2020 Auto News Auto Sales Automobile Wheels

Cars Instantly Recognizable By Their Wheels

Some wheels are iconic, some are destined to be be icons.

Nothing affects a car’s character quite like its wheels. It’s why enthusiasts love to change out the factory units and why the aftermarket for car wheels is so big. Sometimes, though, automakers will drop a factory design that becomes a car model or generation’s signature making them sacrilegious to replace. In more modern times, designers have been let off the leash to design something with unique styling. That got us to thinking about the cars we can recognize instantly just from seeing the wheels alone. From classics to modern technological marvels, these are the wheel designs that have etched themselves indelibly on our minds.

Porsche 911

Fuchsfelge AG is one of the most important names in the long-term development of wheel technology. The five-leaf wheels developed for and with Porsche are the first one-piece forged aluminum wheel to be sold on a production car. The first set went on the Porsche 911S in the mid-1960s, and the design brief was that they weigh three kilograms less than typical steel wheels of the time. The 4.5-inch wheels also helped with cooling the brakes as well as having reduced mass to help acceleration. The original visual design was different, and it was Ferdinand Porsche Jr. that came up with the five-leaf clover styling. The style lasted well through the 1980s before being replaced by the Design 90 style. Still, aftermarket replicas have always been available, and Porsche harked back to them with the 991 generation 911’s 50 Jahre edition.


In the 1970s, research showed Alpina that using a five wheel nut design on the center hub of a wheel was optimal for the distribution of forces from outside to inside. However, at the time, BMW used a four-nut design, which made it tricky for Alpina to use its own wheels. So Burkhard Bovensiepen of Alpina figured that five spokes on the wheel per nut would give him the desired strength. The math is 4×5=20, so the 20 spoke Alpina turbine-style wheel was born. The eye-catching design caught on, and now it’s been pointed out, you’ll see that all Alpina wheels have 20 spokes.

Subaru Impreza

In the pantheon of automotive iconography, a World Rally Blue Subaru Impreza with Gold BBS is right up there. Since the Colin McRae-era World Rally Championship Impreza of the of the 1990s, gold BBS wheels have been an instantly recognizable element of a performance Subaru. Modern Subaru models use different patterns in the designs, but if BBS makes them and they’re gold, they are the correct wheel for an STI or WRX.

Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione makes little sense on paper. Only 500 of the Ferrari V8-powered supercar were made from 2007 to 2010 priced at around $230,000. It doesn’t make sense on paper because a contemporary Z51 Corvette would smoke it on the straight and in the corners. However, it makes total sense in the metal because the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is a work of automotive art. A gorgeous looking car needs gorgeous and distinctive wheels, and the 8C has a set that car enthusiasts will recognize straight away. Alfa Romeo’s five-leaf wheel design is already familiar, but the 8C Competizione’s exaggerated yet simple take is unforgettable.

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