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In parting wisdom, we take a look at the creation, development, and future of modern vehicle components. From wheels to engines and everything in between, the parting wisdom column will take a closer look at what really makes up a car.

One metric horsepower is needed to lift 75 kilograms (average human body weight) 1 meter in 1 second. This how a unit of horsepower is defined. The Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse is capable of producing 1200 horsepower. Moving that same weight the same distance with 1200 horsepower would only take 0.0008 seconds.

So how did we get here? In the timeline of human history cars are a very recent invention. We’ve made huge leaps from one horse pulling a cart, to the force of 1200 horses blasting us around a track. The advancements in transportation aren’t because of any one part, but are a result of new developments in every component that goes in to a vehicle. In looking at auto part history, what better place to start the parting wisdom series than the wheel?

While the wheel itself is anywhere from 15,000 to 750,000 years old, these certainly weren’t the racing slicks that we see today. Early wheels were developed to the following specifications:

– be round
– don’t be not round

It wasn’t until roughly 2000 BC that we saw something resembling a modern wheel start to be used in chariots. These early wheels featured wooden spokes which were created in order to use less material and to offer increased speed. The part of the wheel that contacted a driving surface was still wooden at this point, and it took another 1000 years for iron bands to be used. By the 1800’s, a more modern shape was beginning to form. A wire tensioner system was patented in 1802, which would become the same system used in modern bicycles (where the hub and rim are attached by spokes). The most important advancement in the wheel was still yet to come.

A split in parting wisdom – The Wheel Gets Its Tires

Prior to 1887 solid rubber tires were used on bicycles and the early Benz Motorwagen (the idea to use rubber tires on a motorwagen came from André and Edouard Michelin, who went on to found the Michelin tire company). In 1887, an inventor noticed his son was constantly getting headaches from riding his bicycle on bumpy roads. In parting wisdom to his son, he created the first pneumatic (filled with air) tire for use on his son’s bicycle. That man was John Boyd Dunlop, later of the Dunlop tire company. Dunlop had been working as a veterinarian at the time. The vulcanization process (adding sulfur to rubber to make it more resilient) is credited to Charles Goodyear (later having the Goodyear tire company named after him). Many of the key players in creating the modern tire are still around today, as Michelin, Dunlop, and Goodyear are all brands that are available to consumers. With a modern tire, cars were ready to get rolling.

With the advent of the Model T, the first widespread use of iron wheels with rubber pneumatic tires was available en masse. These weren’t the same as the wheels we have today however. These tires would only last a few thousand kilometres, and would regularly require maintenance to keep in good working order. With the advent of new tires came to use of new rims and wheels. The traditional iron spokes gave way to modern steel or alloy rims and wheels that are found on modern vehicles.

Tires continually evolved, offering variations in production for different purposes. Racing tires became slick to reduce weight and rolling resistance, off-road tires became knobby to improve traction, and industrial tires became larger and larger to accommodate different vehicles. The most common type of consumer tire is the radial, which features cord or steel bands in the tire to increase handling and lessen rolling resistance.

Advancements in parting wisdom – A look to the future

None of the advancements helped to fully prevent the issue of flats. A traditional wheel made of wood and iron would break, but could be repaired and driven on again. A wheel with a pneumatic tire could be punctured, a repair not easily made on the side of the road. Innovations like the tire needed to happen again, and they did. For example, when driving over dangerous terrain found on the moon, rubber tires attached to steel rims was simply not an option. A wire mesh wheel was created that can withstand the temperature and terrain difficulties of the moon. For military uses, another form of the wheel has been created with honeycomb-like polymers taking the place of air. This allows the vehicles wheel to be damaged yet still operate.

The wheel has advanced a lot from round pieces of wood to vulcanized rubber racing slicks and spring-loaded wire mesh for use on the moon. While some would argue the engine to be the most important part of a car, a lack of a quality wheel would make the engines performance meaningless. For the foreseeable future, wheels will be an ever-evolving component in vehicle production. There may yet come a day when the wheel is no longer needed for in-vehicle use (don’t worry, parting wisdom will continue with hover components!)

We’ll continue parting wisdom in a few weeks with a look at Brakes!

If you feel like you’re driving on wooden spokes, the take a look at our wheel & hub bearing components today.

We have tons of helpful tips on our blog, be sure to give them a read!