By Dave Headrick
I thought other members might be interested in the process of converting an MGA from stamped steel wheels to wire wheels. The car I drove to high school was a ’57 MGA with wire wheels so there was some nostalgic element to my interest in making this conversion. I had wanted to do this for some time when I became aware that Jack Lindler had a wire wheel rolling frame that he was willing to sell me to provide the necessary parts to start the process. Also Moss Motors was having a summer sale on wire wheels, so the time was right to get the ball rolling. I hauled the rolling frame back from Jack’s home in Greenville and stripped the frame down to the elements I needed, plus a few more good bits to squirrel away for later if needed.
Conversion on the front end was pretty straightforward. The splines on the wire wheel hubs from the donor car were in serviceable condition and simply needed to be swapped out with the stamped steel wheel hubs. I went ahead and installed new wheel bearings and seals in the used hubs just for the peace of mind.
The most involved part of the swap was the rear axle which is different (shorter) for wire wheels than what I had in my car. You can’t buy it new so a donor is the only alternative, if you want to go original. There is a non-original alternative that uses bolt-on rear splined hubs attached to the longer stamped wheel axle. That option pushes the rear wheels outboard 7/8” on each side and could look a bit odd to some. All that was needed to get the donor axle ready for the swap was cleaning it up, painting and installing SPEEDI-SLEEVEs on the pitted seal areas on each end and the input pinion shaft.
Changing out the rear axle was a bit involved. The two internally splined differential gears had to be changed out to mate with the rear axle shafts. I could have just used the differential assembly from the donor car but the one in my car was in much better condition so I disassembled the two differentials and swapped out the needed parts. New seals were installed on the pinion and axle shafts.
Obviously changing out the axle required swapping over my original drum brake assemblies to the wire wheel axle. The shorter axle also required a shorter hand brake cable. I took the opportunity to change out the rear brake lines while the axle was out.
When the new painted wire wheels arrived from Moss I was surprised to see that they were from Motor Wheel Service, a brand I had never heard of in spite of the fact that they had been a wheel specialist since 1927. In any event, they looked like quality items so I loaded them in my truck along with my relatively new tires and motored up to Hendrix Wire Wheels in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bart Lehman had previously had his Healey wheels serviced there and recommended them highly. They not only mounted the tires but also trued each wheel and installed a proper wire wheel inner tube and then trued the wheel + tire assemblies. Later in that week I went back up to retrieve the mounted tires.
My first test of the wheels was driving from Gilbert to the car show at the church on St Andrews road and it wasn’t a good experience. The car was wandering from side to side. If you were at the show you may have seen me tightening the knock offs in the hopes that I didn’t tighten them enough. It didn’t help, same problem going home. As it turned out I had failed to tighten the “U” bolts that secure the axle to the rear springs, a real rookie mistake. Anyway after correcting that problem the car now is stable with no noticeable vibration at road speed.
Next problem to address is overheating at slow stop and go traffic which is common to MGAs. The MG guru website has several articles on this subject which I will refer to and consider.