SIATA – Steelies Is Always The Answer?

I’ve been driving around in an old Volvo XC70 for a year and a half. I like it, it’s nice. I got it for cheap from the UK thanks to some friends visiting, sourced some LHD headlights and proceeded to drive to work and back forever, with some basic maintenance making sure the turbodiesel inline five stays happy. The office is an hour away, so for my use case it makes the most sense to get the most fuel efficient yet comfortable vehicle for the commute. Diesel’s markedly cheaper than gasoline here in Finland but you pay a bigger yearly road tax, so you need to count your miles to make sure which fuel works out for you in the long run. Anyway, the XC70’s been the reliable farm truck slash commuter car for me for a while now, and judging from the endless similar ones you see on the roads here, other Ostrobothnian Finns like to count on them too.

So, how to make mine stand out from the other ones?

Obviously the first thing is that the steering wheel on mine is on the forest side, not on the oncoming car side. I got used to that quickly, even to shifting the six-speed manual with my left hand, thanks to driving straight for an hour twice a day. You just follow the white line to your right and that’s it.

The second thing I did was slap some beer shop and pizza place stickers on the rear side window, to show my support for pizza and beer in these trying times. After the rare but treacherous Nordic sun wrecked the beer shop sticker, I replaced it with a moderately ill-advised one that proclaims the cleanliness of driving a Volvo. Mine’s often dirty on the inside and outside and it came without a DPF from the factory, so the sticker’s not quite true.

But the one thing that’s really made my beat-up, 300 000 km Volvo feel mine was a really cheap modification. Steel wheels. 16-inch steel wheels from 2007-on PSA vans (Citroën Jumpy/Peugeot Expert/Toyota Proace), part number 5401R1, bought used with useable tires on them. Correct 5×108 bolt pattern, Volvo-matching 65.1 center bore, suitable offset (ET42) compared to the original and clearcoat damaged Volvo wheels, practically no rust. I love them. They make the car look like the versatile, IKEA flat pack transporting van it is in its heart, especially as I tend to keep the rear seat completely folded at almost all times. (Removing the rear seat would roughly halve the yearly tax, but sometimes you still need it, and properly deleting it is a bit tricky with the back rest mounted seat belt sensors in P2 gen V70s/XC70s. Yanking the back rests without wiring mods gives you warning messages.) The wheels are also slightly chunkier than stock 16-inch steelies some P2 gen Volvos got.

The factory black painted centers are especially good looking, as they resemble center caps that are pretty much essential for all van look steelies. Some steelie enthusiasts just fit nothing else than black or silver steel wheels, and then the car just looks like you got it directly from the delivery truck, bypassing any dealership prep. Like on Rallye spec Peugeots, the center caps finish off the steelie look. The wheels need them! It’s just that to fit the stock caps with which my Citroën Jumpy steelies came, I’d have to butcher them a bit to make them suit the Volvo wheel bolts that protrude more. And then they’d still have Citroën logos on them. And they’re silver anyway. Let the black circles do their job.

Outside of Europe, these particular steelies are sadly not easy to come by, as they’re manufactured for plumbers’ vans that are made in France. But then again, the XC70 was never offered as a diesel manual in the USA, either, making this creation strictly Euro spec. In case I decide to hold onto the car even after taking it off commuter duty (I keep browsing EV lease deals so I wouldn’t be dependent of constantly more expensive fuel just to get to work and back), I would definitely be interested in fitting some meatier off-road tires on these wheels, some ridiculous lights on the front and on the roof, and maybe give the stock suspension a subtle lift. And yeah, fix the AWD that’s been offline since forever, if I want to actually take the car any further from the paved roads where it now lives. Not like that’s important. Not like the tailgate says AWD and Cross Country in big letters…

Of course, this is the part in the bloog where the question format headline gets “No” for an answer. Steelies won’t make every car better. In the occasion that a car is actually visually improved by making it look more base spec, they’re a neat left-field touch, and they do fit the black bumper look that mine has. Sometimes they’re lighter or more durable, too, but quite often aluminium wheels, especially OEM ones support the design of the car better. They’re not an easy ticket to make the car look interesting. That said, they’re often worth a shot, especially if you run winter tires part of the year.

But the one thing the steelies have done, apart from giving me decent, near-free summer tires I can just wear out on my commute, is make my car recognizable. The other week I parked the Volvo in a slumbering Turku neighbourhood full of old wooden housing. I was near-immediately tagged in a local car-spotter’s Instagram story saying “I’ve been on the Internet long enough to know that any RHD XC70 on van steelies must belong to Antti”, with a side profile shot of the Volvo. I think the steelie influencer exposure is worth the 50 bucks the wheels cost me.

7 Comments

  1. This might be my uneducated opinion, but while steelies can work really well, Europe gets better steelie options than North America. Offhand, except for a couple options (I’m thinking some five spokes by Honda, or a couple choices on base full-sized trucks), it’s mostly the ugly black wheels that are best covered up.

    The Volvo looks good though.

    1. Back in the 60s and 70s most of the upgraded rally wheels were steelies and looked quite good. Not steelies as we think of now, but stamped steel nonetheless.

  2. The wheels do make it look more commercial. Consider adding some vinyl lettering to represent a fictional unit number.

    I came across a Craigslist listing for a Jeep WJ that had been converted for rural mail delivery. It was a hack job, not something well-engineered. The driver now sat on the right hand side of the car, but the steering column remained on the left; a new steering wheel was installed on the dash in front of the driver. It was in a near-vertical orientation and affixed to the face of the dash, and looked like you would be best advised not to pull on it to hard. By comparison, a RHD vehicle designed from the start as RHD should be a snap to get used to.

  3. The wheels fit astonishingly well. But the age of steelies is coming to an end, especially in Europe. Just the fact that you sourced these from a commercial van says it all. Since I’ve bought so many cars towards the end of their lifespan, I know my tire guy quite well, and he knows me. We talked about steelies when we bumped into each other last summer or so, and he said I was about the only one to inquire buying new steel wheels. He had no source because “no one wants them”. Even the worst penalty boxes come with decent aluminium wheels now. I mean these could be the next LP…or not.

    But is the Volvo really an economical good choice? I see that the diesel is good on fuel and has decent power, and classic Volvo ergonomics and seats sure are a benefit for your long commute. But I would still default to “something Asian” for this scenario. Probably a cheap EV.

    1. Oh yeah, I considered a lot of other options too. With the Volvo I rate the lack of road noise and general “cocoon like feel” so much that I think it’s worth the extra 1l/100km or so over something smaller. Best readings I’ve gotten at the pump have been 5.7l or so, the most recent at 5.45 but that’s with slightly too low profile tires (60 instead of 65, which throws off the measurements). It also cost less than half to buy than comparable ones here in LHD form, even with maintenance, taxes and registration on top of the UK purchase price, so I got to take advantage of the car’s abilities without paying too much. It also probably doesn’t have much resale value, so that’s just as well. But it’s been very reliable, just needing brake pads, an ABS sensor and usual oil changes. And handbrake parts, of course.

      But a cheap EV is definitely in the cards. I just don’t want to own one fully, leasing would be enough.

  4. I love steelies. I hope they’re always an available option, because sometimes they provide exactly the right look.

  5. I’ve had several cars with steel wheels and various hub caps. For urban use steelies make a lot of sense because steel is ductile so if you ding a rim on a pothole you can fix it with a hammer. Also some cars seem made for them. The GM Rally wheel and the Rostyle are both classic designs are the 8 spoke “wagon wheel” for pickups and 4x4s. My pickup looked a lot more serious with the spare tire installed than the factory alloy wheel but I have two sets of alloy wheels for it so I’m spending all my money on tires.

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