At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it's amazing how far tire technology has come in the past 20 years. Two decades ago, a 16-inch wheel was a big deal, reserved only for high-end sports cars and the aftermarket. Nowadays, rental-fleet Camrys come with 17-inchers. Go back further to the Mesozoic era of the 1960s and tires were bias-ply construction: thin treads, wiggly sidewalls and rock-hard rubber compounds, forcing you to hack away at the wheel drunkenly just to maintain a straight line. No wonder so many kids with muscle cars ended up wrapped around a tree back then; the tires were just miserable.
Around the same time, professional racers had it no better. Rubber compounds were softer, but they were still traction-limited; the rubber simply couldn't handle the power that the engines were putting out. Bigger, wider tires seemed to be the answer-more meat on the ground, more control and grip-and it worked for open-wheel racers like Indy 500 machines. But there are only so many ways to cram big tires under a car with fenders. Fiddle-farting around with backspacing will only get you so far, and the physical room in the wheel well further limits size. Unlike more modern cars, which are purpose-built to accept 18-inch wheels from the factory, old school wheel wells seem thoroughly filled by 15-inchers. Hacking away at the chassis subframes and completely rebuilding the suspension brings with it a-whole-nother host of issues. One recent solution is the donk trend, which is cool if you like old Chevys hopped up to look like monster trucks. But there's another solution: Widen the fenders!
It's true. Just like in '70s pantaloon fashion, flares are where it's at. We're not talking gentle little lips around the wheel openings; we're talking full-on fenders and quarters that are wide enough to rest your Big Gulp on. These so-called IMSA flares, informally named for the racecar sanctioning body, were born of the need to get more rubber on the ground-more rubber, more traction, more cornering power, more likely you won't end upside down in a ditch. Extending the fenders and wheel openings was a style trend readily seen in mid-70s issues of Hot Rod that your scary neighbor with the mullet and the Camaro had stashed in his attic alongside his AutoBuff collection.
Most trends come and go with the seasons, but flared fenders have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Some companies have restricted the idea to a raised lip around the wheel arch, while others have actually purpose-built extra space into their fenders and quarters (the Subaru WRX sedan comes to mind, as does the '80s E30-generation BMW M3). Widebody kits in Japan have been at the height of wild style for some time.