There is a vintage wheel that, when equipped to a rare old Porsche 356 or Mercedes 300SL Gullwing will see collectors salivate and break open their piggy banks to shell out tens of thousands. If the car was optioned with them from the factory, it might be as dear as a 6-figure value add. Are these wheels really worth the extra hundred grand? It’s a rarity and a fun talking point, but most don’t even know the history of this knock-off hub wheel known as the “Rudge” wheel.
First of all, Rudge-Whitworth was a British wire wheel manufacturer which developed the patents for a splined hub wheel fitment with a single central nut to hold them on as far back as 1908. The major benefit in those days was the ability to remove the wheel from the car in order to replace the tire. The company produced wheels for all manner of motorsports, and by 1913 every car on the Grand Prix grid used a detachable Rudge-style hub. Following The Great War, Rudge was purchased by Jaguar.
A wheel manufacturer in Italy licensed the use of center lock hubs from Rudge, and began working under the name Rudge-Whitworth Milano. Following the collapse of Rudge-Whitworth proper, the Milan company changed its name to Ruote Borrani S.p.A. Between 1946 and 1966, Borrani supplied all of the wheels Ferrari used for its road cars. The Germans were quite late to the center locking wheel craze and never really embraced the wire wheel phenomenon like the Brits and Italians did.
By the 1950s, there was clearly a demand for a center locking wheel, but rather than develop a whole new wheel, manufacturer KPZ used its standard stamped steel wheel to cobble together a center lock for motorsport use. With a modified drum brake (below), and a hub riveted into the steel wheel, KPZ was able to develop an easy to remove wheel. All you needed was a soft-blow hammer, usually with a head made of non-marring leather or copper.
While the same wheel was offered for the iconic 300SL, it’s much more likely to find them on a Porsche hub than a Merc one. The Rudge-style knock-off hub wheel was available on 356A coupe, cabriolet, and Speedster models in a 15X4.5-inch all-steel wheel, usually in chrome.
While the wheel was seen as fashionable and easier to manipulate in racing, this setup was, as you can imagine, much heavier than a standard steel wheel with five traditional bolt-on lugs.
The original style knock-off lugs “wings” were quickly deemed illegal to protect pedestrians from getting mangled by them. Later wheels, like the one for sale on Bring A Trailer right now, below, had a reinforced center hub to prevent the cracking experienced on earlier examples, and a hex-style lug with a special lug wrench.
If you’re looking for a set, you’ll likely need to do quite a bit of digging. There is currently one wheel available on Bring A Trailer, and the bidding is already hot. Both of the other photos above came from European Collectibles in Costa Mesa, CA, so if you need leads on a set, perhaps they are the folks to call.