Project Wicked6: Modernized Rollers

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photos by: the author

Wicked6’s Ratty Factory Wheels Get Ditched for Something More Elegant

As we make our way through the latest round of restoration dn modifying our ’87 Buick Grand National, otherwise known as Project Wicked6, we wanted to address our rolling stock. Now it might not be the first thing that one would do when restoring or rebuilding a car, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

As you see, not only are we bringing our Grand National back stop showroom condition, we want to fix some of the issues this car left with from the factory; be relating to the suspension, brakes, steering system and even a few of the styling details.

Among those were the chromed, steel factory wheels that were looking less than perfect; the chrome was pitting, the areas that were originally painted black were chipping away, and the center caps were fading — and one of them no longer wanted to stay put.

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You wouldn’t notice it going down the road, really, but our center cap on the front driver’s side OEM wheel had officially retired after thirty years of service, and ironically enough, the tire was mismatched on the same wheel, having suffering a blowout at one point.

 

We were actually looking at upgrading to a set of 17- or 18-inch wheels from one of our friends in the aftermarket, but ultimately decided against it after seeing the GBodyParts reproduction aluminum 15s up close and in person at Spoolfool‘s Buicks at Bates Show last summer. In fact, there were quite a few features and details we liked about them almost immediately.

First, the center cap mounts flush to the wheel, and although technically removable, it’s no longer not necessary while removing the wheel from the car  — so you won’t have to worry about the locking tabs wearing out or losing a center cap while traveling down the highway. Secondly, the chrome is replaced with high-polished aluminum for a classier, more “finished” look. Speaking of aluminum, there’s a huge weight savings when making the switch to these GBodyParts units.

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“Having rebuilt the steel Grand National wheels since 1998 we know all the offsets to make these a perfect, direct fit in place of the stock pieces” – Brian Weaver, GBodyParts

For those that don’t know, the OEM 15×7 chromed steelies weigh in at 28.36-lbs. a piece with the center cap, minus the tire. That’s quite hefty for a rather small wheel. However, compared to the new aluminum version, they weigh in at 17.76-lbs a piece – roughly a weight loss of over 40-pounds, total. We stuck with the 15×7 dimensions in the front, but went an inch wider for the rear.

At this point, we should probably mention that these wheels only come in the factory 15-inch diameter, but are available in 7-, 8- and 10-inch widths. We paid a 3-pound penalty for going wider in the rear, but the potential extra traction, as well as the capability of utilizing wider rubber was well worth it.

If you look closely at the OEM wheel, you see a ridge in wheel lip. As Brian tells us, the OEM wheel was essentially the same wheel used in the FWD Rivera T-Type Turbo of the mid-80s, just that the center section and wheel were reversed to fit the RWD G-body Regal's backspacing. All that ridge is there to do, is collect brake dust and moisture, making them more difficult to clean and more susceptible to rust and pitting.

If you look closely at the OEM ’86-87 GN wheel, you see a ridge in the wheel lip. As GBodyParts’ Brian Weaver tells us, the OEM wheel was essentially the same wheel used in the FWD Rivera T-Type Turbo of the mid-80s, just that the wheel lip was reversed to fit the RWD G-body Regal’s backspacing. All that ridge is there to do, is collect brake dust and moisture, making them more difficult to clean and more susceptible to rust and pitting. If you look closely you could see the rust forming in the lip.

Wanting to learn more about the wheels, we reached out to GBodyParts’ founder and owner, Brian Weaver, for some additional insight and information. Being the G-body guru that he is (seriously, the guy lives, eats and breathes these things) it only made sense to do so.

“After refurbishing the factory wheels since 1998, we wanted to offer our customers a cost-effective option to replace their OEM wheels, without forgoing the factory look. These wheels were produced using aircraft-quality, 356-grade aluminum; providing all of the benefits of aluminum, such as reduced weight, corrosion resistance and higher-quality construction,” Brian tells us.

Both the wheel and the outer shell is fully powdercoated in the back, as is the face in the correct factory black.  This is not only for corrosion protection, but to prevent flaking that’s inevitable with the painted face on the OEM . The face is also done in the correct factory black powdercoat, and unlike the paint, it will not flake off like your factory rims.

“These wheels were produced using aircraft-quality, 356-grade aluminum” – Brian Weaver, GBodyParts

“Having rebuilt the steel Grand National wheels since 1998 we know all the offsets to make these a perfect, direct fit in place of the stock pieces,” Brian continued. The backspacing on the 7-inch rim is the same as the factory; 3.75-inch. The 8-inch wide rim has 4-inch back spacing, while the 10-inch wide wheels run a 4.5-inch backspacing — this is the widest you can go without frame modifications — as anything wider will rub.”

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According to Brain, “one of the toughest things to do when converting from a steel wheel to aluminum is the lugs and caps. What we did was to use a snap in cap. Think about how much you have spent alone on your factory Grand National caps. The new caps snap in. There is not a metal retainer under the lugs anymore. The opening is 3-inch. You can install a T-Type or a GNX cap if you want a different look.”

GBodyParts 15-inch Aluminum vs OEM Steel:

  • Factory-style steel (7-inch) Grand National wheel with center cap: 28.36-lbs.
    Aluminum (7-inch) Grand National wheel with center cap: 17.76-lbs.
  • Factory-style steel 8″ Grand National wheel with center cap: 29.76 lbs.
    Aluminum  8″ Grand National wheel with center cap: 19.02-lbs.
  • Factory style steel 10-inch Grand National wheel with center cap: 33.33-lbs.
    Aluminum  10-inch Grand National wheel with center cap: 19.60-lbs.

While we were at the task of updating our wheels, we went ahead and ordered up some new rubber as well. We’ve always been partial to the BFG Radial T/As, a timeless classic with raised white letters that look right at home when paired with these wheels and on an ’87 G-body. You could argue that the white letters throw off the all-black sinister appearance, but there little to no other options left out there these days, in terms of an all-black 15-inch diameter radial tire. We didn’t want slick or drag radials, since this was a 100% street car and the idea is to have road comfort and longevity out of these.

The factory tire dimensions were a laughable 215/65/15, and even being a street car, we still wanted something a bit beefier than that. So we ordered the BFGs in 235/60/15 for the front and 245/60/15 for the wider rears. Although we have virtually no intentions of driving this car in the snow, there’s always the possibility that we’ll get caught in the rain with this car while taking it out to a car show or some kind of Buick event. We don’t reside in California, but Ohio, after all.

If you do decide to spec the 10-inch wheel for your Buick, it should be said that it has been modified to accept a 275/60/15 drag radial for ease on mounting. If you’ve ever installed one of these on a 10-inch wide rim, you know it takes some effort. All rims are tested & speed rated, for ultimate safety and reliability.

 

We still have a lot more to do with our Buick, and of course, we’ll be ordering up the components we need from GBodyParts. Among them, are new side markers, headlight bezels, parking lamps and other trump pieces. Obviously, we’ll address the need for new headlamps as well, as you can see that our driver’s side high beam has become a fish bowl. Stay tuned!

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