BBS RS: A wheel often imitated, but never duplicated
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.
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.
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.