1965 Mustang Rebuild: Custom fit, for an off-the-rack price

In Part 5 of his series on rebuilding a 1965 Mustang, Jeff Melnychuk advises: If the wheels you want won’t fit, there might be an economical solution

 

Do you see wheels and tires as accessories or the foundation of the vehicle? Or the visual glue that ties the whole look together?

It’s really a mix of all three when you obsess over it like I do. Stylistically, the vehicle is a singular piece and not a collection of parts bolted together without consideration for the final result.

So you have to consider the look of the vehicle and its mission — because functionality is a factor, after all — then set the proper stance and ‘wheel up’ accordingly.

With wheels and tires being the most critical styling cues beyond the car body itself, spend the time positioning the tires to achieve the desired ride height and then do whatever suspension changes are necessary to get it. It’s make-or-break time.

 

When it comes to wheels and tires, know your options to get that killer look

Now, no one can tell you what to put on your ride, but being relentless and knowing what options are out there will help you get from an OK look to one that’s killer.

But, as is the case with every car, the 1965 Mustang has limitations, especially when compared with the far more robust chassis of the 1970 Plymouth project car, and because I allowed the Plymouth to be cut up to fit in whatever was needed.

The rules for the Mustang are different: No cutting up anything, which severely restricts the choices because the Mustang platform is just so tiny.

Where the already large wheel wells of the Plymouth were further widened to choke down 14-inch wide tires, the Mustang was limited to about 9.5 inches in the back and 8.5 inches in front.

Wider means more grip for turning, accelerating and stopping. I could have gone wider if I planned to jack up the car (which creates more room), but I wanted it low and level, perhaps a few inches lower than stock, even.

 

Finding wheels that look right, fit the car and the budget can be a challenge

The lower the car goes, the less room there is to work with.

Finding wheels on a budget that will fit and look right for the project is a huge challenge and quite possibly the limiting factor for tire size. There’s also the potential problem of the wheels not fitting over the brake calipers that are from a 2004 Mustang Cobra.

For the Plymouth project, I purchased expensive three-piece wheels made to fit my every measurement. The Mustang is on a tighter financial diet and has a more ‘normal’ plan that necessitates off-the-shelf wheels. I also didn’t want a customized, blinged-out look.

Shopping around uncovered a set of reproduction ‘Bullitt’ wheels made to fit the 2004 Mustang Cobra.

Weldcraft Wheels in Michigan will cut off what you tell them from the front or back (or both) wheels. Then, they will precision weld the remaining pieces back together.

 

The wheel screams ‘modern muscle’. One of the project guidelines was to modify the car in such a way that it really didn’t look modified; that it could have come that way from the factory.

Other people have attempted to put modern Bullitt wheels — usually 17 inches in diameter — on older Mustangs, but with little visual success, in my view. They just look wrong because the offset — the distance from the mounting surface of the hub to the centerline of wheel — is wrong for the early Mustang.

But there is a cure for this: tenacity.

 

Tenacity, shopping around and having the wheels professionally narrowed are the ingredients for getting the right look on the 1965 Mustang

Beginning with a set of large 18×9 and 18×10 Bullitt-style wheels I scored on Ebay for a measly US $475, I called Weldcraft Wheels in Michigan (www.weldcraftwheels.com) to have them narrowed to fit the ’65.

Before buying the wheels, I did plenty of measuring to take note of how much would need to be cut and what other, if any, alterations would need to be done to make them fit and look right.

I determined a final size of 18×7 for the front (two inches narrower) and 18×8.25 (1.75 inches narrower) for the rear, and tire sizes of 215/45-18 and 245/45-18, respectively.

While I knew that the front wheels would likely fit without any issues after being narrowed, the rear wheels have substantial outer lips that stick out past the edges of the fenders. In other words, they have the wrong offset.

Weldcraft suggested cutting some off the front and the back as opposed to just the back, but I was concerned how the front would finish up. I like a fat lip, so I had them cut the whole 1.75 inches off the back only.

And then I did what any self-respecting car guy would do: had the rear end narrowed one inch on each side to bring the wheels inward to the right spot.

Weldcraft charged US $175 per wheel for the narrowing, a process where a lathe cuts off what’s not needed and the two remaining parts are welded back together.

The only sign that the wheels were cut apart and welded back together is a seam (red arrow) that Weldcraft grinds flush. This can be left raw or it can be painted.

 

It’s a precise process that’s even used to customize wheels for racing. Obviously, it’s safe for a street car such the ’65 Mustang.

So, that’s about US $1,200, total, plus shipping, for off-the-rack wheels that are custom made to fit the car. Not bad at all when you compare the wheels for the Plymouth project at $8,000 a set.

Of course the cost of narrowing the rear end of the Mustang has to be added — and that comes with its own set of complications such as an entirely new suspension — an issue I’ll get into in a future instalment.

 

1965 Mustang Rebuild – Catch up on the series here:

Part 1, click here.

Part 2, click here.

Part 3, click here.

Part 4, click here.

Part 5, click here. (You are here)

Part 6, click here.

Part 7, click here.

Part 8, click here.

Part 9, click here.

 

There are plenty of different high-performance tire brands available for 18-inch wheels. I selected Bridgestone REO 050A Pole Position tires, partly because the company had the required front and rear sizes. If you’re not sure what size to get, work backward from the final height you need as well as the width. The sidewall height will solve itself. About 26.5 inches of height was needed to fill up the rear wheel wells and a tire width of about 9.5 inches. The mathematical match is a 245/45-18. The fronts tires are 215/45-18.

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