SEMA News—March 2012

By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives

Big Wheel

  Ted Halibrand, aftermarket business, tire industry, automotive history 
Given the importance of wheels in today’s automotive aftermarket, it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t a driving force (no pun intended) in vehicle modification and personalization. But that’s exactly what LeRoi “Tex” Smith said to open his November 1963 Hot Rod magazine article about custom and racing wheels.

“Until recently, the wheel was virtually overlooked by hot rodders,” Smith wrote. “Those who were concerned with the wheel usually made do with modified steel items or turned to the one major source of supply, the Halibrand Manufacturing Co.”

Ted Halibrand didn’t invent the performance wheel, but his influence over the category looms large. He was a car guy long before the wheel business, working on and racing midgets on Southern California’s oval tracks during the years leading up to World War II. During the war, he worked for Douglas Aircraft as an engineer, where he often used magnesium to replace broken aluminum aircraft parts. And that planted the seed.

Intrigued by magnesium’s light weight and strength, Halibrand looked for a way to adapt the metal into his race cars, knowing—as all rodders did—that less weight equals more speed. He cast his first set of wheels out of magnesium in 1946, and their immediate success led to the formation of the Halibrand Engineering Co. in 1947.

Halibrand’s first customers were Indy racers, and it wasn’t long before Halibrand-shod cars were winning at the Brickyard. In fact, every racecar that won the Indy 500 between 1951–1967 was outfitted with Halibrand wheels. Mickey Thompson went 400 mph at Bonneville with Halibrands. Carroll Shelby specified Halibrands for his cars. So did the Ford engineers who built GT40s to take on LeMans. It’s no wonder, then, that hot rodders and drag racers wanted those original “mags” for their own speed projects. Halibrand’s other lightweight speed parts—especially his quick-change rearend—were also in high demand then as they still are today.

Halibrand was just on the cusp of much of that success when Erick Rickman took this shot in September 1963 for Smith’s article. In Halibrand’s hands is his “split-mag,” a drag race wheel that could be assembled in a variety of widths. Smith said that Halibrand was also about to introduce a new line of street wheels “to fit all American cars and some foreign iron, such as the Jaguar. These wheels will also be available with special knock-off hubs if the customer wants them.”

Did they ever.

Halibrand was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1983. He passed away in 1991.

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