What's Wrong With This Picture? Just Because They Fit Doesn't Mean You Have To Edition

whats wrong with this picture just because they fit doesnt mean you have to edition

This morning I had the honor of naming my new *grandson at his bris. That means that I’m old enough to remember when 15 inch wheels were considered large.

I also remember when and why car companies started going to larger and larger wheel diameters. The tire industry had moved to radial ply construction and tire companies were starting to make lower aspect ratio tires. If I’m not mistaken, most bias ply passenger car tires in the 1960s were 78 series. After radials came out, 70 series tires became the standard. Soon 60s were available. A 60 series radial looked like a flat tire compared to a 78 series bias ply tire. I think it was Porsche that first started offering 16 and then 17 inch wheels to better exploit the new lower aspect ratio tires and keep overall tire diameter constant. Those low stiff sidewalls meant better handling and the wheels weren’t so much larger that increased unsprung weight was yet an issue (aluminum weighs more than rubber). So the original large rims weren’t for looks, but rather for function. In time they became valued for their look as well and designers at car companies realized there were aesthetic advantages in taking up the more of the empty space inside the wheel well with an interestingly shaped chrome or colored wheel, compared to a boring black rubber donut. I’ve been told by designers that one of the first elements of a new car design that they get down on paper on a computer screen is the shape of the wheel arches and the relationship of the wheel and tire to those arches. Professional car designers understand proportion and how the human eye/brain perceives nested circles. They also understand stance.

The owner of this 1971 Continental Mark III at a Detroit shine & show doesn’t.

The car looked to be in terrific shape, with glossy black paint and smooth, straight body panels. It looks awkward, however, because the owner insisted on mounting large wheels. The wheels themselves don’t look so bad. The Mark III has teardrop shaped wheel wells and it seems to me that non-round wheel wells can tolerate a broader range of wheel sizes than wheel arches that trace the arc of a circle. However, to fit such a large wheel/tire combination and retain fender clearance, the car now sits noticeably higher off of the ground.

It’s got the ground clearance and stance of a SUV, not a personal luxury car. It sits almost as high off of the ground as the Dodge Ram pickup next to it. Compare it to a ’71 Mark III with stock wheels and tires.

I’m even not sure that ground clearance per se is the problem, I think the rake is off as well. The Cadillac deVille donk at the same show was much higher off of the ground but seemed, to my eyes at least, to have a less awkward stance than this Mark.

All of this is outside of the fact that mounting those large rims have almost certainly compromised the vehicle’s ride and handling. I’m skeptical that appropriate springs have been installed to keep the total spring rate of the spring/wheel/tire combination as it was from the factory. Unsprung weight has got to be higher. It may look good (or not, in this case) in a parking lot at a car show, but I doubt it has the glass smooth ride that 1970s era Lincolns perfected.

*Aryeh Leib Schreiber, after his zayde [Grandfather], my father Leonard Schreiber DVM, alav hashalom [may he rest in peace].

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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  • Monty Monty on May 17, 2012

    To each his own... I love the Lincoln. The pride of ownership shows through even on my tiny little laptop screen, but I think the wheels could've been 2" smaller and it would've looked perfect. Even as it is it looks great. One of the all time fabulous Detroit luxo-barges. I removed the 16" Pirelli performance tires on my wife's Focus SES and installed 15" with 60 radius tires ( which is within 100's of an inch of the diameter of the OEM set-up) and the difference in the ride was astounding. The car doesn't handle quite as well, I guess, but it's not like she even drives it at 4/10's of what it's capable of!

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