Engineers have experimented with different wheel materials and shapes since the beginning of the 20th century. The first European cars were equipped with wire-spoked bicycle-style wheels with rubber tires, while the earliest Ford automobiles had wooden artillery-like wheels. In 1927 Ford switched to steel wheels. The history of magnesium wheels begins in the 1930s. In fact the first alloy wheels were mostly magnesium while aluminum alloys were rare and presented several issues, such as low ductility. Magnesium wheels remained quite popular until the 1960s when more practical aluminum alloys were developed. The main enemy of retro magnesium wheels was corrosion -- they were not weather-resistant and didn’t last very long; but still outperformed their aluminum rivals in many aspects, including acceleration time and braking distance. In the old days, magnesium wheels were produced by Halibrand, American Racing, Campagnolo and other companies. Being at least 20% lighter, they remained the top choice of racers and auto and motorcycle drivers, for whom performance was more important than longevity.
In the last decade engineers have made great technological progress, including new-generation surface treatments, which eliminate the corrosion concern and make magnesium rims suitable for regular use. A higher price and the myths that still surround Mg wheels to some extent limit their entrance into the mass market. However, they are becoming more and more popular with enthusiasts and affluent drivers and environmentally-conscious consumers -- due to their undeniable benefits.
Roberto Marchesini, known as a pioneer of motorcycle wheels, spent over 40 years designing and improving one-piece magnesium alloy wheels for both cars and motorcycles.
His famous 5 spoke cast magnesium wheels, created in 1969, have been used for many years at Road Racing World Motorcycle Championship.
During 1960’s -70’s Marchesini developed many automotive wheels for road and racing use.
A lot of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and other cars are still equipped with magnesium wheels made by Marchesini and his team.
Own Jaguar of the Italian engineer is fitted with magnesium wheels he had produced more than thirty years ago, not rusted.
Until recently top-of-the-line forged magnesium rims were produced exclusively for Formula 1 and other high-class racing vehicles. Due to the complicated production process, true forged wheels are still rare and not easy to find at many vehicle dealerships. In 2007 SMW announced the target of supplying forged magnesium wheels toward at least 50% of the the world’s wheels upgrades by 2027. In 2010 Tan-ei-sya, a Japanese manufacturer, has also launched an aftermarket line. The recent trend has been very evident with motorcycle wheels, where forged magnesium wheels already occupy a large market niche, with the biggest brands by far being Marchesini and OZ.