Unique Cars - - CLASSIC TYRES -

WE’VE ALL seen white­wall tyres on Amer­i­can clas­sic cars from the 1920s on­ward, but who knows where it all started?

The Vogue Tyre and Rub­ber Com­pany of Chicago made the first white­wall tyres and it’s a fair bet they made their de­but on a ve­hi­cle with just one horse­power. You see, Vogue made white­wall tyres for horse-drawn car­riages.

Be­fore that, tyres were all white, the nat­u­ral colour of rub­ber. The prob­lem was white tyres rapidly over­heated, but adding car­bon black re­moved the heat from the tread and belt ar­eas, mak­ing them last longer.

White­walls rose in pop­u­lar­ity in the 1920s and while con­sid­ered the height of fash­ion for a car, they re­quired loads of el­bow grease to keep them look­ing smart.

Their pop­u­lar­ity con­tin­ued to surge in the 1930s with Ford of­fer­ing them as an $11.25 op­tion on all its new mod­els in April 1934.

Around this time many re­alised that all-black tyres took far less ef­fort to keep clean, so they were con­sid­ered a pre­mium tyre and fit­ted to many lux­ury cars in the 1930s.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and the Korean con­flict white­wall tyres be­came hard to get, due to raw ma­te­rial short­ages but that didn’t stop them reach­ing their height of pop­u­lar­ity in the 1950s.

In 1957 a cou­ple of new trends emerged that sig­nalled the end of the white­walls. They were be­ing re­placed by a wide or nar­row white stripe on the wall. Wheel spats, which had be­came pop­u­lar at this time, al­most hid the tyres.

By the early 1960s white­walls were no longer in vogue and were only avail­able as an op­tion on select mod­els and only as a white stripe, not a white­wall. A nar­row red or white band on the side­wall sig­ni­fied sporti­ness for most tyre brands and these were seen on the early US and Aus­tralian mus­cle cars.

The Ford Lin­coln Town Car was the last pro­duc­tion car to be of­fered with a nar­row white stripe as an op­tion un­til its pro­duc­tion was dis­con­tin­ued in 2010.

re­mem­ber that the en­gi­neers de­vel­oped all the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents based on cross-ply tyres, so the ride and han­dling will be au­then­tic for the time, pro­vid­ing you want that feel and can get suitable rub­ber. Or you can opt for a ra­dial, which will de­liver dif­fer­ent (read im­proved) ride and han­dling.

Miche­lin and Pirelli have a range of tyres to suit Eu­ro­pean and British cars from the 1950s on­wards, with Miche­lin cater­ing for 12 to 16-inch di­am­e­ter wheels and Pirelli 13 to 16-inch.

Both brands fea­ture their iconic tread pat­terns, like the Miche­lin Clas­sic X-Stop, the world’s first ra­dial and the Pirelli Cin­tu­rato, the first ever wrap-around ra­dial, a de­sign that most mod­ern tyres are still based on. Used ex­ten­sively in mo­tor­sport, five-times world cham­pion, Juan Manuel Fangio called the Cinturatos ‘ex­traor­di­nary’.

What about own­ers of our most trea­sured Aussie col­lectibles like the GT and GT-HO Fal­cons, Holden Monaros and To­ranas and Valiant Pac­ers and Charg­ers?

Back in the day, some like the GT Fal­con were sold with ra­di­als, while oth­ers like the Monaro were shod with cross-plies when they left the fac­tor y.

How­ever, to­day there isn’t much choice and the only op­tion is a mod­ern tyre of the same size, if pos­si­ble with a sim­i­lar tread pat­tern to the orig­i­nals. If you’re af­ter that ‘red wall’ look, your choices will be lim­ited – in any case a spe­cial­ist such as An­tique Tyres or Stuck­eys should be your first port of call.

This story wouldn’t be com­plete without men­tion­ing the very fash­ion­able and hugely pop­u­lar (1920s-50s) white­wall tyres.

Coker Tyres, which are dis­trib­uted in Aus­tralia by An­tique Tyres are one of the big­gest pro­duc­ers of white­wall tyres to fit 14, 15 and 16-inch rims.

Ra­dial ply Coker tyres – the white­walls are built into the mold – can be or­dered with up to a three-inch white­wall.

BF Goodrich is one of the few big brands that still pro­duces both cross-plies as well as their famed TA ra­di­als for cars span­ning many eras. They come with white­walls or red or white stripes on the walls and even with raised let­ter­ing, as seen on many Amer­i­can mus­cle cars of the 1960s. They’re not cheap, and the grip isn’t al­ways ideal, but are prob­a­bly a must-have if the look is im­por­tant.

And that points to one of the com­pro­mises you will have to con­sider for older ve­hi­cles. There is likely to be a toss-up be­tween cost, grip and orig­i­nal­ity. Maybe it de­pends on how you use the car. If you’re pitch­ing into the odd event, grip is go­ing to be your ma­jor con­cern, but if it’s a sunny Sun­day show car, then orig­i­nal­ity is the go.

To use a re­cent ex­am­ple, our 1970 Chevro­let C10 re­cently re­quired new front rub­ber and our choices in­cluded Goodrich at ap­prox­i­mately $350 a wheel, or a pair of Klevers at $150 each. Well, it’s a work ve­hi­cle, so guess which way we went? So far the Klevers seem to be okay, but if this was a car we were do­ing up, the Goodrich op­tion would have been our first choice. Gerry Egan, a 30-plus year vet­eran of the in­dus­try and man­ager of High­way Tyres in Moorab­bin, told us that these days clas­sic cars own­ers rarely ac­tu­ally wear out a tyre, but they do need to freshen them up pe­ri­od­i­cally. Good ad­vice…


PHO­TOS Cour­tesy of Vogue Tyre/ Wikipedia

ABOVE Price be­came a fac­tor in re-boot­ing our C10.

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