The Importance Of Tightening Spokes On Wire Wheels On Classic Cars

I own a number of classic cars and have never really been a fan of wire wheels for a variety of reason. Firstly they take a lot of cleaning and it is very difficult to get between all the spokes and to clean the hub properly. Secondly and more importantly, spokes can work loose, or worse still they can actually crack or break under hard driving. I have never had a spoke snap on me, you really need to be doing some spirited rallying for them to fail, but I have had them work loose.

Over the years I have replaced the wire wheels on some of our cars (MGB Roadster, Triumph TR4a and Austin Healey) with Minilite alloy wheels and have D-Type alloy wheels on our Jaguar E-Type. These are easier to clean, no spokes to mess about with and they are actually easier for tyre companies to balance properly so normally make for a smoother, better ride. One of my latest acquisitions is a 1961 Jaguar Mk2 saloon which arrived with chrome wire wheels. Minilites would look out of place on a Jaguar and changing to standard steel wheels would involve replacing the hubs, and would look a bit plain and boring. So for now I am sticking with the wire wheels.

Cleaning the wheels recently, I noticed that a couple of the spokes were loose, and much credit to my local garage they also spotted this on the car’s annual MOT test, so I decided I needed to check all the spokes on all five wheels (including the spare).

This is a non-trivial task and can’t be done with the wheels on the car as you need to be able to get to both sides of the wheels to tighten the outer and inner spokes. First you need a spoke spanner, or at least a spanner the same size as the spoke nipples. The spokes themselves don’t tighten, they are held in place by the nipples and it is the nipples than need tightening. These are fitted though the steel wheel rim onto the spokes and the head of the nipple is therefore inside the wheel, touching the inflated inner tube. If you tighten the nipples with the tyre inflated it is quite likely they will pinch the tube and could puncture it.

The first thing to do is therefore to deflate the tyre almost fully. Then find the loose spoke(s) and tighten the nipple until the spoke no longer actually feels loose. Once the loose spoke(s) are tightened, you should then work round the whole wheel tightening up all the spoke nipples a little. Start at the valve and work round the outer spokes, and then turn the wheel over and work round the inner spokes. So you don’t overtighten any spokes, just tighten them a little and then work all the way round the wheel again giving them another little tweak.

Once all the spokes have been tightened you can re-inflate the wheel to the correct pressure, then refit to the car and move onto the next wheel. Completing all five wheels will probably take a couple of hours. Particularly if like me, you use the opportunity, of having the wheels off the car, to clean and polish them properly.

Job done. All spokes tightened and unlikely to work loose for at least another year. An afternoon of my life I’ll never get back.

Now I remember why I replaced the wire wheels on the other cars with alloy ones!

Tony Merrygold of The Open Road is an expert in classic car hire having been in business in the UK since 1997 running The Open Road. Tony runs courses telling people how to start up a car hire company, having trained over 200 people over the past ten years.

Combining his 20 year background in sales and marketing with his knowledge of the classic car hire industry, in early 2008 Tony launched a new web portal Classic Car Hire World – listing classic and sports car hire companies around the world. Within three months of its launch this site achieved a Google PageRank of 4/10 and was showing on the first page of Google.com when users searched for ‘classic car hire’.

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