The AC Schnitzer BMW 7 series sitting on 22 inch rims.Looking around the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas this year, it was easy to spot the innumerable amount of wheel vendors that had shown " />

Issue: Dec 2003


Big Wheels



Dub nation from a Euro-tuner standpoint.






 
 The AC Schnitzer BMW 7 series sitting on 22 inch rims.
Looking around the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas this year, it was easy to spot the innumerable amount of wheel vendors that had shown up. With the everburgeoning import tuner market alone there are performance alloy wheels aplenty. The larger aesthetic wheels are also booming and have come into their own as well.

Without delving too far in to this market, there are Spinners (that keep rotating even when the vehicle is stopped), wheels with 100 carat cubic zirconium jewels, dollar signs, gold-plated wheels and a whole nation of other aesthetic-before-performance choices in sizes ranging up to 30 in. and in a few cases even bigger. Rappers, boxers, sports stars and various other celebrities have aligned with any one of these litany of companies, presumably to get some free shimmer for their rides.

Nicknamed Dubs, these wheels have spun their way all over the globe.

Being a SEMA attendee isn't necessary in order to notice this trend. Driving on any street in America you're likely to find an Escalade or other super-sized SUV sitting on chrome at the stoplight next to you. Aside from financial constraints involved in outfitting a vehicle with such automotive jewelry, one must stop and think what such wheels are actually doing to the intrinsic vehicle dynamics of the ride they find themselves inhabiting. Or do they?

AI went looking for an insider's opinion on what's actually going on with the big wheel craze. Tim Strube, executive vice president of CEC Wheels, was more than happy to take some time with us and discuss the state of the Dub nation from a Euro-tuner standpoint rather than the conventional "Bling, Bling" stance.

CEC Wheels, founded 13 years ago, focuses on European tuning and styling. European tuning, to CEC, means one brand for the whole car with no mixing and matching. Lorinser, for example (the Mercedes tuner), offers performance parts for every model as well the complete conversion for each model in that brand. They also provide interior customization as well as engine conversions.

"What we focus on offering is a unique style, a nice look and subtle understated European styling," said Strube. "What we do offer, from Lorinser, is a strong character front bumper spoiler but it remains, essentially, a Mercedes-Benz, which is what they went out and purchased in the first place. We just want to individualize it, to personalize it to meet the character of each customer," Strube explained.







 
 A Cadillac Escalade riding 23 inch Antera rims.
CEC Wheels imports and distributes 10 individual brands, having started with AC Schnitzer and Lorinser (both tuning brands), a wheel company called Azev and Antera.
(Antera, which covers wheels for many types of vehicles, offers wheels from 18 to 23 inches.) CEC offers every German brand, including AC Schnitzer for BWM, Lorinser for Mercedes- Benz, Oettinger for Audi/VW, Tech Art for Porsche and J. Nothelle for Jaguar.

After the short lesson in company history, Strube went on to talk about CECs views on wheels: While most of the time the brakes on these high end cars are quite good, when you go plus 3 or 4 inches over the standard wheel youre looking at a substantial difference in rotational mass. We do recommend when you go 22 inches plus, always go to larger brakes. Brembo is a technological partner of ours. We have worked with them quite extensively, whereby they have looked at every one of our wheels and certified them for clearance, so it works with their brakes. Weve gone through extensive efforts to make that work. That is for all of our wheels in all of our brands.

As he continued to talk about the need for brake upgrades to accompany certain wheel sizes, oversized wheels became the next topic.

We look at some of the issues out there, like 28 inch wheels its just crazy stuff. Were generally quite afraid of the safety issues that go along with that. Because if any of these companies that make 28, 26 or even a 24 inch wheel, if something goes really wrong with that, it will, down the line, reflect badly on us since we are an aftermarket company. We do not sell above 23 inches. 23 inches is fine. You really dont have to go bigger but I know there are bigger egos out there that demand bigger wheels. But there are so many drawbacks on that stuff that its really not funny anymore. We know that were already pushing the envelope, in our opinion at least. 23 inches is the maximum that the Euro-SUVS are handling.

Putting its money where its mouth is, Strube went on to tell AI about how CEC Wheels had basically forsaken some of its possible market share as a result of not staying with the more is more trend.

We gave up our entire domestic market because we did not follow the trend of going bigger. There are very few domestic trucks still sporting our wheels because of we did that consciously. We said enoughs enough. If you want a premium brand, this is what weve got for you.

Every now and then people will thank us for this, said Strube. Typically these are the same people who will make sure to put the Brembos on as well. There are a lot of dynamic issues that play into this. The education of the client is important to us.

For instance, we can fit 20 inches onto a lot of Mercedes-Benz or BWM 3 series but the reality is that many of the roads arent all that good. And we often say to a client, Why dont you take a 19 inch? We know its not what your buddy might have on the car but I promise you that you are not going to bend the wheel as easily.

We are happy to sell 20 inch wheels or above, for the RIGHT application, said Strube.

The issues with actually stopping wheels of this size and keeping them in proper trim for the road is one set of problems.

There is also a hurdle of making sure they actually fit the car as well as making sure there is a tire to properly facilitate the wheel that has been created.

"We pay attention to a lot of details, right down to the offset C making sure the wheel is correctly positioned underneath the fender. Also, all of our wheels are hub centric so wheels aren't held in place by the bolts but rather the hub center," Strube said.

"The recommended tire sizes must match the OE specs," added Strube. "AC Schnitzer didn't release 20 inch wheels for the 3-series for one year because there was no tire that matched the overall diameter. Similarly, Lorinser won't put 21 or 22 inches on the Maybach since a proper load bearing tire doesn't exist."

While some companies are simply trying to get their chips down on the table, CEC has a well-developed stance on the industry, not only based on its product line, but rooted in physics. Teaming with a premium brake manufacturer and providing caveats to would-be customers on the dos and don'ts of dubs will differentiate them from the gimmick of the month brands, endlessly.

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