Late last summer I needed to use the freeway to get where I was going and my wire wheels gave me quite the scare. At specific speeds the steering wheel vibrated so much it was not enjoyable. Unfortunately, the speed limit, 70MPH was one of the shakier speeds. Truing the wheels at their age is not something I wanted to undertake and no local shop wanted to take on the job, so I started to look at other options.
While the MGBs with bolt on wheels seem to have a lot of options, the spline drives either have new wire wheels either painted or chrome, vintage used wheels, or fairly expensive alloy wheels. The MG Experience as always was a valuable resource and the 15″x6″ VTO Spline Drive Classic 8 wheels kept showing up in my research.
These are sold by Acme Speed Shop. After speaking with the owner on the phone I made the decision to buy a set. The sale, shipment, and follow-up advice from Hap was fantastic. As I was replacing a set of center lock wheels that I had used for 20+ years I knew the spline hubs would also need replacing. That meant this would not be a knock-off the old set and knock-on the new. In addition, these wheel are 6″ wide, compared to the stock 4.5″.
That meant new tires were in order as well. In the photo you can see how much larger the VTO wheel is compared to a stock 14″x4.5″ wire wheel. As a bonus of moving away from the wires, that meant no more tire tubes. I know you can buy new wire wheels that don’t require tubes, either way I am glad to not have to carry a spare tube.
Upon receiving the wheels, I wanted to mount the rear passenger one first to begin test fitting. On MGBs, the rear axle is not always located dead-on center, and on mine, the passenger side is closer to the rear wheel arch than the driver side. The wheel of course mounted just fine, but determining the tire size required a few trips back and forth to the tire shop. I am lucky to have a nice store manager at a local Les Schwab that worked with me to find the right tire size and was ok with me returning to swap to a different size. I really wanted to get a tire as wide as possible. What worked for my car was 175/65R 15 tire. Annoying, in a way, the larger 185/60R 15 tires tucked in, but only barely could I get a pinky finger between the inside edge of the wheel well and the tire. Those tires were $50 less per tire but I didn’t want the tire to scrape.
The 175/65R 15 tires fit nicely. With a passenger I occasionally get a little rubbing from that rear tire when the car leans hard. I hope to fix that by fitting refreshed Koni shock absorbers this winter. If you are interested in doing this conversion I would start with 185/60R and hope for the best. If they are just too wide, go down to 175. Perhaps you will get lucky and they will fit. Online it seems many ambitious owners roll the inner wheel arch lip to gain the extra clearance they need. That wasn’t for me but it is another option to explore. You can also center your rear axle but that is another project.
Replacing the Hubs
I have had to take off the front hubs before when replacing worn kingpins and it was a new experience for me at the time. The shimming to get the right clearance is not hard but does require patience. With the spline drive hubs being so long, it is difficult to quickly swap shims, so you end up taking everything apart, putting it back together, several times. More than once I was doing it backwards as I was not being patient with myself. The rear hubs, I had never touched.
It turns out, I needed a few special, to me, tools.
- 1 5/16″ socket
- 1 1/8″ socket or 30mm
- 3/8″ to 1/2″ socket adapter
- Bearing race installation set
I first mistakenly thought it as a 1 15/16″ socket, which was much too big. The process for the rears working on on one side at a time is to remove the wheel, back off the rear brake pads, remove the drum, remove the cotter pin within the hub and the big nut, then you break the nut free. That all sounds simple enough, on my car this first nut was torqued. I broke my 3/8″ breaker bar, just snapped the part that holds the socket clean off. I ended up using a 4′ pipe over a 1/2″ socket and that finally broke it free. I then had to go buy a new 1/2″ breaker bar which I used on the other side and nothing broke.
Once you have the nut free, there is a tapered washer that you can’t really tell is there, but if you don’t knock it loose then the hub is not going anywhere. I was able to use a punch right on the head of the axle stub and after a few hard knocks it vibrated the washer loose. Then using a pick, I was able to spin it off. I forgot this on the second side and spent a lot of time trying to get the hub off. So, make sure you get the tapered washer off. After that, the hub did come off. It was a bit of gentle coercion. I found a tip online of putting a knockoff ear back on and then knocking it from behind the best you can, and once the decades of being in one place was jarred loose, it really did slide off pretty good.
One more surprise
With much elation I opened up the box with the new rear hub and discovered on the center lock setups, the brake hub studs are part of the hub. With my trusty sledge hammer I was able to knock the studs from the original hub out but I couldn’t get them back in. It just was a no-win effort. I didn’t have any luck with double nutting them, using air tools, just didn’t have the right method. I called a shop that had helped me in the past with a few things and they stepped up and helped me for a nominal fee to press the original studs into my new hubs. That added a day or two for each rear hub with drop off, pickup, etc.. It had not occurred to me that part needed to be done.
I also had to install the new rear bearings. That was something I had never done before. Locally, AutoZone, a car parts store, does a tool rental program, so their universal kit worked great for me. I had to put a deposit down for the cost of the tool if I bought it outright, then used it to put the new bearings in. I test fit the hub at first to make sure I had them fully seated, it is hard to tell. Then I was able to return the tool and get my deposit back. If any vendor wants to sell fully assembled, with bearings and wheel studs installed, please make that an option for us who probably will do this job once in our lives.
While waiting for the hubs to have the brake drum studs pressed in, it was a great time to clean up the outside of my brake drums. Years ago, I had painted them silver as I liked how you could catch glimpses of the color through the silver wire wheels. Certainly, they showed a lot of fun experiences. I choose to go with a semi-matte black this time around. Just store shelf caliper paint. I wire brushed the old silver paint and after wiping it down a few times added a few new coats of black.
Putting the new hubs back on in the rear went very smoothly. I was rather surprised. After adding some new grease to the axle stubs, the new hubs slide right on, I put the tapered washer back in, the nut, torqued it, the cotter pin, and then wrestled the newly freshened up brake drum back over the shoes, adjusted them, and that was that. While coming up with all sorts of news for things when taking the rear hubs off, just remember going back might be just a pleasurable experience.
On to the Front
The fronts, I had done once before, and was excited not to have to deal with terror of banging new bearing races in and hoping I wasn’t somehow destroying the new hubs, no wheel studs to get pressed, but, news to me, I never realized the front hubs are attached to the front brake rotors. Removal is straight forwards, remove the brake caliper captive nut metal tab system, unbolt the caliper, set out of the way, I put mine on a box next to where it mounts, remove the cotter pin, remove the nut, get the split tab washer loose, again hitting the axle stub with a punch worked pretty good, and then wiggle and tug, until the whole mess falls out.
Unbolting the brake rotor from the hub wasn’t to hard, just awkward to find ways to keep the bolt from spinning. Once they were free, I cleaned the threads and nuts up, and then sprayed the caliper on each side with the caliper paint I used on the rear drums. I opted to reuse my rotors as they were well within safety margins and bolted those to the new hubs.
Reassembly was straightforward, I did something wrong with a split tab washer, somehow missing the slot for the tab and then upon tightening the nut, broke the tab. Ugh…. I had to order a new one as I didn’t have one of those laying around in my spares. I also at one point was shimming backwards and couldn’t get it it to be proper, because I was doing it backwards. The nice people on mgexp.com were of course encouraging because the job is just, unique. For anyone doing it that does not do the work routinely, give yourself space and it is ok to try several times. The John Twist video on the front hub assembly was a great tool, certainly watch it. Here in these two photos you can see the fronts mounted. In the first photo, the car is still on jack stands, there is not normally a foot of space between the top of the tire and the front fender wheel well.
A great Winter Project
The wheel and hub replacement was a great winter project for me. I had to order several things and ship a few parts back, so if I had to have completed this in short order it would have been frustrating. Not to say aspects of it was not. I don’t like breaking tools, I don’t like the unease of using tools I have not used before, it certainly was an experience for me. I personally learned a lot and thanks to my family for assistance and patience, the suppliers who helped and provided feedback, and for the great MG enthusiast community.
Driving has been an absolute blast. There is hardly any noise in the steering wheel any longer, cruising at freeway speeds is smooth, and even with the wider tires, turning is not difficult. The response is fantastic. If you are looking for a wire wheel alternative, this is a good one.