Over the past several months, we've followed the process of returning a Signet Red '58 to operating condition following a lifetime marked by hard use, questionable modifications, and extended periods of what might charitably be termed “benign neglect” by previous owners. With the car's powertrain now running (and looking) better than ever, we recently decided to shift our attention toward getting this once proud first-gen back on the road.
As is often the case with freshly exhumed project cars, one of the areas most in need of attention was the rolling stock. During its most recent incarnation as a street/strip bomber in the early '90s, the Vette had been subjected to what might then have been considered a reasonably modish combination of 14-inch slotted mags wrapped in Goodyear Wingfoot HP radials (up front) and ultrawide Mickey Thompson bias-ply street slicks (in the rear). But the combo had not aged well, either literally or in the stylistic sense, and the car's current steward was anxious to jettison it in favor of something with more-enduring appeal.
Since the beginning of this project, our goal has been to assemble a fully functional homage to the custom Corvettes that prowled the streets and dragstrips of 1960s America—hence, the traditional small-block Chevy mill topped with dual quads, the unaltered stock frame, and an overall build philosophy that favors improved traditional hardware over pricy modern kit. With that approach ruling out the kind of plus-sized forged exotica employed on most Vetterods these days, our search for the perfect wheel quickly led us down a tried-and-true path.
The word "icon" may rank among the lexicon's most overused these days, but in the case of the American Racing Torq-Thrust, the term isn't just marketing hyperbole. Introduced in the early '60s, the original Torq-Thrust, with its five tapered spokes, was perhaps the first aftermarket wheel to be engineered with an eye toward improved brake cooling and reduced weight. It quickly gained favor among drag racers and other car enthusiasts of the era, and its distinctive design has since been immortalized in innumerable magazines, television shows, and movies featuring customized cars in a prominent role. With its timeless looks and wide range of available sizes, the Torq-Thrust line felt like the ideal choice for our period-correct custom.
We selected Corvette Central as our source, chiefly because the Michigan-based Vette-parts specialist could supply precisely the right offsets needed to yield a proper stance. As we'll see momentarily, nothing scuttles a car's looks like poorly fitting wheels, and we were keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the '58's previous owner.
Central supplied us with two 15x6-inch Torq-Thrust IIs (PN 642241, $229 each) for the front and two 15x7s (PN 642163, $289 each) for the rear, all in a gleaming, polished finish to match the chrome-bedecked exterior treatment of the late C1. (The company also offers the gray-spoked Torq-Thrust D, which can be had in the same sizes for a few bucks less.) While those dimensions might seem slight by modern standards, it's worth remembering that base '58 Vettes were originally shod with Lilliputian 15x5s at the factory, and even the race-spec “HD” option only bumped up the rim width by half an inch.
With the wheels encased in their new, owner-supplied rubber, we headed over to Seffner, Florida's AntiVenom to bolt them up and perform a before-and-after photographic comparison. Let's take a look at how this relatively simple upgrade yielded an outsize visual transformation.