CC Capsule: The Wheels Of Change

Love ‘em or hate ‘em.  That often sums up people’s viewpoints on aftermarket wheels, and I’m typically in the latter category.  In most circumstances, I think that changing wheels degrades an older car’s appearance and historical context: Like adding vinyl siding to a 1920s bungalow, it just seems a poor excuse at improvement.  But occasionally, I see cars that capsize my cherished boat of originality, such as the two examples above.

It’s hard to imagine two more different vehicles – a Jaguar XJC and a Chevrolet Caprice.  However, sometimes disparate examples can conjure up a rather compelling case for something.  In both of these instances, I found that the non-standard wheels brought out a different side to each car’s personality – in a refreshing sort of way.  Of course, your mileage may vary in reaching such a conclusion, but before you dismiss the idea entirely, consider our two featured cars:

Exhibit A is a Jaguar XJC, a rare sight since only about 8,300 of the elegant coupes were produced between 1975 and 1977.  This is arguably one of the most beautiful cars ever made, with a poetic grace, proportions ideally suited to its size, and a wonderfully suitable application of a pillarless hardtop design.  While the XJC’s hardtop may have been beleaguered by wind and water leaks, it was the linchpin that turned the already-graceful XJ sedan into a magnificent specimen of automotive regality.

When I first saw this car from 100 feet away, I was perplexed.  An XJC for sure, but it looked so… different.  Among my initial thoughts were:

  • Maybe it’s a Daimler Double Six coupe (I’ve never seen one, but assumed they had different wheels. They didn’t, incidentally).
  • Maybe it’s a 12-cylinder XJC (I’ve never seen one of those either, but the unusual hood louvers look like something a V-12 would have.  But no, actual XJ12C’s didn’t really have hood louvers).
  • Maybe it’s a custom-made car – did someone cut apart a Series III XJ6 to make a coupe?  (I’ll blame this notion on the aftermarket moonroof).

I’m not usually so flighty when it comes to car identification, so what was going on?  Maybe… just maybe… my confusion was due to those wheels alone.

Stock XJCs came with chromed wheel covers over 15” wheels, providing a delicate look in keeping with the car’s genteel image.

These wheel covers can be easily overlooked among the Jaguar’s many other fine details.  Casual observers tend to associate earlier Jaguars with wire wheels, and later cars (XJ-S and Series III XJ6 models) with their unique GKN Kent alloys.  The chromed wheel covers filled a void in between those two more memorable eras.  If there’s any aftermarket wheel one can associate with Jaguar XJCs, it likely would be wire wheels, which continued to look natural on Jaguars decades after having disappeared from the production line.

But what about a wheel from a completely different era?

The wheels on our featured car are in fact from a Jaguar – just one that was made when the XJC was 20 years old.  These 17”x8” alloys came standard on the high performance XJR model from 1995 to 1997.  Jaguar positioned its mid-1990s sedans to straddle two worlds: both Jaguar’s traditional, lovely heritage, and a more contemporary assertiveness.  When first introduced, Jaguar boasted of the XJR’s “uncompromising stance,” made possible in part by the car’s large (for the day) wheels and low-profile tires.

Do 1995 XJR wheels complement a 1975 XJC?  After looking at these pictures for a while, I concluded that yes, despite my long-held aversion to aftermarket accessories, these wheels work well here.  They bring out an aspect of the XJC that I had never noticed before… a more vigorous and robust persona than I typically associate with the car.  To me, the XJC loses none of its grace with these large and modern alloys, but gains a dose of panache.  Suddenly I can envision this coupe doing something like barreling down a twisty country road… not just ambling up to a country club.

An impressive feat indeed — to complement (or maybe even improve) one of the all-time classics.  Score One for non-standard wheels.  Now, for a slightly more mundane curbside classic, on to our next subject…

Exhibit B in this narrative is a quite a different species of car.  This 1988 Caprice is boxy where the Jaguar is curvaceous, conservative as opposed to inventive, and wildly popular versus exceedingly rare.  Jaguar’s total 3-year production run of XJCs amounted to an average of 2 weeks worth of Caprice production over this generation’s 1977-90 lifespan.

This particular example is a Caprice Classic Brougham LS, a top-of-the-range model that can be thought of as a poor man’s Cadillac.  Or a smart man’s Cadillac, considering the LS’s base price was two-thirds that of Cadillac’s equivalent B-body sedan.  All Caprice Broughams received goodies such as “lush” cushioned velour seats, simulated rosewood interior trim, and plush carpeting.  The LS pushed the Brougham meter up a bit, with a standard Landau-style vinyl roof and B-pillar opera lamps.

Of course, nearly all Caprice Broughams rode on wire wheel covers – the calling card of traditional American luxury.  While actually an option, can anyone remember seeing a Caprice Brougham without them?

Our featured car, conversely, assails the supremacy of wire wheel covers on Broughams.  Not only is this car outfitted with alloys, but they’re from a Camaro Z28.  It almost seems like the start of a bad joke: “What do you get if you cross a Caprice and a Camaro?”

I think the result is quite nice.  Like the Jaguar mentioned above, these unorthodox wheels add a new element to the Caprice’s design.  After all, nothing mandates that full-size American cars must be downright baroque… I think the energetic stance furnished by these 15”x7” wheels creates an appealing package.

Maybe I’m just ingrained to think that way, since my own car – a Ford Crown Victoria LX Sport – is a permutation of the same idea.  People tend to be surprised that my Crown Vic isn’t a squishy pillow-mobile, and I’ve found that a relatively firm suspension is a great accessory for a full-size rear-drive V-8 sedan.

If equipped with the Caprice’s optional F41 sport suspension package (stiffer springs & shocks, and a rear sway bar), a car such as this would be the 1980s equivalent of my LX Sport – I’d call this one the Z28 Brougham.

No Brougham discussion would be complete without interior shots, and this one seems to be completely original, with the maroon custom cloth upholstery bringing out all the glory of the simulated Brazilian rosewood trim plates.  There is no sign of aftermarket modifications in the passenger compartment, which makes me wonder whether the car is a work in progress, or if the owner likes the Z28 Brougham just the way it is.

Regardless, both the Caprice and the Jaguar prompted me to reassess my long-held aversion to car customization.  While I’m not quite ready to go buy a set of Cragars for our family’s minivan, these two cars did prompt me to change my viewpoint ever so slightly.  Sometimes, change can be good – even if it rides in on a set of non-standard wheels.


Jaguar XJC photographed in Arlington, Virginia in April 2018

Chevrolet Caprice photographed in Fairfax, Virginia in October 2015


Related Reading:

1976 Jaguar XJ-6C/XJ-12C: A Rare (And Splendid) Curbside Appearance   Paul N

Jaguar XJC: The British Personal Car   JohnH875

1990 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Brougham LS: Embarrassing FWD Cadillacs Since 1987   Tom Klockau