About The Wheel Professor

Larry Anderson is a classic car enthusiast and retired 40 year veteran of the custom wheel industry. Larry continues to write articles for magazines and has built this site to continue providing advice and insight into custom wheels and classic cars.

The Professor with his T Bird

Article written by Tom Madigan April 2006

Tom Madigan has been an automotive writer for over 40 years. He was a feature editor for Popular Hot Rodding magazine for many years and has written several books including Boss: The Bill Stroppe Story and The Loner: the Story of a Drag Racer. Tom recently wrote the book Edelbrock: Made in the USA.

Larry Anderson, the Wheel Professor, believes in quality of product no matter what the decade.

In the old days, many of the pioneers who manufactured high performance equipment for hot rods and race cars were themselves racers and enthusiasts. Over the years, big business took over, the bottom line became the definitive goal and most of the small shop operators gave in to progress. The one on one approach between supplier and racer was lost. Marketing, bulk sales, wholesale distribution took priority over any personal relationship. The manufacturer became a nameless figure and direct contact with the customer was long forgotten. Today mass marketing, warehouse capacity and sales figures dominant the performance industry as product demand forces more emphasis on quantity and less on quality.

The picture of production growing as fast as today’s high-tech computer programs paints a characterization of modern business in its most expansive mode. Some believe that this furious pace is a rule set in stone. Thankfully there is an exception to every rule and the following story may be one for the performance enthusiast to consider as enlightening.
California native Larry Anderson, creator and president of WheelTech International Corp. based in the Southern California city of Riverside, has recently introduced a line of custom wheels with applications in the Street Rod and Muscle Car market. Nothing unusual or earth-shattering about this concept at first glance until the initial rhetoric is moved aside and it is discovered that in this case, not only are the wheels a throwback to the good old days, but the owner fits the same classification.

Anderson creates and sells wheels that fulfill his own personal standards. The company philosophy is a reversion to the earlier days of the performance business when racers and enthusiasts could find the manufacturer of their favorite pieces of performance equipment in the middle of competition trying to prove their products to their customers. Back then the manufacturer believed that racing on Sunday meant selling on Monday. Vic Edelbrock Sr. one of the most famous names in the performance industry, once said he would never put his name on any product that he didn’t use and believed that his products were the best they could be before they went to a consumer.
The repercussion of this simplicity in marketing, this uncomplicated method for selling a signature product is unpretentious. The act of putting your name on the product says you believe that reputation means everything. Quality and not quantity becomes the focus. At the time of this writing WheelTech produces only three choices in custom wheel applications, however, there is much more to the story than a list of offerings. The man behind the company is the key to why this small wheel supplier is willing to buck the super powers in the aftermarket wheel business with a commitment to high standards in product quality and a promise to return to the past for company service to the customer.

The Man, Behind This Concept
The notion of high quality at WheelTech is not an idle boast. To get a clearer picture of the product, it is a good idea to take a close-up look at the creator.

WheelTech International did not fall from the sky onto the performance market it was the product of a serious dose of hard work coupled with a strong desire to complete a lifelong dream. Larry Anderson, founder of the company is also the head designer, marketing manager, the major labor force plus chief cook and bottle washer. Anderson and his love for hot rods begins in the late 1950s with his first car, a 1929 Model A five window coupe purchased before he had a driver’s license. At age 16 a 1947 Ford coupe, then an Olds 88. At 17 his first trip to a drag strip. One year later Larry joined the brotherhood of real hot rod enthusiasts with the building of a traditional style 1931 Model A, powered by a very stout Olds V-8.

After a stint in the Marine Corps, Anderson returned to his fathers business. He had worked off and on for his father from age 13 learning the metal stamping business. This experience would propel his desire to become involved in the wheel manufacturing business. By the late 1960s Anderson was ready to strike out on his own and his industrious nature pushed him into developing his own venture called Anderson-Walker Industries, a metal stamping and fabrication company that included stamping steel wheel centers for custom wheels. The company started producing centers for VW dune buggy wheels for Johnny’s Speed & Chrome.

Throughout the 1970s Anderson continued developing technology in creating wheel center stampings and was instrumental in developing the first chrome steel smoothie wheel for Johnny’s Speed & Chrome. During this time period Anderson-Walker (Larry) began designing and building a line of wheel centers that were sold to companies like American Racing, Appliance, Keystone, Rocket, Superior and Western wheel.

The demand for aftermarket wheels took a new direction in the early 1970s, off-road racing blossomed into a serious sport and Anderson saw the chance for expansion. He created more off-road wheel designs as well as a line of products for the hard core off-road enthusiast. Working with both Bilstein and Mickey Thompson he developed cooling fins for shock absorbers to keep them cool under extreme conditions. Also, dune buggy skid plates and suspension components were added to the list of off-road parts. Always the enthusiast Larry could not contain himself with just building parts he had to compete. From 1971 thru 1977 Anderson built and raced a single seat buggy in major events including the Mint 400, Baja 500 and the Mexican 1000. Again, Anderson proved his philosophy that using your own products help to make them better. As the off-road segment of the industry grew, Anderson-Walker became a leader in the production of wheels for off-road buggies as well as for the newest market, four-wheel drive sport utility vehicles. The future looked bright for the aftermarket wheel industry.
Then, without much warning, the 1970s fell into the clutches of the great gasoline debacle. All segments of the auto industry took some serious body blows. This was especially true for the off-road market. Monster four-wheel drive vehicles, getting about 10 mpg fell from grace in the eyes of the public. A collateral victim of the fuel crisis was the aftermarket suppliers, wheels being a major portion of that business. By 1979 Anderson-Walker began having very serious financial problems and in an effort to save the company from ruin, Larry designed a new style steel wheel fashioned after the Centerline Champ style three piece aluminum wheel. It had 10 round holes and 20 simulated rivets and the center was colored black or gold. The wheel was introduced at the 1979 SEMA show as the Steel Modular (later known as the Chrome Mod) and became a huge success, unfortunately not as an Anderson-Walker product. Despite his best efforts the economic struggles at the end of the decade forced Anderson into some very tough choices. In 1980 he dissolved Anderson-Walker in favor of a down-sized venture called Cal/Master specializing in steel wheels for VW and FWD drive vehicles. Although he was still making wheels, the pressure of a large company with a substantial workforce was gone.

It is during this time period that our story takes on a whole new dimension. The aftermarket wheel industry had grown so quickly that the quality in some of the products had become less than premium. Anderson became obsessed with improving quality. He found that most companies were more interested in quantity as off-shore manufacturing became the new generation concept in a quest for cheap labor and high volume. Anderson threw himself into the study of specifications, testing requirements, test procedures and safer wheel design. Working with a laboratory called Goal Automotive Technical Services, Anderson honed his expertise in the process of creating a wheel that would not only appeal to the senses but to meet the highest standards available. He became the first American to be awarded a certificate of approval from TUV (The German Wheel Specification Organization). This desire to create a better product would become the steering mechanism for the rest of his career. In late 1987 Anderson sold his Cal/Master wheel interests to a company called Progressive Wheel of Riverside, California, agreeing to remain three years as a technical consultant. As part of his commitment, he set up their engineering department and quality control department. While still under contract to Progressive, Anderson set up the company’s two-piece aluminum wheel manufacturing line and also discovered the one-piece cast aluminum wheel part of the wheel business. During his time with Progressive he made his first trip to Asia sourcing aluminum centers. This would be an important event in his career.

With the conclusion of his contract in 1990 with Progressive Wheel, Larry Anderson decided to become a consultant to the wheel industry and try to resolve certain problems that were plaguing manufacturers at the time. His accomplishments in a very short period are worth noting. Anderson and old wheel testing buddy, Ed Hill, worked with SEMA to form the Wheel Industry Committee and in 1999 became the first Chairman of the Wheel Industry Council. He also became Chairman of the SAE Aftermarket Wheel & Tire Committee. During his Chairmanship the committee developed the new SAE J2530 Aftermarket Wheel Standard. In addition to SEMA and SAE, Anderson became a liaison between United States aftermarket industry groups including: SAE, WIC, SEMA and JAWA (Japan Light Alloy Wheel Association). While acting as a consultant Anderson crossed paths with a company called Empire Castings, a factory specializing in low pressure wheel casting machines. Anderson absorbed all of the technical knowledge he could and in 1990-91 he was lured back into the wheel business by Ultra Wheel to set up a two piece aluminum wheel assembly line. At Ultra Anderson designed a welding machine to weld cast aluminum wheel centers into a rolled or spun aluminum outer rim. The process was so successful that Anderson began selling the welding equipment to other wheel manufacturers. During this same time frame, Anderson decided that he would venture back into the wheel manufacturing business and formed his own company called WheelTech International.

This time around Anderson was fully armed with expert knowledge in all of the aspects of wheel manufacturing. His talents as a designer and wheel engineer now combined with his understanding of casting methods and he was able to confront all of the inherent problems encountered by aftermarket wheel makers. He could design around the challenges presented by brake systems, suspension systems, original wheel off-set, center bores, bolt patterns, wheel loads and the effects of tire size. Anderson was now ready to design wheels that would not only fit a wide segment of the market but produce wheels that were high quality and safe. All the hard work paid off when a long standing relationship between Anderson and a company in China called Zhongnan Aluminum Wheel Company Ltd. resulted in WheelTech International designing and selling high quality custom street wheels under an agreement with Sears and Pep Boys. The wheels, classified as custom designed, aftermarket commodity units, priced for mass market sales to the General Public. The wheels were aimed at a wide market including, the standard passenger car line, SUVs, light trucks and the import “Tuner” market. The wheels are private label; Pep Boys selling under the name ZNA Alloy Wheels and Sears under SSC Performance Wheels. With high quality and low price the line became an instant success. For Anderson and WheelTech, the marriage between the two mass market companies and the factory in China was ideal because the wheels were shipped directly to warehouse facilities provided by Sears and Pep Boys leaving WheelTech to provide designs for new lines and to offer a hot line for customer problems.

Selling thousands of wheels to a massive audience is profitable and makes good business sense but it left a void in Larry Anderson as a true car enthusiast. So, as the new millennium came into reality, Anderson renewed his interest in his first love, hot rods. He began attending hot rod shows and started restoring a couple of his favorite street machines; a 1962 Ford Thunderbird and a 1954 Oldsmobile 88. Anderson also indulged himself in a pleasure every hot rod enthusiast dreams about. He built a very cool work shop on property behind his house in Riverside, California. The shop is complete with all of the equipment necessary to create any hot rod project. WheelTech has a small sales office and warehouse in Riverside, CA. but Anderson does most of the design work at his home office and shop. During the process of detuning his fast paced life and take slowing down to smell the gear oil and engage in some personal restoration, Anderson discovered that there wasn’t many choices when it came to aftermarket aluminum wheels for the late 50s and 60s style cars. Most of the muscle car restoration projects were using American Torque Thrusts, Cragar SS or some type of steel nostalgia wheel. This dilemma was an instant challenge for the creative mind of Larry Anderson. It was a no-brainer, Anderson decided he would design and build his own personal custom wheel line for the nostalgia market.

We have now come full circle from Anderson’s love for cars as a young enthusiast to the development of his own signature wheel and to the exposure to the public with this story.

There are three styles in this all-new WheelTech line, all designed by Anderson and produced by the same company he has used for the last 14 years. The first design was the TQ Rod Wheel, then came the SLT Muscle Mag and the latest creation is the RT5 Retro Alloy.