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OTW #14 Halibrand - The History And The Future Of The Original Mag Wheel Company

A legendary name with iconic and groundbreaking products that have withstood the test of time, the Halibrand name traces its roots back to Ted Halibrand, an engineer who saw an opportunity to put his knowledge gained in the aviation industry to work for the automobile racer and enthusiast. From the lightweight set of wheels that he used to claim victory in Midget racing to the fleet of Indy cars, land-speed racers, drag racers and even OEM manufacturers like Ford and Shelby American, Halibrand’s name became synonymous with speed and success throughout the 1950s and 1960s. That alone would be enough to be satisfied with, but Halibrand’s long-lasting legacy does not stem just from looking good. The first cars to exceed 140, 150, 160 and 170 MPH qualifying lap speeds at the Indy 500 wore Halibrand wheels. Seventeen consecutive National Driving Championships and 23 consecutive National Midget Champions wore Halibrand wheels. Mickey Thompson’s Challenger I land-speed machine, the streamliner that broke the 400 mile per hour barrier with four blown Pontiac engines at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1960, wore Halibrand wheels. The 1955 Ford Thunderbird, the Ford GT40, the AC/Shelby Cobra, the Cobra Daytona Coupe, the Scarab roadsters, the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport…all of them wore Halibrand wheels. Drag racing cars like the Stone/Woods/Cook Willys coupe had Halibrands on all four corners. Iconic? Absolutely. If the real-deal racers knew what was up, it goes without saying that the average enthusiast would want a piece of that action…and they did.

The History

H. Ted Halibrand made the move from a circle-track racer to a highly-respected engineer and product developer by using the knowledge he gained from his time working as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft. By the 1960s, Halibrand equipment was the standard for racers, gearheads, and even the OEM manufacturers. Zora Arkus-Duntov, for example, used Halibrand magnesium wheels on the Chevrolet CERV-1 engineering vehicle. Racers of all types loved the light weight and strong construction of the wheels. You could find many hot machines (like Lance Reventlow's Scarab Mk.1) wearing nothing less.

Henry “Ted” Halibrand was a racer first and foremost. He started out as a dirt track racer who haunted Hinchliff Stadium’s sprint car racing scene in New Jersey, coming into his own during the Great Depression. But his story starts out in earnest in the later 1930s, when he moved out to Southern California for two reasons: a job with Douglas Aircraft as an engineer, and the year-round racing opportunities that he could find within short distances. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t think of Los Angeles as a hub of the sprint car world, but before LA’s suburban sprawl made property values climb, racetracks were dotted all across southern California. There was Carrell Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Gardena, and Culver City Stadium, a figure-eight track. LA’s Farmers Market on Fairfax was once the site of Gilmore Stadium, home of midget racing, and Santa Clarita had the 1/3-mile dirt oval of Saugus Speedway. While World War II was raging on, Halibrand became a field service representative, leaving his Kurtis-Offenhauser behind and traveling the world over while helping to maintain the aircraft that Douglas was cranking out for the Armed Forces.

During these years, he had his hands on plenty of aircraft parts that required lightweight yet strong materials. Magnesium, alloyed with aluminum and zinc, created brutally strong yet surprisingly light parts and once the war was over, that knowledge became his winning formula when he returned to the racetracks. In 1946, he cast a set of magnesium wheels for his midget racer, something that would be lighter yet stronger than the steel-spoke designs that were commonplace at the time. This would reduce the car’s overall weight and more important, the unsprung weight of the vehicle, and the experiment paid dividends on the track. The smooth disc wheels might have looked odd compared to the other racers, but nobody could deny the results.

With other racers quickly gaining interest in Ted’s wheels, the Halibrand Engineering Company came to be in 1947. If you ever wondered about the origin of the term “mag wheel”, you can look directly to Halibrand’s magnesium-alloy wheels that dominated racing for the answer. And we do mean “dominated” …in the 1950s and 1960s, it was easier to count the cars that didn’t wear Halibrand wheels than it was to figure out how many racers had them! Many sports car racers had them, a majority of the field at the Indy 500 had them, land-speed racers like Mickey Thompson put them into the limelight, drag racers used them, and even Ford was interested, offering the “kidney bean” wheel as an option on the Thunderbird. Carroll Shelby put them on the Cobra and Daytona Coupe, Chevrolet ran them on the CERV-1 prototype and the 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, and you’d be hard-pressed to miss seeing a set on a local hot-shoe’s ride around town. Wheels were a major part of the Halibrand story, but that was not all of Halibrand’s product line. During Ted Halibrand’s ownership, the company produced quick-change rear ends, hubs, spindle kits, spool kits, V-drive units for boats, and disc brake kits for Indy cars. He even built a racing car in-house, the 1964-65 Halibrand Shrike rear-engined racer, powered by either an Offenhauser or a Ford four-cam engine of the period.

Always engineering-focused, the shrinking demand for the wheels and parts wound up taking a toll, especially once Indy racers gravitated towards rear-engined machines from Europe, and in 1979, Ted sold the company off. Unfortunately, due to the Halibrand trademark being sold several times since the late 1970s, plenty of the brand’s story and physical history have been lost to time. ARC Industries bought the Halibrand name and the casting patterns in 1979 and moved the business to El Cajon, California, where the wheel production switched to aluminum castings. In 1982 the company was sold to wheel producer Jackman Industries, which held the company until 1988. It is known that Wayne Mitchell acquired Halibrand afterwards and shortly thereafter brought in Barry Blackmore, but not much came about until Lamar Electro-Air Corporation and Richard LeJuerrne purchased the Halibrand property in 1993.

Richard was a steward of the brand and should be credited with preserving much of Halibrand’s historical artifacts. Striking at the right time for both the street rod and sport truck movements of the 1990s, Halibrand’s line of classic-inspired wheels (now cast in aluminum and polished bright) gained a newfound audience as well as the eyes of those who had fond memories of the past. You could find a set of Halibrand Sprint wheels on a 1994 Chevrolet C1500 that was slammed on the ground just as easily as you could find them on a 1932 Ford, or a 1957 Chevrolet 210, or a 1966 Shelby G.T. 350. LeJuerrne poured his heart and soul into Halibrand during the 25-plus years that he owned the business and managed it until his passing in 2019.

The Future

With the acquisition of Halibrand by Holley, there are surely some questions that are going to be asked about the product and what is in the works. There is quite a storied history to the brand, one that we have been careful to keep intact as we’ve began preparing for this moment. We’ve acquired an immense quantity of the historical documents, vintage tooling, and wheel samples that date back to the earliest days of Halibrand. Where tooling and molds were damaged, destroyed or recycled, we have carefully worked to re-engineer those wheels back into existence using the latest manufacturing methods available, while retaining the detail, style and heritage that makes them a Halibrand product. The same attention to detail will be applied to new wheel designs, such as the Hyperkinetic HB003 Series.

Ted Halibrand was never content to rest on his laurels. His passion, drive, and determination to engineer the best products for the automobile racer and enthusiast is what catapulted Halibrand into the forefront of wheel and race car technology, a market that demands nothing but the best. True to Ted’s passion, Halibrand will honor its heritage by bringing classic wheels we all know and love, like the five-slot Sprint wheel and other classic styles, back to the market. Simultaneously, we will innovate with late-model wheel designs with the same eye for engineering detail that Ted would've demanded himself. Holley is honored to bring a name as hallowed as Halibrand back to life.

Halibrand – The Original Mag Wheel.

by Bryan McTaggart/

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