You’ve been doing your best to remain faithful to the vehicle’s originality and authenticity; after all that’s why you bought it.
Weekends have been spent scouring wreckers and parts warehouses, rifling through endless boxes at swap meets and trolling the internet to assemble the parts to bring your ride back to life.
But what about the tyres?
While it is tempting to throw the original hoops back on because they look okay, have lots of tread and hold their pressure, think again.
Like the rubber seals on the doors, windows and wiper blades, tyres lose their effectiveness and you might find, at an awkward as those rock jobs on the Flintstone moment, they are about as useful mobile.
And though no company has put a safety limit on the age of a tyre, as a rule of thumb, have a think about flinging them at the end of their warranty period, which is usually seven years.
We all know that driving wears tyres out. And we all know that some wear out faster than others depending on your driving style, the roads being used and the weight and size of the vehicle.
But we may not all know that one of the biggest enemies of tyres is exposure to sunlight, as it breaks down the chemicals used in their construction and explains why race tyres are delivered and stored in black bags.
A tip for readers living up north with more sunlight hours – get your car out of the sun. And for everyone who rarely drives their classic, jack it up and put the tyres in black plastic garden rubbish bags and store them in the dark during the long breaks.
While it seems obvious, tyres should be treated as the most vital
component on the whole car.
After all, you can have the best resto, an engine with the most mumbo, with the slippiest of diffs and the best-sorted suspension, but if what is connecting your ride to the road isn’t up to it, the rest ain’t worth squat.
The problem is you can’t just schlep down to the local tyre store and get classic car tyres off the shelf. Chances are, they may not make them anymore.
It’s a dilemma facing many classic car owners and if your vehicle pre-dates the 1970s, there’s a fair chance it originally rode on cross-ply (or bias-ply) tyres, even though radials had been around for a long time by then.
To be precise radials first surfaced in 1949 with Citroen 2CV and Lancia Aurelia as early adopters, including them as standard fitment.
So what is the difference between a cross-ply and a radial tyre?
Both are made by laying bands of rubber fabric over each other, with both having a unique construction method along with vastly different ride and handling characteristics.
The names hint at the difference; with a cross-ply tyre, the layers of rubber crisscross each other running at an angle of 45 degrees to the centre line of the tyre's tread, while radial tyres have the layers overlapping each other and running at right angles to the centre line as well as around the circumference.
Radial tyres are considered safer as they generally have a lower profile, with a wider tread, stiffer sidewalls and a bigger footprint, which in turn provide better traction.
On the other hand, cross-ply tyres usually create less road noise and are softer than radials, due to the extra flex of the sidewalls.
Owners of older cars should remember that the engineers
HAVE YOU ever looked at your tyre sidewall and wondered what all the numbers mean?
P –This indicates it is a passenger car tyre. If it had LT, it would mean light truck. T would mean truck etc. European tyres have no letter before the numbers. 215 –This refers to the width of the tyre from one sidewall to the other. In this case, it is 215 millimetres wide. 65 – Is the height of the sidewall as a percentage of the tyre width. In this example, it is 65% of the tyre width.
R – This letter designates the type of tyre it is. In this example, it is a radial ply tyre 15 – Signifies the wheel diameter; here we have a 15-inch wheel. 95 – This is the load index and indicates the maximum load carrying capacity of the tyre. You should only fit tyres that meet or exceed the vehicle manufacturer’s specification referred to in the ownermanual.
H – This is the maximum speed rating for tyre. Once again refer to your ownersmanual for the information.
Another major consideration is the age the tyre. To determine this, look on the sidewall for a four-digit code, eg 0316. In this case, it means the tyre was made in the third week of 2016. the A of side case
N 140 P 150 Q 160 R 170 S 180 T 190 U 200 H 210 V 240 Z 240+ W 270 Y 300
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 were considered a premium tyre and fitted to many luxury cars in the 1930s.
During the Second World War and Korean conflict whitewall tyres became hard to get, due to raw material shortages but that didn’t stop them reaching their height in 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, and wheel spats, which 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.
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 GTHO 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-plys when they left the factory.
However, today there isn’t much choice and the only option is a modern tyre of the same size and if possible similar tread pattern as the originals. Consult with a specialist for the best advice.
This story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the very fashionable and hugely popular (of the 1920-1950s), 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.
The radial ply Coker tyres have the whitewalls built into the mold and can be ordered with up to a three-inch whitewall.
BF Goodrich are one of the few big brands that still produce both cross-plys 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.
UNIQUE CARS' Past Blasts master, John Bowe, has spent a lifetime getting the most from his tyres on the track and over the years has owned several desirable collectibles, including an E-Type Jaguar.
When he bought the Jag, he reckoned it handled like a dog on a lino floor.
He then replaced the ageing cross-plies for a set of radials with a tread pattern close to the originals and according to Bowe, this transformed the car.
“I know the original look is very important with Classic cars”, said Bowe, “but putting them on radials makes them so much sweeter and safer to drive.
“While modern tread patterns are nothing like the ones of the past, due to technology, lower sidewall profiles and generally wider tyres, it is still possible to get a tyre in many sizes with a relatively plain tread pattern, so it doesn’t look out of place on your collectible”.
SO, LET’S say you’ve just bought yourself a classic car for those early morning spirited drives on long weekends.
Only problem is, it’s a car that has older 13 or 14-inch rims as stock, which means that finding a modern performance tyre conducive to enthusiast driving is harder than drifting a B-double.
Many, many enthusiasts have come across this problem. I circumvented the it by doing what most do: going for a bigger size wheel to accommodate more rubber.
It’s not an easy decision to make, and finding the right aftermarket wheel that suits your car's aesthetic can be a nightmare, especially if your pride and joy is more than two decades old.
But, it can be done, and in the case of my own car, I not only kept the car looking original but drastically improved the handling thanks to simply having more tyre on the road which, in turn, led to more mechanical grip.
However, there are a few things you need to take into account before you start loosening the wheel nuts.
For a start, each state in the country has rules about changing wheel and tyre sizes on your vehicle, and they vary from state to state.
This can be a real hassle if you’re buying a car interstate.
Something to keep in mind is older cars often rely on a decent sidewall as part of the suspension package – lose too much and it may ride like a dray.
You’ve also got to consider that if you do go for the upgrade, you either need to keep the total rolling circumference standard (get the calculator out and be sure) or recalibrate your speedo.
Clearance can be an issue if the rolling circumference or the width changes, and you'll need to check this out at full compression on the suspension - with the front wheels turned.
There are ways around this, such as rolling your wheel arches, but this can be very troublesome.
Bottom line is, upgrading your wheel and tyre sizes is a worthwhile strategy that can lead to serious handling improvements, but like most things, you need to do your research and find the combination that’s right for you. This is where a knowledgeable tyre shop can be very handy.
ACCORDING TO Russell Stuckey of Melbournebased Stuckey Tyres, very few manufacturers have the technical capability or production processes to make cross-ply tyres.
This is another reason why radials have become the tyre of choice, as they are made in many factories on the latest equipment and readily available.
Stuckey said; “I remember when radial tyres came out in the 60s and if you had a tricked-up Holden and put on wide wheels, you put Pirellis on it, which had a very rugged and bold pattern”.
Stuckey also dispelled a myth that the tread pattern was a way of telling if it is a radial or a cross-ply and looks back at a couple of Aussie muscle cars to make his point. “The first GT Falcon came out with 185-14 radials, but the original Holden Monaro came out on the cross-ply tyres and red sidewalls. Both of those tyres had a very plain looking pattern.
“To be honest I cannot see the value in a crossply tyre except in a rare instance where a particular car has come out with a distinctive cross-ply tyre and concourse judges would look for that." However Ben McKinnon from Antique Tyres in Vic cautions: "There are cars for which radials are not an option due to rim width, tyre size etc. For example, a car that runs a 16x3.5 rim that would have had a 500/525-16 as standard has no safe radial option." If in doubt get expert advice.