The Importance Of Tightening Spokes On Wire Wheels On Classic Cars

I own a number of classic cars and have never really been a fan of wire wheels for a variety of reason. Firstly they take a lot of cleaning and it is very difficult to get between all the spokes and to clean the hub properly. Secondly and more importantly, spokes can work loose, or worse still they can actually crack or break under hard driving. I have never had a spoke snap on me, you really need to be doing some spirited rallying for them to fail, but I have had them work loose.

Over the years I have replaced the wire wheels on some of our cars (MGB Roadster, Triumph TR4a and Austin Healey) with Minilite alloy wheels and have D-Type alloy wheels on our Jaguar E-Type. These are easier to clean, no spokes to mess about with and they are actually easier for tyre companies to balance properly so normally make for a smoother, better ride. One of my latest acquisitions is a 1961 Jaguar Mk2 saloon which arrived with chrome wire wheels. Minilites would look out of place on a Jaguar and changing to standard steel wheels would involve replacing the hubs, and would look a bit plain and boring. So for now I am sticking with the wire wheels.

Cleaning the wheels recently, I noticed that a couple of the spokes were loose, and much credit to my local garage they also spotted this on the car’s annual MOT test, so I decided I needed to check all the spokes on all five wheels (including the spare).

This is a non-trivial task and can’t be done with the wheels on the car as you need to be able to get to both sides of the wheels to tighten the outer and inner spokes. First you need a spoke spanner, or at least a spanner the same size as the spoke nipples. The spokes themselves don’t tighten, they are held in place by the nipples and it is the nipples than need tightening. These are fitted though the steel wheel rim onto the spokes and the head of the nipple is therefore inside the wheel, touching the inflated inner tube. If you tighten the nipples with the tyre inflated it is quite likely they will pinch the tube and could puncture it.

The first thing to do is therefore to deflate the tyre almost fully. Then find the loose spoke(s) and tighten the nipple until the spoke no longer actually feels loose. Once the loose spoke(s) are tightened, you should then work round the whole wheel tightening up all the spoke nipples a little. Start at the valve and work round the outer spokes, and then turn the wheel over and work round the inner spokes. So you don’t overtighten any spokes, just tighten them a little and then work all the way round the wheel again giving them another little tweak.

Once all the spokes have been tightened you can re-inflate the wheel to the correct pressure, then refit to the car and move onto the next wheel. Completing all five wheels will probably take a couple of hours. Particularly if like me, you use the opportunity, of having the wheels off the car, to clean and polish them properly.

Job done. All spokes tightened and unlikely to work loose for at least another year. An afternoon of my life I’ll never get back.

Now I remember why I replaced the wire wheels on the other cars with alloy ones

The Importance of Painting Brake Calipers and Brake Drums on Classic Cars

On a guided tour of a Bentley dealer, the service manager took great pride in emphasising their attention to detail by showing me one of the mechanics painting the brake calipers on a modern Bentley that was in for a service. I’ve been doing this for years on our fleet of classic cars for a number of reasons.

Anyone who has bought a classic car that hasn’t had much use knows that rust on the brake calipers can cause problems. It is unsightly when viewed through nice gleaming chrome wire wheels or period alloy wheels. But most importantly rust can actually cause problems with the braking system when servicing.

The calipers are normally made out of cast iron and while some cars have nickel plated or, better still, copper brake pipes, virtually all of them have steel fittings on the brake pipes and steel brake bleed nipples which can rust. If the rust isn’t kept under control then the bleed nipples can rust into the calipers making it virtually impossible to bleed the brakes. I have seen too many cars where the flats on the bleed nipples have been rounded off so that they can no longer be undone with a spanner. In severe cases I have known of bleed nipples that have snapped off, meaning the caliper has to be removed, brake pipes removed (if they will come undone, and then the bleed nipple very carefully drilled out and replaced.

If the bleed nipple has reached this stage then it is quite possible that the brake pistons have started to rust in the calipers as well – but that is a separate issue.

When I do my main winter service on all my classic cars I remove any rust from the calipers with a wire brush, particularly around the brake pipe ends and the bleed nipples. I treat these items with a rust preventer, normally Kurust, and I then give the calipers a thin coat of Smoothrite paint, normally in silver. Some brake calipers were cadmium plated when new (which has now been banned) which has a yellow / gold colour. In this case I use the gold Smoothrite which dries to a similar colour to cadmium.

I emphasise here a ‘thin’ coat of paint. Just enough to give a good covering and brushed out thinly. DO NOT paint the brake pipe ends or the bleed nipples or the part of the caliper that the nipple screws into, otherwise this can seize up with paint which is as bad as it rusting in situ. If you remember, it is also worthwhile adding one drop of thin oil or a squirt of WD40 (or equivalent) to the base of the nipple to allow it to seep into the top couple of threads.

Some of our cars have drum brakes on the rear, so here I remove the drums, de-rust, Kurust and paint them, normally in silver Smoothrite. The brake pipes and bleed nipples don’t fit into the drums but through the drum back plate, so while the wheel and drums are removed, I wire brush the pipe ending and nipples and Kurust these as well.

You now have a set of rust free, very tidy looking, calipers and drums with fittings that hopefully will undo when needed. Nice to know that Bentley in Cheltenham come up to my standards.

At this point it is also worth adding a reminder that brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air and therefore should be flushed out and changed every three years, hence the need to be able to undo the bleed nipples.