Richard on: fitting black wheels

Posted by Richard Hammond at 03:17 am on Saturday October 27, 2012

Now, I'm far from being a trendsetter, of this much I am well aware. Not many, for instance, chose to follow me in sporting a mullet, even fewer took to wearing cowboy boots, and not one person have I seen adopt my policy on bracelets. But there is, I believe, one form of expression through visual styling in which I have, if not led the field, certainly been at the front of the pack. Wheels.

I'm not claiming to have inspired other people to fit their car with wheels - that's been pretty standard for a number of years now. Specifically, I am talking about fitting black wheels. I first put them on my Morgan eight years ago, and the factory was surprised when I requested them. So surprised and unused to the idea, in fact, that it was a case of a bloke getting down a pot of black paint and daubing it on in the factory.

A couple of years later, sticking doggedly to my preferred style, even in the face of those questioning my preference for dull old black in place of shiny chrome, I asked for my 911 to be fitted with black rims. Again, this was an unusual request at the time. The dealer agreed to fit them and, on seeing the finished car, said they looked pretty damned good. Within weeks of collecting my car, I saw another 911 in the same colour scheme sporting the same wheels, and then more and then more and then a veritable avalanche of black-wheeled motors followed.

Again, please don't think I am laying claim to have inspired this trend, but, come on, I was there at the beginning, for once - please don't take away my only contribution to the fashion world. Now, though, manufacturers are offering cars already sporting, as standard, the black rims that I had to specifically request from a befuddled and confused dealer only six years ago.

You can buy a Fiat 500 with black rims (I've got one, and they look great), the Land Rover Defender X-Tech Special Edition (God, but I want one) comes with black rims - they are, in fact, everywhere and might even be becoming the norm. I'd like to think that this was because legions of people feel compelled to follow my example and fit their car with black rims only so they can tell their friends they were inspired by the example of the short Brummie one from that car show, but I do wonder if there might be something else going on here.

Not so long ago, any car fan worth his or her spotlights and stripes would insist on massive chrome rims. If it wasn't a 24-inch rim with enough chrome to blind pedestrians and dizzying spinners to make watching children in pushchairs puke at crossings, it just didn't cut the mustard. Concept cars would be presented to the world actually hiding behind their own wheels, so proud were they of their gargantuan, garish rims. And now we have cars presented to us with wheels that vanish before our eyes into the arches, the rims barely discernible from the tyres they carry.

There are cars - the Fiat 500 and the new Volkswagen Beetle, for example -being made available with old-school hub caps fitted to wheels of such modest proportions that they actually fit into the arches built to house them rather than bulging out, like Jason Statham's biceps through a suit three sizes too small. What's going on?

I have a theory. Are some people, perhaps driven to it by these times of environmental sensitivity and fuel-conscious motoring, becoming a little ashamed, a little coy and nervous to shout at the world about the importance they place on their car's power and potency? Has the wheel itself come to symbolise something that people are feeling a little shy about, and so car designers are trying to hide them away? The chromed wheel could, in such a context, become as hilarious and outdated as cutting a hole in the bonnet and fitting gigantic air intakes to stick out into the breeze and block the view.

If this new modesty carries on, will we come over all Victorian, hiding table legs with cloths and seeing a return to the wheel spats fitted to cars in the Fifties and, even later, to cars like the Jaguar MkII? Personally, I wouldn't mind that - actually, I thought they rocked.

The question is, do we, as guardians of the flickering flame of car passion, follow this fashion or resist? Could it, in fact, be our duty as petrolheads to stand up and be proud of our wheels and return to the glory days of fitting chromed quarry-truck rims to a Citroen Saxo and letting the world see what we care about. Oh wait, my 911 has black rims. And my Land Rover. And my Fiat. And my Mustang. It's too late to save me - you just carry on and save yourselves.

TAGS// land rover, porsche, fiat, mustang, 500, volkswagen, ford, 911, beetle, richard hammond, defender

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