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Classic Tyres

Classic Tyres Published: 26th Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Classic Tyres
Classic Tyres
Classic Tyres
Classic Tyres
Classic Tyres
Classic Tyres
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Choosing a new set of tyres for your classic can be a bit of a dilemma but not if you follow our advice – and don’t put price before anything else…

Like many others you may restore your classic to concours standard but if there is one area that shouldn’t be compromised – yet usually are – it’s tyres because to many they are only big black round (expensive) things. The fact that almost 30 per cent of MoTs – the second biggest cause of rejection – are tyre related rather confirms this – despite it being 50 years since the tyre tread depth law (1mm back then) came into force.

How wrong can you be? They are the only footprint you have on the road and influence a vehicle’s handling, stability and braking more than any costly add on modification. Slap on a new uniform set of the same brand that’s right for your make and model and you’ll feel the positive change immediately on most classics.

Age concern

Elements begin to leach out of the tyre virtually from day one, encouraged by ultraviolet light, heat and rain. This will happen even if the tyre is never used. Initially, the loss is minimal but after four years or so (depending on conditions) this accelerates considerably.

Factors like how a tyre is stored, the conditions it is kept in as well as temperature and humidity have an affect too. As a general rule of thumb, six years is a decent life span no matter how little the classic is used.

Sometimes at shows you see old classics running on what must be almost original tyres and that’s a worry because you can take originality just a shade too far…

A tyre’s age is conveyed by a series of numbers – usually the month and year of manufacture. Pre-2000 there are various codes. For those made during the nineties the last three digits tell of the month and year of the nineties. Thus ‘078’ relates as the seventh month in 1998. The sideways triangle was used to illustrate the nineties. But that is of no interest to us. If a tyre had these markings then it should be consigned to the recycling bin anyway… New markings appeared after 2000 with now four-digit numbers showing the month followed by the year. This time ‘0703’ means month seven, 2003 – is this clear enough? It is even worth checking those on a new little used classic you might be thinking of buying and certainly any old tyres at an autojumble…

Safe speed

Speed ratings as applied to the classic car are rated in SR, HR and VR, where SR is essentially for low performance cars. HR tyres can cope with speeds up to 130mph (210kph), while VR is limited to 150mph. This does not mean the speed that you choose to travel at but the speed at which the vehicle is capable of. Modern ratings start at L – 75mph and move to Y – 186mph +. But don’t be tempted to drop a speed rating, your insurance company might take a dim view of this if a claim is ever made over an accident.

Radial or cross-ply

Modern cars have been using radial tyres since the 1960s. Prior to that cross-ply tyres were in the majority. Cross-ply tyres are made of layers of textile cord laid down at alternate angles. Radial tyres were around in the fifties but found greater prominence in the next decade once their road noise quirks were contained and faster cars demanded better tyres. For the majority of motorists, unless you hanker for a ‘classic’ tyre (i.e. the type originally fitted when new out of the showrooms) a replacement modern radial is best in terms of availability and price.

Modern tyre technology has advanced so much that new tyres are light years away from when these cars were first used (we’re trying a set of budget Landsail tyres and will report back on our experiences). The good news is there’s not really any truly ‘nasty’ makes around anymore plus they’re relatively inexpensive – so much so that this market caused the death of the remould.

Mix and fix?

Try not to mix and match tyres, at least on the same axle as different makes have different handling characteristics and vary in rolling radius that could cause havoc, especially if a limited slip differential is fitted. Most suppliers will be able to provide the required details here.

Tyre care

Regular inspection is vital, especially if your classic is little used. Cracks occur between the treads as well as on the sidewalls; also look for damage. Tyre condition can also be a barometer for various problems where warning signs should be taken on board. Too much wear in the centre is an over-inflated tyre, while conversely too much on the edges is an under-inflated tyre. Irregular wear on one side or feathering points towards steering geometry and suspension issues. Either way specialist help should be sought.


Remember sticky tyres on wide rims will most likely destroy the essence of your classic but a tweak here and there is fine and desirable. For example, TR6 wheels on earlier TR4s were always a nice swap. You can often see old Jags, such as the S-type and MkX, using XJ6 rolling stock if for no other reason that these tyre sizes are easier to obtain. Remember too that changing wheel sizes, aspect ratio or even types will alter the rolling radius with the knock-on effect of altering the final drive ratio and possibly an inaccurate speedo readings as a result. White walls add a touch of style on many 50/60s classics and we’ve found Bravado Auto (01932 874000) a good place to shop for them.

Don’t skimp on this vital ingredient in classic motoring – tyres. If their shortened lifespan bothers you then we only suggest that you jolly well make sure that they are fully used up within six years. Yes – that means using the car!

Just out…

Vredestein, has responded to the fast-increasing demand for modern classics by expanding its portfolio of classic tyres. Its first modern classic tyre, the Sprint +, is aimed at the legendary Audi Ur-Quattro and will be launched this month.

“There is more and more appreciation for cars from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s – so called ‘youngtimers’ or modern classics,” says the tyre maker. “They are also about to become classic cars, properly speaking. Unfortunately, manufacturers have already stopped producing original tyres for such vehicles. Owners are therefore forced to fit more modern tyres.”

Vredestein will release the youngtimer tyres under the name Sprint+. The first will be a very special model: a 215/50 R15 for the Ur-Quattro; a tyre size which has not been available anywhere for a long time. By the first half of 2019, Vredestein expects to have approximately ten different tyre sizes for youngtimers. Tyres for popular brands such as Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Alfa Romeo are among those being considered.

The case for classic tyres

Vintage tyres

Why should owners of historic vehicles fit the correct tyres? It goes well beyond the looks, although that is a big part in the decision-making process for many. A set of new tyres in the size and spec chosen by the manufacturer at the vehicle’s design process following months and years of testing is always going to be better than something plucked off the shelf based on price or ‘it’s close enough’ decision making.

Vehicles drive better on the right tyres. The number of Jaguar E-type Series 1 and 2 owners who roll in on overly-wide, low-profile tyres and then roll out on the O/E spec 185R15 Dunlop Aquajets only to rediscover the light, responsive steering the car is meant to have is amazing. Ditto the Avon Traction Mileage on Series Land Rovers. Put simply, historic vehicles, and their owners, deserve better tyres. Vintage Tyres Supplies can help with advice, fitting and choice from a range of 1000 products.

Most people who don’t like the idea of crossplies have only experienced old and hard examples. Like any old and hard tyre they can give a pretty wayward driving experience, but put the same car on a fresh set of crossplies in the correct size and at the correct pressure and the driving experience will be a revelation. It’s important to point out that there are no direct replacements for crossplies in radial sizes. Crossplies are all around 100 per cent profile (the sidewall is the same height as the width of the tyre). Radials go no higher than 80 per cent profile. Visually, the shorter, often fatter radial just looks plain odd, and the driving experience will often be marred by significantly heavier steering.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many successful radial options for owners of cars designed for crossplies, there are. But before you make a swap, talk to us, we know what works, and what doesn’t from years of experience.

Finally prices. Consider this: the average tyre for the average modern car will be available from at least 25 manufacturers you’d consider buying from, and about another 25 you’d perhaps think twice about. These sizes will be made in the millions with all the accompanying economies of scale that it brings.

Classic tyre prices are as low and as fair as we can get them, and where possible we always try to offer a choice within a popular size. In 185R x 15, for example, we stock more than ten different makes.

Sticker sense

A makers sticker slapped on the tyre tread tells you much more than the size and it’s wise to gen up the information imparted. Modern labels indicate their independently tested performance in the rain, fuel economy (due to rolling resistance) and noise levels. So, before you simply buy on price, check the specs to see what tyre suits you best.

Longstone Tyres

Modern cars have very different geometry to a classic car. If you look at a modern car parked up with a lot of steering lock, you will notice that the front wheels come out of the wings at a funny angle. This is caster and this self centres the steering which is needed to overcome the wide square shouldered foot print of modern low profi le tyres.

As a modern car rolls under steering forces, it adds adverse camber to keep the square foot print flat on the road. Classic cars have softer suspension and roll more so a classic car needs a thinner tyre with rounded shoulders so as it leans it rolls round on the shoulder of the tread. With a modern tyre it climbs onto the sharp corner of the tyre and lifts the inside of the tread, meaning that instead of handling progressively it corners like a 50p.

Modern car tyres make the steering heavier, track on uneven road surfaces, wear the components of your car faster. They don’t handle as nicely and don’t look as good.

It is correct to say that part of the reason modern cars have considerably more grip than a classic car is due to the tyres, but these tyres only really give that extra grip because they are fi tted to steering and suspension that has the capability to use that grip.

A classic car benefits from having a tyre carcass that is suited to its chassis. The classic tyres that Longstone Tyres will encourage you to fit, will have that suitable carcass, and when they are built by the two top classic tyre manufacturers, Michelin and Pirelli, they will benefit from some modern features such as flawless quality control, and modern improved compounds, that give more grip from that relatively small foot print, (particularly in the wet). But the car will feel the way it should when you drive it.

Oh, and they will look cool too.

Cross-ply tyres give nice light and progress handling, with a comfortable smooth ride. And of course they look right. What people may fi nd diffcult with a cross-ply is the wandering that is improved by radial tyres at cruising speeds. A radial tyre offers more grip, and considerably improved durability. But we would never encourage any prewar car to fit a radial tyre.

Because today we spend so much time at cruising speeds on motorways and dual carriageways a radial tyre helps make our classic cars more suited to our modern roads, but there is no need to spoil the handling. Tyres like the XAS or Cinturato are designed to compeiment these earlier cars, and help them cruise along while still providing that feed back through the steering that makes driving our old cars so much fun.

The commonest reason to not fit a proper classic tyre, is price. Tyres should not be chosen on price. But also give us a ring and you will be pleasantly surprised as to the choice we can offer.

A lot of times a modern tyre is not acceptable. Do not fit overly low profi les on wire wheels because you cannot fit an inner tube in a tyre of less than 70 per cent profi le (205/70VR15 yes, you can fit a tube but 205/65R15 no you should not fit an inner tube). There are wire wheels made today that are sold as tubeless, but we have seen failures so we fit a tube. There is no need for tubeless ‘wires’. All cars that are fitted with wire wheels will not drive well on a low profile tyre. We will always encourage you to fit something that you will still be happier with long after you have forgotten your credit card bill!


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