Rolling redonkulousness

A brief history of aspect ratios, by Ronnie Schreiber:

If I’m not mistaken, most bias ply passenger car tires in the 1960s were 78 series. After radials came out, 70 series tires became the standard. Soon 60s were available. A 60 series radial looked like a flat tire compared to a 78 series bias ply tire. I think it was Porsche that first started offering 16 and then 17 inch wheels to better exploit the new lower aspect ratio tires and keep overall tire diameter constant. Those low stiff sidewalls meant better handling and the wheels weren’t so much larger that increased unsprung weight was yet an issue (aluminum weighs more than rubber). So the original large rims weren’t for looks, but rather for function. In time they became valued for their look as well and designers at car companies realized there were aesthetic advantages in taking up the more of the empty space inside the wheel well with an interestingly shaped chrome or colored wheel, compared to a boring black rubber donut.

On the other hand, the absurd 20- or 22-inch rims being inflicted on sweet, innocent family sedans bring massive increases in unsprung weight and urgent demands for eye bleach.

Me? I drive on 55-series 16s. The up-option that year was a 50-series 17-incher, which somehow increased the turning circle by five feet. To me, this is not an advantage.



  1. Jennifer »

    17 May 2012 · 3:53 pm

    My Sentra wears 17s. Any smaller wouldn’t accommodate the giant brakes on the front.

  2. CGHill »

    17 May 2012 · 4:27 pm

    Big brakes do have their charms, I concede.

  3. Jennifer »

    17 May 2012 · 8:34 pm

    They do. It’s nice to get change after stopping on a dime

  4. CGHill »

    17 May 2012 · 9:05 pm

    Incidentally, Car and Driver has a comparo this month (if this month is June) between the most-hotted-up versions of the Mini and the Fiat 500, and sure enough, these little comedy boxes are sporting 17s.

  5. Tam »

    19 May 2012 · 11:01 am

    The standard 16″ rims with factory 50-series unidirectional Goodyear Eagle rubber on mid-’80s ‘Vettes were radical at the time.

    The optional 35-series rubber on 17″ inchers on my ’98 Zed Drei looks like bicycle tires next to the average sedan these days.

    (My ’70 GTO looked brutal back in ’87, on its aftermarket G70-15s…)

  6. CGHill »

    19 May 2012 · 11:04 am

    My old Chevy Nova rode on B78-13s up front, D78-14s out back, and not very well on either.

    At least when BMW offers a wheel/tire combination, there is a reasonable chance that they put some thought into how it would work with the suspension. J. Random Rimbuyer, probably not so much.

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