From Strip to Street - Kustomrama's Guide to American Racing Torq-Thrust Wheels

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In 1958 Keith Christensen bought a company by the name of Gene's Mufflers. Keith's shop became a popular spot to go to for exhaust needs. Located in the heart of the car customizing hub, in the city of Paramount, bordering the city of Bellflower, the shop quickly expanded from just exhaust needs to wheels, then tires. Soon a larger facility was built, giving Keith the ability to help customize a car from all aspects; wheels, tires, mufflers, side pipes, to lowering and installing hydraulic lifts. "The facility was designed around giving cars and owners identity," Keith tells us. Thousands of cars were run through and altered in the history of the facility. "Many of the customs left the paint and striping shop of the famous Larry Watson, which was next door in the same location." Aided by Larry, Keith could help you transform a factory car to an eye-catcher that really stood out, and many of the famous now recognized great cars came out of these two shops. According to Keith, American Torq-Thrust was the beginning, "and ideas, thoughts, concepts, and development of popularity started there. From Big Daddy Roth's cars to the Carpenter singers. They went through the alteration and flowering of design and innovation, which created popularity and acceptance." The American Torq-Thrust was the pioneer, and it had a start at Keith and Larry's location. Photo from The Keith Christensen Collection.
House of Rim's. A photo of Keith Christensen's 1959 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery from The Larry Watson Collection. Keith's sedan delivery ran hydraulic lifts, and it featured a Murano pearl yellow paint job with Gold leaf inserts by Larry Watson. "The sedan delivery was my daily driver and it was a bunch of fun to drive as you could lower it while driving. That year Chevy had a real wide flat hood and it really looked wild on the highway," Keith recalls. Photo from The Larry Watson Collection, provided by Roger O'Dell.
An early ad for "Mag Wheels by American Racing Equipment" from Hot Rod Magazine August 1960. The first wheels were only available as 14" magnesium wheels.
A couple of street racers were used to promote the 7" x 15" Torq-Thrust wheel for competition and street use in 1962. Designed for 7.10/15 slicks or 7.60 to 8.20 street rubber, the wheels were priced at $65.00 each.
Paul Hannan's 1929 Ford Model A roadster photographed at the 1962 Grand National Roadster Show in February of 1962. This is one of the earliest street rods we have found running Torq-Thrust wheels. Hannan polished the wheels before he installed them on his roadster. A very labor-intense process. Today you can achieve the same look by ordering and installing a set of Polished Torq-Thrust Original Wheels. Check sizes, prices, and availability on these wheels on Amazon.com. Photo from The James Handy Collection.
Attending the 1962 Grand National Roadster Show was also John Gomez's 1957 Chevrolet. A radical Joe Bailon build that had been dressed up with mag wheels for the season. This is one of the first customs we have seen rolling on Torq-Thrust wheels. If you want the same kind of wheels for your custom, you better check out the Polished Torq-Thrust Original Wheels, or the Chromed model of the Torq-Thrust D's. Check sizes, prices, and availability for these wheels on Amazon.com. Photo by Bud Lang, from The Petersen Archive.
In 1963 Larry Farber toured the West Coast with his Lil' Coffin. By then the Dave Stuckey built show rod had been dressed up with 15-inch Torq-Thrust wheels, Coker whitewalls, and cheater slicks. Click here to check price and availability for the same wheels on Amazon.com. Photo from The James Handy Collection.
The cover of Hot Rod Magazine April 1963 shows Tom McMullen's iconic 1932 Ford roadster all dressed up with a sharp-looking Ed Roth striped flame paint job and a set of American mag wheels. Another feather in the hat for Ellison and Palamides.
Torq-Thrusts and pie crust slicks! Back in 1963, when Bob Hagerty of Wheaton, Maryland built his 1931 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan, he ordered a pair of Torq-Thrust wheels for the rear of the car. "I can't remember how much they cost. I bet it took every dime I could save," he told Kustomrama in 2020. Click here to check price and availability for the same wheels on Amazon.com.
"Why not pay a little more and get "THE REAL THING" in '64?" An ad for American Mags from Hot Rod Magazine March 1964. Keith Christensen, who ran Gene's Muffler and Chrome Center, also known as Gene's Tire and Wheel and House of Rim's, began selling wheels at his muffler shop in Bellflower in the early 1960s. Keith recalls American Racing as a wonderful company that had one of the best quality control wheels on the market. "To own a set of American Racing wheels was indeed a feather in your hat, as they were expensive. People, quite often, would take them out and have them fully polished, a labor-intense process, but then you were "top turkey". Everyone would ooh and aah when they saw those wheels on your car.
The world's most expensive set of Torq-Thrust wheels. In the 1968 movie Bullit, Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang GT with American Mags. In 2020 the car from the movie was auctioned away for $3.74 million, making it the most valuable Ford Mustang in the world.[1] The car in the movie ran original Torq-Thrust D wheels. Original Torq-Thrust D wheels come up for sale on eBay every now and then, they are fairly rare, but you can click here to check if there are any wheels for sale on eBay right now. American Racing also makes reproductions of the popular wheel that can be purchased from Amazon.com. If you want to order one of these, you have to order the 15-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust D (VN105) with a gray center. Click here to check price and availability on Amazon.com.
Original American Racing wheels from the 1960s have now become a sought after collector’s item, especially the highly desirable and very expensive magnesium ones often used on dragsters and gassers. A complete mint condition set of a limited manufactured wheel can, however, end up costing you $5000. Lee Wilson has a great collection of 1960s American Racing Torq Thrust wheels. The ones on the pictures are 15x6 and 15x8.5. Photo courtesy of Lee Wilson.
Todd Van Boekel's 1956 Chevrolet gasser. Named "The Strip Teaser," Todd is running vintage 15x10 magnesium Torq-Thrust rear wheels, and vintage 15x5 American Racing Le Mans wheels up front. Photo courtesy of Henrik Forss.
Exploring swap meets can be fun and a good start for a new project. There are still wheels out there for bargain prices, and you can still buy a set of good vintage wheels for $500 if you’re lucky. Photo courtesy of Henrik Forss.
There has always been, and still is many knock off copies made of the Torq-Thrust wheels. JC Penney’s, Sears, U.S. Wheels, etc. used to manufacture them. If you want to make sure that what you buy is the real deal, just take a look at the back of the wheel. It should have the manufacturer's name and model there. You may have to look inside a spoke to find the information or on the rim itself. Photo courtesy of Lee Wilson.
Torq-Thrust Original - Silver w/ Machined Lip If you are not a die-hard aficionado, or just not interested in the swap meet aspect of purchasing original wheels, the modern manufactured wheels look just as good and it is hard to see any difference. The Torq-Thrust Original was introduced in 2004. Known as the TTO, it is a disc-brake friendly version of the original early 1960s wheel where the washers have been recessed more than the original wheels. The center-cap is also larger to allow the wheel to fit later-model cars. Check sizes, prices, and availability on these wheels on Amazon.com.
Torq-Thrust Original - Polished. Today you don' have to spend time polishing the wheels yourself. Keith Christensen recalls American Racing as a wonderful company that had one of the best quality control wheels on the market. "The machining, drilling of lug holes and valve stem holes was held to the highest standards of quality. To own a set of American Racing wheels was indeed a feather in your hat, as they were expensive. People, quite often, would take them out and have them fully polished, a labor-intense process, but then you were "top turkey". Everyone would ooh and aah when they saw those wheels on your car." Check sizes, prices, and availability on these wheels on Amazon.com.
Available on the market since 1965, the original “D” model originally targeted Corvettes with disc brakes and were only available in 15x6 and 15x7 sizes. The modern version, which still is available today, was released in the 1980s, and it has more sizes to offer. The wheel is available in gray, black, and chrome. Check sizes, prices, and availability for these wheels on Amazon.com.
A chromed version of the Torq-Thrust D model is also available on the market today. A wheel that requires less maintenance then a polished wheel. A wheel well suited for custom cars that wants to run the iconic wheel. Check sizes, prices, and availability for these wheels on Amazon.com.
The popular Torq-Thrust II wheel hit the market around 1967. The Torq Thrust II is a 2-piece wheel built with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged aluminum outer barrel. This 2-piece construction allows for custom widths and backspacings. This is important when brake and suspension modifications have been performed. For example, a tubbed car with a narrowed rear axle. This wheel is available in 14x6 through 20x15. The VN405 is the fully polished finish. The VN205 is the mag gray center with polished outer. The VNC405 is for a chrome center with polished outer. These wheels are made to order. Check sizes, prices, and availability for these wheels on Amazon.com.
Torq-Thrust II 1-Piece. The 1-Piece version of the TTII was realeased in 2009. This is the 1-piece cast aluminum version of the VN405/VN205 Torq Thrust II. It is designed to have the appearance of the 2-piece wheel for a fraction of the cost. It is produced in the most common sizes and backspacings for most classic vehicles and is kept in stock for immediate delivery. It is available in 14” through 22” and comes in many versions: Chromed, Magnesium Grey, Polished, and Powder Coat Paint.
Inspired by the straight spoke design of the TTO but in a 2-piece construction with a cast aluminum center and forged outer for custom widths and backspacings. These wheels are made to order.
The Torq-Thrust M. The “M” stands for “modern”. This version was designed for modern Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, etc. It was designed for the larger diameters and high offsets of modern musclecars. It proved to be a popular design so sizes and offsets for classic cars were added. The wheel is available in Black and Chrome.
The Torq-Thrust SL is a 2-piece wheel with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged outer. The spoke profile was designed for a more modern appearance and it uses a snap in center cap. The wheel is available in 17” through 22” and uses a modern soft lip outer barrel. These wheels are made to order. The wheel comes in Polished and Black. Check sizes, prices, and availability for these wheels on Amazon.com.
The Torq-Thrust Original Directional is a twisted spoke version of the Torq Thrust with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged aluminum outer. Designed for classic vehicles it is available only in 17”. These wheels are made to order.
A spectacular proof of the muscle car status these wheels have. This 1969 Dodge Daytona sports a set of Torq-Thrust D wheels with a painted center. Jim Gehrke of Napa, California installed the 15x8’s shortly after he bought his car in 1969 and has never replaced them. Check price and availability on the Torq-Thrust D for your car on Amazon.com. Photo courtesy of Henrik Forss.
Marky Idzardi’s iconic and very brutal hot rod, The Purple People Eater has been rolling on original American Racing wheels since he built it. In this picture, the rear wheels are a set of Torq-Thrust II, 15x10” with some pie crust slicks to provide traction. Check price and availability on Torq-Thrust II's for your car on Amazon.com. Photo courtesy of Henrik Forss.
1950s cars can look good with a set of modern Torq Thrust wheels with a little bigger diameter. Like this two-door post 1955 Chevrolet rolling on 16x8 polished wheels for instance. Check price and availability on these wheels for your car on Amazon.com. Photo courtesy of Henrik Forss.

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The American Racing Torq-Thrust Mag Wheel is by many considered to be the most famous and recognizable wheel of all time. It started as an idea, and a need for a wheel that would give less weight, with strength and the cooling ability for race cars. From slingshot dragsters, it found its way onto hot rods and custom cars, before it eventually became an iconic design copied by many. What started as a need on a race car ended up as a need by the public for an image to relate to. Custom wheels give the car an identity. An alteration from the norm to stand out from the crowd. Back in the early days of customizing, installing a beautiful set of wheels was one of the first things a person would do to a car. It still is today. American Racing Equipment's invention was quickly copied by many in the auto customizing industry. The copy cats soon innovated, and it didn't take a long time before there was a flourishing of copies of the Torq-Thrust wheel available on the market. From Appliance to Fenton, to Astro's and Ansen. A conglomerate of sorts, making it hard to tell or desire a specific wheel. American Racing was the leader of the pack. The one to imitate. Demand was created by the leader using a certain style or brand of wheel. Still in production, the variations and models of the American Racing wheels are plentiful today, and it isn't always straight forward to decide which one to choose for your car, so we turned to a pioneer of sales and distribution for assistance - Keith Christensen.


Keith Christensen began his automotive career in 1958 by buying a company by the name of Gene's Mufflers. Keith's shop became a popular spot to go to for exhaust needs, again to make a person and his car stand out from the crowd. Located in the heart of the car customizing hub, in the city of Paramount, bordering the city of Bellflower, the shop quickly expanded from just exhaust needs to wheels, then tires. Soon a larger facility was built, giving Keith the ability to help customize a car from all aspects; wheels, tires, mufflers, side pipes, to lowering and installing hydraulic lifts. "The facility was designed around giving cars and owners identity," Keith tells us. Thousands of cars were run through and altered in the history of the facility. "Many of the customs left the paint and striping shop of the famous Larry Watson, which was next door in the same location." Aided by Larry, Keith could help you transform a factory car to an eye-catcher that really stood out, and many of the famous now recognized great cars came out of these two shops. According to Keith, American Torq-Thrust was the beginning, "and ideas, thoughts, concepts, and development of popularity started there. From Big Daddy Roth's cars to the Carpenter singers. They went through the alteration and flowering of design and innovation, which created popularity and acceptance." The American Torq-Thrust was the pioneer, and it had a start at Keith and Larry's location.


The first magnesium "Mag Wheels"

American Racing Equipment was formed by Romeo Palamides and Jim Ellison in San Francisco, California in 1956. Palamides and Ellsion's intent back then was to produce and sell lightweight wheels for race cars. Ads for the first American Racing five-spoke mag wheels started showing up in Hot Rod Magazine as early as 1960. Promoted as "Mag Wheels by American Racing Equipment," Palamides and Ellison advertised that their competition wheels were sold through leading speed shops.

The 7" x 15" Torq-Thrust

By 1962 Torq-Thrust wheels had started popping up on the streets, and a couple of hot rods and customs running American mags attended the 1962 Grand National Roadster Show. The first Torq-Thrust wheels were only available as 14” wheels, and in 1962 a magnesium 7" x 15" Torq-Thrust wheel for competition or street use can be found in American Racing Equipment catalog for "Magnesium Racing Wheels." Designed for 7.10/15 slicks or 7.60 to 8.20 street rubber, the wheels were priced at $65.00 each.


Aluminum wheels for the mass market

As the popularity of the Torq-Thrust wheel increased, Palamides and Ellison followed up with a lower cost aluminum version of their wheel. A good alternative to have for the mass market. Since then, the iconic wheel has rolled on to become one of the most popular brand names throughout time, and Hot Rod Magazine even named the Torq Thrust wheel itself "One of the top 20 speed parts that changed the world." The one-piece cast wheel was very suitable for the drag race market, and shortly after, a variety of models quickly hit the market. Baja, Libre, 200S (known as the “Daisy” and infamous from the cult movie Two Lane Blacktop), Silverstone, and Vector.


The best wheels on the market

Keith recalls American Racing as a wonderful company that had one of the best quality control wheels on the market. "The machining, drilling of lug holes and valve stem holes was held to the highest standards of quality. To own a set of American Racing wheels was indeed a feather in your hat, as they were expensive. People, quite often, would take them out and have them fully polished, a labor-intense process, but then you were "top turkey". Everyone would ooh and aah when they saw those wheels on your car."[2]


How much are original American Racing wheels from the 1960s worth today?

To no surprise, the original American Racing wheels from the 1960s have now become a sought after collector’s item. Especially the highly desirable and very expensive magnesium ones often used on dragsters and gassers. You will still be able to find American Racing wheels on swap meets and eBay in various conditions. A complete mint condition set of a limited manufactured wheel can, however, end up costing you $5000. For instance, the never reproduced T-70 wheel that was only manufactured between 1969-70. Exploring swap meets can be fun and a good start for a new project. There are still wheels out there for bargain prices, and you can still buy a set of good vintage wheels for $500 if you’re lucky. However, if you are not a die-hard aficionado, or just not interested in the swap meet aspect of purchasing original wheels, the modern manufactured wheels look just as good and it is hard to see any difference.


Beware of knock offs and copycats

There has always been, and still is many knock off copies made of the Torq-Thrust wheels. JC Penney’s, Sears, U.S. Wheels, etc. used to manufacture them. If you want to make sure that what you buy is the real deal, just take a look on the back of the wheel. It should have the manufacturer's name and model there. You may have to look inside a spoke to find the information or on the rim itself.


Still running strong

Today, they come in many variations, widths, diameters, bolt patterns, and backspacing options to fit your personal needs. You can also, for instance, choose between a chromed, black, gray, machined, or polished center. It all depends on what look and style you are going for. The wheels you saw at that car show that looked bitchin on a wild hot rod, may not be the style you want on your 1969 Camaro, and vice versa. The traditional American Racing Torq-Thrust D was re-issued in the mid-1990s. It is by far the most iconic model available today, and it will look great on pretty much any 1960s car. A fully polished model, named Torq-Thrust II, is offered in a wide range of sizes. Today there is a big variety of Torq-Thrust sizes, and you’ll find them in everything from a traditional 14” to a more modern popular 20” diameter.


Available Models in 2020

When it comes to wheels in general, you really should take your time to determine exactly what it is you want. Look at cars at shows, read magazines and get into it. Remember that a set of wheels could easily change the entire look of your car, for good and bad. It is not copying if you run the same wheels as a car you saw in a magazine. We all got to get inspiration from somewhere, right?


Below we will tell you more about the different Torq-Thrust wheels you can buy over the counter in 2020:


Torq-Thrust Original

The Torq-Thrust Original was introduced in 2004. Known as the TTO, it is a disc-brake friendly version of the original early 1960s wheel where the washers have been recessed more than the original wheels. The center-cap is also larger to allow the wheel to fit later-model cars. According to American Racing, the wheel was designed to be as true to the appearance of the original straight spoke Torq-Thrust design, but with some changes to allow more fitment options on classic cars.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust D

Available on the market since 1965, the original “D” model originally targeted Corvettes with disc brakes and were only available in 15x6 and 15x7 sizes. The modern version, which still is available today, was released in the 1980s, and it has more sizes to offer.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust II

The popular Torq-Thrust II wheel hit the market around 1967. It is a 2-piece wheel built with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged aluminum outer barrel. This 2-piece construction allows for custom widths and backspacings. This is important when brake and suspension modifications have been performed. For example, a tubbed car with a narrowed rear axle. This wheel is available in 14x6 through 20x15. The VN405 is the fully polished finish. The VN205 is the mag gray center with polished outer. The VNC405 is for a chrome center with polished outer. These wheels are made to order.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust II 1-Piece

This is the 1-piece cast aluminum version of the VN405/VN205 Torq Thrust II. It is designed to have the appearance of the 2-piece wheel for a fraction of the cost. It is produced in the most common sizes and backspacings for most classic vehicles and is kept in stock for immediate delivery. It is available in 14” through 22”.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust Original 2-Piece

Inspired by the straight spoke design of the TTO but in a 2-piece construction with a cast aluminum center and forged outer for custom widths and backspacings. These wheels are made to order.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust M

The “M” stands for “modern”. This version was designed for modern Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, etc. It was designed for the larger diameters and high offsets of modern musclecars. It proved to be a popular design so sizes and offsets for classic cars were added.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust SL

This is a 2-piece wheel with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged outer. The spoke profile was designed for a more modern appearance and it uses a snap in center cap. The wheel is available in 17” through 22” and uses a modern soft lip outer barrel. These wheels are made to order.


Models and Variations:


Torq-Thrust Original Directional

A twisted spoke version of the Torq Thrust with a cast aluminum center welded to a forged aluminum outer. Designed for classic vehicles it is available only in 17”. These wheels are made to order.


Models and Variations:


Dealers. Where to buy American Racing Wheels today

Thanks to Amazon.com buying a brand new set of Amerian Racing wheels has become very easy and user friendly in 2020. American Racing Equipment has its own outlet on Amazon.com where you can browse their selection and order the wheel for your need. Click here to check price and availability on Amazon.com.


If you want a vintage set of American Racing wheels eBay and Craigslist are your friends. Click here to check if there are any vintage American Racing wheels currently up for sale on eBay.


References




 

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