A WHITER SHADE OF PALE
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…
“JUAN MANUEL FANGIO CALLED PIRELLI'S CINTURATOS 'EXTRAORDINARY'”
ABOVE Price became a factor in re-booting our C10.