“Let me give it to you straight—our production process isn’t any different than our competitors.” I looked at Matt, rather dumbfounded. Surely there was a punchline coming because this was not how marketing pitches usually went. “If you really get down to brass tacks,” he continued, “every good manufacturer is using nearly the same methods to make their cast aluminum off-road wheels. The marketing jargon may be different, but the end results are the same.”
“Okay, so why are you different then? Why should I buy your wheels?” I prodded.
Matt smiled at this. “What separates us isn’t our production process, but the engineering behind every wheel we produce, the details that comprise our designs, and most importantly, the way we treat our customers and the community we’ve built around them.”
As the conversation continued, it was clear that this was more than just a business to Matt. It was his passion and something he believed in.
“A lot has changed over the years, but we’re still a group of enthusiasts looking to have some fun, meet some cool people, and make a little money while we’re doing it. Yes, money is important, but let’s be real—if money were that important, we’d all have real jobs by now.”
The Beginning of Fifteen52
Fifteen52 was founded nearly 25 years ago as a division of Joe Hoppen Motorsports by a group of racing and rally enthusiasts. Joe Hoppen was the former director for Porsche Motorsport North America, so it comes as no surprise that Fifteen52’s initial wheel line echoed the elegant designs of rally and race wheels of the day. What set their wheels apart was the durability integrated into their race-inspired designs, which enabled them to stand up to the abuse of daily driving. It was a blend of minimalist design language and practicality that quickly captured the imaginations of automotive enthusiasts around the world, including their decade-long partner Ken Block. In fact, it was Ken’s Ford Raptor build that pushed the brand into the off-road space with their first truck wheel, the Turbomac HD. Since then, their popularity has exploded in the off-road and overland spaces, and their wheel truck and SUV lines have grown to include a wide variety of offerings like the Traverse MX and Analog HD.
Wheels That Work
Although Fifteen52 does produce flow form wheels for performance cars, their off-road line is crafted entirely through low-pressure casting with a secondary heat treatment. As Matt Crooke so casually noted in our first conversation, this is the standard production method used throughout the industry. But don’t let that trick you into thinking their wheels are anything ordinary. The Fifteen52 design team goes above and beyond to create wheels that not only look great but solve problems experienced by consumers throughout the industry.
For example, many vehicles like the 200 Series Land Cruiser need to run 18-inch wheels due to the size of their modern brakes, so Fifteen52 designed the inner bell housing of wheels like the Traverse HD to be oversized, enabling these vehicles to downsize to a 17-inch wheel. That means more rubber and less metal between you and the road.
Another creative solution came in the form of their Analog HD, a wheel that offers the classic looks of a steelie in an alloy package. This aluminum wheel reduces unsprung weight over its steel counterpart which significantly helps the performance of underpowered classic four-wheel drives. It also provides a practical option to give modern 4x4s a utilitarian look without compromising their fuel economy and handling. The Analog features a reinforced flange design for running low air pressures and enduring big impacts, plus a center disc sculpted to channel air through slotted pockets to cool your brake system.
On the Traverse HD, the brand’s “rock ring” protects your valve stem from being torn off on the trail, but utilizes a slotted design that is shaped to force dirt and water out of the wheel when rotating. This prevents the build-up of dirt that usually occurs along with rock rings and imitation beadlocks.
The Fifteen52 Difference
Having experienced wheel failures on the backroads of Australia, I wanted to make sure that Fifteen52 products could stand up to some serious abuse. Throwing them under a lightweight SUV like a 4Runner was one thing, but wheeling them under a 9,000-pound Excursion was another. So, naturally, I bolted a set on, wrapped them in 37-inch General Grabber A/Tx tires, and hit trails from California to Newfoundland. From rock gardens and mud holes to creek crossings and desert byways, they held strong. Big impacts didn’t crack them; salt, sand, slush, sun, and gravel didn’t chip or fade them; and the reinforced flange held the bead of my tires on even at ultra-low pressures. Truthfully, none of this shocked me, though. I had expected as much from any quality wheel manufacturer, but what I hadn’t expected were the amazing interactions with their community.
Whether in person at events or online on social media, Fifteen52 customers were just stoked to talk about anything automotive. Imports or exotics, trucks or SUVs, Fords or Chevys, Jeeps or Toyotas, it didn’t matter. It was just enthusiasts being enthusiasts, and everyone felt welcome. In a time of so much division, it was a breath of fresh air. I could see what Matt had been talking about when he said the customers and their community are what set Fifteen52 apart.
“We’re proud of the wheels we produce, and we pour our heart and soul into each design, but there are a lot of great options out there these days. What sets us apart is our community and customer service. There’s a reason our hashtag is #52family. When you buy our wheels, you don’t just become a customer; you become part of the family.”