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Whitewall Tires in the 30's and 40's...


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As I look and more and more car brochures from the 30's, I cannot help to notice that there isn't a single car with white wall tires! Now it seems that every single restoration I see has white wall tires... I personally can do without them and think that quite a few cars look better without them...


Again, my question is, did they become popular in the mid to late 40's? I know that by the 1950's and 60's they were all the rage...





52 olds brochure.jpg

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Based on stuff my dad and other people who lived through those times told me. I think the idea goes all the way back to the teens, when many tires had been white or natural rubber. It was discovered that carbon black in rubber made it stronger and longer wearing. Adding a black tread to a white tire is an obvious thing to do, but was just one of a whole bunch of ways a tire might look in those times. It probably wasn't real common. It wasn't long before most tires were made completely from the newer stronger black rubber.


In the 30s, the depression was on, and most people would not have had money to spend on fancy tires. Some of those who could afford whitewalls may have been less interested advertising that fact in a time when there was rampant unemployment and there were breadlines. Nevertheless, whitewalls were available for those who wanted to pony up and could afford it. According to my dad whitewalls were just not seen much in those days. He also said when you did see them they were double whitewall. I learned more recently that one company introduced a single whitewall tire in 1941, so single whitewalls were not entirely a postwar creation, just almost.


Then the war came. During the war there was rationing. It was difficult to get usable tires of any kind. People "booted" tires by tying the tread of a blown tire on top of a bald tire that would still hold air (yes, really).


When the war was over, there was a huge demand for cars, and there were not enough tires of any sort to go around. There were no whitewalls available until at least 1947. I have been told that 1946 Chevrolets came with an empty spare wheel in the trunk. Spare to come later when the tire companies caught up? Or not? When whitewalls did finally become available again, they were a big hit.


My take is that the same people who decided they really liked whitewalls right after the war just bought premium tires when they restored an old car later on in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. Premium tires were whitewalls, and its not like whitewalls were incorrect. After all, they were available before the war.


I have never seen a factory or period photo of a 1936 Pontiac with whitewall tires. I would have guessed they weren't even available as a factory option on an economy-minded car like a Pontiac, but they were. When I was doing research at the AACA Library and the Pontiac-Oakland museum last year I saw whitewall tires on the lists of options for factory builds that were sent out to the dealers. @chistech restored a 32 Oldsmobile DCR, and I believe he said those cars were always pictured WITH whitewalls in factory literature.


There is no wrong. Pick what you like.


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There has ban an in depth analysis of cars a white walls, from the early days to WWII. One could opine for pages with analysis. Of course, in 1932-1933 you had colored walls to match the car…….green, red, orange, blue…….in the end, it was just another choice made according to one’s fashion or style sense.


Do yourself a favor, choose black walls.

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these are either factory photos or factory sales brochure drawings. There are some factory photos with black walls also, but few, compared to WW. Also, black walls that are shown are shown on the very plain cars and none of the DCR’s are depicted without white walls. If you look at the factory brochure drawing of the blue car, in the sidebar these is a photo of the three style wheels available. Another thing people seem to debate is varnished wheels. It WAS an option for 32 Olds along with painted wood and wire wheels. Notice that the sidebar shows all three wheel types and all three wheels are tired with white walls. So this subject is continuously debated and all I can say is I’ve personally researched the 1932 Oldsmobile model year extensively working closely with the NAOC 1932 technical advisors both past and present. I’ve been fortunate to be able to pour over original technical factory bulletins right down to board meeting minutes. Oldsmobile offered white walls in 1932 and I can say with much confidence that saying they didn’t is completely incorrect.

Edited by chistech (see edit history)
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Whitewalls became de-rigor in the hobby in the 1960s.    Yes, you could get a whitewall tire in the 1930s.   No, they were not put on lots of cars.   I'm going to guess that under 1% of all tires in 1932 where whitewalls.


It is a personal choice on esthetics.    Just like Lalique ornaments, or hanging spot lights,  trippe lights,   side mount mirrors,  curb feelers, mud flaps, fuzzy dice, etc are personal choices.    Not good choices, but still up to the owner of the car.

EDIT:  I want to add to my list of bad ideas having anybody sign the glovebox on your car. 



Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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Thank you for the insight and wealth of information... I am in agreement with many of the points here, yet one cannot argue that the early 30's cars had a tendency to offer that option more so than say, mid to late 30's, then making a strong comeback in the 50's... But as Alsancle stated, it is a personal choice, as good or bad as fuzzy dice, curb feelers or anything else that belongs in the movie "Grease"..;) 


I personally think that whitewalls have their place depending on the car, paint choice and the "could that have been possible back then if you could afford it/is there photographic evidence" ? In my case, given the colors of the car (shame original color was not kept, either Packard Blue or Storm King grey) as I understand correct for this year model, I think it is way too busy and a poor choice to have them... If I can save them I will turn them inside out, in complete agreement with edinmass... Black walls will look the best.





Edited by philipj (see edit history)
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Remember the 5 color rule.   Add up all the colors you see on the car (including the interior when visible) and they need to be less than 5.   4 is better, and so is 3.   The more colors the more you eye is distracted.


If you have chrome spokes with hubcaps with whitewalls,  you are using up 3 colors just on the wheels.   In your case you are using 4 colors:  Black, White, Chrome, and Maroon just on the wheels.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think you need to be at least 75 to weigh in on this discussion! ( I turned 74 yesterday).  Instead of how hobbyists now feel, what was it really like back then?  Coming out of the depression, whitewalls were starting to be available again.  But still not that many customers had the money to throw around on esthetics. 


Then came WWII.  They were deemed non vital, and went away with the cars themselves.  They started to resurface after WWII, but after April 1, 1951, all Buick ads, and possibly other GM ads, showed only black walls due to the Korean War effort, which deemed them non-vital materials (along with giving us crappy chrome).   This is about when my car memory starts.  I wanted my dad to get them, but in our neighborhood, (he was a young returning infantryman), he couldn’t justify spending that money on something that impractical.  For a time, the tire dealers couldn’t even get them, because there was so much rationing.  Remember what Bloo said about 1946 cars coming with just a bare rim in the trunk with tire to come later? I have read that more than once.

Many people wanted them but couldn’t get them.  JC Whitney made a lot of money selling portawalls.  Those were white rubber donuts that rimmed around a black wall, to make it look like a whitewall tire.  Who has ever seen those?  You have to be older. 


Prewar ads, showed mostly whitewalls, the thinking being that they were higher end, and the manufacturer could take more of your money. However if you want black walls today for whatever reason, go ahead, you would be historically correct, because of the availability problem.  The five color rule would not have been a thought, because there not yet that many two or three tone paint schemes. Most cars were still solid colors.  However, I believe having grown up in that era, if the world had been perfect, you would have seen a lot more whitewalls.  


Having grown up in the postwar years, and raised by the greatest generation,  I vote for whitewalls.  I bought them for as long as I could get them.  Talk to an old person. Black walls look good on my tractor!

Edited by Century Eight (see edit history)
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Looking at old cars showroom brochures........... '37 LaSalle shows all with whitewalls. 

'37 Chryslers all shown with blackwalls 

'38 Chrysler Imperial had whitewalls. 

The conclusion might be that the "premium" cars had whitewalls before the others. 

That may have prompted people buying less than premium cars to order or put whitewalls on 

their cars because the expensive cars had whitewalls and they thought their neighbors would 

think they had a high priced car because it had whitewalls.........just a thought. 

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