MATTERS OF MOMENT, July 1982

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THE TYRE WAR

The important subject of tyres in modern motor racing formed the topic of D.S.J.’s article in his “Behind the Grand Prix Scene” series in the April issue of MOTOR SPORT. He described the dedication of the tyre companies’ representatives and workers, who have to make the rubber function to the best possible effect during practice and the qualifying laps for a high place on the starting-grid, and throughout the subsequent race. Tyres have always been a vital aspect of motor racing but in recent times they have become a greater factor than ever in determining how a car performs and what a skilled driver can do with it.

To the users of ordinary cars it may seem odd that racing tyres that grip like glue on a dry road make the racing car to which they are fitted virtually uncontrollable if it begins to rain. That cannot look much like progress in tyre technology to the uninitiated and such people must be equally astonished at the short track-life, and the shortage of the special high-grip slicks which are essential to a driver trying for pole position on the grid. In fact, these seemingly-backward steps actually underline the high degree of knowledge attained, but ever being improved upon, by race-tyre technologists and scientists. We were glad to hear recently, from a Pirelli technician from Milan, that his company regards racing as the best possible means of learning valuable lessons — as much so as it always has been, since the days when Dunlop had to solve the problems of keeping tyres on the runs of Malcolm Campbell’s 150 m.p.h. Sunbeam “Bluebird” and later making tyres safe for Segrave when heart forth at Daytona to exceed 200 m.p.h. in another special car from the old Sunbeam Motor Car Company of Wolverhampton. . . .

Apart from the value of racing in terms of tyre research and advancement, there is useful publicity tube had from providing tyres for the racing cars used by successful drivers, as a PRO at Pirelli’s Burton-on-Trent factory confirmed, thinking of the Pirelli-shod March, Fittipaldi, Arrows, Osella and Toleman cars in Fl alone. It is certain that Avon, Goodyear and Michelin, the other tyre makers at present in Fl racing, would say the same. On the publicity front, however, there can be pitfalls. For example, a TV commentator seems to refer to drivers and tyres even more than the makes of the competing cars (having the Drivers’ World Championship and sponsorship to the forefront of the mind, perhaps) and he may remark that a prominent F1 runner has fallen back or gone into the pits because of a tyre failure, without knowing, or bothering to explain, that the fault resulted front a shunt or the tyre picking up debris from the track. The layman puzzled as brie when racing cannon the very top tyres slide off the road be a shower of rain has begun, may well think “Oh dear, I regarded that as a very fine make of tyre but here is the race leader out because a cover has let him down”. One can but hope that he or she has paid sufficient attention to see the way in which the field weaved about on the warm-up lap, to realise that racing tyres are quite unlike those on a little Eurobox, and that he or she reads the reports in MOTOR SPORT later, thus finding out in proper detail what occurred.. . . Anyway, there are other grades of racing in which the leading tyre manufacturers obtain publicity (and no doubt learn further useful lessons) besides F1 Grand Prix Championship events, top-ranking as these are.

In terms of road tyres for anything from your wife’s bread-and-margarine shopping-car to your Porsche, Ferrari or whatever, give thanks for your good fortune — owed, as Pirelli recently confirmed for us, largely to racing research. (We had almost added “and LSR research,” but remembered use in time that the latest contender in this exacting field, Thrust II, dispenses with such mundane items as rubber tyres!) Good fortune, in terms of your immunity from punctures and the once-dreaded burst or blow-out, over mileages which would have been unbelievable in the 1920s, in spite of how much faster you now drive in the Motorway Age, and also in respect of the vastly-improved road-holding and handling qualities that modern tyres confer on most of the vehicles you drive. Then, instead of having to rely in winter on “knobbly” tyres on rear-wheel-drive vehicles, what better now than a 4WD can shod, for example, with Michelin XY tyres, The writer is old enough to remember the frequency with which tyres punctured 40 and more years ago, and study of the old motor magazines will show that a tyre was then thought to be decently durable if it lasted a few thousand miles, on comparatively light and pedestrian cars. Disregarding the tyre troubles experienced by the motoring pioneers, tyres remained pretty undependable into the post-war period, and many were the devices, the patents, devised to overcome this. Lionel Rapson had his double-treaded Rapson tyres, used not only in racing and by Parry Thomas on his top-successful 8-litre Leyland-Thomas for some of his high-speed record-bids, but also on the mom sedate motor cartel the Royal Household. Twin back wheels on heavy limousines were only just departing the road-scene, only lobe adopted by the more ambitious wheelspin-conscious sprint-racing exponents. Queer compounds were on the market, for squirting into wont-tubes to seal any punctures they might sustain, overlooking the fact that cars parked for long periods then tended to develop tyres that were “out of the round”, because “flats” had formed at the bases of the solidified tubes. . . .

Tyres were then sunny profitable part of Motor Trade sales and those who like a whiff of history may care to be reminded that at the Olympia Motor Show of 1919 which marked the re-emergence of motoring joys after a long, cruel war (one hopes sincerely that them is no ring of topicality here). tyre-sales were contested between Avon Indiarubber, Beldam, Dunlop, Firestone, Gofa, BF Goodrich, Goodyear, Grimstone, Henley’s, Hutchinson, International, Indiarubber Products, Kempshall, Chas. Macintosh, Michelin, Hercules, Moseley, North British, Oylers’ Rapson (claimed to be unpuncturable), Palmer, Pirelli, Rom, Shrewsbury-Challiner, Stelastic, Stepney Road-Grip and Victor — with many different makes of wheels, rims, jacks and tyre-pumps on offer.

Since then the tyre war has slowed down somewhat and at the present tune there is, if not exactly a slump, a bit of a slack time in the Tyre Industry, the result of today’s tyres lasting such impressively-long mileages (like the oil in cars’ sumps) and the more expensive covers not being required for the mass of smaller cars that Inflation has thrust on many car users. But innovation has still flourished. We have seen Pirelli trying detachable tread-bands, to provide any kind of grip to choice or a means of replacing a worn tread without the need to scrap the entire tyre carcass. The tubeless tyre has offered a “get-you-home” safeguard but is sometimes difficult to repair afterwards, thus tending to become a tubed cover, nor have the Dunlop Denovo and other “fail-safe” ideas been widely adopted. Cross-ply tyres have been largely ousted by radial-ply, but the former continue to be bought by fleet users of off-road and other rough-terrain commercial vehicles, where the sidewalls of radials are vulnerable. The great House of Michelin (with “Mr. Bibendum” ever watchful of their public image) made that great breakthrough with the steel-braced “X” tyre that set absolutely new standards of grip and longevity, at the expense of somewhat unexpected breakaway when a car was cornered near the limit and an increase in road-noise levels. It was soon apparent that radial-ply tyres might be costly, but their greater mileage compensates, and modern radials give a softer ride than cross-plies.

From that development stemmed all manner of interesting and excellent tyres (not always the same thing) with Pirelli early in the field of low-profile tyres, which offered maximum “sticktion”, once the method of using radial metals and fabrics for tyres in this manner had been mastered. Although the noise-level of radial-ply tyres was embarrassing at first to makes like Rolls-Royce and Jensen, the ever-rising performance of modern cars soon made essential to adopt them and today such tyres are all but universal. Looking back over several decades of tyre technology, progress has been highly impressive, and has more than kept pace with the advance in car performance. Pirelli and Michelin were quick to work with on design-teams in developing suspension-systems to suit given kinds and makes of tyre, with Volvo, Peugeot, Fiat, Citroen and Rover. etc., prominent here. The Motorways Age led to new legislation with insistence on sound tyre condition and a tread-depth of at least one-millimetre, which the Tyre Industry now wants to sec increased to two mm. or thereabouts — long gone are the days when the writer drove about on completely bald tyres, even with the tubes peeping from rents therein on occasions, and thought little of it (mark you. I did my best to steer Austin Sevens and Gwynne Eights clear of the more gritty deposits on the roads in those happy, unregimented days — Ed.]. There was the excitement some years back of the Pirelli-Dunlop merger, which Dunlop shareholders must now view with considerable disappointment! And from being a one-time back-street involvement, re-treading of worn tyres has grown respectable and absorbs a big turnover of the replacement tyre trade.

A future tyre breakthrough will relate, perhaps, to even lower-profile covers, together with other clever developments such as improved water-deflecting tread-patterns, quieter-running tyres, those that contribute to fuel economy and, one must hope, combinations of all these qualities, with long life and immunity from unwanted deflation ever the vital factors. Pirelli tell us that in pioneering low-profile techniques they worked first for Alfa Romeo, with Cinturatos, then with Fiat and Volvo but that low-profile treads arc of less appeal in France. Cross-ply tyres survive in Third World countries where cost matters, and for the same reason the “get-you-home” compact spare-wheel is seen by some manufacturers not necessarily as a means of getting some kind of spare in a cramped space, but as a way of saving the cost of a fifth, maybe expensive, light-alloy wheel. While I was up at Pirelli’s at Burton-on-Trent — where they lead in the manufacture of slippers, no matter what the state of the tyre business — the interesting point was made that Motorways are not only hard on tread-wear and put a premium on safe tyres but while using them drivers have time to concentrate on items like tyre-noise, the kind of ride they are getting, etc., which previously didn’t bother them.

Lunch was taken after our visit to Pirelli Limited in a pub wherein hang pictures of pre-war Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union, Alfa Romeo and ERA cars racing at Donington in the Grand Prix, a reminder of another phase in the history of the racing tyre with Pirelli, Dunlop and Cothinental prominent (which reminds me that, if you motor in Wales’ Elan Valley, there are photographs of cars competing in a Daily Express Rally to be seen on the walls of the blue-painted Hotel there, which was a Control-point for that event. — Ed.].

The Tyre-War of the 1980s centres largely around replacements, for although large outputs with considerable prestige are of tyres required by the car manufacturers, most of these use more than one make of tyre. It is the customers for replacement tyres who choose a particular tyre, and whose orders are a valuable asset to the tyre industry. So in the pages of MOTOR SPORT you now find Pirelli promoting the range of low-profile tyres from the P7 through to the P8, Uniroyal Proclaiming their product as original equipment supplied to many of the top car manufacturers, Michelin suggesting you follow the 45% of surveyed car owners who said this make gave them the longest tread life, BF Goodrich explaining their High Tech Radials, Jackie Stewart telling you why the Goodyear NCT tyre was better than any he had previously driven on, and Bridgestone offering tyres for all conditions, climates and vehicles, as Japan’s leading maker of quality tyres for 50 years. On television, Goodyear employ Sir Robert Marks to publicise their tyres — which reminds me of the story told to me recently by a tyre company PR man, of the lady who went tuber local tyre agency to buy five new covers and was asked which make. “Oh”, she replied “those Robert Marks”. “Yes Madam”, countered the tyre-man, “do you want Robert Marks Michelin, Robert Marks Firestone or Robert Marks Pirelli?” One also wonders how much the incorporation of “J.R… from Dallas into tyre advertising is costing Dunlop’s shareholders. It would seem that the tyre war is warming up. . . .

THE FALKLANDS WAR

POLITICS may have no place in motoring journals but at the time of the Argentinian surrender in the Falkland Islands it would be unthinkable not to express a feeling of great National pride in a military operation swiftly and successfully carried out 8,000 miles from base, in very difficult weather conditions. As a spokesman has said, the skill and efficiency of all involved, from the dockland “maties” to those in Command, and of the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines personnel, has won the very highest admiration. The RAF played an essential part and one is reminded of two spin offs. First, how the outcome of the vital Battle-of-Britain in WW2 was dedpendent on the superior performance of the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters, the Rolls-Royce engines of which were directly developed from the R-Type Rolls-Royce racing engine prepared for the Schneider Trophy Race. Secondly, how it was this time largely the task of the Harriers (along with the Sea-King helicopters and other aircraft) to win air supremacy over the Falklands, which reminds as that in 1969 the RAF flew its Hawker-Siddeley Harrier in the Daily Mail Trans-Atlantic Air Race, taking off from a London coal-yard. It raised so much coal dust that some of the rubber-necks who had gone rematch complained of ruined clothes, and they had to be compensated. MOTOR SPORT remarked at the time that they could not see the prestige for the coal-dust. Now the prestige is very real indeed. . . .