Choose The Right Tires
Making the most of where the rubber meets the road
Twenty years ago, when concours restorations dominated the hobby, tire selection was simple. You chose either reproductions of the original-equipment tires from Coker Tire and Kelsey Tire or you installed a set of radials that looked close in appearance to original equipment--a modern radial tire with the correct-width whitewall band. Owners of '69-'73 Mach 1s or Bosses who wanted to drive their cars opted for BFGoodrich Radial T/As or Goodyear Eagle STs with raised white letters instead of the factory-original Goodyear Polyglas or Firestone Wide-Oval bias-belted ones.
How do you choose the right tire for your vintage Mustang in 2005? It boils down to how you intend to drive your car. Because the world of classic Mustangs has changed so much over the past 15 years, the questions are more involved. In the past, owning a classic Mustang meant restoring it to factory original condition. It was a serious political issue for many because modifying a classic Mustang was politically incorrect for the times. This kept tire selection simple. Concours-restored trailered cars were fitted with reproductions of their factory-original tires. Many '65-'66 Mustangs were fitted with Firestone Champions or Deluxe Champion reproduction bias-ply tires from Coker Tire. Some got the BFGoodrich Silvertowns, Goodyear Power Cushions, or Generals. Others got Firestone or US Royal Redline reproductions.
If you had something like a '69-'70 Mach 1 or a Boss 302, your Mustang would have been shod with Goodyear Polyglas tires. They worked well for Mustangs that weren't driven often. Bias-ply tires offered more than their share of surprises for those of us who had been driving on radial tires because bias-ply tires are a whole different animal.
If you're restoring a classic Mustang to factory-original condition and intend to show in Mustang Club of America concours-judged competition, tire selection becomes simple. You'll fit your Mustang with reproductions or new-old-stock tires like it came with from the factory. But if you visit your local BFGoodrich, Firestone, or Goodyear dealer, you won't find Champions, Deluxe Champions, Silvertowns, Power Cushions, or Polyglas tires on display. You won't find them back in the warehouse either. These tires are now available from two companies--Coker Tire and Kelsey Tire--depending on what you want to install.
Concours restorations mandate exactly what was on the car from the factory for a given model year. Your '65 Mustang hardtop with a 289-2V V-8, for example, should have either 7.00x13 or 6.95x14 Firestone Champion bias-ply tires to achieve the blessings of MCA show judges. These skinny, pizza-cutter tires aren't much for handling. In fact, after years of radial-tire driving, you'll have to readjust your driving technique with bias-ply and bias-belted tires. Take a corner aggressively and you can count on a trip through your neighbor's flowerbed. Despite that risk, there's nothing quite like a concours-restored classic Mustang perched on four factory-correct tires. Follow the judging rules developed over 30 years of Mustang Club of America restoring and showing to make these cars truly authentic restorations.
Tire technology has evolved dramatically through the years. When vintage Mustangs were new, they were fitted with dinky bias-ply tires. They're called "bias-ply" because their plies run diagonally at a 45-degree angle to the direction of tire rotation. Bias-ply tires evolved into bias-belted tires during the '60s. They are basically bias-plies with additional belts over them for added strength and puncture resistance. The Firestone Wide-Ovals and Goodyear Polyglas tires are bias-belted.
Michelin pioneered radials in the '60s. They differed from bias-belted because their belts were wrapped at a 90-degree angle to the direction of rotation, hence the name "radial" tire. The objective with a radial tire is to keep as much contact patch with the road as possible. This happens via the radial design and flexible sidewalls. Through the years, there have been fiberglass-belted and steel-belted radials. Today's radial tires typically offer a combination of both.