “offset” wheel measurement. This is easier to measure and I think it is less confusing. My backset is measured with a (long) straight edge laid across the back of the wheel then the measurement is made from the straight edge to the wheel mounting surface. Other measurements needed are overall wheel width and, of course, the tire mounting/rated wheel width.

Tires

Except for reference tires, data for the tires is average for several brands if data is available. Tire maximum width will change 0.2 inch for a 0.5 inch change in rim width.

13 Inch Used Ford Wheels

The wheels on Chart A are all Mustang II or Pinto with one Escort thrown in. The last wheel (aluminum with 3.75 backset) is the most common used aluminum wheel. It has a mounting surface over 7 inches in diameter and will not mount properly without a spacer or some modification.

Tire availability:

  • 185/70 … Many manufacturers
  • 195/70 … Few manufacturers
  • 195/65 … Few manufacturers
  • 185/60 … Several manufacturers
  • 195/60 … Few manufacturers
  • 205/60 … Many manufacturers

The 5.5 inch aluminum wheels are a marginal fit with interference indicated. They will probably work okay with a narrower than average tire or a trim to the fender lip. One thing common to all these wheel/tire combinations is the lowered ride height.

Some of the good effects of this are:

  • Effective gear ratio change (good or bad) and speedometer change.
  • Lower center of gravity (the Alpine and Tiger could certainly benefit from some of that).
  • Also, appearance-wise, you may like the lowered appearance.
  • Small diameter keeps you out of clearance problems with the front apron.

On the minus side:

  • Reduction of ground clearance.
  • The smaller diameter tires do not properly fill the wheel well opening. This, I think, detracts from the appearance of the car.
  • Smaller diameter gives less tread on the road.
  • Smaller diameter also gives a rougher ride.

I think the wider tread gives a more aggressive appearance, but smaller diameter takes it away again.

The Mustang (and Pinto) aluminum wheels are old enough to be cheap. That is $25 at C & C Salvage (not rusted this time, just pitted).

14″ Wheels

There are many different 14 inch Ford wheels in existence. I have generated data on four common types for consideration here on Chart B.

The Mustang 5 inch seems a poor choice when the 5.5 inch is more common. The styled wheel moves the tread surface the wrong way, toward the center of the car. It may have some application on the front.

The remaining two are almost identical with a slight advantage to the T-Bird / Cougar wheel for the wider track. The stock Ford wheel is much easier to find and possible cheaper. The T-Bird / Cougar wheel cost $20 at Superior Auto Parts. Using the T-Bird / Cougar dimensions we can compare some different tire sizes (see Chart C).

Watch the center hole in Ford wheels. The Tiger FRONT hub has a maximum diameter of 2.64 inches with the diameter going down along its length. My two front hubs are not the same having a different shape, and they intercept the wheel at a different diameter. One hub takes 1/4 inch to reach a smaller diameter. The other hub takes 3/8 inch to taper down to a slightly larger diameter. The hub hole in the stock Sunbeam wheel is 2.64 inches. It has a rolled lip around the hole. The minimum hole diameter is thus somewhat removed from the max hub diameter allowing the wheel some clearance.

Ford steel wheels seem to have four popular center hole types with each having a hole diameter of 2.5 inches.

  1. A rolled lip on a round hole. I must consider this lip structural and recommend caution in modifying it. I had to use a 0. 2 inch spacer on my LARGER hub to allow a fit without modification to the wheel! The fit was OK on my SMALL hub.
  1. Same as #1 but the hole is slightly squared. Minimum hole size is the same.
  1. The T-Bird/Cougar “square hole” (12 square holes) wheel has four square tabs forming the minimum diameter in the hub hole. These tabs are flush with the mounting surface and, therefore, intercept the hub near its maximum diameter. I cannot see that these tabs had any structural effect except to increase the bearing area in the original application. This hole must be enlarged to something over 2.64 inches to fit the wheel without spacers. A diameter of 2.75 is convenient. A diameter of 2.87 will make the hole round.
  1. Styled steel wheels have a very deep 2.5″ hole.

Weight

I have no accurate data on weight but:

  • Stock Sunbeam …  6 pounds
  • Ford 13 & 14 inch steel … 7 pounds
  • Ford 14 inch “polycast”  …9.5 pounds

These polycast wheels are a STEEL wheel with an aluminum(?) front cast(?) onto them. These look like a fancy aluminum wheel but there is a weight penalty to pay. These polycast wheels have the “type 3” hub hole.

Ford 15 Inch Wheels

Ford 15 inch four-bolt wheels do exist, but my local junk yard hasn’t had any for me to measure.

The only four bolt hole 15 inch STEEL wheel I know of is the one out of the Ford Motorsport Performance Guide. It has the same appearance and type 3 hub hole as the T-Bird / Cougar square hole wheel. The Ford performance guide gives no setback dimensions but the suggested application is Mustang

Mustang ALUMINUM wheels went from 14 inch (70 series tires) to 15 inch ( 60 series) in 1985. There are two 15 inch styles that I know of: one with 10 “D” holes and the other with 16 “fins”.  All of these 15 inch wheels have a 7 inch width.

I have no setback dimension for these wheels so I will assume a “perfect” wheel with a 1/4 inch spring clearance and see how the results fall (Chart D).

It does appear possible to fit the PROPER 7 inch wheel on the Tiger.

Conclusion

The used market has some readily available wheels in the 13 and 14 inch sizes that can be applied to the Alpine or Tiger.

The 14 inch steel wheel is an inexpensive and effective upgrade. The clearances are very conservative (room for tire chains). The T-Bird / Cougar wheel requires modification. This modification does not appear to compromise the wheel. This wheel has a unique appearance. I need a set of trim rings before I can decide if I like their appearance.

These wheels with a set of 185/60 tires (mine are off a Honda CRX) seem to be a good combination. Autocross performance showed a major improvement over the 175/75-13 reference set up. Ride quality was reduced little if any.

But wouldn’t you think a Tiger deserves bigger tires than a CRX? The next step up in USED wheels seems to be to the 7 inch Mustang wheel. This is a very large step up in size and an unknown step down in clearance.

There are many other, less common, Ford wheels out there. Some of these may provide a step between the 5.5 by 14 and the 7 by 15 wheel. I suspect, however, that the next step should be an after-market wheel.

TireWheelWheel
Width
Wheel
Backset
Rear
Clearance
Fender
Rear
Clearance
Spring
Front
Change
Outer
Front
Change
Center
Front
Change
Inner
Rel
Ride
Height
Max
Tire
Width
Tire
Dia
5.90Stock 13"4.54.141.300.92-0.050.000.050.006.6024.50
175/75Stock 13"4.54.141.250.870.000.000.00-0.256.7024.00
175/70Mustang II Steel5.03.630.361.420.890.720.55-0.877.0422.76
185/70Mustang II Steel5.03.630.201.261.050.720.40-0.567.3523.38
185/70Escort Styled5.04.631.200.210.04-0.28-0.61-0.567.3523.38
185/70Alum "dish"5.04.000.570.890.670.350.02-0.567.3523.38
185/70Alum "wire"5.53.63-0.151.411.400.970.55-0.567.3523.38
185/70Alum "dish"5.53.75-0.031.291.270.850.42-0.567.3523.38
TireWheelWheel
Width
Wheel
Backset
Rear
Clearance
Fender
Rear
Clearance
Spring
Front
Change
Outer
Front
Change
Center
Front
Change
Inner
Rel
Ride
Height
Max
Tire
Width
Tire
Dia
5.9Stock 13"4.54.141.300.920.050.000.050.006.6024.5
175/75Stock 13"4.54.141.250.870.000.000.00-0.256.7024.0
185/70Mustang 14" steel5.04.250.930.740.320.10-0.12-0.037.1424.45
185/70Ford 14" steel5.54.50.830.640.420.10-0.22-0.037.3424.45
185/70T-Bird sq. hole5.54.380.710.770.540.22-0.10-0.037.3424.45
185/70Ford Styled5.551.330.14-0.08-0.4-0.72-0.037.3424.45
TireWheelWheel
Width
Wheel
Backset
Rear
Clearance
Fender
Rear
Clearance
Spring
Front
Change
Outer
Front
Change
Center
Front
Change
Inner
Rel
Ride
Height
Max
Tire
Width
Tire
Dia
5.9Stock 13"4.54.141.300.92-0.050.000.050.006.6024.5
175/75Stock 13"4.54.141.250.870.000.000.00-0.256.7024.0
185/70T-Bird sq. hole5.54.380.710.770.540.22-0.10-0.037.3424.45
195/70T-Bird sq. hole5.54.380.500.570.740.22-0.300.237.7424.96
185/60T-Bird sq. hole5.54.380.750.820.490.22-0.050.857.2422.8
195/60T-Bird sq. hole5.54.380.510.570.740.22-0.29-0.607.7323.3
TireWheelWheel
Width
Wheel
Backset
Rear
Clearance
Fender
Rear
Clearance
Spring
Front
Change
Outer
Front
Change
Center
Front
Change
Inner
Rel
Ride
Height
Max
Tire
Width
Tire
Dia
5.9Stock 13"4.54.141.300.92-0.050.000.050.006.6024.50
175/75Stock 13"4.54.141.250.870.000.000.00-0.256.7024.00
205/607 inch75.280.500.250.750.07-0.610.118.0624.73
215/607 inch75.080.090.251.150.27-0.610.358.4725.20
225/607 inch74.91-0.240.251.490.440.610.578.8025.64
205/507 inch75.290.520.250.730.060.61-0.658.0423.20

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