There’s no denying that the look of a wide whitewall tire can mean the difference between a slick looking ride and one that is lacking in the flavor department. Whether you’re a fan of the whitewall tire or not–the level of aesthetic and ability to completely alter the mood and look of a car makes these classic tires a mainstay, even in today’s age.
According to Kevin Cameron, author of Top Dead Center 2: Racing and Wrenching with Cycle World’s Kevin Cameron, “Early automobile tires were made of pure natural rubber with various chemicals mixed into the tread compounds to make them wear better.” He continues, “The best of these was zinc oxide, a pure white substance that increased traction and also made the entire tire white.”
In an effort to fortify the endurance and longevity of these original tires carbon black was added to increase tread life.
We typically perceive whitewalls as exuding an air of classic luxury and oftentimes the wow factor of a whitewall trumps the blandness of a blackwall. Due to the fact that blackwall tires required more carbon black and consequently, needed less effort to maintain a clean appearance, consumer opinion in the 30s was the opposite of what it is today and many flocked towards the latter.
According to Kelly J. Flory, author of American Cars, 1946-1959: Every Model, Year by Year, “The availability of whitewall tires was limited in the US during the supply shortages of raw materials during World War 2 and the Korean War.
Wide whitewalls generally fell out of favor in the US by the 1962 model year. They continued as an option on the Liconln Continental for some time thereafter, but most common were narrower 3/4-inch to 1-inch stripe whitewalls.
What is your opinion on whitewalls? Obviously, the advent of radial tires provides a harmonious compromise between function and aesthetic these days. What whitewall widths do you prefer on specific cars? Be sure to comment below!