1st October 2021

Tyre Safety Month: Get a Grip on Classic Tyres

As classic enthusiasts, we like to think we’re in control when it comes to tyre safety. We’re not afraid to invest in the right rubber, and understand the importance of our only patch of contact with the road…

But navigating the classic tyres market isn’t always straightforward - especially if you run a rare or vintage vehicle. It’s easy to overlook the cruciality of finding the right option for your car – so, with October marking Tyre Safety Month, what better time to ask an expert? Footman James caught up with Dougal Cawley, Managing Director at Longstone Tyres, to get to grips with the world of classic tyres.

“When it comes to the design of tyres on classic and historic vehicles, a common misconception is that newer is better,” says Dougal, who’s stock ranges from vintage beaded-edge tyres to the Michelin TRX – one of the first low-profile tyres to arrive on the market in 1975. “Often, a new period-design tyre will be a far better match for your chassis and suspension.”

Dougal says Michelin and Pirelli are particularly good at respecting their heritage, and still produce a comprehensive range of period tyres. This means owners can buy brand new items that make their classic behave exactly as the manufacturer intended.

The design and behaviour of many older classics’ steering and suspension is a world away from modern vehicles, requiring rubber that allows the car to handle as intended. The sidewalls of older tyres often have a more rounded appearance, allowing for a more progressive roll and effective contact patch when mid-corner.

“Weight per square inch is another big factor – for example, fitting huge, wide tyres to a 2-tonne Land Rover may improve grip, but this might have the opposite effect on a classic Fiat 500. Wider tyres do begin to aquaplane at a lower speed too and can offer drivers less feedback.”

“We regularly receive phone calls from customers looking for advice on whether their tyres are still safe to use,” says Dougal. “Generally speaking, if there’s doubt in your mind, then the answer is no! The legislation is still fairly lenient around tyre condition and will allow for small cracks and perishing, as long as the tyre carcass isn’t visible through the cracks.”

It’s more than likely that the annual mileage of your classic will be far lower than your daily driver – so its tyres could be out of date before they wear out.  

“Our advice is to check any cracks or perishing carefully and consider replacement at five years old – when a tyre reaches ten, it’s definitely reached the end of the road.”

Stay tuned for part two of our Tyre Safety Month feature – where we explore date coding, asymmetrical vs directional, and much more…