The Story Behind High Performance Tires

Performance tires are frequently fitted to modern automobiles and though we see them as a standard option, do we really need them? Do you really know what goes into a performance tire?
We’ll look at how these modern engineering marvels have been developed and the benefits that they have delivered to modern motoring.

Performance Tire History

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company is credited with fitting high performance wheels to a selection of sports and muscle cars. The Chevrolet Corvette largely spurred the development with the Gatorback racing tire which evolved from Formula One motor racing.

The new tire had large treads which provided superlative traction in the dry, together with a low profile which substantially improved not only performance but the appearance of the vehicle. There was a very strong and resilient sidewall, with the tire reinforced with steel and nylon to provide additional strength and integrity. The performance requirements of a racing car are much greater than those encountered by regular motorists, and the development was initially met with some skepticism amongst the automobile community who regarded the development as a way to sell more rubber.

Fortunately, the new tire was a huge commercial success and demand increased across the range of automobiles, especially performance cars. Goodyear created a speed rating system to differentiate the new product from the rest of those offered by the market. They affixed a “V” to signify that the tire had been tested and rated for speeds up to 149 miles per hour. This rating signified the start of the performance tire era.

Always a highly competitive arena, other tire manufacturers quickly followed Goodyear in developing their own performance versions. Additional speed ratings were also introduced: “H” for speed ratings up to 130 miles per hour and “S” for up to 112 mph and ultimately, “Z” for 150 mph and above (the so-called “unlimited” speed rating).

Initially, performance tires were very expensive, usually costing in the region of $200 which set them at a hefty premium to regular versions (typically costing around $50 each). Being so expensive, they tended to be fitted to high performance or top of the range vehicles. However there was a growing demand for them to be fitted to a wider range of vehicles, which became possible as the costs started to come down due to increasing manufacturing volumes.

Performance tires were quickly identified with not just enhanced performance at high speeds, but also in driving experience and road safety. They handled corners much better than a regular tire, with greatly improved handling and driving characteristics. They could handle higher braking pressures which resulted in shorter stopping distances and reputation for accident avoidance.

The improved safety performance and driving experience afforded led to increasing calls for them to be fitted regular automobiles, such as family saloons and SUVs. While a family saloon is unlikely to encounter speeds in excess of 150 mph, fitting high performance is essentially redundant. To deal with this, a range of intermediate performance versions were developed which combine elements of high performance tires with regular tires – these are known as touring tires. The touring versions cost less than high performance variants and yet provide the degree of performance and safety features which are appropriate for the automobile they are fitted to.

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