White letter tires
By: Discount Tire
White letter tires came about as the result of combining two standard processes that started in the early history of tire production: white walls and molded lettering. Though not as common today, there are still many lines of tires sporting this distinctive style, often designated in their model number as RWL (Raised White Lettering).
Before white letters: white walls
The rubber compounds used in many early tire designs took advantage of increased traction by adding zinc oxide. This chemical addition also happened to turn the rubber of the tires white.
Later, to further improve traction performance, carbon was added which turned the rubber of the tire black. As this was initially added only to the tread, it created a two-tone tire: black tread against the white sidewall.
As designs changed (for structural, performance and aesthetic reasons), less and less of the sidewall retained the white portion. It was ultimately diminished to simple decoration.
On modern tires, white walls are rare. If they weren’t designed as a throwback product for classic cars, they are usually just a very thin stripe on the few tires that sport them.
Raised letter sidewalls
The raised letters on the sidewall of a tire are part of the mold by which it is produced; model numbers and tire specifications have to be included there, always without much fanfare. However, proud tire manufacturers have their logos and model names emblazoned, similar to a Nike swoosh on a sneaker or the familiar Apple icon on phones and laptops.
White letters on car tires
By combining raised text on the white sidewall and covering the lower portions of the sidewall with black rubber, raised white-letter sidewalls were born. This method became a standard for tires produced for auto racing as the manufacturers could boldly advertise on the sidewall while adding competitive flair.
Outfitting a vehicle with white letter tires instantly became attractive to early hot rodders as a way of showing off their ride as customized for performance. These tire designs then became standard equipment on Detroit’s muscle cars of the 60s and 70s to signify they were designed for power and speed.
With other additives blended into the white portion, tire makers soon had letters in other colors to further set them apart. The Goodyear logo pops in their signature yellow, not only a standout feature for the tires, but for the car the tires were fitted to.
For a more subdued look, some manufacturers simply raised the outline of the letters in white. This method is very common today for tires sporting white letters, usually designated in the model number with OWL (Outlined White Lettering).
White letters on truck tires
By the late 70s and early 80s, as white letter tires were already standard for muscle cars and hot rods, larger truck tires were introduced with lots of sidewall room, perfect for raised white letters.
Goodyear took advantage of that space early when they christened the Wrangler family of tires. Several lines of the Wrangler have sported options for white letters or outlined white letters ever since.
White letter tires today
As tastes and wheel designs have changed, white letter tires are not as common for performance cars as they once were. The overall aesthetic for cars has moved to larger wheels and lower-profile tires, not leaving much room for the display of an iconic logo or the pronouncement of a new model name.
However, many of the classic vehicles are still on the road, and tires are available designed to replicate their period look. Several manufacturers offer white letter tires to complete the aesthetic of a classic muscle car, like these:
It’s also not surprising that many tires for trucks are still proudly displaying white letter sidewalls. Since they have the room, they can offer an emphatic display of the brand and model, especially noted on these models:
- BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A KO2
- Cooper Discoverer AT3 XLT
- General Grabber ATX
- Mickey Thompson Deegan 38 All Terrain
- Uniroyal Laredo Cross Country
And for the strongest-willed of the car customizers, there are even paints, stickers and decals to modify your standard, black-walled tires to have a custom white-lettered set worthy of your special modifications. For the most part, this type of decoration will be essentially harmless to your tires. However, we always recommend not modifying your tires to ensure you’re getting the best possible performance as designed by the manufacturer and not run the risk of voiding any associated warranties.
The right performance and perfect look at Discount Tire
These days, tires don’t need to rely on just whitewalls or raised letters to make a distinctive sidewall style. We love when the form of a sidewall design follows the tires’ function, such as aggressive-looking all-terrain tires for an off-roading Jeep or sleek low-profile UHP tires for a supercar. Read more about our favorite tire sidewall designs.
With modern technology at their disposal, every tire manufacturer has the opportunity to make tires with a look that matches their performance. The set that exceeds your expectations is available at Discount Tire at the best possible price.
Stop in or find your local store today – we’ll get you taken care of!