Wide arches and over fenders are back, but what ones are best for your project car; let us help you decide…
Wide arches, overfenders, flares and blisters – there’s a thousand terms describing the process of making your car wider, but with so many styles available it’s pretty tricky deciding which route is best for you. Got some super-wide wheels that need tucking? Or will fitting 305-profile tyres make you unstoppable on track?
The basic principal of a car’s arch (or fender) is to stop the likes of grit, stones and water from being flung into the air off the tyre. That might sound pretty pointless, but watch an open wheel race series in the rain and it’s safe to say visibility becomes pretty bleak! Now imagine that on the M25 with a few hundred cars…
Wheel arches are a legal requirement in the UK. That’s the boring part. Some cars like Caterhams get round it by running a small panel over the top of the tyre, but for most ‘normal’ cars a big ol’ wheel well is used to keep the tyre covered even when hitting bumps or turning.
Fitting wider arches to a car is hardly news. In more recent years the trend has been re-ignited by tuners including Rocket Bunny, Rauh-Welt and Liberty Walk, but just like many super-cool modifying styles its history can be traced back into the world of motorsport.
The Group B rally era spawned some of the wildest cars ever seen, but with the regulations requiring each monster to be based on an actual road car it didn’t take long for manufacturers to find a way round this. The solution? Homologating a limited-run model that boasted more power, four-wheel drive and in cases like the Peugeot 205 T16 the engine moved to the back.
In addition to these tweaks, wider arches were used to not only fit bigger, grippier tyres but also increasing the track width to completely change the handling characteristics. It also meant the likes of four-wheel-drive transmissions could be easily installed, too. Even in road-going Homologation ‘spec’ they looked like steroid-injected monsters, and naturally us petrolheads wanted in on the wide-arch action too…
So you want to go wide? Let’s take a look at the options available.
Arch rolling and flared stock car arches
If your car has metal arches as standard, the easiest option for going wide is to flare the standard arches. It’s relatively inexpensive, can be done at a home or by a bodyshop and doesn’t detract from the stock bodylines too much (depending how wide you go).
Most arches feature an inside lip often used to secure the inner arch lining and also for structural rigidity. Rolling an arch with a hammer or specific tool simply pushes this lip flat, giving increased clearance in just a few minutes. Pulling or flaring the arches requires a little more work – as the metal is literally stretched – giving an additional 5-15mm clearance typically depending on how much material there is to play with.
NOTE: If you’re looking to pull your arches a significant amount, chances are you’re going to end up damaging the paint. If you’re simply rolling the inner lip, make sure the paint hasn’t chipped or cracked on the inside that could lead to further damage in the long run.
Pros: Fast, can be done at home, cheap.
Cons: Limited widening, can damage paint, can’t be done on every car.
OEM wider fenders
Certain car models – such as the Skyline GT-R and Ford Escort Cosworth – came from the factory fitted with wider arches than the standard models they were based on. This means (with a bit of searching) it’s possible to track down the OEM wider panels, or alternatively a high-quality replica panel instead.
The main advantage here is the OEM wider panels will typically fit without any issues (albeit rear arches requiring the original to be cut out/welded in), as well as suiting the car’s style without looking like an afterthought.
Depending on the type of car, chances are the slimmer rear arches will either need pulling or cutting back to accommodate the wider items (otherwise you’re not actually giving your wheels any extra clearance, just the look of wider), so factor this in. On the plus, as it’s being covered by a replacement panel you don’t necessarily have to be too neat (or re paint it), just make sure you protect it to stop future rusting.
Pros: Direct replacement, easy to fit & functional
Cons: Rear arches will need cutting for best result, panels can be expensive & need painting
Arch Extensions (universal/model specific)
Probably the most common and easiest way to go wide is with a set of arch extensions. They do exactly as the name suggests… literally extending over the standard arches.
Usually installed using rivets or screws, arch extensions can be fitted in just a few minutes and come either model-specific or universal – perfect if your car isn’t the likes of an Mk4 Golf or Subaru Impreza where body parts are in abundance.
In addition to being cheap and easy to fix, arch extensions can be picked up in a range of widths depending on how wide you need to go. Arch extensions give a very specific look to a car – and it’s not always everyone’s cup of tea – but if you’re going wide and aren’t necessarily fussed about winning the concourse trophy they’re a perfect solution.
NOTE: If you’re looking to go low, you’ll need to trim back the OEM arches behind the extensions.
Pros: Cheap, easy to fit, range of widths available
Cons: standard arches still need trimming for best result, distinctive look not to everyone’s tastes.
Tuner/aftermarket/blister wide arches
These are wide arches designed by tuners specifically for a certain make and model, typically constructed from fiberglass or plastic (but in some cases carbon fibre).
Hugely popular in the world of drifting and motorsport thanks to their cost and availability, there’s almost an endless list of tuner wide arches including Voltex, Uras, Fujita Engineering, J’s Racing and JUN to name a few. Every tuner has their own style – some almost look like arch extensions – but for the most part they’re designed as part of a bigger bodykit to completely change the style and look of a car.
Fitment is relatively straightforward – they’re bits of fiberglass that require bonding or riveting on after all. But as such require the metal behind to be cut or flared for wheel clearance. Otherwise you can expect to have your wheels hitting the standard arch behind it… not cool.
Blister arches follow the same format and installation as ‘normal’ wide arches, and simply refers to the style of going REALLY wide (we’re talking 6+ inches each side) allowing the widest wheels possible to be fitted.
Pros: Super-wide for wheel clearance, fit over the top of stock arches, cheap to replace
Cons: Can’t really reverse ‘em without extensive bodywork, not available for all cars, often require additional trimming due to construction
Depending on the type of car you’ve got, you might not have the luxury of off-the-shelf options like those listed above. Not all hope is lost – you can always go down the custom route instead.
Custom is a dangerous word – it usually translates to huge expense due to the time needed to get bespoke parts looking right. On the plus, it gives you the opportunity to spec exactly how wide you want to go, what sort of wide arch you want (blistered fenders or arch extensions/overfenders) and ensuring a great fit before painting.
Pros: Built to your spec and style, can be built around a specific set of wheels/fitment
Cons: Expensive and usually irreversible
Part of what made the likes of BTCC and WRC so great was the use of OEM models like the Subaru Impreza and Golf GTI. From a mechanical point they shared almost zero components, but visually they still had hints of a road car… albeit rockin’ massive aero-designed bodywork instead!
The big positive to running a motorsport-designed kit isn’t just the OEM fit, but also the fact it’s been designed with aerodynamics and performance in mind – perfect for those wanting to enter the Time Attack series (or if you take your track days a bit too seriously).
Expect to pay top dollar for genuine parts, and chances are you’ll be buying panels which have been previously used so don’t expect ’em to be perfect. You’ll need to keep an eye on Race Cars Direct and Rally Design to track parts down, too.
Pros: Built with performance and aero in mind, OEM fit, super-aggressive look
Cons: Expensive, difficult to track down and usually part of a bigger kit
Words and Pics Mark Riccioni (and a few others)