Last month we set out to define the wheels that revolutionized the hot rod and custom car market. That's a huge subject to broach; cars have worn all sorts of wheels over the past 100 or so years. So we began where the market began: with OEM and early accessory steel wheels. Even that niche is so broad that we had to narrow our scope to include only the really noteworthy ones.

This month we're fixing our scopes on the aftermarket magnesium and aluminum wheel market. Though broad, the steel wheel segment is merely a few degrees wide compared to the alloy wheel market.

With almost no exceptions, the alloy wheel market exists exclusively as an aftermarket entity. The aftermarket relies on the publishing industry, and according to the abundance and variety of wheels made over the years, we editors did a damn fine job of helping manufacturers sell wheels.

For this reason we're not even going to pretend that what follows is even remotely close to comprehensive. Every time you think you've seen it all along comes another wheel that proves you wrong.

Halibrand Engineering
As far as American wheels are concerned, without a doubt all paths in the alloy wheel world lead here. Founded by a Douglas Aircraft service rep in 1947, Halibrand Engineering set the mold by making molds for the first performance-oriented American road wheels.

Ted Halibrand began making 12-inch wheels for Midget race cars. (Until then racers made their wheels by welding utility trailer rims to Model T drums.) He then cast wheels for the Rudge-derived hubs that Indianapolis roadsters used, but when he encountered wear problems in the broach, he drew upon his Midget racing roots and made his own hubs. Like the Midget hubs they engaged the wheel at six mounting points, and like the Rudge hub one oversized fastener held the wheel tight. The six-pin knock-off wheel prevailed in nearly every form of racing for decades thereafter.

Halibrand made wheels for pretty much every form of auto racing in America: Midgets, Sprint Cars, Champ cars, IndyCars, Formula 1 cars, Le Mans cars, and even the Cobra rode on lightweight Halibrand wheels. The array is staggeringly diverse: Halibrand's pattern makers altered wheel designs to meet racers' seemingly infinite array of needs.

There is only one thing consistent among Halibrand wheels made when Halibrand owned the company: magnesium alloy, the lightest of the light metals. In fact, the material is so esteemed that it serves as the inspiration for "mag", a term that incorrectly gets applied to any non-steel wheel. It's a good idea to have any vintage Halibrand professionally crack tested, not because magnesium is inherently crack prone but because of the rough lives most of these wheels lived.

Halibrand changed hands a number of times and briefly belonged to Tom and Harry Jackman of Jackman wheel fame. Despite folklore that even I once (and regretfully) helped propagate, the Jackmans did not repurpose any of the Halibrand patterns as firewood. Subsequent owners did cast wheels from aluminum under the Halibrand Engineering name for a limited time.

Halibrand lives on officially as Halibrand Performance. Its owner, Richard LeJuerrne, casts new aluminum wheels from a combination of original patterns and new dies. Eric Vaughn as Real Wheels produced interpretations of Halibrand's wheels. Pat O'Brien purchased the company, renamed it Real Rodder Wheels, and casts an expanded catalog. Progressive manufacturing techniques increase casting density, a feature that makes the wheels stronger and hold a polish longer.

American Racing Equipment
Probably no other part is as immediately recognizable as the five-spoke wheel that American Racing Equipment introduced in 1960. Though copied with impunity, the company gets the ultimate honor: show any enthusiast a copycat five-spoke wheel and chances are they'll identify it as a Torq-Thrust.

Though American Racing Equipment owes its legacy to its founder, Romeo Palamides, Palamides owes the wheel that put him on the map to circle-track legend Rolla Vollstedt. Vollstedt had wood patterns made to cast a dished magnesium wheel. "My wheels were just solid, they had no spokes," he says. "I had the pattern made so I could put a spacer in and make the wheel an inch wider, you know so I could run them on the front or rear.

"But then I found that I could buy them ready-made from Halibrand for less than it cost me," he says. "I sold my patterns to a guy down around the Bay Area named Romeo Palamides." Palamides made them his own by first adding material to create trapezoidal holes in the wheel face and further widened the wheels.

When they debuted on Palamides' handsome dragster that graced the cover of the Nov. '56 Hot Rod, Palamides Racing Equipment was born. When Palamides asked to be cashed out so he could go racing, machinist Jim Ellison and engineer Tom Griffith changed the name to American Racing Equipment.

American Racing introduced dozens of wheel variations over its long and storied history—far too many than we can honor here. It still produces relatively faithful copies of many of its most famous wheels to this day.