The History of the Whitewall Tire | Coker Tire Whitewalls
What Cars Came with Whitewall Tires and How Long Did this Trend Last?
Whitewall tires have a rich history of more than 100 years, and these special tires have a solid future, thanks to our wide range of products. There is no question that tire and wheel styles have evolved over the years, but we’re going to take an in depth look at the history of whitewall tires and how it has influenced the collector car hobby. Let's dig in.
Originally, tires were off-white in color, due to the color of the natural rubber formula. Tire manufacturers then added zinc oxide to the formula, which gave the tires a brighter white appearance. White tires were not a status symbol or aesthetic feature—it was just how the tires were produced. The tires would quickly turn to a beige color as they traversed the dirt roads of yesteryear.
It wasn’t until 1910 that B.F. Goodrich started adding carbon black to its tires, as this ingredient added strength and durability to the rubber. Soon, most new cars rolled out of the factory on black tires, as this updated chemistry resulted in a stronger tire.
Since adding carbon black to the rubber was an additional production cost, some tire companies added it only to the tread surface. This resulted in the first tire with a white sidewall quite by accident. The whitewall would later be refined, and it eventually transitioned to a strip of white rubber being added to the tire’s all-black carcass during the manufacturing process.
Though the whitewall tire was not originally a fashion statement, this look caught on quickly, and became an affordable upgrade to most passenger cars. Starting in the 1930's most new car buyers could elect to spend a few extra bucks and have their car equipped with wide whitewalls, and this appearance package was popular for quite some time.
As tire and wheel size evolved through the years, the diameter shrank, while the widths grew slightly. And by the end of the 1950’s, most American cars were rolling on 14x5-inch wheels, with the option to upgrade to tires with a 2-1/2-inch whitewall. In 1962, a major transition happened, as wide whitewalls were phased out of most regular car options, being replaced with one-inch whitewalls. These too, would eventually shrink to 7/8-inch, 3/4-inch, 5/8-inch and so on, until the whitewall all but disappeared in the 1970's.
On the left is a BFGoodrich 670-15 with a one-inch whitewall. This was a common tire for American vehicles from 1962 until 1964. On the right is a US Royal 695-14, a common Ford Mustang tire. It features a 5/8-inch whitewall. Coker Tire offers whitewall widths that range from 3/8-inch pinstripe whitewalls, all the way up to 5 inch wide whitewalls.
Auto manufacturers and tire manufacturers got creative in the 1960's and 1970's. Double whitewalls and even triple whitewalls were common on luxury sedans like Cadillacs. This set them apart from your standard passenger car. Coker Tire is proud to offer authentic bias ply reproductions of these unique tires.
Certain makes and models kept the whitewall tire alive as an option, but this change in original equipment came at a time when aftermarket tire manufacturers were experimenting with new styles and designs. This was also a transitional time for tire companies, as the switch from bias ply to radial was happening across the country. By 1975, bias ply tires were all but phased out of American passenger car manufacturing, but European cars made the switch to radials much sooner.
The important thing to note is that antique car restorers were forced to use original tires since there was no source for vintage-style reproduction tires during this time. Coker Tire stepped into the picture and began purchasing discontinued molds and putting them back into production. Coker would continue producing bias ply whitewall tires for many years and supported the hobby with a wide range of sizes.
The collector car tire market changed drastically when Coker Tire introduced the world’s first wide whitewall radial tire in 1994. This was a turning point for classic cars, hot rods and customs. This was a tire that offered the old school sidewall with modern radial construction, and it really put Coker Tire on the map. The tire featured a true whitewall radial construction, which required a revised mold and several additional steps in the tire building process, compared to regular blackwall passenger car tires.
The new tire availability in 1994 encouraged car enthusiasts to use wide whitewall tires, and Coker Tire continued to reach the market with original and custom sizing and additional brands. Of course, Coker Tire still offers the authentic Firestone, B.F.Goodrich and other bias ply tires, but the radial whitewall tire market helped car enthusiasts get the nostalgic look without the finicky handling characteristics of a bias ply tire. It was a big breakthrough and part of the reason you see so many modern builds with wide whitewalls to this day.
Coker Tire hit another milestone in 2013 with the introduction of the American Classic “bias look” radial tire. This tire is built to replicate the narrow tread design and piecrust shoulder of vintage bias ply tires, but offer the ride quality, safety and tread life of a modern radial. We offer it in nine sizes to fit 13-, 14- and 15-inch wheel diameters, giving us a wide range of fitments, from Corvairs to Cadillacs. Fitments also include hot rods, customs and classic trucks.
Initially, we offered this tire only in wide whitewall configuration, ranging from 2 inches to 3-1/4 inches wide. Thanks to customer feedback, there was enough demand to create the American Classic bias look radial tire in black sidewall configuration. Then, a few years later, we developed the narrow whitewall version in 750R14, 800R14, 670R15 and 820R15 sizing to fit early to mid 1960's classic cars.
These tires pay tribute to the history of the whitewall tire, while also paving the way for the future of classic cars with reliable, safe and comfortable handling of a modern radial tire.