A brief history
1838 After decades of experimentation, Charles Goodyear perfects vulcanised rubber. In giddy celebration, he names the compound after his favourite extraterrestrial humanoid species, foolishly forgetting that Star Trek won’t be aired for another century and a quarter.
1846 Robert Thompson promises to revolutionise automobile transport with his latest invention, the pneumatic car tyre. The breakthrough is undermined by one tiny technical flaw: that no one has yet got around to inventing the car.
1904 Mountable rims are introduced to cars, allowing motorists, for the first time, to change flat tyres on the move. After several unfortunate incidents, manufacturers are forced to clarify that by “on the move”, they mean “without returning to a garage” rather than “literally while the car is still rolling”.
1908 Frank Seiberling introduces the first treaded tyres, with grooves in the surface to disperse standing water. These grooves remain in fashion until the early 21st century, when several manufacturers of high-performance hot hatches decide to do away with them, in the name of a) marginally improved warm-weather lap times and b) enormous crashes on the public road at the first sign of moisture.
1983 The Austin Metro becomes the first production car to receive run-flat tyres as standard. Despite their obvious safety advantages, the new tyres receive little public acclaim, on account of a) slightly decreased ride comfort and b) being fitted to the Austin Metro.
2004 The Bugatti Veyron arrives, wearing the world’s most expensive set of production tyres. Developed to withstand 250mph-plus motoring, the tyres cost £6,000 apiece. Yeah, but that’s only if you buy them direct from Michelin. There’s a remould place just up the road from TopGear that’ll does ’em for fifty quid a pop.
2005 Michelin introduces the airless Tweel tyre, a hub connected to the wheel rim via flexible polyurethane spokes. The failure of the Tweel to reach mass production in the subsequent decade is rumoured to be due to the nefarious influence of ‘Big Air’.
2007 The use of tyre pressure monitoring systems becomes widespread. Motorists are immediately impressed by the ability of the new technology to sound an alarm in the cabin, warning the driver of a fault with the tyre pressure monitoring system.
2016 Dubai-based firm Z Tyres creates a set of ‘luxury tyres’, incorporating 24-carat gold and diamonds. The set sells for $600k at auction, to an anonymous millionaire who literally enjoys burning money.