"747 (Strangers in the Night)" is about a power cut that forced planes in New York to remain in ascent in 1965 with the power outage provoking a Scandinavian flight to detour to Kennedy airport in the dark.
The album received positive reviews by critics and is regarded as being amongst the band's strongest work. Eduardo Rivadavia gave the album four and a half out of five stars, considering it an improvement over "their disappointing debut" and said that "the album's songs positively gleamed with a bright, metallic sheen similar to that exhibited by the chrome eagle hoisting a motorcycle wheel on its iconic cover." He praised the song "747 (Strangers in the Night) for being "dramatic" and "lyrically unique", and the song "Suzie Hold On" for being "perhaps the band's finest early ballad", although he criticised the song "Stand Up and Be Counted", feeling that it "hasn't aged all that impressively". Mike Stagno of Sputnikmusic gave the album three and a half out of five stars, and although stating that it is "perhaps not one of metal's best albums", also summed up the album positively with "Through driving rhythms, impressive vocal deliveries, and infectious leads, Saxon has succeeded in creating an 39 minute album full of early metal anthems that metal and hard rock fans alike can rock out to." Canadian reviewer Martin Popoff regards Wheels of Steel as a "qualified classic" and "one of really two or three of (NWOBHM) building blocks"; it is "a record on a mission, willing to take responsibility as spokesvinyl for legions of English punters with a thirst for regular metal guys".
The album eventually went on to achieve Platinum status in the UK.