50 Goodyear Wolverhampton 1927-1977

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This year marks the half-century of the opening of a Goodyear tyre-plant in Wolverhampton and as this Company has an American parentage which makes more rubber goods than any other Company in the World and dominates Grand Prix motor-racing, I went recently, in the appropriately-Goodyear-shod Editorial BMW, to talk about 50 years of Goodyear in Britain. The Company was established here in 1913, with a sales-office, and a warehouse on Chelsea Wharf; but when impending tariffs made it desirable to manufacture tyres here instead of merely importing them into this country, Goodyear found a convenient enamelware factory available on a 73-acre site in Wolverhampton, where Sunbeam, Star, Guy and other car-makers were already well-established.

The Deputy Mayor, Alderman Willcock, laid the first brick of the new tyre factory’s tall chimney-stack late in 1927, and business began. Today the whole area, now 100 acres, is occupied entirely by impressive buildings, apart from the employees’ football-pitch and the tennis-courts; the one-time cricket-pitch has gone, but there is just about enough room for its re-establishment. The Racing Department is out on a limb of this vast complex. Within two years the millionth British Goodyear tyre had been produced. The Goodyears of those days had the well-remembered diamond-pattern, or “All Weather”, tread and the Company was early in the field with low pressure oversize or balloon tyres I have an idea such tyres, of this make, were eventually fitted to the war-time Mercedes lorry in which Count Zborowski conveyed his racing cars to Continental motor races but I would like confirmation of this. (See last month’s Motor Sport, page 820). Incidentally, there is no connection between Goodyear and Goodrich.

Aircraft tyres were made at the Wolverhampton Bushbury works from 1930, and Goodyear made a great contribution to the war-effort, not least with their tyres on Humber Staff-cars, as used by General Eisenhower. The great associatlon between Goodyear and motor-racing, following Firestone’s long Indianapolis monopoly, commenced, in the Formula One field, in 1964, with the World Driver’s Championship won on Goodyears a mere two years later (by Jack Brabham, OBE).

In 1934 the 0-3 cover was introduced, still with the diamond tread, a tyre as acceptable in its day as the G800 Supersteel radial of 1973. That G-3 was available in Heavy-Duty form, distinguished by two silver stripes round the sidewall, and there was also the Goodyear Airwheel, operating at very low pressures, made sizes from 5.25-16 to 7.50-16. Today the biggest Goodyear made at Wolverhampton is the 33.3-53 Earthmover, 83 in. in diameter and nearly 8 ft. tall.

Factory expansion took place along the years, from 1934 through a £ 1,500,000 scheme in 1965, a new office block having been built in 1961. In spite of the effect of World War II, the 50-millionth tyre came out of the Wolverhampton plant by 1964, the 85th-million mark being reached by 1971. Amid all this expansion the original chimney-stack is still the dominating feature of this busy factory site.

Over the years Goodyear have made a name for sensibly-priced quality tyres. Their history goes back a long way. In 1839, in Massachusetts, Charles Goodyear made rubber for tyres viable with his discovery of what was later called the vulcanisation process. In the forefront of revolutionary tyre concepts, Goodyear exhibited a glass-fibre tyre at the New York World Fair in 1939 and had practical tyres of this cord material by 1962, making the belted-bias Polyglass tyre in large quantities from 1967, a notable breakthrough. Today the diamond tread is no more but Goodyear remain in the top-league of tyre manufacturers, along with Dunlop/Pirelli, Firestone, and Michelin.

To commemorate their 50 years in Britain, an anniversary programme is now in operation. On July 27th Her Majesty The Queen was scheduled to visit the Bushbury factory, Her Majesty’s only opportunity to include a Wolverhampton factory in the Jubilee Celebrations. This is not the first Royal visit to Goodyear’s main Midland factory in 1932 Princess Helena Victoria went there, as did HRH The Duke of Gloucester in 1943, and in 1969 HRH Princess Margaret toured the plant from which the first British Goodyear tyre was taken from its mould on December 15th, 1927, and where more than 5,5oo persons are now employed (Worldwide, the total is Iso,000). I understand that Her Majesty’s tour had to be confined to 45 minutes. Had more time been available no doubt The Queen would have been invited to stay for lunch, a courtesy not extended to my colleague and I, on the occasion of our business call! W.B.

Goodyear’s Racing Division

The style of my arrival at the Goodyear Plant at Bushbury was even more appropriate than W.B.’s, in his Goodyear-shod BMW, for there at the gate to greet my G800-tyred Alfa Romeo was a full-size replica of John Watson’s Martini-liveried Bra bham-Alfa Romeo, it too on Bushbury rubber.

Thus are the Goodyear workers—and no doubt Her Majesty the Queen—given a timely reminder of the almost total dependence of the Formula One circus upon the products of the Racing Division at this Midlands factory. I say “almost” because the Goodyear monopoly which has existed since 1975 (save for the Japanese Grand Prix, when Bridgestone and Dunlop interloped) is being broken as I write in British Grand Prix week by the intervention of Michelin upon the nationalistic Renault Turbo.

It should be emphasised that Goodyear neither engineered nor enforced this monopoly: the default of other manufacturers caused it. Goodyear alone have helped Formula One through a difficult period at goodness knows what cost, for their generosity has led to free tyres for each and every Formula One competitor, however uncompetitive.

The man in charge of the centre of the action of this fascinating, praiseworthy and vital facet of Formula One, is a large, quietly-spoken American from Cleveland, Ohio, Dennis Chrobak, Manager, Goodyear International Corporation Race Tyre Division. Chrobak reports to his peers in Europe and Akron, Ohio (where Leo Mehl is Race Direc tor, world-wide), but it is he who has the direct responsibility for steering the day-to-day activities in European racing and, more especially, Grand Prix racing. Whilst W.B. researched the 50-year general history of the UK arm of Goodyear, I discussed the racing activities with Chrobak and Bert Baldwin, the Midlander who, as Engineering Manager, is one of Chrobak’s right-hand men.

Formula One is naturally the central theme to all conversation, for it is serviced exclusively where Goodyear is concerned by the Wolverhampton Racing Division’s own staff. Tyres for other formulae throughout the world, excepting the USA, Canada and parts of Australia, which are under the auspices of Akron’s Racing Division, are made in Wolverhampton, but distributed and serviced by a system of privately owned distributors and dealers. Distribution in Europe is through International Race Tyre Service, a subsidiary of Bernie Ecclestone’s Motor Racing Developments, and individual national dealers such as my old friend Bo Emmanuelson, Swedish Saloon Car Champion. Overall distribution is co-ordinated by Marketing Manager Tony Gilhome.

To service the heavy demands—including those of 32 Formula One teams—Chrobak employs 90 staff, 50 of them to produce the tyres. He dismisses the logistics of a Grand Prix operation as, “Complex, but not difficult”, which must surely be an understatement when 800 to 1,200 fat racing tyres, a mixture of wets and dries, have to be shipped to far-flung parts of the world together with 12 personnel—usually four engineers and eight fitters. Out of that huge number of tyres, 400 to 600 will be used during practice and the race, all of which have to be fitted and removed on the spot. Up to 14 or 15 different types of tyres may be needed in a combination of two dry compounds, two wet compounds, fronts and rears, and two different rear carcass constructions. Complex indeed!

Bert Baldwin joined the Racing Division on its inception in 1964, when Goodyear pioneered the first tubeless car racing tyres : they have never used tubes. There were just four men involved then, developing tyres for saloons initially and then in 1965 for F1 and F2. Bert remembers early landmarks: Goodyear’s first Le Mans win, on the Gregory/Rindt Ferrari 275LM, when they ran out of the correct tyres halfway through the race and had to switch to a different size. The first Grand Prix win for a driver in a car of his own manufacture, the French Grand Prix for 1966, followed that season by the Championship victory, went to Brabham on Goodyears. “In those days we used to come back from practice, hand-groove the tyres overnight and fly them under-arm back to the race. It was entertaining!” recalls Bert.

The Goodyear Formula One involvement has become much more technical and sophisticated since those early days. The most obvious recent developments have been the tiny front tyres on the six-wheel Tyrrells, the smallest diameter tyres ever run successfully in Formula One, and the inclusion of a safety shield inside the tyres: a secondary inner tyre which prevents sudden deflation.

Chrobak cites Goodyear’s vehicle dynamics programme as a major step in Formula One tyre development, in which the use of instruments affixed to salient parts of the car generates transient data which has never been available previously. This Goodyear designed and built equipment consists of load and displacement transducers affixed to all four corners of the car, fore and aft accelerometers and steering angle transducers. The information is collected on a cassette and translated into a graphic display which will illustrate every function, every part of the car’s behaviour on a particular lap. Subsequently the driver can give his comments on the behaviour reflected on the graph. The information allows tyre and chassis engineers to work together, so the development of suspension and aerodynamics can be interrelated with tyre development.

Good handling all boils down to making the best possible use of the tyres and in Formula One the most valuable thing to have is good accurate data for each circuit. The tyre engineer will tell the chassis engineer the tyre’s radial and lateral spring rates and the type of compound—soft, medium or hard. Using this information the team can ensure they have the necessary range of both springs and wings to achieve maximum adhesion with the tyres provided. Fine tuning of overall handling characteristics can then be carried out by anti-roll bar and wing adjustment. Currently one of the biggest problems is to balance cars so they will “turn in” smoothly, particularly on corners approached at high speed, without oversteering uncontrollably on the way out. This problem can normally be overcome aerodynamically. Too much oversteer—often driver-induced, when Bert will take them on one side and give them a little lecture—can lead to tyre overheating and premature wear and tear.

At this point I tried to dig out a little more about the secrets behind the success of the new Lotus. Not a lot was forthcoming, except that in general, considering the car is going quicker than most, the tyre temperatures are lower than most. The aerodynamics keep the Lotus on the ground in the correct direction as opposed to sliding, which generates temperature. The tyres Lotus run on have a construction tuned to match the car’s characteristics and a certain amount of vice versa.

This is not to say that Goodyear have necessarily developed a “demon” tyre for Lotus : it is normal for tyres to be tuned to the demands of a particular car, which is part of what tyre testing is all about. The compound, which is the factor the layman tends to think of as most important, is the least of the tyre engineer’s worries: it is generally dictated by the known demands of a particular circuit and how it affects the car’s roadholding. Construction is the vital ingredient in terms of the spring rate of the tyre carcass, dictated by the loads it has to take in a downward and sideways direction. The tyre’s spring rate frequently is varied in the main by altering the angles at which the layers of carcass fabric are wrapped and the type and numbers of cord per inch. With the aid of the dynamics equipment, the general idea is to rate the car and compound and track against the construction. In theory, Chrobak points out, each car would require a different construction and compound for each wheel position at each circuit, a production and logistical impossibility.

The variety ends at wet weather tyres: all the teams have the same. The passing of intermediate tyres in Formula One goes unmourned, one less problem to deal with and brought about because modern slicks remain usable in damp conditions, while the wets too remain usable in damp conditions, not just in heavy rain, so no link is required.

Chrobak admits to disliking the monopoly situation. “It’s all very well if a series—say Formula Ford 2000—negotiates with a tyre company to supply tyres for the year. Then the competitor benefits. The supplier doesn’t benefit too much from the publicity, he just sells the tyres. But in other areas I think monopolies are bad for the tyre manufacturer, F1 being one of those areas. The competitors are in a good position because they know they’ve got supply, purity and choice but the only thing that Goodyear has really, other than the hard work that goes into it, is the historical fact that the race was won on Goodyear tyres. We have to work harder in a monopoly situation, to keep all the various competitors happy.” He would welcome the return of firms like Dunlop and Firestone if only to spread the load: “When you look at the number of tyres supplied— these tyres have to be made, the people who make them have to be paid, the people who transport them have to be paid and the people who service them at the track have to be paid.”

Catering for all the teams at once must need considerable diplomacy. How does be cope? “By never telling a lie and never promising what you can’t deliver. When we first got into the monopoly situation there was the feeling that one team might feel another team was getting a better service from us. People ran around checking other people’s tyres for a race or two, but they soon realised that we weren’t interested in cheating or helping one team at the expense of another. But even today, some people are ready to blame us for their own shortcomings.”—C.R.

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