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The Truth About Watanabe Wheels

Fitment Industries Author | | April 5th, 2018 |

  • - Hey guys, what's going on, it's Alex from Fitment Industries, and today we're gonna be talking to you about like, it's v, and then there's like a slash, and then there's like an angled smiley face, and then there's another angled smiley face, and then there's like a q, but it's like a weird q. Not entirely sure what it is, but I put it in Google translate, and it came out to be like wah - m, wantina, wah - m, Watanabe. Today we're going to be talking about racing service Watanabe, brought to you buy yours truly, Alex, that's me, let's get right into it.

    Watanabe racing service wheels has been synonymous in the after market wheel game for making light-weight, badass, awesome, Japanese- inspired wheels. Established in 1949 by Toshiyuki Watanabe, these guys have been around since the dawn of time. Watanabe has been known for making light-weight wheels for pretty much everything from the MG to the Datsun to the Nissans, to everything in between, up until pretty much the Mitsubishi era. And even though they're based out of Yokohama city, these guys are known throughout the world, and why is that the case? They're like the founding fathers of the after market wheel community. A lot of people don't know Watanabe if they've never really jumped into the import scene. But if you are in the older drift scene, if you are in the older tuning scene, you can't go anywhere, especially in an old classic Nissan Cruise, without either seeing reps of Watanabe's people talking about Watanabe, or they're just having Watanabe stickers all over the car. Watanabe is the company that founded the iconic eight-spoke design. If you don't know what that is, it's pretty much a double flower spoke style wheel. And they are iconic, and when I mean iconic, I mean one of the most iconic wheels ever made. In fact, it's pretty much been replicated all across the board by countless and countless wheel companies, and it's been used for pretty much every single after market wheel for old school classic Japanese cars. The wheel was accredited for being almost the perfect pair with the Datsun 240Z, in fact it was almost drawn with that car in mind. And it was iconic on plenty of other cars as well. And since their focus was all about light-weight wheels, Watanabe was always on the talk and discussion of every single racing event overseas. In fact, this was back in the early '60's, this was before forging was a very popular option, this was really before anything, aluminum style wheels was a huge thing, and it was a huge change in the terms of weight versus steel wheels. You guys have to remember, steel wheels was generally the normal thing, especially overseas and in the '60's. In the '70's, it still was pretty popular in terms of an overall after market wheel. Watanabe chose to go with an aluminum and on top of that, they used an alloy that allows them to create an extremely light-weight alloy cast wheel. Even their magnesium wheels that they made specifically for racing spec style events, they only weighed 4.5 kilograms, that's 9.9 pounds. That's the same weight I was when I came out of the womb.
    - What the heck is going on.

    - Their alloy wheels were around 6.2 or 13.5 pounds if they were a 15 inch diameter wheel, which was unheard of at the time, especially considering the decade these things were being made in. And Watanabe was known for this, they were the company that a lot of people came to, especially when it came for racing spec style wheels. Because at the end of the day, it didn't take long for racing championships and enthusiasts and drivers alike to realize that if you really wanted to save weight, you didn't save it by tearing out the interior of your car, you just made your wheels lighter and it was a lot easier. They've been involved in plenty of OEM and after market teams to create, test, and manufacture these wheels. They learned a lot of what they could do by just simply throwing them on a car and just seeing what happens, and seeing how long they lasted, and testing them out, using real world applications, before any of this super technical stuff came around, and computers and stuff, it's really the only way that they knew how to test their wheels. 1968 was iconic, why? Because the eight spoke was born. It was a legend, it was like the best designed wheel you could possibly imagine. I know BBS people are gonna be already in the comments, talking shit about import owners and their Watanabes, but seriously, eight spoke was a killer look, and it has survived the test of time, nearly 40 years, more than 40 years, and it's still a wheel that people run to this day. By the time 1972 came around, they started manufacturing and partnering with lay company to help them essentially get more production, more technology, and more information so that they could produce more wheels. A lot of what Watanabe did was all about getting partnerships, and really growing the brand as much as possible.

    And they did it with the light-weight alloy wheels that they knew they were good at making. They never tried to break the mold, more than they just tried to make the best possible wheels they could in almost every facet, without necessarily doing something that was astronomically weird or different or anything like that, they were just a company that knew what they wanted to do, and they were damn good at it. And from there, they continued to grow, they partnered with companies like Hayashi, or SpeedStar Racing, SSR if you guys don't know, to continuously produce wheels, including multi-piece wheels. They went into a bunch of different designs and testings and things that they wanted to do, but they partnered with companies so that they could make something good, they could make something light-weight, and it went fairly well. And in 1976, the same year as my Datsun, Watanabe introduced the 5S and the 4S. Did they introduce or get creative with any other designs? Not really, no. And that's fine, Watanabe never really expanded on their designs too much, they did have a couple different designs but beyond that, it was really just the iconic eight-spoke that they could never break away from. Which is pretty much okay in my book, because it's a gorgeous wheel. Did you guys know that I liked this wheel? I don't know if you could tell, I'm a little biased, but it's a damned good wheel. Nearly all of their wheels look identical, the RS8 is an eight-spoke with rivets, the R type is an eight-spoke with a big lip, Superlights, tiny eight-spoke. Before you get into the Falcon Turbos and the Falcon Meshes, yes, I get it, there are a couple that are definitely not eight-spokes, but we don't, nah. We're just not going to talk about them. By the time the early '90's came around, Watanabe was established, and they were established really well. And this was at the point where they really started to dive into different technical terms that they could use, including a magnesium two piece wheel, which was the first one ever surpassed on the JWL test in Japan. It was a huge monumental success for Watanabe, and they continued to tout that as one of their biggest accomplishments, considering the difficulty that they had in producing this wheel. So what happened with Watanabe? Nothing. Watanabe still makes wheels and sells through dealers throughout the world.

    Their main clients continue to be Raze company, Bigway Coast, Sanjo, Inyo Trading, and a lot more. And on top of that, to become a dealer, is actually pretty strict and it's not easy, that's the one thing about Watanabe which just does not seem to ever change, is that they're an extremely difficult company to get a hold of, and get their hands on. We're talking these wheels take anywhere from three months to six months to actually get produced, and made for you. And if you think they're cheap, holy shit. If you want a set of just light-weight cast Watanabe wheels, you're paying around $3,000 for these wheels, and I am not joking. Even used wheels can take a little bit between two and three K, depending on what size you're getting, and these are not big wheels, these are very small wheels, usually 15s to 14s, all the way up to 16s, sometimes can cost upwards towards that three grand era. And that is a ton of money. Especially considering what you can buy on the market today, but you're not really buying Watanabe for the sake of superior quality or light-weightness or anything like that, even though they do a great job with that, you're buying them so that you can tell people that you own them. From 2001 to 2009, they introduced three new wheel designs, and Watanabe has continued to just play low key ever since. They don't do anything too crazy to step outside the mold, or do anything huge in terms of breaking news or anything like that, in fact their website hasn't been updated in a long time. On top of that, forums don't really discuss much about Watanabe anymore, most of the recent threads were 2014 to 2013.

    You're really not going to see them talked about too much, which is really kinda sad. Watanabe is one of those brands that I truly think is a cool brand, but what makes them so special, why would you pay $3000? Well, it's really simple, you get a piece of heritage. On top of that, Watanabe's are all about weight saving, so they're an excellent track wheel on top of the fact that they are a gorgeous looking wheel. They do an amazing job at being a function style wheel, that doesn't look terrible. Their wheels have all been about unsprung weight, which if you guys didn't know you have unsprung weight and you have sprung weight. Sprung weight is the weight above the car while unsprung weight is the weight below the suspension components, and what they do is essentially every kilogram of unsprung weight is the equivalent of 15 kilograms of sprung weight. That's a ton, and I want you guys to understand just the gravity of how much that is. That means that you're get