BBS RS: A wheel often imitated, but never duplicated

Chris Stark

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the impact of an aftermarket wheel could be measured by the number of replicas that pop up after its release. Many companies have tried to clone the evergreen mesh design of the BBS RS wheel, but none have seen the same success.

Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand founded BBS (Baumgartner Brand Schiltach) in Schiltach, Germany, in 1970. The company initially made lightweight plastic body panels for club racers but quickly shifted its focus to creating wheels for motorsports. As early as 1972, BBS was supplying its first three-piece wheel to race teams.

bbs wheels on classic motorsport car peterson redman
BMW’s factory race team was one of the early adopters of BBS three-piece wheels.
BBS founders Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand
BBS founders Heinrich Baumgartner (middle) and Klaus Brand (left) strike a pose with the new RS wheels. BBS

A three-piece wheel is typically composed of a forged aluminum face and spun aluminum inner barrels and outer lips (more exotic materials like magnesium or carbon fiber have been used as well). The assembly is then bolted together and sealed up with either silicone sealant, or a metal and rubber gasket. Some three-piece wheels, particularly from Japanese manufacturers, are welded together.

In racing applications with specialized size requirements, the modular nature of a three-piece saves on manufacturing costs as the same face can be used for different wheel widths. Also, if a part of the wheel gets damaged, that component can be replaced without scrapping the entire wheel. The design became widely used in motorsports, with BBS wheels showing up on everything from touring and endurance cars to formula racers.

A diagram of the BBS RS. The three main components of the wheel (face, inner and outer barrels) are bolted together. The seam between the components is sealed with silicone to prevent air leaks. Chris Stark

To capitalize on its motorsports fame, BBS launched the RS wheel in 1983. It was the first three-piece wheel intended for OEM use. The faces were created by heating up a chunk of aluminum and pressing it into a mold with 6500 tons of pressure. The process, called die forging, made for a very strong wheel. The RS looked like it belonged on a touring car and used the same three-piece construction as the racing wheels but was available from the dealership as an option for your Porsche, Volkswagen, or Audi. Optioning the RS on a new car would cost you dearly, though, setting you back a cool $2000.

BBS didn’t just sell the RS to car manufacturers, however. Anyone with means who wanted to add racing style to their street car could buy a set. Some of the more outlandish ’80s tuners such as Gemballa used deep-dish RS wheels on their widebody demo cars. Diameters ranged from 14 to 18 inches and were available in several widths. Most RS faces came in either silver or gold, but limited runs of other color schemes appeared throughout the wheel’s 12-year production run; the Prima Donna, for example, had a white face with gold hardware.

The RS remains sought after today thanks to its classic looks and motorsports connection. As such, expect to pay upward of $2500 for a set. Larger and wider wheels usually command a hefty premium. Curbed lips or cracked barrels aren’t the end of the world—some companies still offer replacement parts for the RS. The silicone seal can leak on wheels that haven’t been taken apart in a while, but the fix is easy: Just remove the old silicone and reapply.

If you don’t like cleaning wheels, the RS isn’t for you. Scrubbing dirt and grime from the many spokes will test your patience. Beware of one-piece cast-aluminum replicas. They are everywhere, and unscrupulous sellers might try to make a quick buck from the uninitiated.

If you need the perfect wheel to complement your Radwood-era ride or modern show car, find yourself a set of the original RS wheels.




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    I worked with these many years ago for advertising for BFG. We used them in single tire and car shots. Thes were and still are some of the best wheels ever made.

    These were strong and light. We could move parts around to fit different cars or if a wheel was damaged just replaced part of it.

    I have a set of knock offs on my car now as even back in the day they were around $700 a piece. Which in todays money is much more than the $600 we see on days wheels.

    We also got sets of IMSA 962 Wheels that carried the same styling and they were large and strong.

    I would like to find a set today in good shape. I need a 17″ positive offset which is rare today.

    BBS is still around under different owners but no RS.

    Note the cast version of the that looked similar were not bad but they would break. They were in no way up to the RS standard.

    I still have a couple center nuts and wrenches in the garage as ever set has a wrench and we had so many sets but only needed one wrench to take off center caps.

    “In today’s money” $700 is much more than $600? Hmmm – I’m not a math wiz, but it seems to me that that was true even in “yesterday’s money”! 😁

    I had an ’88 RX7 convertible which came from the factory with BBS wheels… the perfect look for that particular car.

    Working in Japan and for Japanese transplants in this era, the perfect trifecta for 80s-90s JDM cars: BBS wheels, RECARO seats, BOSE audio

    Now we need a feature about the anti-classic wheel of the 80s, the infamous Ronal Teddy Bear.
    Trivia note: when BBS wheels first came out they were co branded BBS Mahle because the piston company was doing the forgings.

    Back in the eighties, I bought probably five or six sets of RS wheels for various Porsche’s and one Mercedes. I ran one set on my 1983 944 track car for five years and never had the first issue with them. I had another set for the 944 for the street. I also put them on a 1986 Mercedes 190-2.3-16. Silver wheels on a black car. They are a pain in the butt to clean.

    For five years I walked pasted a 89 silver Toyota Supra 7MGTE on my way to Friday poker night. Kept asking my buddy every so often,”Is your neighbor doing anything with it?” It was all original, everything there but in deterioration. What really got me about the car is it had a set of 16×7 5lug BBS RS style wheels, but missing all the mesh centers and locking nuts. Got the courage one day to ask the lady if she wanted to sell it. Now I’m a Supra owner!:)) So I’m trying to go with an 80s style build. Got the Bomex front bumper and wale tail. The wheels turned out to be Enkei98, made in Japan. I need the mesh centers and chrome screw down locking nut for all four wheels. Was told BBS RS would work too. Trying to find original parts, which is hard to do. Please help me out if possible. This will be my third restoration. Did a 73 Datsun 510 resto mod with an SR20 swap. Finishing up a IS300 with the original 2J engine. Slightly modified;) Can’t wait to put my passion to the test on this one!

    BBS may have popularized three-piece cast wheels but the cast spoked design they used originated with Jim Hall’s Chaparral racers. Hall has said that he regrets not establishing intellectual property on the design.

    Funny, I was just about to make the same comment. Jim Hall or his wheel designer deserves the credit for BBS’ success with this design.

    these wheels are the perfect example of a wheel thats pretty to look at but an SOB to own…due to their propensity for leaking at the seals and requiring the huge time investment in cleaning. Sort of like lusting after that Ferrari F40 or whatever…you want it bad because it ignites all the passion buttons but once you realize how tempermental it is, it becomes a case of buyers remorse. I think most of us who love cars have a love/hate relationship with them, as for me it depends on what day you ask me.

    So just after getting this issue, I was fortunate enough to find a complete set of BBS RS up for auction on a familiar website. They were purchased in 1990 for a C4. Then stored in the original BBS boxes. They are as close to new as you can possibly get. Needless to say, I was determined to have them on my 1995 Polo Green convertible. Yes I got them and WOW. They compliment my Vette line nothing else could. Thanks to the family of the original owner for preserving such a fantastic piece of automotive history.

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