KJ Jones Senior Technical Editor
December 4, 2006
Photos By: KJ Jones
Trick paint and graphics, body kits, and wicked exhaust notes are high-level attention-getters, but when you break it down to the bare minimum, a set of wheels (and even tires) can make or break a 'Stang's appearance.

Horse Sense: For most late-model Mustang enthusiasts, size and fitment play critical roles in the wheel-and-tire selection process. Plus-sizing-installing wheel-and-tire combinations that surpass the factory-specified maximum size for handling and appearance purposes-is becoming more popular. It's important to know what will work and what won't before throwing down large sums of cash for a Pony's new shoes. Wheel Consultants publishes an annual plus-sizing guide for those who want to outfit their Mustangs with 19s, 20s, and beyond. Check out www.plussizingguide.com for details.

If we were asked to summarize the most popular appearance upgrades for a '79-'06 Mustang, there's no question that changing the wheels and tires would rank somewhere in the Top 5.

The wheel-and-tire industry is booming these days, thanks to manufacturers offering an enormous variety of products tailored specifically for 'Stang enthusiasts who want to take their cars' looks to the next level of hot or are seeking a traction or handling edge on the street or racetrack.

Long gone are the four-lug TRX, Turbine, 10-Hole, Pony wheels, and the metric Michelin and Goodyear Gatorback tires that adorned thousands of Mustangs between 1979 and 1993. Post-Fox-era 'Stangs are equipped with five-lug hubs and axles and are shod with factory and aftermarket wheels that have been given handles such as "Waffle Star" (OEM), "Bullitt" (OEM), "Crosshairs" (Konig), and "Magnum P.R.O." (Weld). Converting a Fox car to five-lug solely for the purpose of upgrading its wheel style is a popular upgrade we covered in the June '06 issue ("Plus One," p. 152). Today, the number of available tire brands seems endless.

It makes no difference whether your preference is to cruise down the street and floss on Dubs (20-inch wheels and tires) or to race your 'Stang and keep it stuck to the track. Neither would be possible without the wide variety of wheel styles and tire compounds that seem to get bigger and bigger each year.

If you're in the market for new rolling stock, read on for our review of the latest in Mustang bling and rubber. Wheel sizing ranges between 15 and 17 inches for Fox 'Stangs, 15 and 19 inches as a norm for '94-'04s, and 16 to 18 inches for S197s. With the right modifications for adequate clearance, the bigger 20-inch hoops can be mounted on the '99-present 'Stangs and actually look good on the '05-'06 models. But be aware that larger-diameter wheels and tires will alter speedometer calibration.

Consult a manufacturer's Web site or The Tire Rack for price and size information when you find the perfect wheels and tires for your ride.

The BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD is a street tire with a road-racing attitude. This tire is said to offer drivers exceptional feel and response, high-speed stability, and precise steering and cornering power. The g-Force T/A KD also features a fully optimized tread-contact area for enhanced wet and dry grip. The tire's BlackTech tread compound maximizes traction and resists heat buildup on dry pavement.

Many '99-'04 'Stangbangers use this tire to achieve the "stuffed" look-filling up the wheelwell with tire, without rubbing-on their lowered Ponies with 18-inch wheels. The g-Force Sport 275/35ZR18 tire and 18x10.5-inch wheel is the wheel-and-tire combination for achieving the steamroller look at the rear of a New Edge Mustang.

When speed is your thing, and you want superior handling to go along with it, BFG's g-Force T/A KDW is a great choice. This tire features a computer-designed unidirectional, silica-reinforced tread designed specifically for an aggressive appearance on high-performance vehicles such as Mustangs. It has wide grooves that help channel water and reduce hydroplaning for wet-road traction. On dry pavement, the g-Force T/A KDW's large tread blocks enhance stability and handling, which is a plus for those who drive their 'Stangs in a spirited fashion.

The Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R is designed for street and track performance. This tire features a semi-slick shoulder block that provides lateral stiffness for advanced cornering force and grip on dry surfaces. Cooling slits engineered in the tread help dissipate heat and make the tire more durable under high-speed, high-temperature conditions. The tread is also engineered with Bridgestone's Hydro Evacuation Surface technology that consists of wide lateral groves on either side of the center rib, and nose slots that enhance water evacuation and achieve outstanding wet performance.

The "PP" in this Bridgestone tire's name (Potenza RE050A PP) stands for Pole Position, which means the tire obviously has race-bred qualities. Its asymmetrical tread pattern and smooth shape can keep a 'Stang stable as it builds speed on straights or rockets through turns.

Detata brings these styles in hard chrome and ultra-deep black. While the majority of its offerings are better suited for SN-95 and newer Ponies (18s and 20s), the Rallye is available in 16x7-inch form, and will definitely bring uniqueness to five-lug-converted '79-'93 Foxes.

Falken brings us this assortment of both high-performance tires and 17- to 19-inch wheel styles. This might come as a surprise for some of you, as plus-size wheels for today's high-performance rides is new for Falken. One look at these hot samples assures us that Falken is serious about bringing good-looking rollers to the arena.

This tire has the highest wet-traction rating possible (AA) and is one of the headliners in Falken's line of super-luxurious rubber. When it comes to comfort and ride quality, Falken has so much confidence in the FK-452 that it offers an unbelievable 30-day ride guarantee for those who are unhappy with its performance.

The Falken ZE-512 boasts a smooth, quiet, and comfortable ride, and prowess on wet roads. The tire's multi-radius profile helps maximize its contact patch and makes it a great choice for all-season use. Falken offers a generous 30,000-mile limited warranty on 30 through 55 Series versions of the ZE-512, and ups the ante to 60,000 miles for 60- and 65-Series tires.

If maximum grip is what you're after, the RT-615 is the tire for you. These beefy tires offer an asymmetric tread design and steel sidewall inserts that make for high-level durability in road-course and open-track competition.

This tire could be considered the rejuvenated "veteran" among the others in this guide. Firestone's Wide Oval line has been around for a long time. Today's Firehawk Wide Oval is a track-inspired, high-performance tire that we think S197 owners will find appealing because, like the car, the tire has been given a bit of retro styling. Great turning and handling characteristics and looks that complement the '60s-Mustang traits of the newer cars is definitely a winning combination.

Mustang Tuning
Our friends at the popular Web site www.mustangtuning.com seem to have the latest in wheel styles for 'Stangs. The majority of the company's offerings carry the extra hole, so '79-'93 owners might want to consider making the change to five-lugs before shopping here. As demonstrated on our "live model" in the photo, however, some wheels that may have been made for new Mustangs look pretty good on a Fox.

We tried these Shelby GT500 replica wheels on Jose Ybarra's '89 coupe to make sure they'd fit on our T-top coupe project car, which was in the body shop at the time. Jose's car is a great example of why converting a Fox 'Stang's rolling hardware to five-lug is the thing to do. Check out "Plus One" (June '06, p. 152) for details on how to upgrade your four-lug Mustang.

This is Nitto's flagship all-around tire for just about any-year street Mustang. The NT555 Extreme ZR is derived from a racing-concept design and features one of the biggest contact patches available, which enables it to provide superior traction and reliable handling on dry surfaces. A combination of circumferential grooves and lateral channels makes this a great wet-road tire as well. We like the rim guard that's incorporated in the Extreme ZR, which is designed to protect against damage to the wheels.

We got our first look at the cutting-edge INVO last year at Nitto's display at SEMA. Check the design of the tread pattern. INVO is an ultra-high-performance tire that was developed using the latest technology, and it provides killer traction in both dry and wet conditions while maintaining a quiet, comfortable ride. The asymmetrical, nondirectional, tread design allows for headache-free tire rotation on staggered fitments, which is pretty cool.

O.E. Concepts
Factory look-alikes with a lot more flair (17-inch and 18-inch Cobra, FR500, Bullitt and Shelby GT500 clones in Diamond Chrome and Midnight Black) are O.E. Concepts' claim to fame. Unfortunately, O.E. doesn't tag its wheels with catchy names, but here are the photos and part numbers.

Roush Industries
The question is, what doesn't Roush make for S197 Mustangs? Roush Industries is recognized as one of the leaders in the development of high-performance parts for '05-'06 Mustangs, as evidenced by its armada of raced-out GTs competing in the NMRA. Here's a look at Roush's offerings on the appearance side, which will surely enhance a 'Stang's look.

Below is the trio of Roush's plus-size, 20-inch wheels for '05-'06 Mustangs (RR01, RR02, and RR04). They're made of lightweight forged-aluminum alloy and measure 20x8.5 inches.

If you're thinking this wheel looks like RR02, you're correct. It's the 18x10 version for S197s (rear only).

New Edge 'Stang owners fear not! Roush hasn't forgotten you. These chromed, star-patterned 18s fit the front (SM03-22232-SAC; 18x9) and rear (SM03-22243-SAC; 18x10) of '01-'04 Mustangs.

Just like its Detata brethren, Rozzi's 17-, 18-, and 20-inch wheels also sport the bling of Diamond Chrome and the high gloss of Midnight Black. For enthusiasts who want to take their 'Stang's personalization to the next level, custom body-color inserts are available for the Octane series wheels.

Toyo's Proxes 4 tops the company's rundown of Proxes all-season, ultra-performance radials. This tire can be fitted on almost any Mustang, as sizes start at 15 inches and top off at 24 inches. Proxes 4's sure-grip W-patterned tread gives a driver confidence on wet or dry pavement or when taking sharp corners at speed.

The Proxes RA1 is another track-proven unidirectional performance tire. Its tread is molded to an 81/432-inch depth for excellent wet traction, but it can be shaved to a 31/432-inch depth to achieve maximum traction for racing environments. The RA1 also has a free-floating steel-cord side ply that improves both stability and response for improved cornering performance.

Toyo's Proxes T1R takes advantage of computer-simulation technology, providing high-speed stability in both dry and wet conditions with low noise and ride comfort. The new tread pattern features rigid shoulder rib-bands that deliver excellent, dry-road handling and wear resistance. The T1R's V-shape main grooves and silica compound ensure excellent water drainage and outstanding overall performance in wet conditions.

Goin' Racin'
Three words: off the hook! We had been trying to hold out on showing you these beauties until our project T-top coupe was rolling on them. But after mounting and balancing the rubber and taking this photo, there's no way we could contain ourselves. You're looking at Weld Racing's new, 17-inch, AlumaStar one-piece drag wheels (17x9.25 rear/17x4.5 front). These lightweight forged hoops have been the buzz throughout 'Stangland since their introduction at the '05 PRI show, mainly for their insanely good looks, but also for the generous amount of brake-caliper clearance that the fronts have (13-inch brakes are no sweat). For now, Hoosier's 26x7.5, 17-inch Pro Street tire is the only "skinny" tire available for these wheels. The sneakers on the rear wheels are Nitto's NT555R 275/40-17 Extreme Drag Radials. These DOT-legal tires provide impressive control and handling, and still deliver up to 15,000 miles of tread life of normal street-driving use. Their aggressive tread design helps deliver low e.t.'s on the dragstrip.

While Mickey Thompson's ET Drag slicks and ET Street tires have been a constant in Mustang drag racing for several years, the company's ET Street Radial is the latest rage among racers and enthusiasts who compete in and follow the exciting Drag Radial categories of heads-up racing sanctions. The Sticky Mickeys have carried 'Stangs into the 7-second zone at speeds close to 200 mph. M/T also produces a new line of purpose-built, 15-inch wheels (ET Drag Wheels) to complement its tires. The wheels are rotary forged, lightweight, and are dual drilled for universal application and lighter weight.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 13 years since Dwayne "Big Daddy" Gutridge helped put BFGoodrich g-Force T/A Drag Radials on the map with his high-flying, high-speed exploits in his notchback Mustang. Today, the BFGs continue to produce record-breaking performances for Mustangs, thanks to an improved tread compound and competition-developed tread blocks that help reduce distortion, squirm, and chunking under high-torque conditions for maximized straight-line traction.

Toyo's Free Rolling Proxes front tires helped carry Manny Buginga to the championship in NMRA's Super Street Outlaw class in 2005. The front runners are available in 25.0x4.5-15 and 26.0x4.5-15 sizes, and they feature extremely low rolling resistance thanks to a 4.3-inch tread width and super-light weight (10 pounds).

Best Buys
For a wide variety and great pricing on many of the wheels and tires featured here, visit The Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com) and shop till you drop! The Rack has become one of the leading Internet sources for killer deals on bling and rubber. It also has surveys and reviews on installing and caring for your Mustang's new footwear.

Show 'Em You Care
Taking care of your rolling investment is just as important as showing it off. Here are a few items that will help keep your Mustang's wheels clean.

Meguiar's offers a wide selection of wheel and tire care products designed to clean and protect your 'Stang's rolling stock, as well as bring out the brilliance of paint or chrome. Shown from left are: Hot Shine and Insane Shine (foam and spray-style tire cleaner and dressing), Hot Rims chrome wheel cleaner, and Hot Rims multi-piece wheel wash for uncoated, anodized, and powdercoated surfaces. On the far right is SunBlock's, SunBlock for Tires, which is a great idea for sidewalls that are exposed to harsh sunlight on a regular basis, as it provides protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation. These tire-care items are available at your local Kragen, Pep Boys, AutoZone, and others