Okay, lately I've noticed that automotive enthusiasts on social media are very, VERY concerned about how their cars look and are not as concerned about the quality or safety behind the products that they throw into their cars. Before I go any further, I know that a bunch of people reading this either just scoffed, thinking "Oh boy, here's another guy saying 'real parts' are the only way to go" or there's the other group of people going "F*ck fake parts." Well, in the words of every click-bait article on Facebook, "You'll never believe the results!"
So, I've always (read as 90% of the time) been a guy to purchase quality parts from established companies, especially when it comes down to safety. But, it seems like more and more people are buying (or looking for) extremely cheap performance parts for their "race cars". Whether they are doing it to pump up their social media pages, don't know any better or have the thought process of "how bad could it really be", I wanted to do my own comparison to see how cheaper wheels would stack up against proven race wheels.
The three wheels of choice (mostly due to convenience) are;
Sparco's R 345 in Suede - $250 USD (pictured below). This wheel was purchased from OddManOut Performance and has been used in the OddManOut drift car that is affectionately known as "Pikachu".
NRG's ST-006S in Suede - $119.99 USD (pictured below). This wheel was brought in by OddManOut Performance after a few customers had asked about the NRG wheels and without much personal experience, I wanted to bring one in before recommending or selling them to a customer.
and JDM Sport's Deep Dish Wheel in PVC Leather - $66.99 USD (pictured below). This wheel was purchased by a friend of mine (from a local enthusiast selling a handful of these wheels) who was looking for a cost effective wheel to replace his haggard OEM steering wheel in his drift car and was one of those guys that thought "how bad could it really be".
Now, at a glance, all of the wheels look pretty similar with minor aesthetic differences. They are all 3-spoke, 350mm, 6-bolt wheels with a dish ranging from 2.5-3". But, when you start to peer a bit closer (and actually bolt them on a car), the visual and structural differences start to come out.
Copping a Feel
When you wrap your hands around the wheels, you can start to feel the difference in quality. The Sparco and NRG are notably heavier than the JDM Sport (the NRG being the heaviest of the bunch) which seems odd considering they are all of the same dimensions and made with the same or similar materials (aluminum center block with steel grip). Then you notice how the material that forms the grip is fastened together. The Sparco has a clean inner seam that I can only assume is fastened to the wheel with an adhesive. This design not only leaves a cleaner look, but also prevents the suede wrapping from moving when you torque the wheel. The NRG and JDM Sport have "baseball style" stitching that adds a nice look but when looked at closely, is a bit messy. The stitching also allows the grip to move around a bit when torquing the wheel (the JDM Sport wheel actually creaks when twisting the grip).
Slamming Them In
The Sparco and NRG wheels bolted to our NRG hub adapter well and all 6 bolts sat flush in the countersunk holes of the wheel. The JDM Sport, however, only had 4 that sat flush-ish and had 2 bolts that sat so crooked that you could actually see and feel that the bolts were not centered. Now if you haven't seen DriftWork's video "Fat Guy Bends Fake Nardi Steering Wheel" on YouTube (I suggest watching it), I followed roughly the same testing as him where essentially I would do "the Gangster Lean Test" then proceed to shake/flex the piss out of the wheel. This, this is where you really see the difference. While the Sparco and NRG flexed and snapped back to original form (the NRG maybe being 1/16" out), the JDM Sport immediately bent. Like FUCKING BENT! With very little force (ie. leaning on it), I was able to push the top of wheel back about an inch. Then with a gentle, 1-handed pull, I was able to pull it back to where it originally sat. Picture bending a coat hanger. That's what I immediately thought of. I didn't want to break my buddies wheel without him being there but I'm sure with a good 60 seconds or so, I could have. While I didn't get a video of the wheels in the car, I captured a short video of me leaning (all 200lbs of me) on them on top of a thin wooden table.
Video Link Below.
So, after this quick and wildly unscientific testing, I'm still happy with the purchase of Sparco steering wheels (I own a Sparco L777 as well as the R345) and will likely continue to use Sparco wheels in my competition cars. But, for a street/drift car, I wouldn't hesitate to run an NRG Sport-Series wheel (keeping in mind that NRG also offers their Race-Series wheels that have thicker steel core, which we will be testing next year in a pair of our drift cars). The NRG is priced very well and to be honest, I didn't expect it to be as good as it is. While I can't speak for the longevity of the NRG, it appears that they have stepped up their manufatcuring and have produced a good, low cost race wheel. The JDM Sport on the otherhand.... never in my life would I put one of these in any of my cars and ABSOLUTELY would not sell nor recommend them to a customer or friend of mine.
Thanks to Scott D at DODOlogic for the photos of the ShowPony and thanks to Mike for allowing me to bend his wheel.