Whether you’re a car enthusiast or not, chances are you’ve either driven or spotted an automobile at some point in your life that was equipped with white colored tires. These tires, known as “whitewall tires,” are just as they sound – distinguished by either a stripe or an entire sidewall of white rubber. They’re most commonly associated with classic automobiles and collector cars, especially those from the pre-1970’s.
This article will take a look at the whitewall tire – from its inception to the height of its popularity in the 1950s, and to its eventual decline.
History of Whitewalls
The history of whitewall rubber traces back to a Chicago tire company in the early 1900s that manufactured tires with such rubber specifically for carriages. However, upon widespread adoption of the automobile, tires were manufactured out of pure rubber and then supplemented with various chemicals so that they would wear better. Zinc oxide is one of those chemicals – and it was also a pure white color. While pure white tires were feasible, tire endurance was not with just zinc oxide – and that’s when carbon black was integrated into the rubber to enhance tread. However, the side walls remained white.
In the years that followed, these whitewall tires became stylish and trendy, to the point where Ford introduced the tire type as an option on all of its models in the 1930s. In fact, according to Yahoo! Autos, on April 6, 1934, Ford became the first automaker to offer whitewalls as an option (and for a mere $11.25 per set).
By the time World War II and the Korean War came about, whitewall tires had diminished in popularity – notably due to shortages in raw materials during the wars. But the trend came roaring back in the 1950s – and bigger than ever.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that whitewalls began to decline in popularity, as technology and personal preferences changed. A single-sided whitewall tire remained an option on some automobiles throughout the 1970s, and that decline has progressed to where we are today – whitewalls are non-existent as a factory option on just about every automobile.
Although you’ll be hard-pressed to find a car off the assembly line fitted with whitewalls, these tires still exist today, mostly within the modified and specialty car market. In fact, if you spot a hot rod, low rider or custom car out on the road, there’s a good chance that it’s equipped with whitewall tires. Motorcycle tires are another popular choice to have outfitted with whitewalls. In fact, whitewall tires are still made by various specialty outlets.
Whitewall tire prices are affordable, but, like any other tire, prices vary by factors such as brand and size. It’s not impossible to find a whitewall tire for as little as $60 in some cases, but they can also range upwards of $150 per tire.