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1955 Ford Part 52: Steel Wheels and Radial Tires

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Steel Wheels and Radial Tires


Before I go any further the date of this post must be emphasized! May 18th twenty-two years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life - to marry a girl named April Martin. What she saw in me, I don't know, and to say that I got the better end of the deal would be an understatement. Pictured below is the fine family she partnered with me to have in this world. From left to right are Ethan, myself, my wife April, Kayla, and Leah. I am one blessed man - thank you Lord for my wonderful wife of 22 years!

We have come far enough in our work on this old car that it is time to consider rims and tires for this 1955 Ford Fairlane. You can tell from the title photo what I decided to go with, but let's start from the beginning. Way back in 1992 I had mounted four wide whitewall polyester tires to the existing rims I had (all painted Rustoleum semi-gloss black). I like the looks of WW on the mid-50s Fords, but the wallet gets pretty thin and most of the WW available, especially if you go with radials, will run at least $200 each. I can remember installing those tires myself. They were special order even back then, and I placed a tube in each one. Since I was a grease monkey at a shop called "Brenner's Advanced Automotive" in Manassas, Virginia, I had access to all of the equipment. Even though I was not there long, the fellas at the shop invested quite a bit of training in me. I mounted and balanced most tires we sold to customers. At any rate, I also remembered the upkeep of the whitewalls! SOS pads were always on hand each week to keep them clean since the car was a daily driver.

Before I decided on what tires to run on the 55, I needed to remove the old rubber and tubes. A friend of mine at church did that for me and even disposed of the tires for free at the dealership he worked at close to the city. Here are the rims as delivered back to me... (what's the old adage, "rough but restorable"?)

First up was to de-grease the rims after pulling the old wheel weights off. My son Ethan helped with that part of the work while he ran the pressure washer in the driveway. And yes, he likes to play around quite a bit while we work on things. Not to sure about him aiming that pressure washer at me! The washer I use is only a small electric unit but it does the job pretty well. I do miss not having access to a steam cleaner though. The kerosene fired steam cleaners are powerful to knock out grease and all kinds of gunk from your car body, engine, and other parts.


Once the rims were dry, they each took a turn in the glass bead cabinet to get all of the old paint, corrosion, and rust knocked off the surfaces. This was not as clean a result as working on the body of the car where a smooth finish is paramount to the overall appearance, but it was a thorough job nonetheless. The rims were then cleaned with acetone and prepped for paint.

The back side of each rim was brushed with a paint like Rustoleum (for obvious reasons). Of course, that kind of paint takes a millennium to dry! I think it is because of all of the rust-preventative additives that are in the formula. Whatever the case, once they were completely dry the front side of each rim was painted with direct to metal primer-surfacer.

After a full cure, I took a 3M scuff pad to the cured layer of primer to prep for the Single Stage Urethane red paint that matched the body of the car. And woudn't you know it????

Yep - a thunderstorm was rolling into the neighborhood and about 10 minutes after this photo the rain fell. It continued off and on all day long so the opportunity to finish up the rims had to wait for another time. I did have the chance research and purchase tires while the monsoon hit us. The online marketplace was running a special discount for items purchased. I found brand new, stickered radials in the 225/75R15 size with excellent reviews from customers who ran them on commuting vehicles. Shipped to my door these 4 tires were about $225 total. I ordered one more from Amazon at close to the individual price a tire from the other website (shipped, of course), and I had 5 tires within 3 days. (These cars had full size spares as you may recall, none of the donut mess here.)

A couple days later I was able to paint the rims and boy, did they turn out better than I expected!

Once the paint on the rims cured, I started checking on prices to mount tires. Wow! If you buy tires separately of the shop who is doing the mounting and balancing you are in for a markup on labor! After calling a few shops, personally stopping by a few places, etc, I finally decided to do the unthinkable... check with Walmart! (gulp!) You may be wondering out loud - "Is he crazy?"

To that I would reply, "maybe a little..." but I just happened to be in the store picking up something for the wife and decided to saunter up to the desk and speak with the manager. When I explained to him the situation and the level of care needed, this manager named Gabe stepped up and said he would personally see to it that the rims and tires were taken care of appropriately.

"How much would that be?" I asked. Gabe punched some numbers into the computer and looked back up at me from across the desk.

"Oh... right about $50 and some change," he said. Initially I thought that did not include a balance, much less lifetime, and that there would be other fees. But no, that was it, that was all of it.

"I'll be back later on," I promised to him.

So, I brought all 5 rims and tires to Walmart. Once he saw the rims, Gabe made a comment that he would make sure they were not scratched and he also assurd me that they would be handled with care. I unloaded the rims and tires thinking there would be some issues - after all these tires are being mounted on painted rims, wheel weights needed to be hammered on, etc.

I came back later in the day and paid the invoice - $50 and some change like Gabe had said before. The stack of mounted tires lay on a cart behind the counter and he said that one rim was not quite true and should be used as a spare. We made sure that was marked and then rolled out to the vehicle to load them up.

"Did the tires balance well?" I asked. (Usually tires that don't balance well need quite a bit of wheel weights to balance.)

"Everything went fine," answered Gabe. "We decided to use sticky weights too so that you wouldn't have any paint issues on the rims themselves.... thought it would look nicer." And the service manager was right - the rims and tires did look good. I was even impressed by the work. The only remaining facet would be an actual road test, but wheel weights were in place and the rims and tires looked great.

When I got home I dug out the torque wrench and manually tightened each lug nut to the proper specifications in the shop manual. Only thing I need to watch for would be this - I think the torque specs in 1955 would have been for polyester tires, not radials. My plan is to keep an eye on the lug nuts the first few months it is back on the road.

I decided to go with the old school look and just a set of 4 poverty hubcaps on the rims. I do like this look on the car.

On to the next project!

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