While vehicles do require specific types of tires, there are certain cars that demand, well, special tires. White wall tires are rather fascinating in the way they offer a sense of class or nostalgia to an automobile. Within modern tire manufacturing, white wall tires were created to offer comfort and performance for antique and classic vehicles. Some owners of these cars would never take their ride out of the garage without a spiffy set of white wall tires, especially the classics. Could you imagine a 1955 Ford Thunderbird truly complete without a set of white wall tires?
White wall tires, also known as white side wall (WSW) tires, are still manufactured to offer that desired look to any number of automobiles, and can be found in an incredibly impressive array of sizes and styles. White wall tires can also be mounted on some more modern cars.
A Brief History of White Wall Tires
When tires were first manufactured for automobiles, manufacturers looked straight to natural rubber. Well over 100 years later, we've become so accustomed to black tires, but the original tires possessed a white color; some of these tires are still manufactured for use on antique autos and motorcycles. Unfortunately, for the new tire industry those many years ago, the natural rubber couldn't hold up to the growing performance demands of drivers.
At this point, black carbon was added to the outside of the white rubber tires in the tread patterns. The sidewalls remained white from the shoulder to the bead, and these eventually become known as white wall tires. Once additional carbon black was added to the manufacturing process to allow for a “cleaner” looking, all black tire, white wall tires were set aside to welcome this new tire manufacturing standard.
Once black tires became the standard and were considered to be of premium nature, possessing a tire that was more difficult to maintain signaled a slight distinction in class. During the Roaring Twenties, white walls became symbolic of artistic contrast within the new car designs and became a popular option on certain model cars. These were dual white wall tires—both sides of the tire possessing the look.
The desire of the 20s and 30s influenced the designers of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, as white wall tires became standard issue equipment on many American motors. As the years passed, the size of the white walls decreased, and they eventually became more and more obsolete for use on new cars. However, where the trend died in new car manufacturing, it was reborn in modern motorcycle use. To this day, many new cycles boast white wall tires to help complete a look and feel.
There are several specialty tire manufacturers, as well as the premium world brands, that now manufacture white wall tires in a variety of looks and sizes. Some have dual white walls, and others have a single sided white wall. There are also variations of the white wall known as red wall, red stripe, gold stripe, and the raised white letter (RWL) tires that are very popular on classic American muscle cars.
Purchasing White Wall Tires
As mentioned, there are a variety of white wall tires available for purchase, capable of fitting everything from classic autos to contemporary classics that look better with a set of white walls. When purchasing white wall tires, bear in mind their intended use. If they're added to a car for looks, then you may wish to consider an off-brand for occasional cruising or parking at car shows. You'll find these to be less expensive. Either way, always ask your local dealer before purchasing new tires to ensure they fit your car properly. Tires that are not exactly the right size or not properly mounted will not only affect the performance of the car, they also pose a safety hazard.
For daily performance combined with that sweet aesthetic that only a nice set of white wall tires can offer, it is best to invest in a quality brand tire that is geared toward performance and sustained wear while also boasting the width of white wall desired.