The Cadillac Sabre-spoke Wheel
The Cadillac "saber" wheel is rare and tough to work with, but the perfect match for one of history’s most revered cars. From the sole standpoint of spiffy shoes, Cadillac was already doing fabulously as the ’50s unfolded. Who, after all, can forget the 1953 Eldorado, one of the decade’s most glorious cars, with its authentic wire wheels, most typically wearing a set of Nebraska-wide whitewalls?
Cadillac decided in 1955 to take another stride by introducing an exclusive, model-specific line of dress-up wheels with a dramatic finned theme that incorporated a cast-aluminum center riveted to a steel rim, with a separate crested center cap. That was a highly unusual manufacturing technique 50-odd years ago, but then, this wheel, which came quickly to be known as the "saber," was a unique piece. Today, it’s one of the most highly prized Cadillac accessories of the 1950s. Finding, and reviving, a set of sabers can exact a heavy price in both funds and physical effort.
The saber was offered by Cadillac (only) from 1955 through 1958. It was standard equipment on all Eldorado models. It was also included as a standard item for the Series 75 in 1955 only.
Cadillac lists it as a "turbine wheel," not as the sabre-spoke, in the parts manual. Cadillac offered the sabre-spoke wheel option in 1955 at a cost of $325 for 5 wheels. $325 = a whopping 7.55% of the original $4,305 sale price of the Coupe DeVille back in 1955! $325 also equates to a $2,585.22 (2008 dollars) option. My 1959 parts manual lists the price of the chrome turbine wheel at $129 each. Market demand must have supported this significant price increase in four short years? It is also important to appreciate that in adddition to the wheel itself, one needed to purchase a hub cap and center medallion. Acquiring these necessary items further increased the cost of the sabre-spoke wheel option.
One of the unique foibles of Cad-dom in the middle ’50s was that in 1956, the Eldorado line was bifurcated. That year, the convertible Eldorado became known as the Eldorado Biarritz. The two-door hardtop version of the car, which was based, after a fashion, on a Motorama show car called the Cadillac Celebrity, was then named the Eldorado Seville. In 1956, Cadillac buyers could order the Eldorado with either the optional "silver" or "gold" packages, referring to the finish of the car’s scripting and its saber wheels. Today, saber wheels anodized in gold from that year are among the rarest Eldorado items extant.
This is a good place to make clear that there are actually two designs of saber wheels, one specifically for 1955 and 1956 Cadillacs, and one for cars built during 1957 and 1958. The wheels’ offsets differ, and they’re not directly interchangeable with one another.
To get smart about their care and feeding, we spoke to Elsa Nicodemus, owner of Cadillac restoration specialists FEN Enterprises in Wappingers Falls, New York. She explained to us that, "One of the greatest concerns you have with these wheels is that the center is made of aluminum, and they generally did not hold up very well. They’re very subject to both corrosion and pitting." That said, the gold-anodized wheels appear to be more pit-resistant than the chrome units. Not only that, but replating chrome over the saber’s cast aluminum is a specific process and can be very costly, because the chrome has to be absorbed deeply into the texture and metallic structure of the aluminum casting. During a restoration, the rest of the wheel is typically finished in gray powdercoating, she said.
Her technician, Mark Senatore, told us, "The 1957 and 1958 wheels are
by far the rarest, nearly impossible to find, and very expensive to find as a
set." Here at Hemmings, we’ve seen costs that can lead to spending close
to $1,000 for a salvageable saber wheel, and a similar expenditure to refurbish
it. Rather than searching for one at a swap meet, your best bet to find a
set may be to contact a supplier like FEN that stocks restorable sabers.
And even though they’re partly aluminum, sabers aren’t the easiest wheels to
mount; given their weight and the fender skirted rear wheel openings.
One needs to buy the correct sabre wheels for your model year; one size does not fit all!
See below for information about the differences among the production years.
GROUP 22.0010 Wheel Assembly, Less Tire
Description Part # List Price Specifications
|55-60S, 62 56-60S, 62||146 3918||$129.60||Aluminum, Turbine Type,
|55-75, CC 56-75, CC||146 4759||135.00||Aluminum, Turbine Type, Chrome|
|56-60S, 62||146 5348||121.00||Aluminum, Gold Finish, Turbine Type|
|56-75, CC||146 5353||136.65||Aluminum, Gold Finish Turbine
|57-60S, 62 58-60S, 62||146 6798||140.40||Aluminum, Turbine Type, Chrome|
|57-75, CC 58-75, CC||146 6799||140.40||Aluminum, Turbine Type, Chrome|
Kelsey Hayes #38612 “split rim” design - Chrome
The '55 sabre-spoke wheel does requires a spacer and longer studs when used on 1957-58 front wheels.
1956 Model Year:
Kelsey Hayes #39786 - 39787 - 39796 “clad rim” design. (wheel manufacturing process modified)
2 VERSIONS: Chrome (Cadillac Part Number 146 3918) and Gold (Cadillac Part Number 146 5348).
The '56 sabre-spoke wheel does requires a spacer when used on 1957-58 front wheels.
1957-58 Model Years:
Kelsey Hayes #41098 “clad rim” design (slight wheel offset change required for larger 12" front drums)
Chrome only (Cadillac Part Number 146 6798).
The Gray Lady's sabre-spoke wheels.
The chrome wheel with gold cap (on the right) is somewhat of an anomaly as it mixes, and does not necessarily match?
Sabre and Gold or Silver Wire Spoke Wheel
The sabre wheels have the chrome separated from the wheel, all pits in the chrome are filled and hand sanded to a smooth surface. This labor intensive preparation is necessary or the chrome finish would have pits and imperfections. It is then triple chrome plated and riveted together, producing a wheel that is new and better than the original. The wheel itself is finished in a gray powder coat.
Wire Wheel Service
14731 Lull St
818-785-7237 fax: 818-994-2042
Mail order and open shop. Monday-Friday 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Restoration of all styles of wire, steel, aluminum and mag. Straightening, truing, polishing, painting, powdercoating, chrome. Since 1969 we have been restoring wheels from daily drivers to concours. References upon request. We sell new and used wheels and tires, custom jobs are no problem. Some antique wheels in stock, we also buy old wheels. Helping to keep them on the road, call us, we're here to help.
Sabre Wheel Notes -
The sabre wheel consists of an outer aluminum portion, riveted to a steel inner part. They are prone to leak at the rivets. For this reason, whether one is running bias ply tires or radials, tubes should also be used. Some people have had success using silcone on the rivets. The factory included, for lack of a better term a wide rubber band that covered the rivets and was glued to form an airtight seal.
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