It's nothing new to upgrade to a more substantial wheel and tire combination on any car-especially a daily-driven vintage Mustang. Even so, we wanted to clearly illustrate the dramatic difference a more beefy wheel-and-tire combo makes on a car such as this '65 fastback.
As far as looks go, take a look at the photos and see for yourself. We'll admit a restored show car has a certain cool look to it with bias-ply redline tires and small 14-inch styled-steel wheels or wheel covers. But we feel that when a car, such as our '65, doesn't fall under the watchful eye of a show judge, it looks 10 times better with the larger wheels and tires. Leave the skinny tires for the show.
When we bought this car it had the 14x5-inch styled-steel wheels you see here and whitewall tires. Frankly, it was just a Band-Aid to fit only slightly larger BFGoodrich (great tires, yes, but just not big enough for our tastes) 185/60R4 radial T/As on the pizza-cutter-sized wheels.
For the past several years a number of companies have offered larger 15x7-inch steel wheels in a number of styles for '64 1/2-'66 Mustangs. A few years back we had a '66 fastback with 15x7-inch styled-steel wheels that rode on 225/50HR15 BFGoodrich Euro T/A skins. The car looked awesome, and when we sold it, we missed its hunkered-down road-racer look.
We wanted to bring back the look, but with a 15x7-inch Magnum 500 wheel such as was used on '66 Hertz Shelbys and '69-'70 Boss 302s. Made by Specialty Wheels, Magnum 500 wheels are available from California Mustang, and like the styled-steel wheels on the '66 they are a perfect fit on this '65. As with the '66, we went with the same size tire, but a much more sticky BFG Comp T/A ZR in a 225/50ZR15.
There's more. Not only does the car look better, it performs dramatically better, too, as demonstrated by the handling and braking tests we performed (see sidebar). In a 600-foot slalom, we picked a whopping six-plus mph in slalom speed! And this from a Mustang with stock suspension. All the details are explained below.
First, we take our 15x7-inch...
First, we take our 15x7-inch Magnum 500 wheels and 225/50ZR15 BFGoodrich Comp T/A skins to a local tire shop to have them mounted...
...and spin balanced.
Once mounted and balanced,...
Once mounted and balanced, the Magnum 500 center caps snap right onto the wheels.
We wanted to do more than just bolt on a new set of wheels and tires and say, "Gee, don't they look great?" We wanted to really put the rubber to the road and see how much better the car drives and handles both in the real world and at the track. Our big sister magazine Motor Trend tests hundreds of new cars and trucks every year. Among MT's usual battery of performance testing is a test that gives a clear picture as to how a car handles.
With six cones set 100 feet apart from each other, the test driver runs the car through this 600-foot "slalom" as quickly as possible without spinning. The faster a car runs through, the better its handling characteristics are. We took our '65 fastback to Motor Trend's test facility to measure braking distances from 60-0 mph and slalom speeds with both sets of wheels and tires-changing the wheels and tires at the track.
While the difference in braking was somewhat better (we were fighting to keep the rear brakes from locking up), the slalom speed improvement was amazing! The car traveled nearly seven mph faster than with the smaller tire-and-wheel baseline of 53.4 mph. Not only that, the car feels much better. To give you an idea of how dramatic 7 mph is in a slalom test, it's like reducing a quarter-mile e.t. on a dragstrip by about three seconds.
It's been said that adding a good set of tires is the single biggest thing you can do improve a car's handling. The numbers below speak for themselves.
| ||Braking ||Speed through |
| ||60-0 mph/feet ||600-foot slalom |
|14-inch wheels and tires: ||147.1 ||53.4 mph |
|15-inch wheels and tires: ||143.1 ||60.3 mph |
Before (14-Inch Wheels &...
Before (14-Inch Wheels & 60-Series Tires)
Because of bigger wheels and tires on a '66 fastback we owned a few years ago, we feel that something's missing from our '65 fastback.
The empty wheelwell is also...
The empty wheelwell is also quite prominent (front and rear) from this angle.
The 185/60R14 tires don't...
The 185/60R14 tires don't really fill up the front wheelwells. And you can tell by drawing an imaginary line from the sidewall of the tire to the top of the fender that the tire is nowhere near flush with the top of the fender.
Same for the rear.
After (15-Inch Wheels & 50-Series...
After (15-Inch Wheels & 50-Series Tires)
Ahhh...much better. The fenderwells look more filled up and the car has a better stance.
From this angle, the difference...
From this angle, the difference between the two sets of wheels and tires is the most dramatic.
Now there's a little bit of...
Now there's a little bit of tire sticking out from the fender just below the bumper. The car looks more substantial and you can tell the tire is flush with the top of the fender by drawing the same imaginary vertical line from the sidewall to the top of the fender.
Same for the rear.
With either the red center...
With either the red center caps from '65-'66 styled-steel wheels or the running horse centers from the Magnum 500, these wheels look great. Since the car is red, we'll probably run the red centers for a while. They both look great, so it's merely a matter of personal choice.
With all four wheels and tires...
With all four wheels and tires mounted, we head off to snap some pretty pictures of the car. Note the black running-horse centers that came with Magnum 500 wheels, while on this side of the car, we're deciding on how the red centers look.