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Geeking-Out on Bullitt Wheels and Tires; Part 1

***DISCLAIMER*** I’m a TOTAL nerd! I’m a mildly OCD “car guy” (where mildly is a lie) with a devotion to doing things the “right way”.

And in honor of the 51st anniversary of the movie Bullitt, I thought I’d give you all a glimpse into my own “unwavering commitment to reality”. Though I can only upload 10 images per post, so this is going to have to be a multi-part deal. I hope you enjoy this trip down the rabbit-hole.

I once heard somebody say that every guy driving a green Mustang with Torque Thrust wheels thinks he’s Steve McQueen. And, well, more power to them! Especially if they feel one iota of that Steve McQueen “cool factor” in the process; I’m all for it! In fact, I had a 1965 Mustang coupe with a 200 cid in-line 6 and a British Racing Green Maaco paint job when I was in high school, and I couldn’t even afford Torque Thrust wheels, and I STILL thought I was Steve McQueen. No joke.



Anyway, I always wanted that fastback, and that fastback was always one or two steps ahead of me. Every year I’d save a little more, and every year they were just a little bit more expensive. Then, I had a good buddy pass away unexpectedly and way too young, and I thought, “you know what, I’m done waiting”.

So what did I do!? I went out and bought the first decently-priced green Mustang (fastback) with Torque Thrust wheels (and BFGoodrich T/A’s) that I could find. And I never thought I would ever replace a brand new set of wheels and tires, but as I modified certain other areas of the car to look more like that famous movie Mustang, those Torque Thrust’s and T/A’s started to feel really out of place.


My car on the way home; Black Dragon Canyon, UT.

So when you go on the Internet, you get a lot of conflicting information. I mean, that’s a given these days, right!? But the bottom line is that the two Mustangs in Bullitt both wore real-deal American Racing Torque Thrust “D” Mags (for magnesium), and so far as I can tell the sizing was 15”x7” with 4” of backspacing. Famed race car builder Max Balchowsky fondly recalls McQueen “wanting the cars to have Mags, because he was still such a kid” in one of the many Bullitt documentaries.




Photos I snapped of Sean Kiernan’s real surviving Bullitt movie car.

Unfortunately, when American Racing started casting these wheels in aluminum, they completely changed the shape of the wheel; the spokes have a completely different curve to them, and despite the shape of the new wheels being completely wrong, the real kicker is that they don’t make the 7” wide wheel in a 4” backspacing anymore, so when you fit an appropriately wide tire, you’ll likely have some rubbing issues.


Modern American Racing Torque Thrust D.

Now, I’ve tried to find real magnesium American Racing Torque Thrust D’s, in a 5 on 4-1/2” pattern, and 15”x7” with 4” of backspacing. I’m not a big swap meet guy...I go to some of the local ones, but that’s about it. I’ve found, probably, four of them in total, but years apart, and at several hundred dollars a piece. In hindsight I should have been buying them as I found them, long before I had the Mustang to put them on, because full sets seem wholly unattainable. And that scenario has led me to trying to find the “next best thing”.


PS-Engineering T/A-I Wheel.

PS Engineering (PS Vintage Wheels Products) makes a wheel that’s pretty close in appearance to the original Torque Thrust D. Their 2-piece 15” T/A-I wheel has the correct shape, and being a 2-piece wheel it is available in a variety of different backspacing dimensions. Now owned by Wheel Vintiques, the T/A-I in 15”x7” with a 4” backspacing will run you exactly $500 per wheel without center caps or shipping. And I don’t know what you’d run for center caps; I just never got that far in my research. For me, ultimately, $2,000 a set was just too steep to order the wheels purely on spec, but perhaps if Wheel Vintiques actually starts marketing the PS Engineering wheels, I might get lucky enough to see one in person someday, before deciding whether or not they’re worth the big bucks to actually pull the trigger.

So, that left me looking at the current offerings from American Racing. Currently, you can get the Torque Thrust in the “D” version with modern ultra-curvy spokes, or you can get a Torque Thrust “Original” with a very straight spoke design. Now here’s where the Internet debate doesn’t really help. Neither wheel is “right”. The “Originals” outer spoke shape is pretty close, but they lack the curved “back cut” in the inner spoke that the original magnesium “D’s” had to clear “D”isk brakes (on the Corvette). While the modern “D’s” are just all together too curvy; as previously stated, in the 7” width they have the wrong offset, and so the spokes actually curve out from the wheel center before they head back in to meet the wheel lip. In the 6” wide version, the offset is closer to that of the original “D’s”, and the spoke shape on these are the closest of the modern offerings, but then you’re stuck with a 6” wide wheel.


Set of Torque Thrust Originals I ordered from Summit; not quite right...


ABC News anchor and noted Bullitt historian Dave Kunz’s car, wearing modern Torque Thrust D’s in size 15”x6”.

In the end, what I went with on my particular project was the modern Torque Thrust “D” in 15”x7” with 3.75” backspacing (VN1055765), and I made a little spacer to space the center cap out a little to try and mimic the older style wheel. It’s not “right”, but 99.9% of the people who see the car won’t know why it isn’t. And I put the majority of my efforts into trying to match the finish of an original magnesium Torque Thrust wheel to make up for the 0.1% who might judge me.


Homemade wheel center cap spacers.

The first order of business was the plastic center caps that come with the modern wheels. They went straight to the round bin (that’s sounds edgier in a write-up, but they actually went on eBay and netted me about $20 a piece). Every once in a while there’s a guy on eBay who sells the old 80’s all aluminum “laser font” caps, and once I scored a set some quick lathe work and polishing get’s them looking vintage appropriate. Don’t forget to ditch the Allen screws in favor of slotted-head machine screws, and you’ve got the center cap portion of the wheel looking a bit more era-appropriate.


Actual alloy wheel center caps...

And so that’s 10 images. Not nearly enough geekery! Stay tuned for the the next installment, where we geek-out even more.

...seriously, you haven’t seen anything yet. I go full-nerd.
 

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" But the bottom line is that the two Mustangs in Bullitt both wore real-deal American Racing Torque Thrust “D” Mags (for magnesium)".


Were AR TTDs ever made from magnesium? I know that Halibrand made some magnesium wheels but 99% of the so called "mag" wheels were made from aluminum.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
" But the bottom line is that the two Mustangs in Bullitt both wore real-deal American Racing Torque Thrust “D” Mags (for magnesium)".


Were AR TTDs ever made from magnesium? I know that Halibrand made some magnesium wheels but 99% of the so called "mag" wheels were made from aluminum.
Yes indeed. Introduced in 1965 and cast right in San Francisco, California. I agree that 99% of the “mags” out there are actually cast in aluminum, but that’s only because the designs were reminiscent of the magnesium racing wheels that came first.

Also, if you look at the 3rd and 4th pictures in my post, it’s fairly obvious by the corrosion that those are the magnesium versions of the TTD’s on the actual Bullitt car.
 

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I really liked the look of the magnesium wheels, but (from a practicality standpoint) over time don't they get stress fractures? I can't imagine there are too many places that can repair them....
 

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Excellent work - I love threads like this!!!
Thank you!

I really liked the look of the magnesium wheels, but (from a practicality standpoint) over time don't they get stress fractures? I can't imagine there are too many places that can repair them....
Yes they do, and that’s part of the reason the high prices associated with real Mag wheels are so hard to swallow. Imagine that very few sellers are x-raying their wheels before they sell them.

This is proper geekiness right here. Love it.
Awesome! Thanks for reading along.
 

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Geeking-Oug on Bullitt Mustang Wheels and Tires; Part Two

So now that we have a proper center cap that should stick out about the right distance from the wheel center, it’s time to address the machined finish wheel lip that comes on these modern wheels. Nothing screams NOT 1969 like the witness marks of a CNC machining process. It’s hard to photograph, but if you’ve ever seen the brand new American’s up close, the wheel lip has these radial lines that appear like tiny little steps in their contour. Not immediately apparent until you’re right up on them, but the added light refraction creates this impossibly shiny look, and to me, it’s entirely out of place on a vintage ride. Unfortunately , the only way to remedy this is elbow grease, and lots of it. I started with 120, then 220, 320, then 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, and finally 1400 grit, before giving them a nice polish with some Eagle 1 followed by a good cleaning with a microfiber. Total time was about 2 hours per wheel.


If you squint real hard you can kind of see the lines I’m talking about...


One of my wheel lips after a couple hours of sanding.

The final step was color. Sadly the grey TTD’s are too grey, and the black ones are too black. I wanted the appearance of oxidized magnesium, at least in terms of hue, but I also wanted the wheels to look nice. I settled on Eastwood’s Charcoal Rally Wheel Paint (https://www.eastwood.com/ew-rally-wheel-paint-charcoal-aerosol-12-oz.html), and top coated with their Diamond Clear in a satin finish (https://www.eastwood.com/eastwood-diamond-clear-dtm-and-painted-surfaces-aerosol.html). In my opinion the color is amazing, but in my more honest opinion it’s still a little too “bling” for the aesthetic I was trying to create. All in all, I think it’s an incredible look for a Torque Thrust wheel, and I figured I would share the process for anybody that is as anal retentive as I am, and wants to set their car apart from the pack.


Eastwood’s Charcoal Rally Wheel Paint and Satin Diamond Clear


Who think THIS is how American Racing Equipment should finish the TTD!?

If I ever step up and buy a set of the PS-Engineering wheels, I may try CRC Dry Graphite spray over a freshly blasted surface. I’ve read some conflicting information though as to whether or not it’s wise to spray graphite on raw aluminum...


This image stolen from one of my hot rodder buddies named Race Trevino (on Instagram); he’s incredibly talented, give him a follow!

I’ve also heard that grey deck stain over a freshly blasted wheel will produce a similar result (without the potentially for a galvanic reaction). Or maybe someday I’ll find my set of real American mags...either way, on to tires!

And if you think I can’t geek-out as hard on tires as I did on these wheels, then you’ve got another thing coming...
 

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Geeking-Out on Bullitt Mustang Wheels and Tires; Part Three

So, I don’t remember where I first read the “lore” about the tires that McQueen used on the two Mustangs in Bullitt, but the mythology goes that they were a special prototype blackwall radial from Firestone; some high performance concoction too otherworldly and ahead of it’s time to be “of record”, most likely, and so to that end, there has always been a bit of mystery surrounding what the best tire option for a replica of the Bullitt car might actually be.





I was lucky enough to get to spend some time checking out the REAL Bullitt movie car owned by Sean Kiernan, and noticed that his car runs a very vintage appropriate and rather racy looking set of Firestone blackwalls, and so I asked him to spill the beans. I’m still not sure whether Sean was having fun with me, or if, amongst all of the fervor of this car’s reemergence, he just didn’t quite get the full story himself, but he told me that he reached out to Firestone, and because of the significance of his car, that they had made him a one-off set of the EXACT tires they had spec’d for McQueen some 50 years earlier.



REALLY great story! Almost too great to try and poke holes in it, BUT, it’s also not 100% accurate. The tires that are currently on the Bullitt movie car are a Coker reproduction of the Firestone “Indy” tire in size 9.20-15, and they are readily available from Coker Tire for about $428 a piece. Whether Sean got the wool pulled over his eyes, or whether he pulled it over mine, is not immediately apparent, BUT it is possible that the movie car DID run the Indy tires in 1968, and the “prototype blackwall radial” lore is just...lore.



I’m also not sure if the Coker Indy’s have the same exact tread pattern as their predecessors, but I’ve stopped my copy of Bullitt on Blu-Ray enough times to know that the tires on Sean’s car (that Coker makes) are NOT the same tires that were on the cars on film in Bullitt. The Coker Indy’s are also really expensive, and neither DOT legal, nor an actual racing tire, so I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a set.





So what then, would be the next best thing?

Well, let me tell you, I pulled my hair out, spent a ridiculous amount of money, and almost fell out of Summit Racing’s good-graces trying to figure that out. Before I landed on the tires that ultimately went on my car, I ordered no less than three sets of Coker Firestone’s.

You see, Coker spent big money recreating some of the gorgeous raised white letter tires of the muscle car era in a modern radial design, but not a single person in their customer service department had any idea what the blackwall side of these tires looked like. And if you believe what you read over on the “How to Bullitt your Mustang” website (How to "BULLITT" your Mustang from David Kunz), you might buy a set of G70-15’s, and then maybe another set of F70-15’s, before you realize that the tires on the screen version of the Bullitt Mustang are a lot closer to the F60-15 Firestone Wide-Oval than any others.

Now the folks at Coker assured me that the F60-15 tires had a raised rib in the center of the sidewall on the blackwall side of the tire, because, they said, that they had used the same mold for their reproduction “redline” tires. But Firestone never made redlines in the F60 size, and I banked on Corky having actually done his homework before investing in the molds, so I ordered a set anyway. And low and behold, when I received this third set of tires, they were exactly what I had been looking for.



Not only do the F60-15 Wide Ovals seem to have the appropriate sidewall markings, profile and tread width as the on-screen tires, but the tread pattern is much closer to that of the actual movie car as well.





So, here we have, perhaps, the perfect tire for your Bullitt Mustang recreation. And, technically, since the the Firestone Wide-Oval tires were all bias-ply designs, and these Coker’s are a radial, it kind of fits the Bullitt movie lore as well! Anyway, thanks for continuing to read along. Stay tuned for one last installment where I show off the finished product, and lay out the pros and cons of the Coker Firestone F60-15 Wide Oval Radial tire.

Until then!
 

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Geeking Out on Bullitt Mustang Wheels and Tires; Part Four

Sooooo, here is the final installment of my nerdification of the parts-buying process. It dawned on me half-way through posting the last segment that I needed to leave you all with some kind of finished work.

I’ll take this opportunity to present to you a sequence of close-ups, comparing the movie car, with my “best compromise” finished product, and lastly, the standard Torque Thrust D/Radial TA combo that has become kind of a go-to for “Bullitt Clones” everywhere.


Movie Car (current day)


My modified Torque Thrust D with Coker Firestone F60-15 “Wide Oval” Tire


The Standard Combo

And now...for those of you that haven’t already checked out my “garage”, or my super-detailed suspension build thread, I’ll take that as an excuse to post a glamour shot! You gotta, right!? Here’s a shot of Frank in full-send, followed by a similarly angled shot of my own car (yes I still plan to shoot the rocker moldings in body color, AND I’ve got that hen’s teeth rare Yankee accessory mirror, also awaiting green paint).


Frank Bullitt


CJHudson87 Pretending...

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got, guys and gals. Thanks for humoring me, and feel free to PM me if you have any questions. I’ll dig this thread up again if I ever pull the trigger on the PS Engineering wheels, or find myself a set of real “mags”.

Until then...
 

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I really appreciate your thoroughness (one engineer to another).
I’ve come late to this party. I was looking at the tread pattern of the tire in the movie, and it looks a lot like the Avon. 15" Historic all weather | Avon Motorsport Of course, it wouldn’t have “Firestone” on the side. I think you got as close as humanly possible in matching the tires. Good work.
 
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