While the 1960s were a time of extreme experimentation in tire sidewall technology (among other things), most of the variations on the classic single white stripe had a short shelf life – only two or three years in most cases.
However, as the 1970s dawned, there was one last whitewall stripe variation that I didn’t cover in my previous post: Double (and triple) stripe whitewalls. While both looks were birthed in the 1960s, they would come to be associated with the early ’70s.
As we saw in Part 4, Ford experimented with multiple stripes as early as 1965 with their tire manufacturers, but they were always colored (either two red stripes, or a red and a white stripe). For today’s final installment, we are going to look at the final whitewall tire variations – multiple white stripes.
Three Stripe Whitewall Tires
Let’s first cover three-stripe white wall tires, an uncommon rarity that came and went before twin-stripes burst onto the scene in 1970. As before, you will need to enlarge many of the photos below to see the detail of the tire sidewalls.
From 1966 through 1968, Imperial was available with three-stripe white wall tires. These were a $55 option at the time and comprised of two wide outer strips surrounding a third narrow white stripe. They don’t photograph well – the 1968 Imperial ad above was the best photo I could find, and you still have to enlarge it and look closely to see the third thin middle stripe.
Lincoln offered a set of three-stripe radial whitewalls exclusively as a one-year-only option in 1969. The stripes were the opposite of the Imperial configuration: two narrow outer stripes surrounding a wider inner stripe. These were usually seen on the Mark III, but as the photo above confirms, they were also offered on the Continental sedan that year. By 1970, the triple stripe whitewall tire was dead (at least to OEMs), having never escaped its luxury car niche.
Two Stripe Whitewall Tires
While three-stripe whitewall tires were a flash in the pan, two-stripe whitewall tires would prove to be a much more popular (if no more durable) fad. Twin-white stripe tires first appeared as an exclusive option on the 1969 Chevrolet Caprice. No other car from any other GM division or manufacturer featured two-stripe whitewall tires in 1969, as near as I can tell.
For 1970, however, two stripe whitewalls exploded. Virtually every car from GM, Ford, and Chrysler in 1970 and 1971 was depicted wearing double stripes in their marketing materials. Even pony cars, like the 1970 Camaro pictures above, were not immune to the lure of the double stripe.
AMC was not immune to the wiles of the double stripe whitewall tire either. Again, I have no idea how various auto and tire manufacturers all colluded together to decide that two-stripe whitewall tires were suddenly a thing.
Most of the twin-stripe tires featured two 3/8″ stripes of the same size. A few, like Cadillac and Imperial, sported twin-stripe tires with one thin and one thick stripe, seen best in the 1970 Imperial ad above.
However they came about, twin stripe whitewall tires were not long for the world. By 1971, after just one year Cadillac and Lincoln were already done with two-stripes, having switched back to single-stripe tires.
And then in 1972, just as quickly as they had burst onto the scene in 1970, the double stripe whitewall tires were gone. For 1972, every automaker had switched back to the classic 3/4” or 7/8” single stripe whitewall tire, a look that would remain durable for the next several decades. All except for one, that is. Imperial was the lone double-stripe holdout, featuring twin-stripe whitewall tires through 1973.
It is not hard to see why multi-stripe tires never took off. To me, they look busy (especially the three-stripe variants) and like a bullseye they draw your eyes away from the car and towards the tire, which is not where auto designers want your gaze to be drawn.
Double stripe whitewalls would make one last brief OEM return at Chrysler in 1988. The 1988-1992 Chrysler C-Bodies (the Dodge Dynasty and Chrysler New Yorker) were sold with double-stripe whitewalls (one thick, one thin). My father owned a 1988 Dodge Dynasty, and I distinctly recall the very unusual (for the time) two-stripe whitewall tires.
The Decline of Whitewall Tires
Of course, by the early 1970’s, whitewall tires were peaking in popularity and would begin their long, slow decline. Sports cars would be the first to ditch the white sidewall look: The last Corvette to be pictured by GM wearing whitewall tires was in 1974. It wouldn’t take long for other cars and entire brands to start ditching whitewall tires altogether, as we shall see.
The last Camaro advertised by Chevrolet with whitewall tires was in 1981.
The last depiction I could find of a Mustang with whitewall tires by Ford was in 1983. It seems weird seeing Fox body Mustangs with whitewall tires: As I recall, most were sold with blackwalls or raised white letter tires.
Cracks in the whitewall wall were beginning to form even at luxury automakers. The first Cadillac since the early 1950s to be advertised without whitewall tires was the 1982 Cimarron. We all like to rag on the Cimarron, and for good reason, but it did open the door ever so slightly for future Cadillacs with blackwall tires, a manual transmission, no vinyl roof, and no wire wheel covers.
Lincoln’s first modern car advertised with blackwall tires was the 1984 Mark VII LSC (although plenty of lesser Mark VIIs were still sold with whitewalls).
Chrysler was one of the last whitewall holdouts – their first modern car with blackwalls wouldn’t appear until 1985 with the introduction of the LeBaron GTS. But clearly the winds of change were picking up.
Not surprisingly, Pontiac was the first US brand to ditch whitewall tires completely. The last vehicle to appear in their brochures so equipped was the 1989 Safari wagon, which is a lot longer than I recall the Safari wagon sticking around. They tried their best to make it look exciting in the photo above, but really there is only so much you can do with a GM B-body wagon.
The last year Ford depicted whitewall tires in their brochure was in 1991, the final year for the LTD. While I’m sure plenty of 1992 and later EN53 Crown Victorias were sold with whitewall tires, they were always depicted in their brochures by Ford wearing blackwalls, so I’m sticking with 1991 per my rules of using ads and brochures.
Not surprisingly, whitewall tires followed a very similar trajectory to their broughamtastic sibling, the vinyl roof. Many the final cars with whitewall tires are the very same final cars to sport vinyl roofs.
Chrysler, always a bastion of whitewalls, depicted their last whitewall-equipped vehicle in 1994 – The Lebaron Sedan. The picture above appears to be the sole promotional picture of this car and was the same photo I used in my vinyl roof history a few years back.
In 1996, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Buick all said farewell to whitewall tires (and vinyl roofs) with the departure of the full-sized Fleetwood, Caprice Classic, and Roadmaster (respectively). I’m fairly certain these are also the last wagons to have fake wood on the side, but that is a topic for another post.
This left Lincoln and Mercury as the last brands still depicting their cars with whitewall tires. The last Mercury Grand Marquis with whitewalls appeared in 2009.
Lincoln would hold out one more year, last depicting whitewall tires in their brochure in 2010, well within living memory of the readers of this site.
To be clear, the 2010 Lincoln Town Car wasn’t the last new car to be sold with whitewall tires – it was merely the last to be depicted with them by the manufacturer. Dealers swap out wheels and tires all the time and will happily add a set of whitewall tires to your new Cadillac CT5 today. An impressive run for something that offered no functional benefit.