[xj-s] Wire Wheels (Was "Dieing or Stalling") -- Long

Rod McGee wrote: “Also am considering installing wire wheels but have been told this
will affect the handling negatively.”

I have Dayton wire wheels on my 85 XJ-S (60-spoke still) and 70-spoke Daytons on an XJ-40. When I got the XJ-S in '91, I drove about a dozen others from 83 to 89, and the 85 I bought was the only one with wires (Most had seized centrifugal advance though). It handled as well as any I drove (and as well as those since–see below). When I got the XJ-40 in 94, I replaced the stock VDP alloys with the wires and the handling was improved (attributed to better Pirelli’s). Both of these are 7" rims, so I don’t have any experience in wider rims where even more unsprung weight as compared to alloys might begin to be a factor.

I seldom pass up the chance to make an exit ramp a lateral-g test, or to speed up for “reduced speed turn” markings to go ~30mph faster than the posted number, so I believe I would have noticed if the wire wheels did in fact adversely affect cornering. I just got an 89 XJ-S with the stock alloys, (couldn’t pass it up because it was as new cosmetically, inside & out, with only 35k miles–consistent with condition, service records & Car-fax). This car does NOT handle as well as my 85 with the wires and worn ball joints @ 130k miles. I attribute this to the fact it has Yokohama tires (V-rated but less advantageous tread and rubber compound) as opposed to the Pirelli’s. Before getting the 89, I again drove about a dozen different XJ-S vehicles between 88 and 95 models, and my “wired” 85 is as good as any.

My conclusion from owning 7 Jags in the past 35 years (6 of which had wire wheels) is that they do NOT adversely affect handling in normal to aggressive highway use (you won’t see many on the track though, except in classic demos). Tires, shocks, ball joints, steering rack bushings, brake balance and driver capability (NOT necessarily in that order) are the factors I would deem important to maximize the lateral G’s (that also stands for “Grins”). The theorists suggest that they are heavier (more unsprung weight is supposed to be bad), and more inclined to flex or distort. In driving mine every day, I’ve never been able to detect anything I would attribute to either of those theories.

You either like the look or you don’t. This is NOT to say that wire wheels aren’t a pain though.

First Pain – Cleaning: Since about the mid 90’s, brake pads have become increasingly dusty with Metallic replacing Asbestos, and the front wheels are a bear to keep clean. Since the XJ-40 has outboard rear disks, ALL of its wheels are a bear. Wires are MUCH tougher to clean than alloys. I try to remove the wheels and clean thoroughly with steel wool about twice a year (takes about 1 hour and four Brillo pads per wheel). More spokes mean less space between and harder to clean. If you don’t have skinny fingers, you may be SOL.

Second Pain – Air Leaks: These wheels are supposed to be tubeless, and have a “gell” or “wax” on the inside of the rim to seal the spoke holes. Over time, particularly with improper handling during mounting of new tires, this seal breaks down and the tire will deflate over a 7-10 day period. The leak is so slow it’s hard to see in a water tank. If spokes break, upon rotation of the wheel, the spoke presses into the gel seal and pushes it open. Then you get the phenomenon where the tire remains inflated when parked for a week, but may deflate totally in a 30-minute drive (pressure during rotation opens up the seal each revolution). I haven’t had spoke breakage in the 70-spoke wheels (now 9 years old), but did experience it in two of the 60-spoke wheels.

You MUST like the look enough to spend about 5 hours cleaning them thoroughly twice a year. Personally, I think they “make” the look of the car. The alloys I like best are the ones that look most like wire wheels.

85 & 89 XJ-S Coupes

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