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Wheelskins: Chrome For Styled Wheels

"Wheelskin" is a relatively new term. Wheelskins were invented in the late 1990s to provide an inexpensive way to put chrome on styled wheels. If you would like to read this article with pictures of classic cars that illustrate the examples given, go to http://www.autoamenity.com/FAQ/Wheelskins.htm After WWII, auto racing enthusiasts introduced new technologies and materials to every aspect of race cars to reduce weight and improve speed and handling.

One of those improvements, ‘mag wheels’ remains in the vernacular to this day. Halibrand magnesium wheels carried every car that won the Indy 500 from 1946 to 1963. Those early wheels were made of magnesium, which was far lighter than steel, and a even third lighter than aluminum. The major drawback of the true magnesium wheel was the need to polish it regularly, because magnesium reacts rapidly to air and water to produce a heavy surface oxide, which then pits. The shift to aluminum alloys reduced these problems.

Early aluminum alloy wheels were made in fairly simple designs. As more sophisticated, high strength molding and forging processes were developed, more intricate and artistic designs became common. The original purpose of decreased weight for track performance metamorphosed to style and expression. Adoption of “styled” alloy wheels became widespread in high-end street machines of German manufacture, and as expensive aftermarket options for the rest. Finally, major American and Japanese manufacturers began offering styled alloy wheels first as options, and in the late ‘80s as standard features. The top models of even the economy brands offered styled steel wheels. The advent of styled alloy wheels opened a new range of stylistic expression to auto owners. Spoke and swirl patterns could extend seamlessly to the outer edge of the wheel. As computerized machining technology advanced, it became less expensive to engineer the molds, so a larger selection of designs became available and prices decreased. Chrome, the final fashion statement, was applied to all varieties of styled wheels.

This option is popular but expensive, in the range of several hundred dollars per wheel. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of actual chrome plating on auto wheels is its tendency to corrode when exposed to winter salt driving conditions. Hence the fine print caveat in the warrantees of chrome wheel manufacturers: “Do not drive chrome wheels in snow!” and “Salt can deteriorate and corrode your chrome.” Wheelskins were invented in the late 1990s to provide an inexpensive way to put brilliant chromed plastic covers on styled wheels. Precision molds were designed to produce inexpensive corrosion resistant covers that perfectly match the geometry of styled wheels, and ‘fit like a glove’ or like a second skin. There are several manufacturers of wheelskins, the two best known are the Impostors™ and the Wheelskins brands. There is only one model of Wheelskin that matches each specific styled wheel, and that wheelskin does not fit any other wheel. Styled Wheels do not have the normal recess inside of the bead for standard hubcaps to mount into. Therefore, Wheelskins were designed with metal clips to grab the outer edge of the rim or wheel, the way a wheel weight does. The latest Wheelskins models use center clips that grab the wheel at the base of its spokes.

Wheelskins have become the best-kept secret in the wheel fashion industry. Once installed, you can not tell the difference between them and real chromed wheels from more than 5 feet away. Thousands of sets are sold to new and used auto retailers, who mount them on the vehicles on their lots. Those thousands of vehicles are sold to customers who are very happy they have purchased chrome wheels at a bargain price.


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