(…Continued from prior article series on 1950s and 1960s wire wheel covers)
I’ve always been a fan of simulated wire wheel covers. While being an automotive accessory extremely subject to personal tastes, one cannot deny wire wheel covers are uniquely American in flavor. Mostly shunned by Europeans and Asian brands, they have populated the automotive landscape in the United States for decades since the early 1950s and have earned a spot in classic car nostalgia.
Similar to automobile styling, wire wheel cover designs from different manufacturers tend to evolve similarly to one another and follow the same trends over time. During the 1950s, it was criss-crossed spoke patterns with a flat overall shape. In the 1960s, it was parellel spokes running straight out from center caps (many with two- or three-pronged “spinner” caps mounted on the center to imply sports car performance).
The decade began with carryover wire wheel cover styling from the late 1960s. As that decade drew to a close, wire wheel covers were trending towards designs with two layers of straight, parallel spokes. The effect of one layer of spokes atop (yet still parallel to) another created an illusion of criss-crossing spokes when viewed from the side. This look would evolve but be maintained during the first half of the 1970s until flat wire wheel covers with criss-crossing spokes (similar to 1950s styling) would make a return.
The timeline below charts changes of note during the decade’s model years:
(FOR PICTURES OF ALL WIRE WHEEL COVERS DETAILED BELOW, CLICK ON “SLIDE SHOW” TO THE LEFT)
- Chrysler introduces a new wire wheel cover that is more conical in shape (if viewed from the side) with two layers of parallel spokes. Center caps protrude farther away from the wheel, making these covers more susceptible to damage from high curbs. This wheel cover was offered on large and mid-size Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler models through 1978. Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volares continued to use them through the end of their model run in 1980.
- Chevrolet also introduces a cone-shaped wire wheel cover not unlike Chrysler’s. Styled similarly to a 1967-70 design used by Chevy on full-sized Impalas, minor revisions saw two shorter spokes (instead of one) between each long spoke. These wheel covers were offered on full-size models, running unchanged through 1976.
- Buick and Oldsmobile adopt the cone-shaped look, and introduce identical 15-inch wire wheel cover versions – each with brand specific center caps. Spoke patterns are similar to, yet different from, earlier 1971 Chevy wheel covers. These were available on full- and mid-size models from each division through the early part of the 1978 model year. Early promotional photos for newly-downsized ’78 Olds Cutlass Supremes feature a version of these covers modified to fit the new Cutlass’s smaller 14-inch wheels.
- Ford Motor Company introduces its own cone-shaped wire wheel cover. However, unlike Chrysler and G.M. designs, spokes are not parallel but angled to criss-cross one another. These were offered on 1974-76 and 1977-79 style Thunderbirds, as well as 1975-76 Ford Elite models (Elites were luxury badged versions of the Torino coupe).
- For the first time since the 1950s, Cadillac offers a wire wheel cover. Departing from 1970s trends, the new Caddy wheel cover is completely flat (not cone-shaped towards the center) and features cross-laced spokes with a larger, flat center cap. In short, very similar to the brand’s own 1950s offering. Considered very handsome, this wire wheel cover proved very popular and influenced wire wheel styling from this point forward through the end of the next decade. Available on rear-wheel-drive Seville, Fleetwood, and De Ville models, this design lasted with minimal change through the 1990s.
- Ford introduces a second wire wheel cover design with criss-crossed spokes similar to its 1974 design, but flat in shape. This did not replace the earlier version, instead it was used on smaller models such as the Pinto, Mustang II, LTD II, Granada, and new-for-1978 Ford Fairmont/Futura through the end of the decade.
- Buick offers a wire wheel cover similar in style to Cadillac’s prior year offering, fitting it only on the new-for-1977 Riviera. While flat in shape rather than conical overall, the center cap (brandishing a Riviera “R” logo) was more three-dimensional than Cadillac’s was. This wheel cover ran through 1978 on the rear-wheel-drive Riviera until the model was redesigned.
- Halfway through the model year, Buick begins offering the ’77 Riviera wire wheel cover on its other full-size, rear-wheel-drive Electra and LeSabre. Center caps now featured the Buick logo rather than the specific Riviera logo. Oldsmobile gets a version of this 15-inch wheel cover, and fits a perfectly round center cap to it.
- General Motors also creates another similar-looking wire wheel cover for Pontiac and Chevrolet full-size models, and new-for-1978 downsized intermediate level cars from Buick, Olds, Pontiac, and Chevrolet. This particular design was the same on all models, differing only in center cap logos and wheel size.
- Lincoln, perhaps inspired by General Motors, introduces a wire wheel cover similar in design to Buick’s – offering it on all three of its models (Mark V, Continental/Town Car, and Versailles). This flat, cross-laced wheel cover design with bigger center cap ran unchanged through 1989 on its large, rear-wheel-drive offerings.
- Newly downsized, square-edged Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis models get an identical version of Lincoln’s ’78 wire wheel cover fitted with individual brand center caps.
- Chrysler does its own take on late-‘70s luxury car wire wheel covers and introduces a more modern wire wheel cover similar to Lincoln, Buick, and Oldsmobile offerings. This 15-inch wire wheel cover was offered on all Chrysler rear-wheel-drive makes and models through 1989.
- American Motors arrives late to the 1970s wire wheel cover party for ’79, introducing a cone-shaped, straight spoke cover more in line with styling earlier in the decade. This design was offered on all AMC models from 1979-80, after which it was replaced by a more up-to-date look.
Click on SLIDESHOW (above and to the left) for a pictoral tour of wire wheel covers through the 1970s. Coming soon: Part 4, the 1980s.
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