Theme: Wheels – The BBS RS

A prince amongst wheels – in praise of a design classic

The BBS RS - image via devianart
The BBS RS – image: devianart

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.

Image via BBS-USA
Image via BBS-USA

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.

Image via the author
Image via the author

Now what’s that we were saying about branding?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Theme: Wheels – The BBS RS”

  1. That’s an excellent choice of wheel Eóin. I can’t claim the same good taste in aftermarket wheels at the time. Although I did like the simple Momo five spoke wheels I was also a fan of… Zender Turbos. Even the Turbo 2 with the lurid TURBO plastic cover and directional artows. In fact I’m going through a bit of an aero disc nostalgia phase right now. The Japanese made some excellent ones, and even BBS would let you cover up your cross-spoke alloys with a plastic turbine cover to aid brake cooling. More info and pics here: http://80shero.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/aero-era.html

  2. I’m not a fan of this spoke pattern, either, but I can readily admit that it’s a classic. My dad had a similar cross-spoked wheel on his first XM, though I doubt it was a BBS. It looked surprisingly good and reconciled me a little to this kind of wheel.

  3. Stemming from a BMW-driving family, the automotive part of my childhood was pretty much defined by various BMWs on BBS cross-spoked wheels. It all started with an E28 and went on to include an E30 and E36 each, as well as various E32s and E38s. What remained constant were sober Claus Luthe styling and BBS cross spokes.

    A friend of mine bought himself an E30 a somewhat run-down, but otherwise unmolested E30 convertible a couple of years ago. The first thing the did after purchase was to get some BBS wheels for the car. And, needless to say, they truly did the trick of transforming the car’s appearance.

    There certainly are other attractive wheel options around for 80s/90s BMWs – but one thing is for certain: BMW and BBS go together like croissants and orange marmelade.

    1. I didn’t like that BBS wheels until one of my cousins bought a used Golf convertible fitted with a set some 25 years ago. I too thought they did a good job at making a familiar car look a lot more interesting.

    2. It should be noted that the original BMW cross-spoke alloys where made by various manufacturers (with the same part number). I’ve seen BMW 7Jx15 wheels (BMW P/N 179774) by BBS, Alumetall and Mahle

    3. Roberto, weren’t BBS and Mahle dining underneath the same corporate roof for a while?

      If memory serves me correct, the E30 and E32 were most certainly equipped with BBS wheels. And if some of the cross-spokes were actually supplied by other brands, they were most definitely based on BBS designs. BMW has a bit of a habit of employing other wheel designers’ work for their own purposes, as Alpina will be all too happy to acknowledge.

  4. Yes, the design was definitely BBS’s, the wheels I’ve seen are identical. I’ve been unable to find out more on the relationship between Mahle and BBS so I’ll forward the question to an old friend of mine in Munich, who was with BMW in the 80’s.

  5. I also find them too elaborate for my own taste but, as a design, they are a clever update of the wire wheel look. The bolts around the rim are interesting. Obviously they define the wheel and seem functional, but I doubt that so many were necessary. Also, on a typically DTW nit-picking bit of detail, the second image displays bolts that coincide perfectly with the spoke layout, whereas on the wheel in the top image they do not. I think that makes a difference to the visual balance.

    1. I think the bolts align with the spokes on both pictures. There’s just more of an angle on the first one, and your eyes are deceiving your brain.

    2. No, Laurent, definitely not. The lower wheel has 34 bolts to 17 spoke sections, an elegant 2:1. The upper wheel has 30 bolts to 14 spoke sections, an ugly 2.143:1. I can’t believe that I just went to the bother of counting them.

  6. It’s generally agreed the Mk3 Golf was a low point in the history of the nameplate and that putting a V6 in it makes it a nose-heavy pudding. None of this seemed relevant to a teenage Stradale, for whom a BBS-shod amethyst VR6 was The Biz:

    …but with that said, they’re no Speedlines in the cool stakes.

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