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More often than not, whitewall tyres divide opinions. Some will claim that they are only ever appropriate on classic Yank Tanks. Others see them as the most logical and period attempt at giving any classic car a more stylish appearance.

My love of all things Citroën DS had me searching out period DS pictures. That’s when I came across the fabulous picture below of a DS wearing a set of whitewall tyres. There’s no denying that it does dramatic things for the elegant Citroën design. An acquired taste no doubt – a bit like oysters. Personally, I like both oysters andwhitewalls.

But in my opinion, whitewalls work on so much else than fifties Americana and French avantgarde. My continued search led me to other French classics – most of which are (by default) much more subtle than the Citroën. The Simca Aronde is hardly the most popular, ground-breaking and well-known classic on the market. In period, here in Denmark it was given the less than flattering nickname “Cod Mouth” – clearly due to its facial design. But hand it a set of whitewalls, and suddenly the rather ordinary fifties saloon presents decidedly elegant and upmarket.

During the mid- and late-sixties, tyres with whitewalls were often an optional accessory intended to impact positively on the style-barometer. But before that, at the very beginning of the twentieth century, white tyres were the norm. Back then, tyres were produced from 100% natural rubber mixed with various chemicals to achieve better durability. One of these chemicals was zinc oxide which is white as snow and contributed by giving the tyre better grip, but also made the rubber compound perfectly white.

Only later, to further improve durability, a residual product from the oil refinery industry was added to the rubber compounds. This product contains large amounts of carbon and thus the tyres became black. Initially though, the carbon was only added to the rubber compound around the tread pattern where a thin layer of black rubber was pulled over the white tyre, as this was of course where the enhanced durability was required. So the whitewall tyres remained despite of the added carbon. With time though, the all black tyres grew in popularity and won the over the market.

As a stylish statement, the whitewalls were at their prime during the early fifties, but already in the following decade, sales numbers started to decline. Design and fashion meant that cars were getting lower and lower, and the tall tyre walls didn’t do much to compliment this new look. The whitewalls simply appeared too tall. Initially this was overcome with white bandtyres taking over for a while. Here, the white section of the white band tyres was much narrower and there was a black segment between the wheel and the white band. This helped for a while, but eventually new technology and the arrival of low profile tyres led to both whitewalls and white bands loosing traction (pardon the pun)…

Still the whitewalls held on stubbornly, and right up until the mid-seventies there were still some marques who offered whitewall or more likely white band tyres for their most luxurious models.

What is your opinion of whitewalls? Should they only be applied to classics from the fifties? Or are they acceptable cosmetic tuning towards the stylish and elegant on any car regardless? Do you perhaps even have whitewalls or white bands on your own classic? And if you do, please reveal how you manage to keep them gleaming white…


4 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    Like most things, it depends…in this case, on the car, obviously. They certainly seem to work on many ’50’s and ’60’s US classics, and they look very smart on the Simca pictured. I’m less keen on them on the DS and the E-Type, and I don’t think they’d work on any Porsche (including the 356, despite the one above) or Ferrari, for example. On a Mercedes-Benz Ponton or Fintail, defintely a good look. On my 02, definitely not.

  2. Anders Bilidt

    Of course you are right Tony – it will always depend on the car in question.
    How about a Periscopio Countach on whitewalls?? I think not!
    But there are a lot of cars from the 50’s and 60’s where it looks excellent – and in my opinion it’s certainly not restricted to only US classics. On something from the late 60’s or the early 70’s I would personally prefer the white band tyres instead.

    But Søren, you have left out my favourite tyre of them all (again, obviously depending on the car as it needs to work together…) – the redline tyre. No tyre looks sexier than a redline BF Goodrich Silvertown on a late 60’s Muscle Car…

  3. jakob356

    Tall white sidewalls looks nice on “slow” cars designed in the 50’ies or earlier: Volvo 444+Amazon, Citroën TA+2CV+DS, Mercedes-Benz Adenauer, BMW 501 and so on.

    Please do not put them on sport cars!
    Also looks ridiculous on all motorcycles, except on an old loaded Electra Glide.

    White stripes can work up until around 1980, and much later for large american cars.

  4. YrHmblHst

    Wide whites only work on pre-55 American cars imnsho. narrow band works on midsize and above thru about 72 if youre careful…
    Contrary to what magazines and movies would have you believe, bitd – late 50s to early 70s with the emphasis on the mid 6os – not everyone had TorqThrusts or Cragar S/Ss over here; when I was a kid most ‘cool cars’ were running around on steel wheels with chrome lugnuts and ‘spider’ centre cps with the narrow band whitewalls that came on the car, at least until those wore out and were replaced with redlines, blackwall Atlas Bucrons for extra traction or those newfangled white lettered tyres by the late late 60s. Wheels – usually chrome reverses at first til you got a real good job – didnt come til after the car was paid for etc.
    Anyway…my most humble opinion is that whitewalls look ok on some American cars -mostly full size but NEVER on a post 62 Corvette even tho they came stock on many- but other than something like a Rolls, just cant ‘see’ em on Euro cars. Im sure there are exceptions, You asked my opinion…
    Oh, and we always used Brillo pads on the whitewalls to clean em up – works a treat. My parents had whitewalls on a Lincoln as late as about 4 years ago; Westleys BlecheWhite works well, but tends to discolour the black part too if youre not careful.


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