Aftermarket Wheels 101: A Brief History of the Fabled American Racing Wheels

The United States of America has always been in love with automobiles and everything related to automobiles. This is nothing new and has been known ever since the ‘Baby Boomers’ took over the suburbia. What is not so well-known is the fascinating history that lies behind most of the greatest American wheel and tire companies. 

From movies to music and from children’s toys to drive-in concerts, cars have defined many angles of the Pax Americana. On this note, it would probably be a good idea to introduce the singularly famous American Racing Wheels

Strictly speaking, this is not a company that manufactures custom wheels. Rather, this Titan of American business has been known across the world for its superb OEM-grade aftermarket rims which have withstood the test of time and have still not lost their sheen. Of all the ‘iconic’ USA wheel and tire giants, this is probably one of the few brands to have actually acquired that moniker. 

So, what makes American Racing Wheels so special?  

Let’s go back a few decades. 


The history of American Racing Wheels

The company was founded by two friends in California in 1956. The driving force was the racer, daredevil, and early dragster Romeo Palamides. Supporting him was his old friend, Jim Ellison. 

Ellison and Palamides did not start with manufacturing anything worthwhile. In fact, they did not even start production of any of the early American wheel and tire brands which most of us are aware of. 

Because the two budding entrepreneurs had their fair share of dragster-racing and powerful, muscular automobiles, they decided to exploit the one thing they saw missing in the entire automobile ecosystem. 

A set of sturdy and handsome aftermarket wheels. 

Those were the days of the six-and eight-cylinder monster cars, like the 1965 Ford Mustang. While their OEM wheels were perfectly fine, they were not suitable for off-roading or a bit of rough driving over bad roads. This meant that certain USA wheel and tire models had to be introduced to ensure that the customer got exactly what s/he wanted. 

The craze of Mags 

Both Palamides and Ellison understood that such a wheel needed to be: 

  • Lightweight to ensure the vehicle did not exceed its gross weight restrictions. 
  • Easily serviceable. 
  • Better at providing strength-to-weight ratio than imitation wheels which were already available. 
  • Better able to ward off heat, dirt, dust and could absorb punishment. 
  • Would look superior aesthetically so that their clients could find that hidden value proposition. 

These were taken together and after several delays, American Racing Wheels launched the first Magnesium alloy wheels. Magnesium fulfilled all of the pre-requisites and was not very expensive. 

The first model that propelled the brand was a model named the “Torq Thrust.”  

With this model, American Racing Wheels never looked back. The Torq Thrust still exists in various designs and in various vintage looks that keep changing with every passing year. But the fundamental aspect of this true legend of all American wheel and tires has never altered. 

In those days, the company used to run advertisements in the papers declaring how cars outfitted with Magnesium wheels won more races than most other automobiles which had steel rims.  

This was true to a great extent. Besides, these adverts were run under the aegis of “American Racing Equipment.” Subsequently, all properties, including the now-recognizable American Racing Wheels, were all categorized under the ARE group of companies.  

It is essential to remember that most such Mags were ‘cast’ during these early years. It was not until the late 1960s that ‘forging’ became an exact science which could produce high-quality and durable rims. 

A few words on the Torq Thrust 

It remains to date the most important model that American Racing Wheels ever designed and launched. The wheel is still available in several different sizes and is often seen adorning some of the world’s most luxurious cars. 

The Torq Thrust has always been (and still is) a 5-spoked wheel which has tapering spokes. This lends a very distinctive look to the wheel and serves rather well when they are used on muscle cars. 

Plus, this engineering advancement has also been copied by many of the biggest American wheel and tire companies. The parabolic spokes ensure that there is very little heat generated during sudden and panic braking, and no damage to the external parts of the wheel or the tire per se. 

Besides, this design also helps the faster dispersion of hot gases which are accumulated during rough drives and steep curves. Braking hard also causes a large amount of heat build-up that requires rapid dissipation. 

The lessons we can learn 

One of the things that we can always learn from the glorious history of American Racing Wheels is that the United States has never run short of innovators who have used their ideas and doggedness to pursue their dreams. 

Entrepreneurship is part of the American Dream, so to speak. 

Finally, there is no such thing as “old aftermarket wheels.” There are only classic rims like the ones some of us have seen on the Ford Mustang Mach 1 and in some popular Hollywood movies like ‘Bullitt.’ 

And although the parent company of American Racing Wheels has been sold to a new entity called Platinum Equity, it will always remain an American colossus! 


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