Level Up: Project Dirty Bird Gets A Tire And Wheel Upgrade

There are numerous ways to change the look of a vehicle; options like a vinyl wrap, ground effects, and even the infamous Lamborghini door kits are sure to set your car apart from the rest at the car show. However, the easiest and most effective way to transform the looks of a car or truck is undoubtedly tires and wheels. But be warned, just because you’re shelling out some hard-earned cash for new rollers, you can make a bad decision. You will need to have more than just good taste; things like size, offset, and, most importantly, a quality-built wheel are all crucial. 

If you haven’t read up on our latest project, Dirty Bird, we’ll give you a quick recap. 

Project Dirty Bird lives up to its name with volcanic ash etched in the paint and the factory WS6 wheels.

Our 2000 Firebird WS6 has been coast to coast, including Hawaii, and that’s how it got its name. Volcanic rock and sand from the Aloha state are etched in every crack and crevice, including the once lavish 17-inch WS6 wheels. We considered reconditioning the rare factory wheels, but for now, we decided to replace them. And since we’re switching them out, we might as well go to a larger size and width because that makes sense to a true car enthusiast. 

The factory 17-inch WS6 wheels and tires were ditched in favor of Forgestar’s CF5 wheels wrapped in a set of Mickey Thompson Street Comp tires.

After researching and digging through what seems like thousands of wheels, we kept coming back to one style of wheel. Since the WS6 offered a factory 17-inch five-star wheel, it only made sense to go back to a similar design. We did have a budget in mind for this modification, so custom three-piece forged wheels were out of the question. After searching for weeks, we found a set that was a perfect fit for our budget with the looks we wanted. Forgestar’s CF5 was our final pick in a gunmetal finish, wrapped with Mickey Thompson tires.

Forgestar Flow Formed Wheels

Forgestar is a wheel company which was founded in 2007 by Vincent Wong. The business merged with the MOMO/WELD group in 2017. Lucky for us, Wong is still with the company as the Vice President of Product Development. We reached out to Wong to talk to him about the Forgestar lineup and get a little insight into what a rotary-formed wheel is and how it’s made. 

“Forgestar’s Rotary Forged Flow Forming process is a unique solution to a common problem: making a wheel that is both light and strong. This specialized process begins with a low-pressure type of casting and uses a particular machine that spins the initial casting and heats the casting’s outer portion. We then use steel rollers pressed against the rim area to pull the rim to its final width and shape,” Wong explains. “The combination of heat, pressure, and spinning creates a rim area with a strength similar to a forged wheel.” 

Forgestar starts with an A356.2 aluminum for its wheels; then applies pressure with the flow form process to the cast aluminum, which changes its mechanical properties; this causes the strength and impact of the wheel values to become comparable to those of a forged rim. The method translates up to 15-percent less weight when compared to a standard cast wheel. It also results in the grain structure within the alloy of the wheel being linear, flowing in a single direction, making it stronger.

“This grain structure pattern, combined with the exceptional quality of casting required for the process, gives the rim area of the wheel enormous mechanical strength and elongation. As a result of these mechanical characteristics, Forgestar can reduce the rim area’s thickness, resulting in reduced weight without compromising strength and resistance to impact,” explained Wong.

Rotary Forged Flow Forming Process Recap

  • Step 1: The process begins with a specially designed casting that is spun while heating the outer portion.
  • Step 2: Hydraulic rollers are used to form the barrel by applying heat and pressure.
  • Step 3: As the rollers extend outward on the barrel, the aluminum is stretched and compressed, changing the mechanical properties and increasing the aluminum’s strength.
  • Step 4: The final product is lighter, more robust, with impact values similar to those of a forged rim.

The Downside Of Flow Formed Wheels: None

With all of the benefits of a flow formed process, we wondered what the downside would involve. Wong said, “There are no disadvantages. We have been able to advance the technology over the years and are now building two-way flow forming and modular flow-formed wheels.

Custom Looks And Colors

If you’re looking for something custom, Forgestar can deliver with 12 different wheel styles over three unique wheel series and 17 standard finishes. And if you don’t see a color option you like, there are custom powder-coating options. 

While Forgestar offers bold color choices, we went the subtle route and chose gunmetal for our wheel finish.

The possibilities are endless, and every Forgestar wheel is built to the customer’s specific request. This means you get the exact offset and size you need for your car…but don’t worry, there are certain sizes, offsets, and colors sitting on the shelves. Wong said, “This year, we have released our most popular fitments in our most popular colors — gunmetal, gloss black, and matte bronze, all boxed up and ready to go. Our drag racing program is also completely ready to go and typically ships the same day.

Mickey Thompson To The Rescue

With a set of gunmetal Forgestar CF5 18X10-inch deep concave wheels in a plus 42mm offset wheels in route, it was time to turn our attention to the tires. We wanted a tire that would last more than a couple of months but still offer enough traction for an autocross when we fill the need.

Mickey Thomspon’s Street Comp tire was on our radar, so we reached out to Jason Moulton, Senior Product Development Manager, Mickey Thompson Tires, to help us with our decision. 

If you’re looking for an aggressive steering response, the Street Comp is a solid choice. The large outside shoulder elements bolstered to intermediate tread elements and the solid center rib all play a part in providing improved steering response.

Moulton told us that the Street Comp is designed for the late-model muscle car (which is perfect for our WS6) enthusiasts looking to improve the vehicle’s driving and handling performance. They are also a popular choice for the Pro Touring crowd, looking to improve the handling and looks of these classic vehicles with a modern twist. While all of this sounded good to us, what makes M/T Street Comp an excellent choice for a performance enthusiast? 

“Not only does it have the sizes targeted to the muscle car owner and enthusiast, but it’s also been thoroughly tested and improved over the years. We wanted to make sure the tire meets not only our standards but keeps up with the new muscle cars hitting the market,”  Moulton explained. “The Street Comp is a great tire for the owner that wants to use their muscle car as a daily driver and may find themselves in wet conditions from time to time.”

The 18×10-inch Forgestar CF5 deep concave wheels with a plus 42mm offset fit the Dirty Bird perfectly on all four corners.

The Street Comp Difference

Mickey Thompson used an asymmetric tread pattern which allowed them to optimize the tire for both wet and dry handling characteristics. Moulton said, “Unlike a pure directional tire, the asymmetric design can be cross rotated for even wear. As an added bonus, it also reduces noise. The outside shoulder elements have a 30-percent larger surface-area tied to intermediate tread elements providing excellent dry handling, traction, and steering response. The solid center rib kicks the steering response up a notch and aids forward traction. The wide circumferential grooves biased towards the inside of the tread pattern improve the wet performance.” 

Over the years, this tire has evolved to keep up with the market. In 2016, Mickey Thompson even upgraded the compound to improve dry handling. And if you’re looking for an aggressive steering response, the Street Comp is a solid choice. The large outside shoulder elements bolstered to intermediate tread elements and the solid center rib all play a part in providing improved steering response.

Mickey Thompson’s Street Comp tires are the perfect blend for street and performance. The tread design is tranquil on the highway and still offers fantastic grip in the corners.

Perfect For The Street Or Autocross

The only question we had left for Moulton was if this tire would work for a day of autocross every once and awhile. He said, “The Street Comp is an excellent choice if you want to take your daily-driven muscle car autocrossing on the weekend. Obviously, there are purpose-built DOT race tires for autocross, but they sacrifice the street manners needed for a daily-driven muscle car. The Street Comp works well for those that want to have fun without swapping tires.” 

Since the Dirty Bird will be a street car first and foremost, this was music to our ears. Plus, if we want to get serious about racing, we can always put a stickier set of tires on a different set of wheels. But for right now, this combination is perfect. 

The Mickey Thompson Street Comp 275/40/18 on the fronts and 295/35/18 on the rears fill up the fender wells perfectly on the WS6.

Mount Up

We ran the tires and wheels down to our local tire shop and had them mounted and balanced. The Forgestar wheels combined with the Mickey Thompson tires have an aggressive look that should be perfect on the WS6. The only thing left to do was install them on the car. Since our Firebird still had the factory wheels, we couldn’t use the OEM lug nuts with the black plastic caps — they’re much too big and bulky to work with the CF5’s, plus they’re ugly. Conical or tapered lug nuts are required, and fortunately, our local auto parts store had them in stock. 

With the tire and wheel combination bolted up, we were excited to set the car on the ground. We made a couple of adjustments to the BMR suspension to ensure that everything was centered before putting the car on the floor. While the new setup looked good on the weathered Firebird in the air, it looked fantastic on the ground at ride height. 

The Mickey Thompson 295-35-18 Street Comp tires look tough on the back of the 2000 Formula.

The First Drive

After we cruised around for some time, it was apparent that looks were not the only thing that changed with our new tires and wheels. The Street Comps are a massive improvement with both traction and the lack of road noise than our other tires. Overall, we are thrilled with our selection of the Forgestar CF5 Wheels and Mickey Thompson Street Comp tires. Now we’re just itching to hit the autocross soon and see how well the new combination works.

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About the author

Brian Havins

A gearhead for life, Brian is obsessed with all things fast. Banging gears, turning wrenches, and praying while spraying are just a few of his favorite things.
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