While we're all very happy to see BMW pushing legislators for carbon fiber wheels to reach the (wealthy) masses, let's not forget that once again it was the French who came up with the idea first, because racing of course.
As Green Pig has pointed out, the Citroën SM had optional wheels made of carbon reinforced resin back in 1974. But the story begins earlier.
When it became clear that they will continue rallying with their flagship whale in 1971, something had to be done about the SM's weight. Its 3,300 pounds was enough to crush all the Italian alloys you could throw at it. To solve the problem, parent company Michelin came up with the Roues Resin wheels. According to Hemmings, this is how it went down:
The next set of wheels was developed by Michelin under the direction of Pierre Dupasquier, who would go on to lead Michelin's competition department. Called the Michelin RR, for roues resin, the new, one-piece wheels were made of carbon-reinforced resin, with just a bit of steel used for the small, triangular reinforcing plates embedded at the mounting holes. Though they resembled conventional alloy wheels, especially in their silver finish, they tipped the scales at just 9.5 pounds apiece, less than half the weight of a stock steel wheel. Like their steel counterparts, they wore Michelin's latest high-performance XWX radial tires.
Following a successful season, Citroën decided to sell the resin wheels to the public as well. The production version was approved July 6, 1971 (with the code FH 5.35 RR) and went on sale in late December. Its rounded rim didn't allow wheel weights to be fitted, so the mechanics used stickers instead. Not in the US though as like most great things, these didn't pass federal safety regulations either.
A second series was launched a few years later which ran out with the SM's production in 1975, but Michelin made another batch sometimes in the mid-eighties. By that time, American SM owners could obtain them as well for a healthy $500 a piece.
On the plus side, the resin wheels turned out to be just as durable as any metal in the last four decades, and they could also be fitted to the DS to complete the futuristic look.
Hemmings says it was a good investment for the 30 percent who went for it:
Today, sets of resin wheels rarely come on the market, and command strong prices when they do. Last fall, a set of four sold at auction in Europe for the equivalent of $7,000. Chalk it up to aesthetics and cachet, rather than a performance edge.
If you happen to find one from the approximately 30 sets of the early racing version, watch out with those cigarettes.
Photo credit: KlausNahr