We've been getting numerous inquires about installing larger wheels and tires on vintage Mustangs. Are you worried about backspacing, tires rubbing fenders, and tire sizes that may or may not look right on your car? We'll answer these questions and more to steer you in the right direction for fitting the ideal wheel-and-tire package to your vintage Mustang.
While we have plenty of photos to help you decide what you want, this isn't a wheel-styling guide, but rather a look at what fits in terms of wheel diameter, width, backspacing, and tire size.
In general, installing larger wheels and tires on vintage Mustangs falls into two categories. The '65-'66s are in a separate group. They have a few limitations because they're a bit smaller in every dimension than the later cars and have smaller fenderwells. For example, we've seen 18-inch wheels on these early cars, and they don't look right.
The second category is the '67-'73. There are more choices for what will fit in the fenders and look good. Any '67-'73 Mustang with the right 16- or 17-inch-diameter wheel and tire filling the wheelwell provides that cool open-track, road-racy look many owners desire.
We're using a '65 to discuss the small cars, and our reliable '69 fastback for the '67-'73 cars. We'd like to thank the folks at Vintage Wheels Works (VWW) and Islas Tires for helping us get the wheels and tires mounted.
Our '69 fastback test car is a textbook example of any '67-'73 Mustang in terms of wheelwell room and wheel/tire fitment. We believe the current wheels and tires on this car are perfect because they're big enough to look cool, but don't cause interference with fenders or suspension pieces. Remember--we're discussing dimensions only and aren't recommending a specific make or model of wheel or tire. We love VWW wheels in a big way, but are leaving the design and style choices up to you.
The wheels are 16x8-inch Vintage 45s all around, which are the original wheels VWW began offering about eight years ago. With 41/2 inches of backspacing, there's plenty of clearance from all obstacles and they fit exactly where you want in a '67-'73 wheelwell. The tires are staggered sizes, with 225/50R16s in front and slightly larger 245/50R16s out back. You could also run the same size tires all around (a 245/50R16 at each corner on a '67-'73), but we like the look the staggering provides. We think 225/50R16s all around might be too small for the rear wheelwell of a '67-'73 Mustang. You could also run a 255/50R16 tire out back, which we've seen on other '69-'70 Mustangs, with a 245/50 or a 225/50 up front. That would depend on how much size difference you want with the front and rear tires.
For a compromise between looks and ease of fitment, a 16-inch wheel is the perfect diameter for a '67-'73, but that's not to say the right 17-inch wheel isn't just as cool. The 8-inch width of the Vintage 45s is also ideal for this or any aftermarket wheel. Seven-inch-wide wheels are also good for whichever style you choose.
At Vintage Wheels Works, we mounted a set of 17s on our '69 to see how they looked. Cool, eh? They fit as well as the 16s, but are more radical with respect to a restomod look. They provide more clearance up front in relation to the front suspension's upper control arm. A staggered setup all the way, these two-piece 17-inch Vintage 45s differ from the 16-inch wheel's one-piece construction. We had VWW mount a 245/45R17 tire to a 17x8-inch wheel up front--which would also look good out back and would allow tire rotation. But the car here has a big 17x9.5-inch Vintage 45 out back with a 275/40R17 tire. VWW feels safer recommending a 17x8 for the rear, but the bigger wheels fit well enough to run them with no worries. Some inner-fender rolling at the rear might be needed with the bigger wheels, which will vary on a car-to-car basis.
The difference in looks between 16s and 17s is evident in our photos. Though we love the 17s, we were content to leave VWW's shop with our 16s still in place; they've been on this car for nearly two years. As for tire sizes on 17-inch wheels, 245/45s up front or all around are ideal on any car, though we love the bigger 275/40s out back. The biggest tire we'd run at the front would be a 255/40R17, although we'd likely be satisfied with what you see here.
It is possible to fit 18-inch wheels and tires on a vintage Mustang, but that's beyond the scope of our discussion. We're sticking to 15-, 16-, and 17-inch wheels, since the 17s already provide a low-profile look most of us might seek on an early Mustang.