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Is it fair to assume, that you have at least once in your life let out a sigh of relief, thanks to the fact that your car is equipped with a spare wheel?

Of course, the above is only true if there is in fact sufficient air pressure in the spare wheel, and not least that the accompanying tools such as a jack and wheel nut wrench are equally in place and ready for use. Last year I experienced a puncture while I was out and about in my Renault 4, and luckily I had all the relevant kit in the car. However, one of the wheel nuts had a mind of its own, and I just couldn’t get enough torque onto it with the regular wrench which lives in the car. The mission was saved when a fellow motorist kindly stopped and offered his help. The sides of his van clearly stated – in Spanish – that he was a plumber, and out from the back of his car came a length of galvanised metal piping. With this slotted over my wrench, I found sufficient torque and with a loud screech the wheel nut finally gave in. Clearly, a light application of a suitable grease on the wheel nuts could prevent a similar situation in the future.

On went the spare wheel, the nuts were tightened and the old Renault 4 and I were back on our way as planned. Again – because I’ve experienced punctures before – I thanked myself for regularly inspecting the tyre pressure of the spare and the state of the necessary tools for the job. At the time I considered purchasing a modern wheel nut wrench with an extendable handle, but I have refrained to the plumber approach and merely tossed a metal pipe into the boot of my R4.

A Mercer from 1919. Besides having a spare wheel on the side of the car, it was also common to have another placed on the other side – or even two on one side. During these years, punctures happened more often and you could easily experience two of them on the same trip.

Near my second home in Spain, we aren’t spoilt with the excellent road surfaces which we have grown so accustomed to in Denmark. In many ways, the roads are probably more akin to those which were the norm back in the early days of the automobile – back when horses and motorised vehicles had to share the primitive roads. Tyre technology was in its infant years as well and more prone to punctures. Of course, it didn’t help either that the roads were littered with nails which had come loose from the horseshoes. Punctures were a normal and reoccurring event, and motorists became well trained at removing the wheel from their car, then the tyre from the actual wheel, extracting the inner tube and fixing the puncture, and then putting it all back together again in reverse order. No doubt both annoying and time consuming to a degree we struggle to imagine today.

The Bristol 405 with the spare wheel famously hidden behind a latch in the front wing.

The story goes that the two enterprising brothers, Walter and Tom Davies from Wales, came up with the spare wheel in 1904. Like everyone else, they too were fed up with the many punctures and not least with the time-consuming process repairing them at the roadside. As a solution, they decided to simply bring a complete and pre-presurised fifth wheel all ready for use. This would hugely improve the comfort of any motorist’s travels. One could almost say that they reinvented the wheel!

The spare wheel was sold through the Davies brothers’ company – which already marketed other automotive equipment through their dealer network in the USA, Belgium, France and Italy – where it very quickly became a huge success. Soon enough, new cars were being delivered with a spare wheel from the factory. But the new invention needed to be positioned intelligently on the cars, and more often than not, this led to the spare wheel being fitted externally on the car – often on the side of the car just behind the front wheel, or decoratively on the back of the car. Only later did the manufacturers start getting a bit more inventive. The now so common spare wheel well within the boot floor became the norm, covered either by a rubber mat or a more exclusive carpet. But there were other more or less ingenious places to store the spare wheel such as under the car – often with some method of lifting or lowering the spare wheel into place – or even within the engine bay.

One of the more peculiar places for the spare wheel to live, as displayed on the Renault Dauphine.

As a bit of a curiosity, the spare wheel was actually banned in America during the Second World War. Rubber was suddenly in short supply and needed to be imported, so it was deemed too expensive and excessive. After the war, the spare wheel was reinstated, but actually became momentarily ban again during the Korea War in 1953.

On the earliest Beetles, the spare wheel was placed in the nose and the air pressure within the tyre doubled as a source for pressurising the washer bottle for the windscreen.

Citroën SM – a car widely acknowledged for its grand design solutions, which however did NOT extend to the placing of the spare wheel in the boot. The boot space was somewhat restricted in the first place despite the SM being a fairly large car, and the huge spare tyre did nothing to improve on that.

That issue was solved much better in its predecessor, the Citroën DS. While the DS is hardly reknown for having the sexiest of engine compartments, the placement of the spare wheel did at least seem natural and coherent with the rest of the engine bay layout.

The Renault 14 is a perfect example of the French insisting to do everything in their own way. They would probably call it French avant-garde when they placed the spare wheel – quite literally – bang-smack in the middle of the engine bay.

So here’s a toast to a very uncelebrated everyday hero: The spare wheel. Feel free to share your own experiences of and with the spare wheel. Do you know of any particularly clever – or not so clever – places where it has been stored? And are you among those you always ensure that your spare wheel is in good condition and with the correct tyre pressure, or do you ignore it and leave it up to your local roadside recovery services to get you back on the road if a tyre deflates?

 

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