Friday, October 11, 2013

The Elusive 12 Spoke

When it comes to motorcycles, I generally prefer traditional spoke wheels, but when it comes to mags, nothing beats the look of the classic American Racing 12 spoke mag. I've liked them since the early 70's for their 3 dimensional aspect instead of the flat 2-D designs of other early cast or later billet mags. It's also because of their drag racing heritage and how they impart that drag/competition look on any machine running them. 

With today's resurgence of vintage choppers and the increased re-interest in these wheels, I thought a few out there might be interested in an old article about the ones distributed by Performance Machine in the August 1978 Street Chopper.

Before we get to that, there's some confusion about their origins, manufacturers, sizes, and versions of the design.

 Looking them up on the web I found some info that kind of adds to the confusion. For example:the 1973 ad below ( posted awhile ago), says these were made by U.S.Mag Corporation of Long Beach. Now I thought I remembered U.S. Mags as a competitor of American Racing around that period, but a source (below), explains how U.S. Mags was started by Parnelli Jones and his crew chief Art Hale Jr. in the mid 60's. The idea was to sell wheels that would fit the large performance tires Jones was selling at Firestone tire stores. It then states that Art Hale and U.S. Mags bought out a bunch of mag wheel companies including a small bay area company called American Racing and combined all of them under that name.

EME-Ad.jpg (1200×923)
So, who was U.S. Mag Corporation? I know American was once in Long Beach. It, also states these are aluminum like the later Cal Mags (in the Street Chopper article below), not magnesium like the earlier Americans.
Jerry Mills of Cal Mag with Perry Sands. Over the years there were slight differences like ribs on the back of spokes or shape of the hub area . Note that the pattern in the back has the flower shaped center hub that many early ones have.
Although most folks associate these as being made by Performance Machine, both the caption and the article states that the wheels were produced and machined by Cal Mag and that PM distributed them along with brake kits.
An very unusual use of these mags.
Radir Wheels  introduced their own version a few years ago. There's two problems, they are only sold in pairs and only size 18"

There are different sizes mentioned from time to time. Most people know of the 15" and 18" sizes, but there was a 17" shown on Rigid Hips blog. Then there's this quote by Jesse James on the Jalopy Journal 2-21-2009 : "I have all the Original hand carved wood patterns and pour molds for 15" 16" and 18" American/Performance Machine 12-Spokes....."


Irish Rich said...

As far as I know, Jesse still has the molds. I saw them all, covered with a tarp, upstairs at WCC, when Jesse had the "balcony" as his work area. They were behind a complete altered-class Fiat Topolino he somehow got up there. I always heard that Jesse got the molds from Perry Sands.

American Racing may have had a distributor in Long Beach, but when Romeo Palamedes owned American Racing, and when the 12 spokes were originally made, American was up in San Francisco.

EME("Bender Bob" Olsen) was right across the street from the original PM location. Bender Bob was CJ Allan's father-in-law, and CJ's shop was just down the street. Get the connection? CJ told me that the reason that PM stopped making the wheels, is because out of a dozen pours, you'd only get 5-6 wheels that were good enough to machine & sell.

B.C. said...

Interesting article, picked up a set of these last winter with intent of a tribute build of a bike from 70's that I drooled over from Street Choppers mag.
So I wonder is Mr. James going to make any of these wheels or just brag that he has the molds?

Anonymous said...

If its cool....Jesse frickin James always chimes in....I owe that ...and I owe that....and I am going to re-open West Coast Choppers year..."I could make all this cool stuff...If I wanted too"...fucking poser!!

grant said...

all that and lots of the old ones were made to run on spindle mount frontends on dragsters and hot rods and have no meat around the "hub" area to mount a disc or drum to, Like the Radir wheel shown here. So look before you leap!

Chris K said...

Rich, Yes they were originally in Frisco, but later I remember seeing their facility (with the American Racing logo lit), near the junction of the Long Beach and 91 freeways around the early seventies to...?

I've talked to a few people about these wheels recently and read some forums online so I get somethings mixed up. I think it was Paul Wheeler who said the same thing about the pour problems. I know he mentioned getting a bunch of the later wheels from Bob Hall (formally of U.S. Motorcycles in Lynwood), after Hall moved to Northern. Ca. Where Hall got them I don't know.

There's also some confusion (online forums), about a billet version later offered by PM. I don't remember one.

Grant, You are right about them being set up for spindles. On the other hand I saw somewhere online a recently built Sportster that somehow adapted Radir's 18's for the front and back.

Jahluv said...

Couple of things - I contacted Radir a few years ago and they had no problem selling a single wheel. W&W Cycles has an aluminum repop in development in 3"x16" and 2.5"x19" sizes. The price that was quoted in Euros was $2500 US. Pricey, but I'm sure safer than a deteriorating 40 year old magnesium wheel off the 'Bay.

Dave Polgreen said...

Hey Chris, I actually run a 17" 12 spoke on the back of the knuckle I built for born free three. I've been buying 12 spoke wheels for man years and the 17's are by far the rarest of the original magnesium wheels.

Irish Rich said...

Hall had some "exclusive" deal with American Racing at one time, where he'd get the raw un-machined castings from American, then he'd do all the machine work to convert them for bike use. If you look back in your Street Choppers, you'll find the article they ran on them.

The 12 spoke American-style billet wheels from PM you're talking about was from a few years ago. I think it was Cole Foster that told me about them, and there were like 6 sets PM did. I think they were all 16"/21" sets. He had a set on one of the bikes he built for himself, and put another set on the bike he built for Decker's wife. PM didn't go forward on production from what I understand, because they were both too time-consuming to machine, and $$$$ to produce, even over a long production run, to make them worth the effort.

I also remember I ran across a Japanese blog for some motorcycle shop one time, and I couldn't read the text, but they had photos posted of CNC'ing wheels that looked like the American 12 spokes. Also, W&W in Europe is producing sets of the 12 spokes in a 16" rear, and 19" front now.

Irish Rich said...

I forgot to add, the Radir wheels are also available with a large surface area on one side of the wheel, for a disc brake mount option. They may have been the one's you saw on the Sporty. Was that Sporty running a sprocket brake? They'd work that way, or with a drum brake on the rear.

Zeeman said...

W&W are making 12 spokes that are pretty similar. Coming out soon, 3"x16" and 2.5" x 19".

Panhead Kidd said...

Hi... I was wondering if there was anyone that could help me indenify a set of American 12 spokes machined for a Harley...