Written By Steve Baur
Photography by the Author
Arguably the single most impressive change you can make to your car is to bolt up a new set of wheels. Selecting the right set can make a mundane car look muscular, and attract attention that the car might not have otherwise received. When it was time to upgrade the wheels on this 1987 Pontiac Firebird Formula, we looked past the Fourth-Gen F-body or Corvette wheels that many people opt for and went right to the WELD Racing Wheels website to browse it’s latest line of wheels, the RT-S.
While most people think of drag racing wheels when they hear the name “Weld,” the company found that the late-model muscle car market desired something more than the old-school big-and-little look. Modern braking systems also required larger diameter wheels, and the tire companies responded to this as well to make a viable package. And lets face it, its easier than ever to make big horsepower for the street, and having a big footprint to hook it all up is essential.
WELD’s RT-S line of wheels features modular, three-piece, forged aluminum construction with custom sizes, backspacings, and offsets that are sure to fit most any vehicle. The RT-S line started off with the S71 and S77 models, but has since been expanded beyond those to include a number of designs, as well as bead-lock options for those who still intend to drag race and need the utmost performance in their wheel-and-tire combination.
For this application, however, we didn’t have to contemplate too hard with regard to the sizes, backspacings, and offset, as WELD already had a size listed in its online application guide that was just what we were looking for. Thinking back to the now-discontinued 17×9-inch SLP Firehawk wheels we’ve seen in the past, we started with those dimensions and upsized the diameter to 18 inches. According to WELD Racing’s application guide, this Third-Gen F-body called for an 18×9 diameter and width, a low-pad height with 5.20 inches of backspacing and the requisite 5×4.75-inch Chevy bolt pattern. WELD has plenty of options for the Third-Gen Firebirds and Camaros, from 15 inches to 20 inches in diameter, and from 4 inches wide to 11.5.
Once you receive the wheels, it’s of the utmost importance to test fit them on the vehicle before you mount any tires to them. Here, we checked clearance to the front struts, as well as the lower control arm, tie rod ends, and front anti-roll bar. We did later run into a clearance issue after fitting coilover front struts to the car, but it was easily solved with a 5mm wheel spacer.
We knew based on the similar dimension of the SLP Firehawk wheels that the rims would fill out the wheel wells and sit perfectly under the lips of the fenders, so we weren’t disappointed once the WELD S77s showed up and were fitted to the vehicle.While many enthusiasts opt to run a staggered fitment, we chose the square option so we could rotate the tires, a plan that would be more optimal for street driving and the occasional autocross. To that end, we contacted Nitto Tire and the staff there recommended the company’s NT05 “max performance” tire.
The NT05 shines in dry conditions and with just a 200-treadwear rating, it should do fairly well on the autocross or the dragstrip. While this Firebird’s engine produces around 400 horsepower, there is no shortage of vehicles that make far more and for that, Nitto offers the NT05R, which is a drag-radial version of the NT05 and shares a similar tread pattern for a matching fitment.
After fitting the Firebird with the new wheel and tire package, it’s apparent that it has taken on a much more impressive appearance. Just because you want to rock out to Motley Crüe in your ’87 Firebird doesn’t mean its performance or looks need to stay locked into the 80s! Check out the captions for a few notes that we made during the change.