On January 5, 1965, George Hurst threw a huge PR party around the swimming pool at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. At that Tuesday bash, Hurst introduced his newest product, a forged aluminum custom wheel. Hurst knew a good promotion when he saw one, and he chose to debut his new wheel in Southern California, the cradle of hot rodding, and the home of Petersen Publishing Company. Petersen had the largest circulation automotive magazines in the country with titles like Hot Rod, Car Craft, and its flagship, Motor Trend, which was the sponsor of the upcoming Riverside 500 NASCAR race.
Beginning in 1967, Hurst offered paintable wheels. The wheels came primered in black and w
It was for that reason that Hurst chose to debut his wheels at that time and place. To cap it off, they were displayed on the 1965 GTO convertible that would pace the race (the one and only time a GTO served as a pace car for a major NASCAR race). The relationship between George Hurst and Pontiac had been firmly established in the early 1960s. Pontiac was the first to offer Hurst's stout three-speed floor shifter, and when Hurst developed a four-speed shifter in 1961, Pontiac immediately put it in their order book. When the GTO arrived in 1964, it was equipped with the Hurst lever, and every manual gearbox GTO built until 1974 was stirred with a Hurst stick.
So why did the Shifter King, who had built his success on engine conversion kits, floor shifts, and line-locks decide to get into the wheel business? Hurst saw an opportunity to market a quality wheel with a custom look, but that wasn't his only reason. Hurst had a genuine concern for safety, and he was aware that virtually all aftermarket wheels were poorly engineered and cheaply built. Since there were no true industry standards to hold wheel manufacturers accountable to, aftermarket wheels had a history of failure due to metal fatigue. Corners were often cut in materials and construction to bring it to market at an "affordable" price.
Along with the standard caps, Hurst also offered bullet-nose caps and three-wing spinners.
Hurst also believed that with the right wheel, he could crack the OE (Original Equipment) market and have his wheels become options on some of Detroit's hottest musclecars. Hurst had already gained a foothold in the industry by having his rock-solid shifters installed as standard equipment in GTOs, 4-4-2s, and Grand Sports. There was no reason to think he couldn't do the same thing with wheels, as long as they could meet the rigid OE standards.
To his credit, George Hurst was also dedicated to building products with no compromise to quality and safety. He had done his research on wheel safety and recognized that no one in the industry was building a wheel that met OE specifications. When Hurst decided to build his own, he constructed them with the same bulletproof engineering that went into his shifters. Aftermarket wheels were prone to breakage because, in the manufacturers' zeal for light weight or styling, lateral load capabilities were grossly inadequate, and many wheels failed, often causing accidents. George Hurst chose to build an unbreakable wheel.
The lug nuts for the Hurst wheels used positive tapered seating with a long reach for Hurs
"Before making a decision to build the new Hurst wheel," George Hurst said, "we decided to test all the popular makes to determine how good they really were. Test equipment was set up in our laboratory to evaluate the reliability and strength of any wheel."
Hurst utilized the same test equipment and standards as specified by carmakers in Detroit. Hundreds of different aftermarket wheels were tested and not one passed the standards. Two basic tests were used. The first was the Impact Test 2,000-pound, also known as "The Guillotine." In this test, a 2,000-pound metal slab was dropped from a height of either 12 inches or 24 inches onto a wheel mounted on a test stand at a 30-degree angle. According to Hurst, "The damage on a great many wheels showed the inner cores or spiders shattering like glass under the 2,000-pound blow."
Hurst produced a limited run of gold-anodized wheels, which were introduced on the GeeTO T
The second was the Rotating Fatigue Test. In this test, a wheel was spun at a load of 2,036 lb-ft (which was the Pontiac OE standard for wheel testing) to "exert alternating stresses, or fatigue stress on the wheel." A rod was bolted to the wheel center and an overload of 50 percent was exerted. The wheel was spun to as many revolutions as it could bear before failure. "On the average," Hurst noted, "most wheels tested chalked up revolutions of just over 12,000, less than half the accepted number of revolutions required by the nation's leading independent testing laboratories."
As testing continued, it was obvious to Hurst that an entirely new approach to wheel design and engineering was required. Weight was a major consideration, but Hurst refused to trade strength for lighter mass. George Hurst worked with his engineers to design a wheel that combined both light weight and strength. Hurst turned to Harvey Aluminum, the leading manufacturer of forged aluminum alloy. The use of double-dropped forged aluminum alloy in the aerospace industry had become commonplace, but this was the first time it would be applied to automobile wheels. To ensure a smooth surface for plating, the forgings were coined to provide perfect grain flow in the forging's crystalline structure. The spiders were then coated with HINAC for a clear, preservative finish.
This is the 1965 GeeTO Tiger GTO that was given away by Hurst, Pontiac, and Petersen Publi
Hurst designed a 14x6-inch rim with a strong cross-section design and a wall thickness wider than any OE wheel used. The rim would then be zinc dichromate plated for both rust prevention and appearance. To attach the forged aluminum spiders to the rim, a load-distributing stabilizer plate was welded to the rim and overlapped the inside spokes of the spider, creating a steel/aluminum "sandwich" to double the wheel strength. Two 5/16-inch high-tensile steel rivets were used per spoke to attach the spider to the rim. A special washer and rubber sealer prevented possible air leaks.
In testing, Hurst's design proved to be twice as strong in fatigue and impact resistance as other custom wheels. It exceeded all OE wheel standard tests and proved to be virtually indestructible in real world applications. After reviewing the wheel's test results, both the NHRA and AHRA approved and sanctioned the wheel for competition.
Hurst chose to introduce the world to his new wheels by bolting them to the Motor Trend Ri
Hurst engineered the wheels with one of three bolt patterns to fit Ford, GM, and Chrysler products. Plans were announced for 13-inch and 15-inch fitments for a later release, however, those sizes never materialized. Hurst wanted to give his customer the widest range of wheel appearances as possible, so a confusing array of 24 different wheel and beauty ring, and center cap combinations were offered. To that end, the spokes were finished in either a polished highlight in the spoke center, or with a matte finish. All had polished spoke ribs. A primered spider was offered beginning sometime in 1966, which allowed the customer to paint the spokes any color he or she wanted for a totally custom look.
The Hurst Bible One of the best books published on the subject of Hurst collectibles is D
A deep-dish beauty ring was designed that reached to the center of the wheel. The ring also covered the wheel weights. These rings were retained to the wheel with spring clips. This also prevented the rings from being stolen while the wheel was on the car. Later, the clips were replaced with a ring that used a simple press fit between the spokes and over the rear of the rim. Two styles of rings were offered, a fully polished face with polished inner surface, or a semi-polished face with a "brushed" inner surface.
Hurst offered three different center cap designs. The standard cap was a flat, round chromed cap with the Hurst logo in the center. Available at extra cost was the chromed bullet-nose cap that had three Hurst logos or a chrome three-winged spinner with the Hurst logo in the center. A curved three-wing spinner was withdrawn from the market when safety and liability concerns for pedestrians were raised. All three of the caps were retained by two bolts from the rear, which prevented the caps from being stolen. Even the lug nuts were unique to the wheel, using a tapered mating surface. Lefthand thread nuts were identified by grooves machined across the flats of the hex.
During the course of the wheel's 4-year run, the spoke design was revised. The bead on the spoke's ribbed edge was changed from squared to rounded. This change was made mainly due to abrasion wear. The hub was also changed from a 5/8-inch thickness to a thinner 3/8-inch design and from webbed to unwebbed. The thinner hub was not webbed. The back side of the hub was also redesigned, with a deeply recessed oval at the lug holes, later replaced by a round recess measuring only .025 inch. Toward the end of the wheel's production, in an attempt to reduce costs and price the wheel more competitively, Hurst removed the stabilizer plate and simply riveted the spider to the rim.
The contest that resulted in winning the GeeTO Tiger GTO was called "Count the Tiger." A 4
Hurst came close to his goal of making his wheel OE when Pontiac considered it for the 1966 GTO. When plans for a version of the fullsized Pontiac's integral hub-and-drum aluminum wheel (widely known as the "eight-lug" wheel) for the GTO fell through, General Manager John DeLorean turned to Hurst with intentions of making the Hurst wheel an option. Ironically, while Hurst had worked so hard to make the wheel meet OE standards for strength, he had failed to make it light enough to pass GM's unsprung weight guidelines. When he refused to consider making the wheel lighter, Pontiac had no choice but to pass. Hurst's refusal to compromise his product's quality cost him an order for 35,000 sets of wheels, however, it underlined his personal commitment to building the best aftermarket custom wheel in the industry.
Each wheel was "warrantied for life" to the original purchaser (as long as Hurst's lug nuts were used) and received a serial number, stamped on the lip at the center of the spider. Buying a set of four wheels enabled the owner to receive a "Hurst Hustler" emblem, a jacket patch, and entry into the "House of Hurst" tents at major races.
The considerable amount of R&D that went into the wheel, along with the cost of materials, made the Hurst wheel more expensive than other aftermarket wheels. Unless you caught an advertised deal from one of the big catalog houses like $199 per set from Honest Charley, or $179 from Big Ed's, the retail price for the Hurst wheel was $69.50, and some dealers went as high as $74.50 by 1968. This price included the wheel, round center cap, and beauty ring. The tapered seating lug nuts cost $4 for a set of five. Add tax and the cost for mounting and balancing, and the cost of bragging rights for having a set of Hurst wheels would set you back around $350. That was a hefty bill for a set of wheels back in 1967, and one reason Hurst never achieved the sales levels he had envisioned when he launched his wheel back in 1965.
An exploded schematic of the Hurst wheel clearly shows the unique spring clips required to
Although the wheel was superbly built, distinctly handsome, and highly advertised in print as well as heavily promoted at the retail level, it was one of Hurst's few marketing failures. Hurst ultimately had to admit defeat and withdrew the wheel in mid 1969. It wasn't until the mid 1980s when the musclecar hobby began to grow that an interest in Hurst wheels drove collectors and restorers to swap meets in search of the forged wheels. Then as now, discovering an NOS set of wheels in the original shipping drum is a major find, and many restorers pay dearly for the right to bolt on a set of Hurst wheels. After more than four decades, the Hurst forged wheel has become a musclecar legend and testament to George Hurst's unwavering dedication to quality and safety.
The Return Of The Hurst WheelIn 2003, Performance West Group in Bonsall, California, was developing two new show cars, a 1965 GTO and a 2004 GTO, and was looking for a visual theme that would tie the two Goats together. "Our solution," explained Performance West's Larry Weiner, "was to capitalize on the well-known relationship that had existed between Hurst and Pontiac during the 1960s. That led to the idea to paint both vehicles a modern version of the original "Hurst Gold," feature Hurst Shifters, and create custom wheels inspired by the original Hurst wheels, taking advantage of 40 years of advances in metallurgy, engineering, and modern tire technology."
An early Hurst promotional photo shows the "gladiator" style three-wing center cap that wa
Weiner borrowed an original Hurst wheel for design purposes, and working with Oasis Alloy Wheels in Anaheim, California, created a modern interpretation of this classic wheel. Unlike the originals, which featured an aluminum center that was riveted to a heavy steel rim, Oasis engineers chose to manufacture the wheel as a one-piece casting, making it lighter than the originals, while being more affordable. In addition, these new wheels would be designed to accommodate a wide range of modern aftermarket disc brake kits, something that cannot be done with the original wheels.
Tooling for wheels in two sizes was created: 18x7-inch and 18x8-inch, and offered in three bolt patterns, 5x4.5, 5x4.75, and 5x5. In each case, the wheels were designed for early vehicle fitments. When Performance West recreated the famous Mr. Norm's 1968 GSS Hemi Dart in 2006, they again turned to Oasis. "With Hurst's well-documented involvement in the build of the original cars in 1968," Larry said, "it made perfect sense to follow in the footsteps of history and work with Hurst on the new Hemi Dart Program."
Oasis decided to engineer and cast one-piece wheels identical in appearance to the 18-inch wheels, but this time in a 17-inch diameter, since the Dart is a smaller vehicle. Wheels were cast in 17x7-inch and 17x9.5-inch, and have been seen on the new Mr. Norm's GSS Hemi Darts nationwide at shows and events.
The Hurst logo in the center cap was always gold and black, regardless of cap style. The g
This is the infamous "Guillotine" impact test that dropped a 2,000-lb weight on the wheel
The Rotating Fatigue Test spun a wheel at a load of 2,036 lb-ft, which was the Pontiac OEM
It's not known how many of the painted wheels were sold beginning in 1967, however, they a
The Hurst wheel wasn't cheap. At a time when chrome reverse Rockets sold for $17.45 each,
Hurst had a flair for promotion, and that included how he shipped his wheels. Initially, t
She was Miss Golden Shifter, the incomparable Linda Vaughn. Linda posed with Hurst shifter