Not much really shows. I could have simply sprayed the lip of the wheel with some gloss black paint from Home Depot and no one would have known the difference-except me. I'm not a totally healthy person. Like a true fanatic, I felt the need to restore my '58 Corvette wheels to the exact condition they were when they rolled down the final few feet of the old St. Louis assembly line.
Let's get one small point out of the way before we even begin. First, we are not going to paint the wheels the same way the assembly line workers did in 1958. We're simply going to make them look the same way. There is a limit.
From 1953 to 1962, all Corvette wheels were painted by first dipping each wheel into a vat of black primer. They were then baked in a drying oven. The wheels were next placed on a steel rack and sent to the color area, where the final color coat was applied. This painting rack was constructed in such a way that five wheels were stacked on a rack back to back-meaning 10 wheels could be done at a time.
This also means that while the wheels should be all flat black on the backside, a lot of them ended up with color overspray on the inside of the wheel. The fanatical restorer will match this overspray to duplicate the original factory condition. The truth is that no one will ever really see whether you actually did this or not. I like my wheels with a nice flat black finish on the inside. Besides, who's to say my original wheels had overspray?
This painting process remained the same throughout the production of the straight-axle Corvettes. The only things that changed were the colors applied as a final coat and theactual design of the wheels.
There are two things you need to realize about wheels. First, the wheels have the finest steel in the entire car. While everything else may rust, including the frame, you've never seen a wheel rusted so badly that it can't be used. Next, Chevrolet used a quality paint to protect this steel. Wheel paint is so tough that it's almost impossible to bead-blast.
I have a really nice bead-blasting cabinet that will easily accommodate an entire wheel. After half an hour of effort-and lots ofcompressor noise-I made no progress. When I started calculating the time it would take to do all five wheels, I gave up.
Now I was faced with two choices. I could take the wheels to an industrial sandblasting facility, which I've done in the past, or I could have them chemically stripped. I like the way the chemicals strip the surface better than a sandblasted surface, but this is a personal preference. Usually the chemical stripping is alittle cheaper, which is what finalized thedecision for me.
Revivation, in Florida, can strip wheels with no problem. These folks have a couple of chemical tanks for stripping whole cars. When I dropped my wheels off there was a Ferrari waiting to go in the tank and a Porsche that had just been removed. They also had a couple of early Sting Ray Corvette frames waiting for the owners to pick them up.
The easiest way to deal with old wheels is to simply put them in a big box and send them on a vacation to Florida. After having done wheels every other way possible, I feel this is the method of least aggravation, and maybe the cheapest.
Wheel Construction By The NumbersThe '53 Corvette wheel is almost the same as the '53 passenger car wheel. The passenger car wheels have five clips riveted to the spider, or centersection. These were put there to hold the small hubcaps in place. Since the Corvette used fullsize wheel covers, the clips were never installed. The holes for the rivets still exist, though.
If you don't have the correct wheel on your '53 you might try and find some '53 passenger car wheels and drill out the rivets and remove the clips. Now you have a '53 Corvette wheel.
In 1954 the holes were never drilled for these clips. The interesting thing here is that Chevrolet used the same part number for both the 1953 and 1954 wheels.
The 1955 wheel is quite different from the previous two years. There are raised nubs pressed directly into the wheels, reducing the need for riveted clips.
By 1956 we began to get a variety of wheels installed on the Corvette. In 1956 the wheels had four gaps between the stamped center and the outer section of the wheel, in contrast to the earlier four. Chevrolet actually used three different attachment methods for the centersection on the '56 wheels. Most of the wheels were spot-welded, while some others were arc-welded. At the same time, others were riveted. Rubber seals were again used to fill the gaps, which in some cases were actually pressed flat to fit into the small gap. In all cases these seals were installed after the painting of the wheel. The wheels themselves had small dimples on the inside of the outer section to hold the wheel covers in place.
When 1958 rolled around Chevrolet was down to two different styles. The basic difference was once again the method of attaching the centersection to the rim. Some were spot-welded, while others were riveted. If they were riveted, 12 rivets were used. The painting process remained the same from 1958 to 1960.
In fact, these wheels would remain the same right through 1962. While all of this might seem a little intimidating, you can simply skip the whole process and install a set of alloy wheels on the car. The only problem is you might be forced to return your membership card to the National Corvette Restorers Society. After all, they take Corvette wheels even more seriously than I do.
The Wide WheelsOption Code 276Yes, there was a time when 51/2-inches was considered a wide wheel. Today, when we're all putting 11-inch wheels on our C4 Corvettes, it's hard to consider a mere 5.5-inches wide-but that was the case in the early '60s. What's even more incredible was that Chevrolet didn't charge you extra for these wide wheels. This was a no-cost option.
This is a really tricky option to nail down. Very few of these wheels were actually sold, and those who purchased them were usually hard-core racers. This meant they were quickly painted, swapped around, or widened even further in the backyard welding shops of America.