OCTOBER 29, 2013: IT IS OK TO HAVE A BUILT-IN BIAS IN FAVOR OF RADIALS ON OLD CARS

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I drove my first two cars on bias tires because car number one was a 50s era Austin sedan and the second was a 36-horsepower VW microbus.

 

Neither vehicle was in dire need of a high-speed handling package, particularly the VW bus, so bias ply tires were more than adequate for them.

 

My third vehicle was a Volvo 544 and it was more than capable of exceeding highway speeds, largely due to the tricked-up 1800cc four-banger under its hood.

 

 

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My older brother owned it before me and he was kind of an early 70s pioneer in the tuner car culture when I take a look back at the car after all of these years.

 

He had installed a set of radial tires on the Volvo and they were the first radials I ever had on any of my cars.

 

The tires were slightly wider and they did seem like they held the road better in my opinion, but my main concern for any tire at the time was whether they held air.

 

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Eventually they wore out under heavy duress and I had a little trouble dealing with snow and ice during my first year with the car.

 

I had just turned 18 and I looked for simple solutions to my tire issues, so I stuck a set of brand bias ply snow tires on the back wheels of the Volvo.

 

The tire guy was not onside with my mix-and-match game plan and strongly advised me not to put radial and bias ply tires on the same car.

 

I liked the idea because the much cheaper bias snow tires would help me navigate through a tough Canadian winter. I was less concerned about the dangerous handling characteristics and more concerned about the price tag.

 

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Make no mistake about this particular time in my life; I was 18 and really stupid, as opposed to slightly less stupid as I got older.

 

So I mixed the tires and drove the car through the winter and well into the next summer with the radial/bias mix on my car.

 

The car was miled-out and tricky enough to drive without complications, so I can only surmise the tire mix was just a little extra gasoline on the fire for me and my Volvo.I was sawing on the wheel on a good day with the car, but I did a lot less sawing after I finally replaced the bias snows with radials.

 

Since then I have only driven radial tire cars until I had an opportunity to drive a car from the 50s with bias tires and a loose front end in the late 90s.

 

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The car was pretty squirrely on the road and I was less inclined to accept the experience as part of the package for old cars. Later I was able to drive the same car with radials and I was amazed at the improvement.

 

The car had no other upgrades other than the tire swap and it made a big difference in terms of how it drove down the highway. The moral of this story is simple: put radials on your old ride whenever possible.

 

Bias-ply tires are good for trailer queens, car shows and awards for originality at shows. Radial tires are good for non-trailer queens and their owners who simply want to arrive safely at shows.

 

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Obviously it would be unfair not to include the one advantage to bias tires as I close out this piece: they can provide a hellacious smoke show because of their lack of grip on pavement.

 

The showboat side of every car guy loves that angle.

 

Jim Sutherland

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