Some notes on Fort Dunlop’s great service to the Vintage and Veteran movement
THE continuance of the hobby of motoring in veteran and vintage cars, and most pre-war vehicles, is dependent on the philanthropic action of The Dunlop Company Limited of Erdington, Birmingham, in continuing to supply tyres in the sizes, otherwise obsolete, required for these vehicles. Without Dunlop, there would be no more Brighton Runs, no more Historic Car races, after existing supplies of tyres in pre-war sizes became worn out—unless modern tyres were used on rebuilt wheels, which, to purists, is unthinkable.
So, although the great debt of gratitude which members of the V.C.C., V.S.C.C., V.M.C.C., H.C.V.C. and the many one-make bodies and similar organisations owe to the Dunlop directors for continuing to operate their veteran and vintage tyre tnanufactury, some notes on the process may not come amiss.
From being a rather off-beat operation, this source of tyre and tube supply is now on a sound footing, to the extent when orders, instead of being on the verge of a nuisance, are welcome. The more old sizes required, the more smoothly the department making them can operate. Orders are collected from the Veteran Car Club, the Vintage Sports Car Club and other such bodies, and from museums and individual enthusiasts, and channeled through Vintage Tyre Supplies Ltd.„ 30, Daiston Gardens, Honeypot Lane, Stanmore, Middlesex, to Fort Dunlop. The requirements are batched for production, which is under the able care of Mr. E. Stevens and Mr. H. W. Mees in the Tyre 8 department at Fort Dunlop. These pre-war-type tyres come in 23 different sizes, of which ten
are of the wired-on type, one is a straight-sided tyre and 12 are of the beaded-edge variety. The entire range runs from 24 x 21 to 895x 135, but as obsolete sizes can be replaced by these, the total coverage available to old-vehicle operators to fit some 50 different rims. Of these those most in demand, in the following order, are 3o ;K 31, 710 X90, 76o >: go and 815.x tos.
Five authentic early tread patterns are available. The famous Chevron or ” herringbone” tread is used for all the b.e. sizes. The lone 32 x 4 s.s. covers have the well-remembered Dunlop triple-stud tread. The more recent 17-in. to 25-in. pre-war sizes use mainly the 14 notched tread, but the two smallest come in the Bs zig-zag tread and the biggest 20-in. tyre has the even more pronounced Highway zig-zag tread, this being governed by the expedient employment of existing moulds. Before describing how these tyres are specially hand-made, let me dispel two fallacies relating to them. It is sometimes said that they do not last as long as the original pre-war tyres because inefficient rubber mixes have to be used with the ancient moulds. However this story arose, it is rubbish. Although old moulds which had not been scrapped were resurrected when the veteran/vintage scheme was started, Dunlop make no bones about manufacturing fresh moulds when necessary—a case in point is the 88o x 120 mould, which has recently been replaced. Moreover, modern rubber mixes are used for these otherwise-obsolete tyres and, further, the latest nylon and rayon textiles are made use of, instead of the cotton employed before the war. From the viewpoint of cord stretch alone, this represents an
improvement down to a.% against a former I6i”;“ giving vastly better tyre performance. Dunlop Airseal tubes are supplied for use with these tyres; security bolts are no longer considered necessary— perhaps the 1908 !oda and Metallurgique-Maybach and Barker’s Napier have not been seen racing in anger!
The other fallacy I want to dispose of is that these old-size covers are very expensive. In terms of the skilled labour employed and the work involved—there are 28 separate components in making a beadededge tyre against 8 tO to for a small modern cover—the cost is very reasonable. Dunlop currently make over 300,000 tyres of all kinds every week at Fort Dunlop, but Only about zoo of these are in obsolete sizes. Clearly, they do not exploit the veteran/vintage car enthusiast in supplying hi,s needs—thank St. Christopher they are prepared to continue the process!
, in fact, these old-type tyres of modern materials arc now made in a hew shop, formerly a rubber stare, which has been in use since January 1956. From supplying about 25 ,old-size covers a week, the output has quadrupled. The shop, Tyre 8, is also used for making racing and experimental Dunlop tyres. But along one side of it, in RollsRoyce-like calm, three or four girls make by hand these pre-warpattern covers, using the same methods as were common when such tyres were in current production. The only innovation in 40 years has been to spin the drums on which the tyres are built electrically to obviate the strain of doing this by hand. The same rigs and methods remain, as they did in the 02os and 19305, although new equipment has been installed to replace that lost during the war.
The beads for b.e. tyres are hand-wrapped in strip rubber, as done originally, by a skilled operator, and the beads joined. The tyre is formed, again by hand; On the aforesaid drums, by the girls, and the beads accurately fitted. Incidentally, this little group of dedicated workers, who contribute so much to our motoring enjoyment, eschew piece-work, and So operate With unhurried efficiency at this handmade assembly. After the beads have been trimmed, buffed, and coated with solution, and fitted, the completed casing is sent to Tyre 2 for moulding and vulcanising.
Tyre a is the largest tyre-producing shop in Europe, employing 1,000 workers. One bay is devoted solely to To-in. Dunlop tyres for B.M.C. Minis, and batches of Shaw McNeil Bag-o-Matic auto moulds are in continuous use. But vintage covers–4 30 x 3i came out of the mould while I was there—are moulded and vulcanised in a delightfully primitive and dramatic but efficient Autoclave mould, just as before the war. Before this the casing is treated with hypo and brushed clean and is then put in the low-pressure hydraulic press to ensure proper seating of the beads. This consists of male and female rims, pegged together, enclosing the casing while it is subjected to 150 lb./sq. in. pressure.
The casing then emerges and goes into the mould, where it is steam cured and the tread vulcanised to it. An internal steam-curing air bag heats the cover to a temperature of 220′ F. to 330° F. depending on its size, and the external hydraulic pressure, exerted by 54-in, rams, is 2,200 lb./sq. in. Electric compressors generate this enormous force for use throughout the moulding shop.
Some 14 to 21 covers can be accommodated in each Autoclave mould, depending on their sizes. The 305< 3t cover I saw being moulded was " cooked " for perhaps 6o minutes. Then the same Operative who has been doing this job for 34 years turned off steam heat arid hydraulic pressure by means of floor-mounted hand-wheels, the Bristol's and Budenberg gauges sank to zero, the top of the mould was lifted and moved away by an overhead gantry, and another new vintage-size cover was fished out. All that remained was to trim the "whiskers " off it and send it to the Viewing Department, where very single tyre is inspected before dispatch from Fort Dunlop. Some vintage car owner, perhaps a
Rolls-Royce enthusiast, is going to be well served by this and similar covers which Dunlop so generously continue to make.
When it comes to Historic racing cars, Dunlop racing tyres are made in sizes from 5.50 x 16 to 7.00 19, of today’s racing-rubber mixes, so some of the prowess today’s V.S.C.C. competitors display, in comparison with their pre-war counterparts, can be put down to more scientific rubber on their boots! Fort Dunlop is a fascinating place. Did you know, for instance, that it covers 260 acres, employs to,000 people, 7,000 of whom are directly engaged on tyre production, and that it has five bore-holes from which to obtain the water it requires, apart from the 13irmingham
water supply ? It is the largest tyre factory in the British Commonwealth and Dunlop also make many rubber goods, shall we say from golf balls to carpets ? Dunlop built this special factory in 5915 and solid tyres for military vehicles were being produced there in 1917; by 1921 pneumatic tyre production had been moved from Aston to Fort Dunlop. Now Dunlop has factories, throughout the U.K., in Europe and in America, totalling 115, involving approximately ti5;ono people.
As a vintage-car enthusiast I was very impressed by the care and skill taken over obsolete-size covers, of which perhaps one is made every hour, and as I drove away from Fort Dunlop I felt rather ashamed at ever having Publicised other makes of tyres, when our salvation lies with Dunlop—who, incidentally, are not only pressing ahead with very exciting sports and racing and radial-ply developments but who, while I was there, had just completed a ribbed 47 x 15.75-22 cover for the Concord airliner and whose earthmover tyres come in sizes up to 37,5-39 which towered over me, such covers costing f,1,650 apiece, weighing 11 tons, and taking an inflation-pressure of about 50 lb./sq. in.
But if you need a 26 x 21 or an 8 5 105 or a 6450 x 20 or anything like that, Vintage Tyre Supplies will take your order—and you should be jolly grateful that they can.—W. B.