Having been to several Optima Ultimate Streetcar Challenge qualifying events as well as many autocross and open track events, I can tell you that a serious G-machine begins with a good set of tires. Without a meaty and sticky set of rubber, none of the high dollar suspension, brakes, and engines means a thing. And not only do you need good traction in the rear, but boatloads of it in the front, too. The front tires are going to do a great portion of the work when you hit the track, as the weight transfers to the front and you attempt to turn in. This is no doubt why the new 2014 Camaro Z/28 sports R compounds that are over 300mm in width. Unfortunately many of our beloved muscle cars are extremely limited in the front wheelwells, especially ‘80s G-bodies like our 1983 Buick Regal T-type (“G Machine”) project, and not much better in the rear (thanks GM!). So it was going to take some creative thinking, carefully selected wheels, and a big hammer to make our dreams come true. Enter Grip Equipped.
When we first met Anthony Stephenson and Ben Hermance at Grip Equipped, we knew they’d be the perfect partners for this project. Grip Equipped’s line of custom forged wheels is aimed at discerning muscle car builders, with an eye towards other applications and future endeavors. Ben’s hands crafted each of the nine different designs, with exceptional detail throughout – not your typical flat, one-dimensional type stuff that we’ve come to expect from 3-piece wheels. In fact, the lineup was created to capture the styling capabilities more associated with cast wheels, but without the weight and lack of serviceability. And because of the many options from lip design, finishes, center cap, machining, and hardware – each design is very flexible in terms of application and can look substantially different. When I first mentioned the project to Anthony, he immediately steered me towards the Rebel with a Brushed finish, satin black inner hoop, and gloss black center that would effectively emulate the early T-type wheels. Not only did I love the concept, but also it was also relieving to have some help navigating through a seemingly endless list of options and combinations.
Now that we had selected our wheels, it was up to Dave Rushen and the crew at the Burlington County Institute of Technology in Medford, NJ to take the measurements and start on the long process of prepping the body. Ultimately we chose to go with an 18x9.5-inch front wheel and 18x12-inches in the rear – rather enormous by G-body standards. We’ll give you the full rundown of the process in an upcoming issue of GMHTP. In the mean time, we’ll walk you through the process of manufacturing a custom wheel and give you some more information about why we went this route in the first place.
Why Buy Custom Wheels?
In our case, there really was no other way to fit the size tire we’d need to be competitive with this car, which is paramount to a pro touring build. And quite honestly, this is the one area where it pays to splurge. It is rare that I say such a blasphemous thing, but you need to take that extra money you were going to spend on an 800hp supercharged engine combo and put it into your wheels. Grip is everything on a pro touring build, so you need to do whatever you can to get the biggest and stickiest set of tires possible. Plus with all the money and time you are putting into your car, the last thing you want to do is put yourself and the car at risk with an inferior set of wheels that could crack or come apart at speed. Also keep in mind that a quality 3-piece wheel is an investment that can last the life of the car. Whereas one-piece cast wheels are toast with a little curb damage, Grip Equipped wheels are completely serviceable and modular. Last but not least, the wheels can make or break your car. And let’s face it, looks are important. A custom wheel can make an average car look high-end, and with any number of different touches and options it can also make it completely unique.
Who is Grip Equipped?
Two car nuts from different backgrounds – an entrepreneur and a designer – united by their love of hot rods founded Grip Equipped. Anthony Stephenson has worked in and around cars his whole life, being apart of the family Cadillac dealership. He quickly saw the value of aftermarket upgrades, and became fully invested in the classic restoration and custom world at Big 3 Performance. During which time, he worked with Ben Hermance at Hermance Design in 2008 on Jim Wangers Signature Edition GTO. Hermance had been making the transition away from industrial design, and into the automotive world for some time – partly responsible for a growing list of show-stopping SEMA cars. After concluding the GTO project, Hermance decided this would be a great opportunity to embrace his passion and partner with Stephenson.
“We wanted to offer something more stylized to the hot rod, pro touring, and custom markets. Forged 3-piece wheels were the big thing, but they were all pie-plate designs – flat or concave with shapes cut out. No additional detail work or molding of the CNC,” says Stephenson. Thus Grip Equipped decided to partner with Forgeline Motorsports to manufacture these wheel designs. “We made that connection because of the quality of customer service, the product, and over 20+ years of experience. We like their experience with the market, and wanted something that would be durable. I’ve seen other wheel companies’ centers crack on open track days, and that wasn’t something that we wanted to have [happen]. Nothing will destroy your rep quicker as a new company.” Anthony went on to say that Forgeline’s racing experience was case in point; clearly they make a product that is sufficient even for professional race teams with the highest of standards in terms of durability.
But ultimately Grip Equipped isn’t just about wheels. “We’d like our name to be a stamp of approval on parts.” Anthony went on to state that in the future they’d like to design composite body enhancements, graphics packages, and accessories for the pro touring and modern muscle markets. Stay tuned, these guys are making moves!