As car enthusiasts, we’re used to seeing all kinds of wheels all day, every day. Whether we’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or being bombarded with Google ads, we are constantly introduced to new designs, styles and finishes without taking the time to familiarise ourselves with them. I’m sure that many of us have daydreamed about what our ideal wheel would look like, or perhaps even gazed longingly at a manufacturer’s website and wondered “what if” they offered a particular design in the exact PCD, width and offset that you required.
What if you could go one step further and design, release and sell your ideal wheel under your own brand name?
Since 2016, we’ve been extremely fortunate that one of STL’s closest international associates and friends of the company happens to have himself designed some of the most legendary and iconic wheels to have come out of Japan during the last twenty years; designs that are still idolised (and often copied) to this day.
When a friend with this much talent and experience is willing to help you understand the wheel manufacturing process, along with breaking down the necessary costs and important safety factors, it was only natural that the possibility of an all-original STL wheel has continually played on our minds. But who would be the target market? What would be the wheel’s unique selling point?
Towards the end of 2019, a plan began to naturally formulate. As we have previously touched upon, STREET TRACK LIFE LTD stretches far beyond the products that you just see on our STL shop. Our adventure into the aftermarket surrounding the new Suzuki Jimny had been very promising indeed, with customers all over the globe craving products that could help them personalise their little off-roader.
We saw a gap in the market. At this point, there were some fantastic Jimny-specific wheels (it has a very unique PCD and centre bore) available from Japanese brands, but none of these had the necessary safety certificates and markings to satisfy the requirements of our customers in mainland Europe. On the other hand, there were one or two “approved” wheel models that could legally be used in Europe, but these weren’t particularly in keeping with the Jimny’s retro aesthetic.
And so it was decided: STL’s first all-original wheel would be a retro-themed, TÜV-approved wheel specifically for the new Suzuki Jimny, produced in a specification that would offer a great look without compromising drivability, off-road capabilities or safety.
The next stage was a little more difficult. As car enthusiasts we see wheels all the time, but have you ever put pen to paper and tried to design one without ripping off a design that already exists? Of course, some brands get by solely on the back of designs from other manufacturers, but let’s not go there today…
After a couple of months of aimless doodling, scouring the internet for photos of obscure cars from the past and wondering if this was all a stupid idea, we finally found the piece of inspiration that we were looking for. A frantic rush to open Photoshop followed and, after a very hasty job of combining a Suzuki Jimny with this new wheel idea, we had what we needed to get started.
We sent our ideas over to our friend in Japan, with an accompanying message of “what do you think, can we make it work?”. We bounced a few ideas back and forth and, as he scarpered off to to the metaphorical drawing board for a few days, we privately hoped that this was the spark we’d been looking for.
A few days later, we arrived at the office to find an email with a folder attachment named “STL Wheel.zip” sitting in our inbox. Never has a zip folder been opened more eagerly in the STL office, before we subsequently spent hours poring over the various ideas available to us.
The next stages of the process were some of the most tedious but also the most important. Namely, making a decision for the final width and offset specification, choosing colour codes and ensuring that the wheel would meet our requirements and pass the all-important TÜV tests. Thankfully, the latter could be checked virtually thanks to computerised stress analysis technology.
There is a lot of misunderstanding around the wheel manufacturing process, which I suppose is only to be expected (it’s hardly something that would be taught on the school curriculum). At the same time, it’s sometimes quite difficult to explain the intricacies involved when people ask if they can be supplied with a 1-piece wheel, but “can you change the PCD and also the offset slightly?”. Here are a few key points that might be helpful, in case you ever do find yourself wondering about wheel manufacturing:
1-Piece Cast Wheels
- Cost effective to produce in large quantities
- Easy for a customer to replace in the event of an accident
- More affordable for the customer
- Extremely expensive set up costs (creating the mould etc.)
- Huge minimum order quantity (many hundreds of wheels)
- Each time you want to make a specification change (width, offset, PCD etc.) an entirely new mould is required, along with the associated minimum order quantity
- Different colours need to be manufactured in large numbers
- Much lower setup costs (no mould required)
- Can be tailored to suit the requirements of different customers (width, offset, PCD etc.)
- Each set can be finished in custom colours
- Slower to manufacture, with waiting times of many weeks per set
- Each wheel is much more expensive to manufacture
- Can’t be replaced quickly or easily in the event of an accident
- Can only gain TÜV-approval if specified in an exact width/offset/PCD for a certain car
To create the product that we wanted, 1-piece wheels were the clear answer. Our target market didn’t need a multitude of widths or offsets to choose from, nor did we want to overwhelm them with a myriad of colour choices. A simple, one size fits all approach was what we needed, so a 1-piece wheel in a 16×6.0J-5 specification would suit all but the most extreme modified Suzuki Jimnys. This would also satisfy TÜV’s requirements for bodywork and suspension clearance etc.
Before long, we were signing various pieces of paper that would set the wheels in motion (no pun intended) with our chosen manufacturers in Italy, who were selected based on a mixture of their exemplary manufacturing standards, in-depth knowledge of safety tests and accompanying paperwork and, conveniently, a rich history of Formula 1 involvement. All we could do next was wait, while nervously watching the coronavirus pandemic unfold and wondering how we would market and promote wheels that didn’t exist in the flesh yet!
At this point we hadn’t even touched upon the name but, as the deadline for mould tooling and packaging printing drew ever closer, we had to make a decision. HIGH PEAK is STL’s line of off-road and lifestyle products, so that part was a bit of a no-brainer. As for the wheel model itself, we figured that it was our first original design and that it had been created with Suzuki Jimnys in mind. Hence, the HIGH PEAK J-01 was born.
A few months later, it happened. Never have we been more excited to see an articulated lorry pull into our industrial estate. Typically, at the time it was absolutely throwing it down and three of our other couriers all turned up at the same time to undertake their regular collections and deliveries. You couldn’t make it up.
As the lorry driver pulled back the curtains on his trailer, he revealed pallet after pallet of STL’s first ever original wheel, filling the trailer from front to rear. It was a surreal feeling, seeing boxes stacked high with our logos and design printed on each side as we forklifted them into the warehouse.
It was all a bit overwhelming, if I’m completely honest. We opened two wheel boxes to check that the paint finish had come out ok, and were absolutely relieved that it had. We’d wanted a Matte Black that was a little less Monster Energy and a bit more SR-71 Blackbird. Similarly, it had been quite an ordeal to specify the Vintage White colour. We wanted a colour that evoked thirty-year old Land Rover steelies, not brand new Ford Transit white.
Everything after this point became a much more relaxed affair. A set of the Vintage White J-01 wheels was equipped with a set of BF Goodrich KO2 tyres in 215/70R16 sizing, ready to be fitted to our own Suzuki Jimny.
It wasn’t until the next day that we got chance to complete the installation. I’ve been excited to fit all manner of wheels over the last decade or so, whether they be brand new in box WORK Emotions or a random set of ancient JDM classics bought blind from eBay. However, I don’t think any of these occasions came close to the feeling of mounting your own original wheels to your car and lowering the jack down, taking a few steps backwards and silently praying that it doesn’t look rubbish.
We were ecstatic with the end result and, I’m pleased to say, so are our customers all around the globe who are now using HIGH PEAK J-01s on their Suzuki Jimnys. From the Australian outback to the city streets of Hong Kong and the Middle Eastern sand dunes, I’m so proud that we saw this project through to completion and can now see the end product being enjoyed by so many people.
Naturally though, the process never stops. We’ve already been eyeing up other cars that would benefit from the HIGH PEAK J-01 treatment, having created far too many amateur Photoshop mock ups than I can count. We’re looking forward to hopefully having more J-01 applications available in the coming months!
While I appreciate that the vast majority of people reading this blog aren’t likely to be considering putting their own wheels into production any time soon, I do hope that this post at least offered an interesting insight into how STL came to bring its first all-original wheel to the market.
If you’re looking to purchase a set of HIGH PEAK J-01 wheels for your Suzuki Jimny, you can find them in the STL shop. Alternatively, if you’re looking to buy them as a complete wheel and tyre package, or perhaps alongside some other Suzuki Jimny accessories, please be sure to check out JimnyStyle.