A prince amongst wheels – in praise of a design classic
Power ballads and poodle hair weren’t the only big things in the 1980s. Wheels were too, particularly the aftermarket alloy variety. At a time when most cars were still fitted with pressed steel wheel rims, the aftermarket was big business. With bodykits and Rude Mercs abounding amongst the hotshoe contingent, having the right set of mags mattered.
Don’t tell me branding doesn’t work. As a young auto nut growing up in the ’80s, I cleaved to what now seem embarrassingly rigid views on matters automotive. Engine oil? Agip or Castrol only please. Tyres? Pirelli or Michelin. And as for aftermarket alloy wheels? Well, BBS naturally. But not just any BBS wheel, the design I coveted above all else was the RS – or more specifically, five of them – well okay, four at a push.
During this period, BBS was the aftermarket alloy wheel of choice for the more discerning automotive tearaway. Of course lesser brands were available, but nobody offered the same race-bred pedigree, German craft and sheer desirability as Baumgartner Brand Schiltach from the Black Forest. Founded in 1970 by Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand, the company designed an innovative three-piece racing wheel which catapulted them into in the motorsports arena. Success on the track led to demand in the retrofit and aftermarket sectors and by the mid-80’s, they had made their name. The two-piece RS wheel became a design classic, widely copied but perhaps never bettered.
As an impecunious auto-snob in a stultifyingly suburban Irish backwater, I cleaved to an unshakable belief that if only I could obtain a set, my decrepit Alfasud’s other maladies would somehow go unnoticed. However, the fact that a set would probably have been worth as least twice as much as said decrepit Alfa was a fact that had somehow eluded me. Needless to say, the ‘Sud remained resolutely on ‘steelies’ for the rest of its natural (read short) life. I never did obtain those aftermarket BBS’, but by pure chance, my current steed happens to ride on Baumgartner and Brand’s finest.
For reasons perhaps only known to aficionados, Saab offered BBS wheels as a cost option on the NG-series 900 for a time, my 1996 model rather fortuitously being one of them. Now I won’t suggest it was the reason I bought the car, but the fact it was thus shod could be said to have influenced the decision. On the rare occasions I wash the car, uncovering the grime from that BBS logo still gives me a little glow.
Now what’s that we were saying about branding?