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.
Using the '69 as the guinea pig, we'll show what 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheels look like on the front of a typical vintage Mustang. Using VWW wheels of various styles, we begin with a 15x7-inch Vintage 50 with a 37/8-inch backspacing. Essentially a Shelby 10-spoke copy, it looks great with the 225/60R15 tire (about the best size for this wheel). However, a 235/60R15 tire would also fit well. You could also stagger tire sizes by running a 225/60 or 235/60 up front and fit a 245/60 on the back. Although the 245/60 might be a little big for a wheel that's only 7 inches wide, it will fit and would look good. The Vintage 50 is also available in a 16x8-inch size with a 41/4-inch backspacing and would work great with the 16-inch-diameter tires mentioned earlier.
A 16x8-inch wheel with a 41/2-inch backspacing wrapped with a 225/50R16 (shown here) or 245/50R16 tire is a true no-hassle fit on the front of any '67-'73 Mustang. Use these dimensions with just about any make or model of wheel and tire and you can't go wrong. This one-piece 16x8-inch Vintage 45 wheel started it all for Vintage Wheel Works.
Now we're going big and it's really cool. This two-piece Vintage 45 in a 17x8-inch version with a 245/45R17 tire is the de facto setup to use in terms of size should you desire 17-inch wheels of any make and style. Fitment is perfect, fenderwell clearance isn't an issue, and you have plenty of rubber on the road--much more than any Mustang came with from the factory. Backspacing is 41/2 inches. A 255/45 or 255/40 tire will also fit here with the same size out back, or a larger 275/40 if you want to stagger tire sizes.
Moving to the back of the car, our current setup is the same 16x8-inch wheel as the 16-inch wheel shown earlier up front, but with a slightly larger 245/50R16 tire. This ideal combo looks great and won't cause any problems. On some cars, slight fender rolling might be required because some 245/50 tires are fairly big. You could have four tires that are the same size, but are different brands, so the tires will measure differently. For example, we've seen 245/50R16s on the back of two different '69 Mustangs and the tires were from different makers. One brand was clearly taller than the other, even though the size was labeled the same on each tire. Another option is the 255/50R16, which we've recently seen on the back of a '69 Mach 1. They are big, however, so some fender rolling will probably be required compared to running 245/50s.
If you need anything bigger than this out back, you can do it, but you'll likely have to contend with custom backspacing, which VWW offers. This 17x9.5-inch Vintage 45 wheel with a 51/2-inch backspacing and a 275/40R17 tire is downright huge. It's a nice fit, but VWW recommends staying with 17x8s out back. Outer fender clearance will be an issue on some cars, since all cars are different in this area. VWW offers several 17-inch wheel setups, including 17x7s, 17x8s, and these 17x9.5s. Custom backspacing is available on all sizes if needed. This package is about as far as we'd go. Beyond this, you'll likely get into custom sizing and backspacing issues, as well as tires rubbing on outer fender lips without considerable fender rolling.
Although the 17x9.5-inch wheels fit on the back of our car, they got pretty close to the rubber bumpstops for the rearend. If we ran the 17s, we'd trim the metal edge on the part of the bumpstop mount that's closest to the wheel, since removing the bumpstops altogether on a regularly driven street car isn't a good idea.
GOING BIG ON SMALLER '65-'66s
Although there are many similarities when it comes to fitting larger wheels on '65-'66 Mustangs as compared to the bigger '67-'73 cars, special considerations are necessary because the earlier cars are smaller in most dimensions. Although they might fit, some believe a fairly large 17-inch wheel-and-tire combo doesn't look right on an early car. In some circumstances, we'd agree.
We have some recommendations for those with a '65 or '66 Mustang. Factory 14-inch wheel-and-tire combinations that came on most '65-'66 cars are fine, but we're going beyond that here. While some might consider it conservative, we think the right 15-inch wheel and tire looks perfect on these smaller Mustangs. For example, the '65 fastback below rides on 15x7-inch Magnum 500 wheels with 225/50R15 tires all around. Now that Vintage Wheel Works offers several 15-inch wheel options, you have an ideal choice for a Vintage 45 in a 15-inch size. Several Mustang parts houses also offer a factory Styled Steel wheel in a 15-inch size that looks cool on a '65 or '66 Mustang. Other tire options include taller 225/60R15s all around or a staggered arrangement with a 215/60R15 up front and 225/60s out back.
As for running 16-inch wheels on '65-'66 Mustangs, you can go with 16x8-inch wheels with 41/2-inch backspacing and 225/50R16 tires all around, or maybe 245/50s in back. That's as big as we'd go, and it's the ideal 16-inch setup for these smaller cars. But fenderwell clearance can be an issue with some cars when trying to run 16-inch wheels in front. For no-hassle fitment on a '65-'66 Mustang, a 15x7-inch wheel with one of the above-mentioned tire sizes is an ideal setup that will look great and won't cause any problems.
Finally, while you can run 17-inch wheels on a '65 or '66 Mustang (and there are many options), be careful because there isn't as much room as on the larger '67-'73 cars. Shop carefully and seek out the advice of a tire/wheel shop or the wheel manufacturer you're working with before going big on an early small Mustang. While it's not impossible, it isn't the norm, so be careful before buying 17-inch wheels and tires for a '65-'66, installing the tires on the wheels, and not being able to return them before realizing they won't fit. Test fit before you mount 17-inch wheels and tires on a '65-'66 Mustang.
In addition to the three styles of VWW wheels we showed on our '69, there are several other options. Besides the Vintage 45 shown on the car in 16-inch and 17-inch sizes, VWW also offers the Vintage 40, which is the same wheel except for its straight-spoke configuration. That is, if you look at the wheel from the side rather than directly in front of you, you'll notice the spokes are straight across the face of the wheel rather than the gentle curve of the Vintage 45. Shown here are 16- and 17-inch Vintage 40s, which are the same as the 45s in that the 16-inch wheels are one-piece and the 17s are two-piece. Several backspacing options are available for the 17-inch Vintage 40/45 wheels because of their two-piece configuration.
Besides the 40s and 45s, two other styles are available from VWW, one of which is the Shelby 10-spoke-type Vintage 50 shown earlier that's available in 15x7- or 16x8-inch sizes. The other is the Vintage 48, an eight-spoke wheel that looks much like the "Minilite" design--a classic look that's a cool alternative to the equally trick Vintage 40 or 45. The Minilite-style Vintage 48 comes in a 16x8-inch size with 41/2 inches of backspacing. Whether it's a 15-, 16-, or 17-inch wheel, VWW has several offerings, all of which will look great on any classic Mustang, from a restored show car, to a restomodded hot rod, to a worn-in, but not worn-out daily driver like our '69 fastback.
16x8-inch, one-piece Vintage...
16x8-inch, one-piece Vintage 40.
17x8-inch, two-piece Vintage...
17x8-inch, two-piece Vintage 40.
16x8-inch, one-piece Vintage...
16x8-inch, one-piece Vintage 48.