Over Half a Century of Carbon Fiber Wheels

For the founder of ESE Carbon, it started with the notion that true, one-piece carbon fiber wheels are simply too expensive – so, he took it upon himself to develop and manufacture them here in the USA, creating the only company doing so. But carbon fiber wheels made their first appearance in 1971, when Citroen needed to lighten the weight of their SM rally car in order to make it more competitive. (See the polished standard wheel used on the Citroen SM pictured.) Weighing in around 3,300 pounds, it was one of the heavier rally cars on the field and the team thought a set of plastic wheels would help a lot. Michelin went to work and crafted about 30 wheels for the team (see the matte-finished Michelin Carbon Fiber RR wheel pictured). And they made an immense difference, with a carbon fiber wheel weighing less than half that of an alloy wheel – nicely too, they proved strong enough to support the vehicle during the races.

From the onset, the carbon fiber wheels were a little different than regular metal wheels. They had special nuts and bolts to affix them to the hubs, and the hubs had to be modified to accommodate the wheels. Further, the edges of the rims were rounded, creating the need for a stick-on wheel weight. The Citroen SM won the 1971 Morocco Rally wearing the carbon wheels, and the company decided to offer them as an accessory option for the 1972 model year. Initially available only in Europe, they still required the special nuts and bolts and wheel weights, creating slight hiccups at service intervals with tire shops unfamiliar with stick-on wheel weights. But, by 1973, Michelin had modified the design to work with standard bolts and wheel hubs. Knowing the US was a major market for the SM, in the 1980s, Citroen marketed a set of carbon fiber wheels for the SM costing a cool $2,000, roughly $23,000 in 2023 dollars. Needless to say, very few were sold, but they were a kind of ultimate accessory for the discerning Citroen owner, improving acceleration, braking, and efficiency. They also looked fabulous.

But again – supremely expensive. Like most of today’s carbon fiber wheel options. Which is why ESE Carbon has dedicated itself to offering its first E2 carbon fiber wheel to rival the competition while holding a more affordable price point of $6,900 per set of four. It began with the E2 and has evolved to the E3, which is available for preorder now. See it and order it here.