The Roadster’s New Kicks

The Miata is back from the shop, where it underwent some much needed maintenance repairs in order to be drivable in time for the April car events taking place in the Tampa Bay area. Now that the roadster is driving smoothly, I was finally able to address the biggest eyesore it came with—those ugly wheels.

When I was originally shopping for a Miata back in January, I had hoped to find a car with the factory 15” alloy wheels. However, after I finally decided to purchase this particular 1995 MX-5 Miata, I decided that the condition of the rest of the car was in good-enough shape that changing the wheels later would be no problem. The car actually came with wheel covers, which once removed, revealed 14” steelies. Though they’re factory steelies, they’re steelies nonetheless, and unfortunately, judging by the amount of rust and flaked paint, it seems as though the wheel covers were on there for a long, long time.

With the recent car repairs that I’ve had to make on the Miata (more on those later), the plan of replacing the wheels will have to sit on the back burner for a while, due to cost. Eventually, I would like to get a set of 6UL wheels in Nickel finish by 949 racing— in a 15×7 or 15×8 tops. In the meantime, rather than driving around with crummy-looking wheels and because Miatapalooza 2013 is coming up next weekend, I decided to repaint the wheels so the car can look presentable. This is a cheap aesthetic fix with instant benefit. So why not?

For all the DIY car enthusiasts, here’s how it all worked out.

The process:

First, I started by sanding the wheels with 320 grit paper while the car was on the ground, to remove the rust and chipped paint. (Note: always wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling the rust and old paint particles created by sanding) This gave me a better surface for the new paint to stick to. Then, I loosened the lug nuts and jacked up the car.

Once all four wheels were off the ground, I took the wheels off and rolled them into my yard. Since my lawn needs mowing soon, the grass helped control the amount of overspray that could get on other surfaces in or near my garage. I then washed off the oil, brake dust and sanding particles. I followed that up with a final sanding to finish any missed details, after which I re-rinsed the wheels and left them outside to dry for about an hour.

Once they were dry, I taped off the valve stems, wheel weights and center caps with FrogTape, because it sticks and seals better than the blue painter’s tape. When taping the wheel weights, I had to precision cut the tape with an X-ACTO knife because the tape wouldn’t stick with just one piece. Under other circumstances I would have removed the center caps instead of taping them off, but they’re the original 18-year-old center caps. If one broke, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find a replacement before next weekend.

After finishing taping, I gave the wheels one last wipe with a microfiber towel and paid special attention to all the creases to make sure the wheels were as clean and dry as possible. To finish the masking process, I stuck two decks of playing cards between the wheels and the tires, overlapping about one inch. For this I used cheap cards purchased previously at the dollar store, since I was throwing them out after this project.

Next came the paint. I used one can of Dupli-Color High Performance Wheel Coating, in white. To apply the paint, I held the spray-paint can about 8 to 10 inches away from the wheel and sprayed in quick, back-and-forth semicircular motions as I walked around each wheel. I left the paint to dry for 10 minutes, then I repeated the same motions with the next coat for a total of 5 paint coats: 2 light coats first and 3 medium last, waiting 10 minutes in between each coat for drying.

After finishing all five coats of paint, the sun had already set and it was dark outside, so I proceeded to apply the finishing clear-coats with a flashlight. Using Dupli-Color High Performance Wheel Coating in clear, I sprayed a total of 2 medium coats of clear gloss finish, repeating the semicircular motion spray, and waiting 10 minutes in between each coat for drying.

When the two clear coats were complete, I brought the wheels back into the garage to let them dry overnight before remounting. I carefully removed the playing cards to make sure they wouldn’t bond to the paint on the wheel overnight, but I left the FrogTape on so I wouldn’t accidentally touch the wet paint and smudge the finish on the wheel.

The next morning, I did a visual inspection and touched the wheels to make sure the paint was dry and then I carefully removed the tape. After that, I proceeded to put the wheels back on to the car and tightening the lugs by hand first while the car was still up on jack stands.

Finally, I dropped the car back down to the ground, and then torqued the lugs with a torque wrench to 80 lb.-ft. I finished by checking the tire pressure and I inflated the tires to 26psi, so now the Miata is set to go to Miatapalooza next weekend, with shiny new wheels.

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4 comments

  1. Those came out really nice! Good paint work, looks very smooth and glossy.

    Not sure if you are interested, but I have a set of OEM MR2 Spyder 15″ rims I am probably going to get rid of. I got newer OEM rims for my car from a 2005 MR2, they are 16″ in back and 15″ in front. I was planning to keep the original 2002 rims (15″ front and rear) for track duty, but then decided to just put track tires on the new rims and use them all the time, so the old rims are spares. They are in great shape, and I know you are not ready to buy but I am in no rush to dump them. They bolt right up on your car but will be staggered (6.5″ wide in back and 6″ wide in front) so no more rotating tires.

  2. I was thinking as I read, “I hope he paints them white…” then you did and they look awesome. I love white wheels on a red car, and to be honest, if it were mine – I’d just stick with them and spend the ‘wheel money’ elsewhere.

    1. Thank you very much! Yeah, it probably will be a while whether I want it that way or not. The head rebuild was expensive! And this car will probably need a new top before it gets wheels.

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