Are radial tires safe on an older vehicle?

March 1, 2019 | By Staff


In the Studebaker community, many believe that the stock wheels put on cars in the ’50s and ’60s have become time bombs waiting to go off…that is if you mount radial tires on wheels that were designed to use bias ply tires. It’s believed that where the edge of the rim meets the tire there will be a failure because of the design of the rim. I believe it’s a myth, sort of like Bigfoot. No one I know has seen anything happen themselves, but they often say they know of someone who has had problems. Can you clear up this ‘myth’?


I cannot, for liability reasons, answer your question with a categorical “yes” or “no,” because there may be some brands of cars or wheels out there that will not safely accommodate radial tires, but I will offer you my experiences with radials on ’40sand ’50s-era rims, which are:

I once had a 1946 Packard Clipper four-door sedan that was equipped with radial tires, and they held up fine even with the weight of such a big car. I ran them for several years before going back to the original bias ply tires for authenticity. The radials were never a problem, but the car handled better on the correct bias ply tires.

These days I have a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Beauville station wagon on which I installed radial tires that look as original as possible on the stock rims, and I did it because the old bias ply tires didn’t handle well at cruising speeds on the freeway. In my area they groove the freeways for traction, and bias ply tires want to follow the grooves when installed on certain cars.

I also had a 1968 VW Beetle for a number of years on which I ran radials. They made it handle better, but they also made it ride harder.

I have driven all of the above cars extensively in wet and dry weather and in the cold and the heat, and I have never had a tire failure or experienced a radial rolling off the rim. In fact, I have never even had a flat with any of them.

I think the stories you’ve been hearing may be a little like my Uncle Bill’s tale . Back in the mid-’50s he had a bad accident in his Oldsmobile, and he claimed that one of its tubeless tires rolled off the rim. For the rest of his life, he had tubes installed in all of his cars.

In short, I have never had a problem switching from bias ply to radial tires, and back again and I don’t know anyone who has. BUT, before you buy any tires for your classic, be sure to check with the manufacturer to verify that they are safe for your application.