***Editors Note*** - This article was originally written in the fall of 2012 for GT Motoring. Some of the content may be dated, but the article is still very much relevant. In fact, those that attended SEMA may have noticed that BBS was at the show for the first time in many years. Be on the look out for a lot of interesting new things from them.
A Visit to BBS of America
Story and Photos by Austin Cabot
Nestled on a hill overlooking turn 1 at Road Atlanta is a simple looking building with three flag poles out front. Anyone who has taken exit 129 off of I-85N (coming out of Atlanta) to get to the track probably knows what building I’m talking about. A simple sign out front has three simple letters on it – BBS. This is the understated headquarters of BBS of America.
BBS was founded in Germany in 1970. Their Braselton location is a 50,000 square foot facility that is home to the sales and distribution of BBS aftermarket products for the American Market. It is also home to sales and service for BBS racing as well as OE and OES programs. Many of the staff members have more years around BBS products than the author does on this earth. This creates a very, very knowledgeable staff that is easily able to provide the know-how dealers and customers demand. It also means that they can design and bring to market products that not only look great, but are built to last. When you see the name BBS on a wheel, you know it is a top tier quality product that is designed to perform under any condition. This is why many race teams, from Grand Am, Indy Car, and ALMS (among others) rely on BBS to support (literally) their racecars.
I had often wondered what lay behind the doors of the BBS facility I would pass each and every trip to Road Atlanta. What awesome rolling stock was behind those big glass windows? How many rare wheels were waiting for me to uncover? Could I put together my own wheels?
Upon arriving at the BBS facility, I could faintly hear motors in the distance before even opening the door to my car. I opened it and the sounds got noticeably louder. Turns out a few ALMS teams were already in town testing for the upcoming Petit Le Mans. For a gearhead like myself, this would be the perfect soundtrack to go about my work day, every day. I walked through the front door and was greeted by a wall of wheels – the current BBS line up to be specific. I had never seen the full BBS lineup at once. To the left, there was a full size replica of an ALMS car. I looked back out at the parking lot to the car I had driven there in – one a friend let me borrow while I was in town and sighed. Well, if I can’t be at the track this week, at least I can be close to one.
I found an inviting staircase and proceeded to climb them. Once upstairs, I was greeted by Mike, one of the senior members of BBS aftermarket sales. Mike has been selling BBS wheels in one form or another for over 20 years. His mind has forgotten more wheel information than I know currently. If I was on who wants to be a millionaire and a question about wheels came up, Mike would be my phone a friend connection.
Walking around the main office, I saw what I thought to be a BBS FI with a rather unique center cap. Turns out it was a yet to be released BBS RI-D for an R35 GTR. The RI-D is similar to the FI but is manufactured in Japan out of dura-aluminum which is lighter but also more expensive. With a quick look around the office, Mike opened up a door and led me out into the mysterious warehouse I had wondered about for years. The upper level of the warehouse is a loft style one – overlooking the vast shelving of current BBS stock. Here you will find some display tires waiting to be mounted to wheels as well as what is simply referred to at BBS as the “Wheel Garden.” BBS has obviously been around for a few years and wheel designs come and go with trends. After time, certain fitments die out, designs become less desirable to the general public, and wheels go out of production. Not letting these wheels go to waste, BBS adds them to their wheel garden – a museum/collection/display of sorts of rare, discontinued, and prototype wheels. Here you can find wheels (sometimes complete sets, sometimes singles) of wheels from every era. BBS RAs from the 70s? Sure. Rare Bugatti co branded wheels from the 90s? You got it. Now, they don’t always have the traditional BBS wheels in the wheel garden, but you’re sure to see some wheels that you may have never seen before.
Progressing from the loft area, we walked over to the stairs – here you can really get a good view of the warehouse facility. It’s actually quite large, with shelving stacked high with boxes and boxes of wheels. Many of the wheels were sealed and boxed up, so this article and the photos won’t show much of them – but what kind of person goes to a facility such as this to see something they can see on the BBS of America or any of their dealers’ websites every day?
Mike walked me around the warehouse floor and pointed out odds and ends to me. A surprisingly light wheel (seriously all of maybe 20 lbs wheel and tire) from Rubens Barrichello’s F1 ride from the late 2000s? Left over stock from an older Jaguar OEM wheel refinishing program? Both there. There was also a whole isle of OE BBS wheels – the dealer installed ones you see on Camrys and Tundras - waiting to be shipped out.
There was also an ample size wheel repair are located in the bottom corner of the main warehouse. I was there around lunch time, so there wasn’t a lot going on. Most of the repairs are on two and three piece wheels needing new barrels. When the structural integrity is compromised in an incident, it’s always best to start with a new barrel rather than trying to save one that’s damaged. That’s one unique thing about multi-piece wheels many consumers don’t think about – aside from the cosmetics, it can be more cost effective to fix just part of a wheel rather than buying a whole other wheel like you might have to do with a traditional one piece design. Hopefully you don’t have to ever repair or replace a wheel, but should you need to, BBS has in house facilities there to help.
Located under the wheel garden loft is the competition wheel assembly area. This was probably my favorite part of the whole facility (and it shows in the quantity of pictures taken). In this area, you can find various different wheel faces in (all sizes, materials, and bolt patterns). I found a really nice set of center mount wheels and started to think about how to make adapters for my car. I’d never seen a true magnesium wheel face by itself – here they were lined up in rows, ready to be bolted to the appropriate barrels. Some of the wheels were being assembled for the upcoming Petit Le Mans, others to be shipped to race teams throughout the country.
The competition wheel area makes you want to just go grab different faces and barrels off the racks and put together your own custom wheel set – something you’d be easily able to do if they would allow it. But for something as important as wheel – id leave the assembly to the professionals anyway.
Mike had to pull me away from the competition wheel section to get me back upstairs to the office. I was enjoying myself way too much. On the way up to the office, we stopped back next to the wheel garden to see the tire assortment they had for display tires. Dunlop slicks, Continentals, and Michelins were stacked up, several tires deep. Coming from a previous job in the tire industry, I was interested in what they had. All tires passed my approval with flying colors – quality tires paired with top quality wheels. Soon it was time for me to leave. I snapped a quick picture of the previously mentioned GTR RI-D (the center cap to which has not been decided upon for those who don’t like the design), and Mike showed me to the door. We talked briefly about the recently closed Lanier National Speedway across the way from BBS. We both agree they closed– while many road racing fans look down on roundy-round racing, I’ve grown to enjoy it this year. After all, racing is racing. As I climb back in my borrowed car, it dawns on me as to why Lanier Nationals Speedway closed - People driving by never noticed it was there – not when their heads are filled with dreams of what might lie behind the doors at BBS across the street.