Whitewall Tires


| 9/1/2016 11:24:00 AM


Tags: Looking Back, Sam Moore,

Sam MooreOn a hot night a few weeks ago, after a supper of corn on the cob and the lovely Miss Nancy’s delicious Swiss steak, I was sitting on the front porch enjoying a slightly chilled glass of Pinot Noir and watching the traffic on Route 45. Do you know, I saw absolutely zero cars with whitewall tires!

Sixty five years ago, if your car didn’t have whitewalls, you were a stodgy old stick-in-the-mud (like my Dad). At 16, my first car, a well-used 1940 Dodge didn’t have them, but somehow I organized a set of Port-A-Walls, that, although they stood a little proud of the tires at speed, simulated white walls pretty well.

My next car, a 1948 Nash, had real whitewall tires and I spent a lot of time with a brass-bristled wire brush and, although I bought Bleche-White, which was especially good for cleaning white walled tires, I found that cheaper Old Dutch, BAB-O or Comet cleansers worked just as well. Even in the winter, when it was difficult to wash the whole car, my buddies and I still managed to keep the wheels and tires of our cars pretty clean.

In the earliest days of rubber tires, the whole tire, tread and all, was white. Most of us think of rubber as being black, but natural rubber is sort of off-white. So when tires first began to be made from the stuff, they were white as well. The white rubber, however, was very susceptible to sun deterioration. Chemists discovered that by mixing carbon black into the natural rubber it increased durability and traction, and turned the rubber black.

At first, only the tread of the tire was made of carbonized rubber and both the inner and outer sidewalls remained white. But, all black tires came to be thought of as more durable, and the white sidewalls were covered with a thin layer of black rubber making them more desirable and much easier to keep clean.

Sometime during the early 1920s, balloon tires, which afforded a softer ride, were developed. The much wider sidewalls of these tires made them more prominent and, while they looked good on a light colored car, the owners of darker painted machines began to ask for white sidewalls again in order to contrast with the dark paint and gleaming chrome that became prevalent in the late ’20s and 1930s.