21 Aug A short history of the Fuchs wheels
A short history of the Fuchs wheels
Imagine for a moment that you are driving any other car than a classic Porsche 911. Horrible, I know. But please indulge me.
Now, what are the chances that passers-by with very little knowledge of cars will comment on your wheels and ask whether they are original? Pretty slim, right?
But that’s what owners of classic 911s are used to. Because Porsche managed to equip their car with a wheel that has become one of the instantly recognizable design objects of the 20th century.
It is of course the Fuchs wheel. And its history is shrouded in legend and fading memory. Here’s what has been pieced together by Excellence magazine (May 2000 issue) and the ever busy Pelican Parts forum:
|Photo: J. Keith Walters|
Back in the early 40s Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH and Otto Fuchs Metall- und Armaturenwerke Meinerzhagen GmbH cooperated to build their first world conquering vehicle, the Tiger tank. Porsche designed it and Otto Fuchs manufactured the forged wheels that allowed them to run amok in the Ardennes with Robert Shaw in the command turret.
After a short imposed interlude, the old army buddies decided to give it another go in 1967. This time it was world conquest by “ze other methoden”; namely the 4 year old Porsche 911.
Originally Porsche simply wanted a light alloy wheel for the 911 production car. But to their surprise, Fuchs representative Herr Kretsch them something entirely different. Something much more daring: A mass-produced high quality forged alloy wheel.
At this point the original article in Excellence claims that: “Nothing on this scale had ever been attempted in Germany”. Oh, really?
Anyway … into this story enters Heinrich Klie of the Porsche model department (nowadays called the styling studio). He was responsible for a number of 911 design details, including the complete dashboard, and was given the task of styling the new wheel.
Klie and his team were given no precise instructions for the wheel, so he simply went to work with Plasticine modeling clay and came up with a design. According to some sources it was influenced by American cast alloy wheels of the time and by the bogies Fuchs once again produced for armoured vehichles. Where styling assignments would typically involve weeks of trial and error, changes, and new revisions, this wasn’t the case with the Fuchs wheel. The first model was shown to Ferry Porsche, who approved it “with a wave of a hand,” according to Klie.
It then went to the suspension design department, where engineer Rudolf Hoffmann was responsible for the wheel’s physical properties. Minor modifications were made. From there, Fuchs chief engineer Karl-Heinz Ochel had to oversee a whole new process for manufacturing the wheel. In fact a whopping 58 steps were required to make a single Fuchs wheel.
First a pressed piece of stock was forged to make a forging blank. Next, drop forging the blank produced the ventilation holes and deburred the flange. A further drop forging step resulted in a split flange, before the workpiece was widened by rolling. The forming process resulted in a wheel with a completely finished inner side. The outer, visible side of the wheel was turned on special lathes, which resulted in the smallest possible wheel imbalance. A carefully developed surface finish — polishing, anodizing, and painting — permitted different design variations over the years and assured high corrosion resistance.
After being tested directly on numerous cars, some very minor changes were made, and the wheels were offered on the 1967 models. There was some internal controversy in the company over the design itself. In fact Ferdinand Porsche later admitted that he and his team, “didn’t really like the looks all that well”. But the marketing people prevailed in support of the wheel, and history proved them correct. The wheel became a runaway success and remained a design fixture on the 911 for 20 years.
That’s why owners of a classic Porsche can have totally normal looking people with none of the standard petrolhead paraphernalia walk up to them and ask: “Are those original Fuchs?” Because these wheels have become an integral part of our culture, of our common design history. Just like the Coca Cola bottle. Or the AK-47.
So give them some respect and call them by their proper name, shall we? It’s Fuchs pronounced as in “books”, and the ‘s’ is not plural. It’s one Fuchs wheel, two Fuchs wheels and a whole lot of joy with four Fuchs wheels.