Do-it-Yourself: How I fixed my curb rash!

Originally, I wasn’t planning on taking on another Do-It-Yourself project. But, I was browsing Craigslist one day for parts for my Miata to kill some time. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just like to browse and see what piques my interest. In my search, I found a listing I had to read several times to make sure I didn’t misread:

2003 Miata SE Wheels – $80

$80 for a set of wheels that were offered on the top of the line Special Edition Miata in 2003? These wheels were what I thought a special edition Miata like the Shinsen should have come with! And here they were in a Craigslist ad for $20 a wheel! I messaged the seller that night and mentioned I had a Shinsen Miata that the wheels would look good on.

3 of the 4 wheels had some nasty curb rash.

He agreed, so we made plans to meet that night. An hour later, I had a full set of rare OEM wheels for my Miata! There was one caveat: The wheels were badly curbed. They might have been worse than the wheels that came with my car! But I liked the look, so I figured, “why not try my hand at restoring them?” It was time for another Do-It-Yourself Project!

Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding.

The first step to getting rid of nasty curb rash is sanding. This part is pretty tedious. You either have to put the wheel on a bench and rotate it or move around it while sanding. I ended up using an old stool since it was the perfect size for the rim. Also, it elevated the wheel to waist height, which saved my back. I cleaned the rim with soap and water to get the grease and dirt off. Then after I let it dry, I started sanding down the gouges and scratches with 220 grit sandpaper.

One of the wheels just before sanding. Notice the gouging around the edge of the rim. This wheel was probably the most curbed of the set!

The trick here is to sand down to the bare metal so that the outer edge is uniform all around. I had to take care to sand the outside of the rim as well. This was to make sure I wasn’t leaving any burrs that could shred the tire. I also had to make sure that I didn’t focus on one area too long so I wouldn’t have any flat spots that would show up after painting. After I was done sanding, I cleaned the rim again.

The name’s Bondo‚Ķ

Next, was the fun part. And by fun, I mean tedious. It was time to bring out the Bondo! Fillers like Bondo are great for when you need to quickly fill some spots in a surface. It has a consistency between putty and modeling clay. So if you’ve done sculpting before, then you’ll easily take to using Bondo.

I used a fair amount of Bondo to fill in the gouges and scratches on the surface of the rim. The goal here was to make a uniform surface that could hide the imperfections so that I could lay down some primer. I stuck a few globs of Bondo on the edges and scraped away the excess material with the plastic mixing board. Later, I found that just laying on a lot of filler would be easier to sand off once it hardened, and without the risk of taking too much off from the holes the filler is supposed to fill.

After sanding, I filled in the gouges with some filler and then sanded the excess later.

Even more sanding, then primer!

The next step in the process was sanding off the excess filler from the edge of the rim and making sure that the surface was smooth. I took that same 220 grit sandpaper I used to sand the rim beforehand, and then very lightly sanded the filler. After sanding the surface, I used my hands to feel for any rough patches where I would have to sand some more or use more filler. If I was satisfied with the smoothness, I would move on to laying down some primer!

After cleaning the wheels again with a solution of water and dish soap and letting it dry, I started spraying on a few coats of sandable primer. I chose a sandable primer since it could fill in any imperfections on the surface of the rim. Also, it could fill in any mistakes I made when sanding away the filler. Once the wheel was primed and ready for paint, I washed it off again with dish soap and water.

The Main Event: Painting

This ended up being the most tedious part of the process, but not for what you might think. I had some paint I wanted to use lying around that matched the original finish of the wheels. After spending an entire can experimenting and painting a single wheel, I had to travel to four different stores to try and find the same paint! I eventually found it, but if I had sourced the paint beforehand, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Lesson learned; make sure you have all of your materials!

Anyway, I used Rustoleum’s Custom Shop Wheel Paint to get a cast aluminum finish similar to the OEM finish, and I sprayed at least three coats of paint per wheel. This wheel paint has more sparkle than the original OEM finish, but since the Shinsen Miata has metallic paint, it works! The one thing about the paint though was its finish. Once it dried, the surface of the paint was very rough; not like the original finish at all. I tried to rectify this by polishing the primer before painting with high grit sandpaper, but it made no difference. I ended up color sanding each wheel with 2000 grit sandpaper to get that polished feel.

Better than new!

The result of my “little DIY project” was a set of wheels that not only looked brand new but almost was impossible to tell where the curb rash was from the beginning. In fact, the finish was so good, the technician who fitted the new tires I ordered on the new rims couldn’t tell where the original curb rash was! Not bad for a first-timer!

The finished wheels, painted and color sanded!

The best part about successfully finishing this large project was the fact that I managed to get everything done the day before the 30th Anniversary Miata Reunion! I set about this project with the goal of having something new done to the Miata, and I managed to pull it off!

What’s next?

Now that the wheels and tires are finished, the next step is taking on another Do-It-Yourself project I’ve been putting off: Repainting the front bumper. Since I bought the car, the front bumper’s paint has been peeling in places and there are huge scuff marks under the bumper from the previous owner’s Auto X sessions. It might be worth replacing the front valence altogether with a new one, but who knows? Maybe I could save the whole thing and keep the car as original as possible?

Let’s see what happens!

The new OEM wheels mounted on brand new Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s!
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I wanna put Alfa Romeo wheels on the Shinsen Miata

My ideal rims! Photo taken from Google somewhere

Have I gone mad?…

…or is it just the sex appeal of those five spoke “Teledial” wheels on the 2000’s Alfa Romeo 156?

I have a fondness for wheels with simple geometric shapes. It must be because one of my first car obsessions; the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. The wheels on that car had a simple five spoke design that consisted of basically a solid wheel with five circular holes cut out of it. It was so simple, when I sketched cars in my composition book during class, I always drew those wheels. In fact, I still do!

Hnnnnng! Photo taken from NetCarShow.com

Recently I was chewing the fat with one of my best friends, and the subject of wheels came up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting something a little more eye-catching for my Shinsen Miata, but finding wheels that I think look better than the stock five-spoke alloys is easier said than done. I could do what everyone else is doing and buy some JDM-style rims, but that option can get pretty pricey. Plus, I’m not exactly standing out at any Cars and Coffee events since there’s always a Miata with JDM rims anyway.

I started to lament that there weren’t a lot of aftermarket options that looked like my ideal design. I’d love to put Teledial-style wheels on the Shinsen, but my options were severely limited. Then, I had a thought: Why not look at used wheels from cars that used the Teledial design? I started doing more research, and almost immediately I found the ideal wheel.

And it belongs to a car never sold in the USA.

The Alfa Romeo 156 and the gorgeous Teledial alloy wheels. Photo taken from
Autoevolution.com

The (near) Perfect Wheels

Alfa Romeo has been using the Teledial-style wheel designs for decades, especially most recently in their current lineup of US-import vehicles. Of course, those newer wheels are pricey and too big for my diminutive Miata. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo made a 16-inch wheel that is nearly identical to the Miata’s stock wheels, and they’re pretty inexpensive (not factoring shipping)! The 2003 Alfa 156 and 147 had the option of a lightweight aluminum wheel with five circular “Teledial” spokes, and they look gorgeous. Aside from being based on a classic Alfa design, the treatment of the wheels is also nearly identical to the Miata’s, so they aren’t gaudy or too distracting like some other wheels I’ve seen.

I dug deeper trying to learn as much as I can about these particular wheels. I was worried that the wheel size and the lug pattern was too different from the stock Miata wheels to even consider as a replacement, but then I stumbled across Wheel-Size.com; a massive database for wheel fitment and tire sizes. With it, I was able to find the the exact specifications for both my Shinsen Miata’s Wheels, and the Alfa Romeo Teledial Wheels:

2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L 5spd:

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 4x100mm
  • Offset: 40mm
  • Center Bore: 54.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/45R16

2003 Alfa Romeo 156 1.6L-2.5L

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 5x98mm
  • Offset: 41.5mm
  • Center Bore: 58.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/55R16

As you can see, not only is the rim size practically the same, but the Offset, Center Bore and Tire Size are incredibly similar! The only drawback to these wheels however is the lug pattern. Instead of the 4 lug, 100mm diameter pattern, Alfa Romeo utilized a 5 lug pattern 98mm in diameter. This means that if I were to find these wheels somewhere, I would need to rely on a PCD Wheel Adapter that changes the lug pattern from 4x100mm to 5x98mm. And that’s even if I find the wheels; because Alfa Romeo never sold this car in the states, all examples of this particular wheel is sold overseas. That means more shipping costs!

Alas, it might be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Still, I’d like to imagine how surprised people would get when I roll up with a Shinsen Miata using Alfa Romeo rims!

You know what? I don’t think Navy Blue Powder-Coated rims look half bad on the Shinsen either!