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.
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 4x5=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.
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.
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.
It's not a thick line between cool and tasteless when it comes to two-tone alloy wheels. BMW went for it though, with the 20-inch rear and 19-inch front silver wheels with copper accents for the M4 GTS. Only 700 were built worldwide, and at almost double the price of an M4 with the Competition Pack option. So they're not only one of the coolest and memorable wheels on a factory car, but they're also incredibly rare.
When automakers put out their first all-electric cars, they tend to go over the top stylistically. Porsche avoided that trap, but you do get some standout wheels when you go for the Taycan Turbo S model. The two-tone 21" Mission E Design Wheels finished in black and silver are unmistakable and based on the original Porsche Mission E concept car's discs. You could option single color aeroblade wheels, but nothing will let people know they're looking at a Turbo S model from a distance like the two-tone units.
If you're ever lucky enough to purchase a Rolls-Royce, you'll have a choice of wheels to adorn your luxury-lounge for the road. However, there's never any confusion about what the car is from its wheels as the center cap will always be level so people can see the RR logo. The center cap is mounted on a ball-bearing system and stays in place, even when the car is moving. Driving along next to a Rolls-Royce and seeing the logo remain in place while the rest of the wheels blur is one of the most satisfying minor details on a car we can think of.
If you take a close look and think for a minute, you'll probably have an idea as to why you couldn't see this design on a typical alloy based wheel. We'll save you the hassle, as, according to Christian von Koenigsegg, the design wouldn't work because a wheel using normal materials would be too weak and too heavy. However, due to the use of carbon fiber and Koenigsegg engineering magic, you couldn't mistake it for a wheel on any other car.
There's a lot of visual and audio cues to help discern a Dodge Viper from an average early 1990s sports car. The most significant clues are the gaps in front of the doors as they taper and the monstrous sound of an 8.0-liter V10 engine. However, there's hardly a red-blooded car enthusiast in the world that wouldn't spot a first-generation Dodge Viper by its wheels alone. The three-spoke wheels were outrageous cherries on an already outrageous cake at the time.
It's not exactly difficult to spot a Type R in a group of even the most heavily accessorized Civics. However, a quick glance at the wheels tells you all you need to know. They're angular and aggressive like the rest of the car, but the red pinstripe around the outside is the extra touch that sets them apart. Honda could easily have gone over the top and made the pinstripe too thick or added more red accents, but the designers got it just right. On a white Type R, the wheels add to the feeling of a homage Honda's early racing colors.
We described the McLaren 600LT as a track car with no chill, and it's through the wheels you get a real clue as to just how focused the car is. By through the wheels, we mean literally because, through the lightweight and thin-spoke wheel design, you can see the entirety of its massive perforated carbon-ceramic brakes and aluminum calipers. The front discs are 15.3 inches in diameter, and the fronts are 15 inches. You can see precisely why the 600LT can come to a stop from 124 mph in just a shade over 380 feet.
The chances of seeing a Rimac C_Two in the wild are slim. If you see one of these incredible electric hypercars, the first reaction is likely to be, "What the hell is that?" Then you'll likely see the wheels, and there's no mistaking those carbon-fiber disc covers. The wheels are covered like that for aerodynamics, and help get the C_Two down to a 0.28 drag coefficient. Even the tires, designed in conjunction with Pirelli, are engineered to smooth out the airflow down the car's side.