Whitewall Tires are ones that have a stripe or entire sidewall made of white rubber. Early automobile tires were made entirely of natural white rubber, however the white rubber did not offer enough traction or stamina, so "carbon black" was added to the rubber used for the treads. Using "carbon black" only in the tread produced tires with inner and outer sidewalls of white rubber. Later, entirely black tires became available and the still existing white sidewalls were covered with a somewhat thin, black coloured layer of rubber. Should a black sidewall tire have been severely scuffed against a curb the underlying white rubber would be revealed. It is in a similar manner that raised white letter tires are made.
The status of whitewall tires versus blackwall tires was originally the reverse of what it later became, with fully black tires requiring a greater amount of "carbon black" and less effort to maintain a clean appearance these(black) were considered the premuim tire. Since the black tires first became available they were commonly fitted to many luxury cars through the 1930's. During the later 1920's gleaming whitewalls contrasted against darker surroundings were considered a stylish, but high maintenance bit of "flash". The popularity of whitewalls as an option increased during the 1930's. With skirted fenders and automotive streamlining, the two-sided whitewalls became obsolete, and the single sided whitewall became a hallmark of "traditional luxury" through to the late 1960's. The addition of port-a-walls or so called snap-on whitewalls were also popular to add a hint of luxury to an older vehicle.
In the mid '50's whitewall width began to diminish as an attempt to reduce the perceived height of the wheel/tire. By the late 1950's and into the early 1960's, the whitewall width generally reduced in size to about 1 3/4" wide. In the mid to late 1960's red stripes and also combination red/white ones were also added, while the tire wall slowly became black again.
As time would move on, the full fledged white sidewall tires had made a return within the "pimpmobile" culture and then on to the rod and custom culture as a retro look taking them back to the Bonneville salt flats days or the "traditional luxury" days to get "the look" again.
Wide whitewalls on any hot rod would be my favourite option to add a bit of class to your vehicle, and the added maintence is well worth "the look".
Thanks to the incredible photographers for these great white-wall tire photos!
Click on photos to enlarge!