For modern Jeep vehicles, I generally prefer alloy wheels with bright finishes: polished, machined, even chromed for the right vehicle. However, for a vintage Jeep like a flatfender I'm partial to the classic designs and even varied wheel colors that came from the factory. Although I've seen some beautiful flatties with classic-styled, bright finished wheels, somehow modern wheel designs and chrome just don't do it for me. And since I'm going for a quasi-military/industrial look overall, I decided to go with a modern wheel in a classic style in black paint.
I had decided early in the project to go with an aluminum wheel rather than steel. Both have their merits, and I've run each type on various Jeeps with great success. For this project I decided on aluminum in order to help keep weight in check (a steel wheel of similar design will be significantly heavier than aluminum) and to negate the issue of rust. Aluminum wheels can still corrode in Ohio's winter salt bath, but the coating on a black painted wheel will help deter corrosion.
I wanted a wheel that was designed specifically for vehicles that are used off-road. Mickey Thompson has been producing wheels and tires for the off-road market for nearly five decades, so they know a thing or two about how to design a wheel for strength, durability, and clearance, not to mention good looks. The Classic has been around for many years and is in it's third iteration (Classic III Black, officially), having been continually improved throughout its life-cycle. Mickey Thompson began offering this wheel with a black satin finish a few years ago. I'm partial to the deep dish and smooth lines of the eight slot design, and the black is understated enough to work on this flatfender project.
The Classic III for my application has a 15 inch diameter, is 8 inches wide, and weighs 16 pounds (a comparable steel wheel weighs about 28 pounds). It has a maximum load rating of 1900 pounds, which well exceeds the requirements of a 1/4-ton flatfender. The wheel has 3.625 inches of backspacing and a -22 mm offset, which will widen the track width as compared to an OEM flatfender wheel, but not excessively so. This is desirable with the 2.5 inches of suspension lift and taller tires, offsetting the mild increase in ride height and providing a little extra stability on side hills. As with all CJs, the bolt pattern is 5 on 5.5 inches.
The Classic III comes with a nice looking center cap with the MT logo that attaches to the wheel with a few machine screws. I might employ these on a modern TJ or JK, but they're a little busy for my flatfender and they don't really fit the utilitarian motif. Of course, on a CJ with locking front hubs they couldn't be installed anyway and would have to only be installed on the rear wheels.
When it comes to tire selection, there are so many exceptional all-terrain and mud tires available that it can make your head spin. Today's radial tires do an outstanding job of balancing the traction and durability needs of an off-road tire with the decent manners and longevity of a street tire. From the major manufacturers (Goodyear, Firestone, BFGoodrich, Nitto) to the smaller specialty brands (Mickey Thompson, Dick Cepek, Pit Bull, Interco), there are plenty of high quality options available to fit your particular style of driving and four-wheeling.
For me, however, selecting the brand was an easy decision. I freely admit to being biased on this subject, but it's based on nearly 25 years of personal experience. That's how long I've been running BFGoodrich tires, almost exclusively, on my 4x4s. I started out with a set of BFG All-Terrain T/As because I thought they looked cool (which they did). I soon became amazed that they gave up so little in the way of off-road performance for a tire with such good street manners and longevity.
It wasn't until a few years later that I learned how innovative the BFG Radial All-Terrain and Mud-Terrain T/A tires had been when they were introduced, and how BFG tires had dominated competitive desert racing for years. In all the years I've run these tires, I've never had a tire failure off-road, and the 3-ply sidewalls have always protected me from rocks, stumps, sticks, ledges and the like. The BFG off-road tire line has been continually upgraded through improved tread design, stickier compounds, and the addition of features like aggressive sidewalls and wheel rim protectors. These tires remain the standard to which other manufacturers aspire.
I intend to drive the flatfender on the street and on the trail, so I need a tire that offers respectable performance on-road but will provide the robust traction I need for the off-road conditions I plan to navigate. These include hard packed dirt, soft soil, rocks and ledges, creekbeds, hill climbs, mud, and deep snow. The current All-Terrain T/A KO would willingly handle about 80 percent of those conditions, and would out-perform the Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 in hard packed dirt and smooth rocks while returning better mpg with longer life and a quiet ride. However, with this being a Jeep I plan to 'wheel more than most, I decided to err on the side of more aggressive traction. I'm willing to accept the trade-offs and, let's face it, I'm not building a flatfender so I can be pampered.
The 2.5" suspension lift will clear a 32x11.5R15 tire, and the mild increase in track width due to the new wheels will provide a little extra clearance as well. I wouldn't go taller than a 33" tire on any short-wheelbase Jeep, and the 32" tire should be optimal for the 3.73:1 axle ratio, maximizing both economy and performance. This setup should provide me with plenty of clearance and traction for the terrain I plan to tackle.
(Sidebar: A quick note about tire and wheel balancing - I highly recommend a product called Equal. Equal is a formulated polymer that comes in small, pre-measured bags and is made to dynamically balance your wheels/tires. Unlike static wheel weights, you don't need to re-balance your tires every time you rotate them. You simply drop the correct size bag of Equal into your tire prior to mounting it on the wheel, then as you drive the bag disintegrates and releases the powder to rotate freely within the tire. This effectively acts as a dynamic balancer that adjusts automatically as your tires wear over their lifetime. On vehicles that are used off-road, wheel weights tend to get knocked off and pushed around the wheel due to trail obstacles; this is one less concern when using Equal. I've used Equal with great success in many sets of truck and off-road tires, and the decreased maintenance is a bonus.)