Saab History

A Minilite Wheels For Saab Cars by Carroll Shelby

saab minilite wheels

Although they were practically replicas on Saab cars, the iconic Minilite wheels were a favorite among racing-minded drivers in the 1960s and 70s. As the name of the wheels suggests, the “Minilite” series was originally created for Austin’s “Mini” model, and with instant success, the design was taken over by many other brands, and this design gained timeless popularity.

Originally, these wheels were developed from magnesium alloy for racing and rally on the Mini model. After the initial success, Minilite wheels gained cult status and began to be made of high-quality aluminum alloy. They are still available today, and are now made in Britain on modern CNC machines and are being seriously tested for high loads.

Thanks to the popularity and success of these Minilite rims proven at rallies, it was inevitable that Saab would adopt this design and integrate it into its own successes on rally tracks around the world. And even today, the aforementioned British company offers this type of wheels for classic Saab cars, primarily for the Model 99. According to the information we received from Jonathan Williams, in the beginning Minilite made these wheels for Saab, and then cheaper replicas appeared. Here is what Jonathan found out, it is very important that the rest of the Saab community hears the details:

Minilite Wheels by Minilite Wheels

Made by Minilite in the UK for Saab, these are the earliest version and are the original designer of that style of wheel I believe. They have an aluminium centre cap. I have a set on my 99 GL at the moment. They use the same wheelnut type as the Inca wheels. Ronal wheels made in Germany for Saab. These use the same centre cap as the Inca’s but the later conical wheel nuts.

Carroll Shelby wheels for Saab Photo by James Fox
Carroll Shelby wheels for Saab
Photo by James Fox

Minilite Wheels by Carroll Shelby

Shelby’s. Someone somewhere put the story of these – the original Saab wheels were so hard to find in the US that someone in Saab America commissioned Shelby to make wheels of a similar (but different enough to avoid legal action!) wheels, think they were snactioned by Saab America and sold through them?

minilite

From all the above, we come to the conclusion that we have 3 styles of minilite rim for Saab:

  • Minilites were first,
  • Shelby’s second and
  • the cheap Ronal knock-offs last.

CEO of Saab USA, Bob Sinclair: “The “original” Gold Vane and Silver Vane wheels were from Carroll Shelby’s small operation on Figueroa Street, suburban Los Angeles. I know, because I personally flew out to meet with Carroll and set up the deal. It’s my impression that Saab (Trollhättan) contracted with Ronal for similar wheels a few years later, and I strongly suspect this was because the made in America wheels were such a success. The parts and accessories guys at the parent company weren’t exactly delighted when from time to time something like this blind-sided them and “stole” what they felt was their business.

 Carroll Shelby 5 1/2J x15 H2 Wheel 15 inch Ronal Goldvein
Carroll Shelby Wheel 15 inch Ronal Goldvein

It is reasonable to expect that Ronal, a much larger operation, would deliver a somewhat better finish. My deal with Shelby was focused on a) overall cosmetic appearance when on the vehicle, b) strength, and c) price to the car owner; as compared with Minilites when were at that time costing Saab Cars USA, Inc. well over $100 each landed in our warehouse! My first approach was to try negotiating a much lower price in exchange for a volume commitment. Standard procedures required that I source from Trollhättan, not the manufacturer. Failing several times to achieve my goal (i.e., much lower retail prices for genuine Minilites), I finally said to hell with it…and worked out a deal with Carroll for wheels that were stronger than genuine Minilites (no small task, that), and far cheaper. I hope this explaination helps…
“I worked out a deal with Carroll for wheels that were stronger than genuine Minilites” (and also, in my view at least, better looking and more durable cosmetically than Minilites, since I specified that they be clear-coated). See final sentence of my earlier statement below.
<I don’t actually know if they are stronger than Minilites, but I do know that they passed “with flying colors” when subjected to Saab’s rigorous test procedures at the Trollhättan factory. That, of course, is a bit of a story in itself. Obviously I didn’t dare launch aftermarket wheels without being certain of their strength, etc., and I could hardly expect my boss Sten Wennlo to accept some third party test results when I was…er…going around the Trollhättan parts and accessories department, which considered this to be their business.
So, more or less swearing the guys in the testing unit to secrecy, I more or less smuggled a couple of pre-production Shelby wheels into the Trollhättan testing room (accompanied by a couple bottles of fine American Bourbon…in the interests of friendly relations, of course). A month or so later, test results in hand, during a Board meeting in Connecticut I announced to my Board that I was launching a new design of road wheels…and put one on the Board Room table.
There was a bit of an explosion, of course, as I full anticipated and
sort of looked forward to. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was forbidden to do any such a thing. The Saab Car Division was responsible for approval of all safety-related components, and wheels were a critical safety-related item…blah, blah, blah.

I simply smiled, and handed the Trollhättan test sheets to my boss, Mr. Sten Wennlo, CEO of the Saab Car Division. He didn’t exactly look pleased. The other Board members clearly were amused. Sten quickly realized he’d “been had.” And we sold thousands of Shelby Gold Vane and Silver Vane wheels over the ensuing years.

Business can be fun, if you don’t forget to keep that as an objective. My friend Mr. Shelby was even more amused than my Board when I related the story a few years later.”

According to all the above, this wheel design could be the most popular and most successful when it comes to Saab cars. After the initial great success of the original Minilite wheels, the manufacturer Ronal in Germany also got a contract to make a similar wheel for continental Europe.

After that, due to high demand, the wheels of both European manufacturers were exported to the USA in different availability for dealers to install for their customers in the USA. And even these two suppliers were not enough to meet such high demand, so the importer company there, Saab North America, had to ask for help from a third-party manufacturer, Carroll Shelby.

GB wheels veriosn of Mimilite
GB wheels veriosn of Mimilite

The original Minilite wheel design is quite simple, and it gained popularity on British sports two-seater cars such as the Triumph or MG. Somewhat later, the rally drivers took over these wheels and added to the popularity, so in addition to being the most popular wheel design on older Saab models, it can also be used in the most popular wheel designs of all time, regardless of the car brand.

It can be said that it is both difficult and easy to find these wheels if you need them with your Saab. The problem is that the wheels of these three manufacturers are very similar, and they have completely different names, and they are also available in different finishes such as silver, gold or black finish. Here are just a few of the names used for these same wheels: “Minilite”,”Shelby Metalux”, “Ronal Silverspoke”, “Silvervane”, “Goldvane”, “Shelby Silver Vane”, “GB wheels”

1 Comment

  • Wow, I have a set of Shelbys without centers does anybody have extra centers.
    Almost more than I wanted to know.

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