A decade ago, oversize wheels dripping chrome — “dubs” as they became known — were must-haves for rappers and car fanciers alike. The number of makers proliferated and services sprang up to rent them to folks who couldn’t afford three or four figures per wheel,
Today, custom wheels are just as high-style, and expensive, but chrome is yielding in popularity to black or a color keyed to the car’s paint job. And the wheels that are still chromed often have a dark smoked or color tint — not the super-shiny silver bling that now seems so 1990s.
“Flashing around is not in fashion,” says Beau Boeckmann, who runs Galpin Auto Sports in Los Angeles, the customizing shop featured on MTV’s old Pimp My Ride series. “People are spending money where other people don’t see them spending money.”
Chrome wheels still have a following with the masses, but trend-setters have moved on to black and colors, says Myles Kovacs, publisher of Dubs magazine, who also has his own line of wheels. “Everyone is trying to stand out from everyone else”
Size also mattered: 20-inchers gave way to 24-, 28- and even 30-inch rims. And with the craze at its most ridiculous, some wheels sported “spinners” — discs that kept spinning after the vehicle had come to a halt.
At the recent SEMA aftermarket parts trade show in Las Vegas, wheel makers had plenty of new styles, but far less chrome bling. “Definitely less chrome,” said Terence Scheckter, president of TSW Alloy Wheels in Huntington Beach, Calif., who says, “Wheels look better in paint.”
Other buyers are going for brushed metal finishes, says A.C. Celik, president of wheel maker Forgiato in Sun Valley, Calif.
The marketing has changed, too, with less emphasis on the mass market and more on auto enthusiasts and tuners. “The market for soccer moms with 22-inch chrome wheels has fallen off,” Scheckter says.
Not content with off-the-shelf wheels, some customizers are adding their own paint to chrome rims, keyed to or a contrast to the car’s color. With the paint accents, “you won’t even know it’s chrome,” says Floyd Bryant of Velocity Wheel in Monterey Park, Calif. Such techniques “are pushing the chrome to the back” of the market.
Don’t like most styles in the auto industry, it’s only a matter of time before chrome makes a comeback. And Boeckmann, for one, is just itching for its return: “I still love chrome. Sometimes you put the bell bottoms in the closet and wait for them to come back in fashion.”