Kenyon Wills' 1972 Imperial LeBaron, Page 2

Imperial Home Page -> Imperials by Year -> 1972 -> Kenyon Wills
1. It Ain't Easy Bein' Green 2. Hot Wheels 3. Details, Details 4. Sound Blaster
5. Road Test

6. Turning Corners

7. 2010 Snowball Rally 8. Engine Woe/Getting Even

Chapter 2, Hot Wheels
February 2008

After extensive research into wheel options, I custom ordered steel rims. I found almost no "custom" rims in the raging aftermarket that is doing a roaring business a few miles away from where I live. There are at least 30 shops whose windows are filled with gleaming rims of every shape and pattern within 10 miles of my house, yet none of them has able to produce a solution that I wanted -- wide rims with proper offset.

I talked to a company that could fabricate what I wanted out of a solid block of aluminum, and they were about $7000. I would have had 17"x10" wide rims done with centers that looked just like 1964 Imperial wheel covers (the best ever, in my opinion). Since that price was ridiculous, I started looking at cheaper ones, and found these solid wheels from Oasis (without the silly optional spinners) that were the closest to a 1964 wheel cover, although the dish was convex instead of concave, as seen on the photo of the real thing next to it:

These rims were some of the only ones with the offset and sizes that would work, but investigation of the 18" and 20" rim sizes revealed that tires with similar diameter to stock would be either unavailable or so thin in height that I'd be afraid of denting the rims if I drove the car hard, which I intend to.

Add the fact that they were about $800 each on top of the rotten tire choices and these were not going to be winners either.
I then drove the car about 100 miles away to the famed Stockton Wheel company, who started out making wagon wheels for early California during boom times. They positioned themselves as totally custom wheel fabricators that could make almost anything. After perusing their impressive website, I decided that they'd perhaps be able to fabricate something for me out of steel.

Having done extensive homework on offset and rim width, I knew that I could fit a 10" rim in back, and was prepared to settle for 9" in front or all around. After a disappointing visit to Stockton Wheel where I felt like I knew their business better than they did, I decided to keep shopping.

I visited my local "4-Wheel Parts" store, a company that outfits off-road 4WD trucks. These guys were surprisingly very interested in what I was doing, and the guy behind the counter turned out to be the son of fellow club-member Phil. The guy KNEW what an Imperial was -- so that was a surprise, considering all of the knobby tires and oversized truck parts there were laying about.

The amazing news here was that the companies that make wheels for off-road use didn't bat an eyelash at the idea of custom offsets and aside from a 6 week wait, were very convenient, helpful, and were $129 per wheel, not the $250/wheel that the "custom" place wanted, and not the stupendous sums that the aluminum people were asking.

I got 5 17"x9" "rock crawler" wheels.

The rim had to be slid inwards so that the face of the wheel center was more to the outside. That made the factory call and double check. I was disappointed that they declined to put a 10" rim on the way that I wanted, but the flip side was that all 5 rims are interchangeable, rather than wider rims on the rear.

Tires were sourced using two tools. The first was the tire conversion chart that I found at :

Stock tires are 235/75-15.

I boosted mine to 275/60-17 and chose the Bridgestone Dueler HP tires.

This allowed a nearly identical outer circumference, allowing me to keep my speedometer calibrated and the wheel wells filled nicely.

The tires chosen were the results of an exhaustive search on - by comparing all tires in the sizes that were the same circumference and would fit on 8", 9", or 10" rims.

Turns out that Imperials on widened 17" rims have the same weight as full size pickup trucks.

The good news here is that there is a rather large market for performance truck tires, and the tires are very grippy, and I will have to await the addition of sway bars to find out more about that, as pushing the car tilts it enough to twist the body enough to lightly rub the rear tires on the fenders going around turns. Soon as I get those sway bars, I expect to get the drop on a few unsuspecting sports car drivers on clover-leafs and twisty roads.

Here is the car on its new tires and wheels:


This is the car before:

Also installed in the car are euro-spec headlights out of a 1987 VW Golf. I know these because I picked up a set in Germany for my VW back in the early 1990s when I still thought that a great handling light car was the way to go. I got (and have been enjoying ever since) a motorcycle, and while sports cars are nice, 0-60 in 4 seconds happens on my $4000 sport bike and doesn't happen in a new car until you get into six figures, so I'll stick to the bike to go fast, and the Imperial to go comfortably.

Anyway, the lights on the car take H4 (halogen) bulbs that offer a variety of wattages. Standard wattage on most cars is 45 low 55 high, written as 45/55. The bulbs in mine are 90/120, and there are 100/150's available. The reason that this rig is so nice is that the lenses on these are so precisely shaped that they cast a low, flat beam that is so well focused that you can get away with brightnesses that are double the stock brightness without blinding other drivers. The other nice touch is that the right lens has a spot that kicks up and hits road signs above the line of sight. Those Hella engineers really hit it on this lighting system, and while I'm certain that there are others out there that are as good or better, these are the best I've ever used. They look nice and also unusual in this car's headlight slots as well.

Next up will be color.

I'm planning to paint the hood black, and the sides/back silver.
The goal is to have the sides look like the aluminum skin of an aircraft. A Boeing 747 aircraft, not a P-51 or something silly like the fake "fighter plane" paint jobs on some of those silly "theme" motorcycles with the oversized painted-on rivets and fake bullet holes. I want it to look like an airplane.

This car's simulated chrome finish is close to what I'd like to get, but I've heard horror stories about this paint being prone to flake off and die an early death due to the high metal content. Supposedly, you can get a buff aluminum look out of the "chrome" paint if you put it down onto the car body dry without allowing it to build up "wet". I don't know about that, but I do know that whatever I do will have to be durable, since I only want to paint it once in the next 15 years or so.

One thing I'll look into (but don't have much hope for as an idea) is to find sheet aluminum that I can bend and form to the sides of the car and then rivet or glue onto the sides, but that's a real long-shot.

After paint, it's on to sway-bars, interior, stereo, and a CPU for the transmission hump.
Those will come in upcoming chapters.

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This page was last updated 3 February 2008.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club