In the drivers seat with RhysWritten by Alan Lowe on 22 Jul 16:05
The wheels make the car, Weller make the wheels, and now, meet the people that make the Wellers.
In this series, we’re going to show you what happens under the hood at Weller HQ and introduce you to the awesome team of people that are responsible for creating our famous steel wheels.
In the drivers seat
First up we have our Operations Manager, Rhys.
Rhys joined us at Weller after originally working with us on a personal project; “I got involved with Weller through a family member. I was building a camper and wanted to prove that you could build a campervan on a T5 platform for under £10,000. I was looking for wheels, I wanted steels, I didn’t want to go down the alloy route, and my brother was working for Weller at the time so through him I met up with Alan and we exchanged contact details.”
After meeting with the team for his own build, we asked him to come and join the guys down at production; “I came to help them build the wheels and put a bit more clarity into what they were doing. I joined them in September (2018) as a Production Manager and from there I’ve gone on to become their Operation Manager.”
Recognised as the ultimate steel wheel, our products are the benchmark for precision, performance and quality. But what exactly is that Weller ‘edge’ that sets us apart from everyone else? “Weller is a British brand with a great motorsport history, and all of the sports cars back in the 50s/60s/70s were still on steel wheels and it was aspirational to have Wellers, people remember that. I think what sets Weller apart is that nobody else does it, everybody else is doing it from original wheels whereas we’re trying to keep strength and a product base and up the market product base using old technology, and mixing this with some new techniques. So we’ve still got the new designers and everything is done on CAD, not paper, but we’re still handmade and we’re still rolling steel. We’re still welding in simple standard ways. I think that’s what makes our brand better than most.”
“The look of them is quite simple, quite pure. They’re also stronger, you’re not going to split the steels and you’re not going to damage them, especially with the grade we use and the material that we use. And currently, for us, the marketing is trending towards steel, because you’ve got an industrial wave coming through with the vans and cars. You’ve got this swamper, the off-road style, and even the classic minis that are all-steel wheels. I think that’s where the steel’s strong still.”
At Weller, we champion a built not banded approach to our wheels, and Rhys’ own experience building his T5 campervan gave him a unique customer perspective when searching for the right wheels for his van; “When I built my first van I looked into banded wheels, I did a lot of research, as I’m sure a lot of people do their research as well, I would have never of put banded wheels on. You can never prove that you’ve welded them correctly, it’s not an insurance approved wheel and while it gives you the look of what you need but you never truly know what’s underneath. There are some horror stories out there, whereas at Weller we build our wheels out of one sheet of steel which is what makes us rare.”
Each wheel starts as a blank form, a flat piece of steel on both the rim and the centre. From here, we laser cut the form we require or the size we require and then they're hand processed. “So if you take the rim, it’s hand-rolled, welded onto a machine so it’s a constant feed, it’s an exact weld on every single rim. We then have a flaring process which is set up by hand and by eye into the spinning processes. Then back to us for more hand operations. All of the forms that you see we put in.”
Something which customers may not realise is how much manufacturing is required when building the centre of the wheel, “A lot of people don't realise that because we do everything by hand, and it’s a smaller manufacturing sale that we might press 25-30 operations just for one centre. So the motorsport wheels we do which have what we call a coining operation around the vent holes, we do each of those individually. When we’ve got thousands of wheels to do that too, that’s 10,000 bits of individual pressing done by one of the team members. So there’s an awful lot of operations.”
“In the way we do and the way we manufacture, there is a skill level. There are certain operations that part of my team can do and the other part cant. And it’s not a training exercise, I can’t roll a rim. I have a guy, Chris, he can roll an exact form, every single time, with his eyes closed. Doesn’t matter how long I’ve tried I can’t, I just make slinkies! So it’s good operations and a lot of skill.”
On The Road
Our wheels have been on the road for 50 years’ and every set that we ship out is ready to start a new and exciting journey...
“To be honest I get excited every time we ship something out. Every time I get a customer, whether it’s with a T5 van, or it’s some of our higher profile customers, I get excited to see the Weller’s out there. One of my favourites builds has been a Le Mans car that we did, a 1930s Le Mans, he did the Le Mans Classic, he’s done it for the last 10 years and we built them a wheel that allowed them to do 5 seconds a lap faster. It was great and it was a dead simple form it was just flat black steel, but it was a proud moment to know that had gone round!”
We’ve also got the latest edition which was a project with Rolling Home Campers On their VW T6 Transporter build, we built wheels for a Swamper version that they’d done, and it was the first set that we had done. It’s a fantastic looking wheel which we launched at Caffeine and Machine for our 50th anniversary. This launched alongside the UK first load rated 20” steel for the VW transporters, these look epic! I was just as proud of these as I was the Le Mans Classic, it looks and suits the vehicle really well and it hits the mark with the trends well.”
There’s no blueprint for a typical Weller Wheels customer, but the one common trait that we find with all of our customers is a true passion for their vehicles, whether it’s a classic Morris Minor or a modern Swamper van. “We have such a broad base of people! We have customers that are very straight, know exactly what they want ‘I just want this wheel and that wheel’ - every single one wants to talk about their car, they know what wheels they want to do, but they want to spend time on the phone with you or emails. I get photos sent to me by customers of their vehicles inside and out. And then you’ve got the crazy people who are building like Morris Minors with VH engines and want big wheels with candy stripes and you spend more time talking paint!”
A particularly strong part of our customer base is the classic car guys who are an amazing bunch of people, and their knowledge is also immense! “When trying to hold a conversation with these guys about their vehicle, and bearing in mind they have restored these vehicles and they also run the clubs and own the clubs, you’ve got to be on the top of your game. With all of the vehicles and all variations that we supply too because these guys are the experts in their fields, you have to know what you’re talking about. But that’s what makes our day interesting, because one minute we can be talking about a 1930s Rolls Royce, and the next minute we have a customer with T5/T6 slammed to the ground. So you’ve got to adapt as well from old English to new customer styles and speak all of these different languages.
The drive ahead
The past 50 years of Weller Wheels have been immense, so here’s to the next 50!
“I want to try and bring steel to a different culture. We’ve hit the vans, we’re still not finished with the van circuit yet as there’s still a lot more to do, but our next step is to branch out our range a little bit more. There’s also a lot of people out there with sports cars, little tiny sports cars that run on wide wheels, and we need to start looking at what we can do for these people and strengthening their wheels up. We can offer up a better looking and cooler looking wheels for these cars. Steel is a really popular market at the moment, so there’s an awful lot we could look into.”