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Project 912—Wheels and Tires/Part 4 in the Series

By Steve Grosekemper

Well, it has been a while since the last installment of Project 912. I would like to report how every last issue with the car has been resolved and how I have been driving and enjoying the car, but that is about as far from reality as it could get. It seems that I have a few too many irons in the fire, so I have placed the 912 project on hold and concentrated on collecting some of the hard-to-find bits and pieces on my 912 wish list.

 

While I have quite a wish list of items that I want for the car, the one on the very top of my list is wheels. A new distributer and front sway bar would be nice, but who’s kidding whom? It doesn’t get any cooler than a shiny new set of Fuchs wheels! At the last installment of my project, we talked about the new suspension, and while the car really does handle much better, there was no question that the 4-½ inch wide wheels and 165/80 tires were the new weak spot. The problem with the diminutive 4-½ inch wheels is that the tire is pinched in and provides little sidewall support. Compounding this problem is the fact that the track is reduced 1-½ inches with these little wheels over the optional 6 inch wheels. Less track equals less stability.

Now, I have lots of wheels but they are all 16 inch or larger. As a point of curiosity, I bolted a set of 6×16 inch Fuchs wheels on the car. The advantage to the 16 inch wheels is the availability of more modern tires. But it just looked so, so wrong. Kind of like a set of spinners on a Model T Ford.

So I kept my eyes open and looked at a lot of wheels sets. After sifting through sets of wheels from insanely priced (but gorgeous) early 6 inch 911S wheels, to dinged and dented 14 inch 912e wheels, I came across the set for me. Someone called me about a set of 6&7×16 wheels I had advertised and they asked if I would take a set of 6×15 Fuchs in partial trade. So the deal was made and I was the owner of a set of 6×15 Fuchs. I sent the wheels out to be refinished and about a week or so later they were ready to be mounted.

The problem with 15 inch wheels is there is a very small selection of tires to choose from that isn’t in the All-season or Touring classification. I looked and looked and just couldn’t find a tire that I liked in my price range. I also had a brand new set of tires on the car that had been installed 2000 miles before I took ownership, and the thought of throwing them away was killing me. So I installed the newish 165/80-15 tires on the shiny new wheels and bolted them on the car.

I couldn’t believe the difference in how the appearance of the car changed. It really made the entire car pop. Needless to say I was pleased with the upgrade.

Then came the test drive…

It is hard to fathom that these wheels were 33% larger than the wheels I took off. That is the same as replacing these 6 inch wheels with 8 inch wheels! The difference in the way the car drove was just amazing. The biggest difference was in turn-to-turn transition. The time it took for the car to take a set when changing direction was reduced by more than half.

This upgrade made the car much more enjoyable to drive and I found myself driving it more often. The problem with this is when I hop into the 912 after driving my “upgraded” 911SC, I forget that each tire has 60mm less tire width on the ground. I am usually reminded of this fact about halfway through a high speed turn.

I have found that with patience many of life’s issues will resolve themselves.

Well, this was the case for my diminutive tire issue. After a few months of driving on these 165s, I came across a customer with a 356 with 18 year old dry rotted tires. He was not prepared to install tires on top of his other repair items so I made him a deal he couldn’t refuse. He got my two year old full tread 165s and I had enough money to put a dent in a set of new appropriately sized tires.

Remember when I said I couldn’t find a tire I liked in my price range? Having a down payment on the tires helped me place the order but didn’t make the choice of the type any easier. You see, the problem with a 912 is that it has very short gears. Driving down the highway at 70 MPH feels like you are doing 100 compared to the relaxed cruising of my 911SC.

It was time to break out my excel tire size worksheet. The goal was to increase tire width while maintaining a reasonable tire height. Normally I would just put 205/60-15 tires on if this were a 911. The problem with this car is it is an “A” chassis car (65-68) with no fender flairs at all. And since I lowered it when I did the suspension I needed to keep an eye on tire-to-fender clearance.

I test-fit a set of 6 inch phone dials with 205/60-15s and they looked pretty good. The problem came when I drove the car and found the front and rear tires made slight contact on big bumps and turns. If I was a wealthy collector and the car was a 100% original concours winning car, the choice would be easy. I would put on a set of vintage Michelin XWX tires. 185/70-15s would give some extra width with the correct height and proper vintage look. But at $440 each from Coker tire I decided to go in another slightly more frugal direction. (Yes, $440 each—not for the set of 4.) So after a bit of math, some test-fitting, as well as budget considerations, I ended up mounting a set of 195/65-15 BFG g-force Sports.

After several test drives and heat cycles on the tires I am happy to report that this was the right decision. The car looks and drives like a completely different beast than the one I welcomed into the family just over a year ago.