From the Model T to the V-8, some of Ford’s best-recognized products rolled on spokes
Ford had an image problem in the twilight years of the Model T. The Tin Lizzie had gone from revolutionary newcomer to has-been in the 17 years since it was introduced. Henry Ford’s militant disregard for styling meant the T was almost a joke. As upstart makes like Chevrolet and Star started to eat up Ford’s market share, the company cast about for a way to make its cars more relevant.
One of the obvious choices was to give the buyer a bit of what was available in those other makes—luxury and looks. The basic quality of the Model T was as strong as it ever was, maybe better, but buyers were proving that they didn’t care if their car lasted forever, so long as it looked good when new.
When the 1926 cars appeared, they had plenty in the looks department. They sat lower, their bodywork looked more streamlined, and, starting in January 1926, some of them even offered those sporty elements of nickel plating and wire-spoke wheels. For the first time since the Model T was introduced, the Ford buyer had a choice of something other than wood-spoke artillery wheels.
Wire wheels had long been a popular accessory for a number of cars, and Chevrolet made disc wheels available on its Superior line from 1923. Wires had the advantage of offering a better ride than discs, and they were different from what Chevrolet offered. For 1927, Ford ramped up production of wire wheels, and late in the year they became standard equipment on closed cars.
Wire wheels, nickel plating, and even special sport models weren’t enough to save the Model T, however, and in 1928 Ford introduced its replacement, the Model A. Wire-spoke wheels were standard now and, although they still used 21-inch-diameter rims, the new spokers differed from the Model T wheels in several details, including bolt pattern: now 5 on 5½ inches instead of 5 on 5. The Model A wheel even changed part-way through 1928 production, due to a modification to the braking system. Early Model AA big trucks also received a wire-spoke wheel, although it was quickly supplanted by the more-familiar steel wheel.
When the styling of the Model A was overhauled for 1930, the wheels were not neglected. The rim was downsized to 19 inches and the hubcap was revised to a simpler domed piece. For 1932, the hubcap would grow in diameter, covering the lug nuts for the first time, and advertising the new V-8 engine, if so equipped (four-cylinder Model Bs got the familiar “Ford” script and oval). The 1932 models also received yet another adjustment in rim diameter, this time to 18 inches