It’s fair to say a nice set of wheels can evoke emotion from even the most stoic of car enthusiasts. From the “one stud” race car design seen on the McLaren F1 to the iconic gold rims used on the Colin McRae era Subaru Impreza Rally Cars there seems no end to the different creations designers have been able to come up with. However one particular brand arguably stands out above the rest – BBS.
The company name was derived from the two founding members surnames in Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Bran and the town where it all began, Schiltach, situated in the Black Forest region of Germany. The company was formed back in 1970 and initially produced body panels, but that all changed in 1972 when they started developing rims…
The three-piece suite.
A racing driver named Martin Braungardt approached BBS at the time. He was looking for a lightweight and strong set of wheels that were also cheap to produce (as any racing driver knows… you get through a lot of wheels). Martin wanted to race his Ford Capris in Group 2 and Group 5 events. The dilemma of offering lightness and affordability ultimately sent BBS down the path of developing rims with thinner spokes thereby reducing material. This resulted in a three-piece racing wheel known at the time as the “BBS Mahle”.
The dilemma of offering lightness and affordability ultimately sent BBS down the path of developing rims with thinner spokes thereby reducing material. This resulted in a three-piece racing wheel known at the time as the “BBS Mahle”.
The name “Mahle” came from the production company BBS had partnered with (due to lack of capability in their current plant). Little did they know that this iconic wheel would soon fall into the hands of performance car owners and the aftermarket scene soon after. Their cross-spoke design not only looked the part, but was also lightweight and excellent for performance cars.
The genius of the design was having the outer rim split into two sections and having a forged centre (a gasket was then used between these two halves, forming an airtight seal). The split rim nature of the wheel meant only the central forged section needing changing to enable the wheels to fit a multitude of race and road performance cars at the time. The company almost overnight became extremely popular…
The Mahle was first used on the road in the BMW 3.0L CSL, and were actually fitted as an optional extra. It’s this writer’s opinion that the Mahle wheels and the BMW 3.0L CSL are a match made in heaven.
From the racetrack, to the road.
In 1978 BBS started production in their own factory, despite separating from Mahle, their most popular wheel design was still known as the BBS Mahle.
In 1980 the company went public under the name BBS Kraftfahrzeugtechnik AG. This was as a result of its high profile, and ever-increasing popularity in the aftermarket scene.
The brand was known worldwide by this time, branching out with subsidiaries in Italy, Japan and the USA.
Then, the BBS “RS” was born. A more modern looking rim with fewer spokes but still a well renowned BBS style, offering even more versatility and being compatible with a vast array of cars, and more so for modern cars. The “Super RS” offers a two-piece design and single stud layout and is made of aluminium. The BBS RS has been utilised by many car manufacturers, over twenty in fact. These included VW on the Corrado, the Chrysler Laser in the US and even the Saab 9000 over here in Europe.
Despite increasing focus on the “performance road car” scene throughout the 90’s BBS still produced a large number of wheels for motorsport application. They even developed F1 wheels for Michael Schumacher’s 1995 second championship win in his Benetton Renault. The company was celebrating its 25th anniversary at the time and was at the peak of its popularity.
BBS in modern times.
In recent years, the very first supercar produced by Lexus, the LFA, was even kitted out with BBS rims. These were forged from Aluminium. A process which is advantageous over casting and involves heating the metal, not melting, which enables a better overall molecular structure and therefore strength, whilst maintaining lightness.
The whole process begins with a billet of aluminium, which is heated, pressed and turned into a mould at extreme pressures. The outer shape of the rim is then milled, whilst being heated and cooled for full bonding of the aluminium molecules. The wheel is then well cleaned, and inspected, and machined once more, a procedure known as shot-peening.
After this the wheel is blasted with sand made of metal shards which helps release the stress built up during the previous processes, this process actually extends the life of the wheel preventing degradation over time. Lastly, the finishing touches such as painting, polishing and final layer touch ups using a diamond cutter make the wheel ready for tyre installation.
In recent years, the very first supercar produced by Lexus, the LFA, was even kitted out with BBS rims. These were forged from Aluminium.
A company that needs to be, and should be saved.
To the surprise of many car enthusiasts (considering its success in the 80’s and 90s) BBS collapsed into administration in 2007. Immediately it was taken over by a few investors. Initially Belgium based “Punch International NV”, then transferring the majority ownership once more in 2012 to “Tyrol Equity AG” from Austria, and again in 2015 by a Korean Investment firm “Nice Holdings Co”.
Things were shaky, but positive for BBS, and the company looked set to rebuild and continue. However after a new struggle during the coronavirus pandemic, in July 2020 it declared bankruptcy again.
The company cited having to stop production altogether for many months, lack of cashflow and the “tough market environment” everyone was facing. Despite BBS officially declaring bankruptcy, it is still operating to some extent today , producing aftermarket and OEM wheels for its current customers, but ultimately, time will tell how long this iconic, historic and frankly incredible wheel producer has left in its tank…