What Are Center Lock Wheels?
Center lock wheels are no different than standard wheels except for how the wheels are bolted onto the wheel hub. Traditional wheels are held in place with 5 or 6 lug nuts equidistant from the center, while a center lock wheel uses a single large nut directly in the center. While there are a few advantages to using a center lock nut, there are also a number of disadvantages.
The first and biggest advantage is how much faster it is to take off a wheel with a center lock. A center locking nut can be taken off at 1/5th to 1/6th of the time required than a traditional wheel. Although this may not matter much to the average person, in motorsports, it can be the deciding factor between winning and losing a race. The use of a single center nut also allows for greater room between the wheel and wheel hub. This extra space can be used to add larger brake disks and calipers. Once again, this is a significant benefit for sports cars and race cars alike because they increase the stopping power. Center lock wheels are sought after by car enthusiasts due to their physical appeal and the "oohs" and "ahhs" they command from the crowds.
Don't run off to purchase center lock wheels just yet; there are a few drawbacks. The major drawback is how hard it is to install and take off a center lock wheel without the appropriate power tools. While a traditional lug nut only requires around 90-pound-feet of torque, a center luck nut requires 450-pound-feet of torque. You're average torque wrench, and hand tools will just not cut it. Grown men of average build would have to put their entire body weight and more to tighten and loosen the center lock nut. If not appropriately torqued, chances are the wheel will come off. For this reason, a pneumatic torque wrench and air compressor are generally recommended. As if a pneumatic torque wrench and air compressor weren't expensive enough, center lock wheels are also costly. Center lock wheels tend to cost twice or three times as much as traditional wheels of comparable size. This generally comes from low production volumes.
Although center lock wheels are used mainly on race cars such as those featured in Le Mans 24 Hours, Formula 1, and IndyCar, they are not that uncommon on the road. Some car manufacturers have sold production vehicles with center lock wheels as factory options. Porsche has been using center lock wheels on their flagship vehicles for almost two decades most prominently the 911 GT3, Carrera GT, and the 918. Ferrari also incorporated center lock wheels on its F40, F50, Enzo and LaFerrari. All Koenigsegg production vehicles have used center lock wheels.
Perhaps the cars most people are shocked to learn have center lock wheels are low-riders. They use slightly different center lock wheels called "knockoffs" but they operate under the exact same principle. The center nut is winged and has to be physically hammered with a mallet, hence the name "knock-off". The required torque is achieved due to the aid of the mallet.