Whitewall Tyres - Retrospective

By: Unique Cars Magazine

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A closer look at the history of whitewall tyres

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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.

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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.

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