I'll be the first to admit that I'm no "die-hard" traditionalist--I can see past the whitewalls and fuzzy dice for the endless possibilities this hobby has to offer. But I will also admit that there are plenty of occasions where modernism can ruin a car, period. Can you imagine the Hirohata Merc sportin' 20-inchers? Nah, I didn't think so. But, take a car like Billy F. Gibbons' Impala--a hardtop that normally runs 14-inch steel wheels with Mooneyes spider caps or an accessory hubcap from the '60s--and throw on not one, but two different sets of larger-diameter wheels, and look what an amazing difference it makes. Now, I won't chastise anyone who adamantly disagrees, as I can try and understand perpetual constricted vision.
When the ZZ Top frontman's Chevy, dubbed "Slampala," was out at SO-CAL Speed Shop for a short stint, we decided to do a little shoe-swappin' while its owner was off on tour in Europe. With the help of SO-CAL's Tony Thacker, American Racing's Steve Zieber, and Toyo Tire's Dana Zamalloa, all the necessary arrangements were made to get some updated rolling stock on Slampala for an afternoon shoot. To give more than one alternative, the driver side was mounted with American's new Hopsters, 18x8 and 20x9 with 35-series radials, while the passenger side got fitted with the same size Torq-Thrust IIs. Thanks to a Firestone airbag system previously installed by Gregg Petersen at SO-CAL, the '62 sat down quite comfortably over its new footwear. The final ensemble consisted of a set of 14-inch smoothies complete with Mooneyes spiders and traditional "pinner" whitewalls (Billy's preferred choice...until he sees the photo layout!).
The obvious premise was to photographically illustrate what effect different wheels can have on a car--but not just any old wheel or any old size. You've got to plan wheel and tire selection carefully, even if you're dealing with bias-ply whitewalls and hubcaps. Size is everything, but only when you're talking relationship with each particular vehicle. Slampala definitely looks the part with large-diameter wheels, but a smaller custom, on the other hand, might look out of proportion with wheels of this size (some would argue that the '62 does as well, but...).
All right, hopefully you get the point with the wheels, yeah? Whether it be a borderline stocker like Slampala or a full-blown custom, the right choice of rolling stock makes all the difference in the world. And just as important is stance. Chassis dragging may not be for everyone, but at the very least a little "attitude adjustment" is necessary so that your car doesn't look like the wheels/tires were an afterthought (or a lowrider with the hydraulics maxed out!). As mentioned, Gibbons' car utilizes a Firestone airbag system with electronic solenoid controls (N.O.S. items--something innovative at the time, but par for the course these days), providing ample suspension travel for driving conditions as well the capability to "lay down" when necessary. Other than an ECI power disc brake conversion and a CD sound system (with the head unit hidden behind the speaker grille), the '62 is pretty close to how GM intended a tad over 40 years ago. One thing you might notice a little different from OE is the steering wheel, which was recast by J.B. Donaldson in a two-tone creme and mint green (along with matching, candy-like dash knobs). Basic, sure...Cool, hell yeah! And the main reasons this should ring true for so many readers? Because it's a "believable" car, not a $100K dream-mobile that few of us can afford.