words by pablo deferrari
I had a tired Opel Manta Rallye as my first car at 17. What can I say, owning even the cheapest Porsche wasn’t even a blip on the radar, so after I got my fill with the German GM, I got the next best thing—a Mk1 VW Scirocco.
This was the closest I could get to a Porsche, well, at least there was a direct lineage at one point. This would have to do for the moment, it honed my driving skills, taught me all about understeer, and how to slide around a turn using the handbrake; it was a fun ride. What was great about these cars was that they were being heavily modified in Europe at the time; this was the late 80’s. So I had access to the same suspension upgrades, engine mods, and of course, the most important bit to a car’s persona, the wheels...essentially, all the latest components from Europe were at my disposal.
One of the coolest mods I made was slapping on a set of RONAL wheels with gold lattice centers and polished lips that I picked up from a junkyard. But there was a set of wheels I desperately wanted that were not only hard to find, they were incredibly expensive...I’m talking about the legendary Ronal Racing 3-piece wheels. They oozed racing pedigree looking very similar to the turbine wheels used on the 935/78 Moby Dick…totally badass, they would’ve totally given my Scirocco a serious, purposeful look.
bbs had a similar design used for racing
Of course these desires pass, you move on to other things and the object of your adoration sinks deep into the murky waters of memory. And then one day, as if by magic, they come back into focus becoming an obsession all over again. Let me explain why this wheel was very significant during the late seventies into the early eighties.
"...his clients paid more attention to the aluminum cast wheels on his Opel than anything he was selling at the time."
Karl Roland Wirth started RONAL in 1969. But how he got into producing wheels comes in a roundabout sort of way. Being the pioneering entrepreneur that he was, Karl began selling engine testing equipment used to adjust carburetors, ignition systems, and the like. He had initially named his business RON (ROlaNd) as an abbreviation of his middle name. Business was tough in those days, his clients paid more attention to the aluminum cast wheels on his Opel than anything he was selling at the time.
The wheels were made by his friend, Norbert Oberschmidt, who worked at a wheel manufacturing company, and it wasn’t long before Karl sensed a business opportunity with these wheels. He began taking orders before even one wheel was made, and quickly bought the equipment needed to make the wheels his friend Norbert created.
The first wheels were sand cast at a foundry in Weingarten, and then machined by Karl in Walldorf and fitted on an Alfa Romeo Duetto in 1969. It was during that time that the company name morphed the “AL” in aluminum, the key material used to manufacture the wheels, to RON to form RONAL.
The orders came in at such an alarming speed, the foundry couldn’t handle it so Karl decided to open his first factory in Forst, Germany. By 1970, all production was moved to there and incidentally, the RONAL factory was the first in Germany to house both development and production.
In September of ’71, RONAL got its first OE order from Ford in Cologne and by ’74, they produced 100,000 wheels in one year. Then in ’76, they opened a second factory in Saint Avold, France.
By 1978, overall production passed the one million mark, and that’s when the “Secret Project” was developed; the wheel of my adoration, the RONAL turbo.
This wheel wasn’t designed by committee, nor was it a marketing strategy, it was a design done in tightly scheduled spare time. This project was spearheaded by Harald Ertl, the 1978 Racing Sport Champion title holder who convinced the head of development at RONAL to design a three-piece RONAL turbo wheel. At the same time, Ertl dreamed up a group 5 race car as a successor to the Lotus Europa which gave him enormous publicity.
He announced his plans in the February issue of Rally Racing, and when the car was presented, there, for all to see were the words “RONAL RACING” embossed on the wheels of the new Super Lotus. The wheels attracted so much attention, that RONAL decided to debut their new design at the 1000km Nürburgring in June of ’79.
"RONAL would simply put the wheels together according to your specs using barrels and lips of varying widths and off you went."
By 1983, RONAL started producing the wheel for road applications. To optimize functionality and manufacturing costs, the design was produced as a one-piece cast aluminum wheel with a clean turned outer face. The engraved “RACING” name was changed to “TURBO” which stood for the radial spokes that ensured excellent brake cooling on the inside of the wheel. They were constructed in 6 ½ and 7Jx15 as well as 7 and 8Jx16 configurations to suit a large amount of applications.
They could be custom ordered for any car you wanted to put them on by specifying offset, backspacing, bolt pattern, widths, etc. RONAL would simply put the wheels together according to your specs using barrels and lips of varying widths and off you went.
The RONAL Turbo wheel was the star on the title image in the October issue of Auto, Motor und Sport winning a wide range of wheel tests. Their design and engineering became the “technology of the future.”
Needless to say, this wheel has gained a cult following much like the classic BBS RS three-piece design. This prompted RONAL to launch the new R10 Turbo at the 1999 IAA in Frankfurt, Germany and with the new look came new sizes to suit modern applications.
The R50 Aero continues the classic design well into the 21st century, but what could be better than an original vintage set on any early water-cooled Porsche? The look is not only period correct, it’s timeless.