· Super Moderator
It’s a small world, it seems. Pontiac’s beautiful and functional 8-lug wheels were designed by Clayton Leach, the same General Motors engineer who invented the revolutionary ball-stud rocker arms for the 1955 Chevrolet V8 (and Pontiac V8, too). With formal training in both mathematics and engineering, the versatile Mr. Leach was responsible for more than 20 U.S. patents at GM.
The concept of the 8-lug wheel—where the brake drum also serves as the wheel center and the wheel is essentially a rim—wasn’t totally original. (See Panhard or ’36-’39 Ford, to name two.) However, here it had a critical function. Eliminating the steel wheel center opened up the finned aluminum brake drum to a free supply of moving air, allowing it to dissipate brake heat and minimize fade, a major shortcoming of drum brakes. That the wheels were so handsome was simply a nice bonus.
The front drum/hub units incorporated standard wheel bearings to mate to the spindles, while the rear units mounted to the axle flanges in the normal fashion. All used cast iron liners in the friction surfaces to minimize wear. Manufactured for Pontiac by Kelsey-Hayes, the 14-inch wheel assemblies were available on the division’s full-sized cars from mid-1960 through 1968 as a factory option (approximately $120) or as a dealer accessory.
There were two basic styles of 8-lug wheel/drum setups through the years, “short fin” and “long fin” as they became known, while paint, hub caps, and trim rings changed periodically as well. Pontiac planned to offer a similar-looking version with cast-iron drums on the 1966 GTO and Le Mans. However, the option package was cancelled before production (but not before the brochures were published).
As you can well imagine, the 8-lug wheel sets are much in demand among classic Pontiac enthusiasts these days, and there are a number of restorers who specialize in trading and refurbishing the components. (The units have also been reproduced, we heard.) They’re a unique part of Pontiac history, only rendered obsolete by the development of disc brakes.