23 December 2013

S’no Problem: strap on snow tires and go

What would you say if a friend pulled up to your garage, unloaded a set of mounted snow tires and offered to put them on your AAR Challenger, ’55 Crown Victoria or Jaguar XK-120? You’d say something like, “You’re out of your mind,” minus a few choice adjectives.


But it isn’t that crazy. When these cars were new people drove them in the winter all the time. I had a series of MGB/GTs which I drove in the winter courtesy of snow tires on the rear—before we in the U.S. knew that four winter tires were the way to go. The episode I remember most was the time I was crawling along an icy street and a pickup that was going way too fast slid out of control. To avoid it I had to hit the brakes and I tagged a high curb. It didn’t seem to do any damage, but I hadn’t bargained on what happens to a wire wheel when it takes a hit like that. That night I was meeting friends at a place up in the hills. On the way there the right front started shaking really badly and I knew I had to change the wheel. Well, parked on a sheet of ice, with a wheel sticking to the knock-off hub, every time I tried to pull it off, the other wheel turned. With my friend too lubricated and occupied with a girl, I had to get a stranger to hold the steering wheel and I finally changed the wheel.


I drove that car all over New Jersey and New York State that winter. And if I had ground clearance I did okay. I just took my time, left plenty of room around me and watched out for less competent snow drivers. The one real problem I had was icing door locks. Tossing warm water on the lock got you in, but it froze worse the next time.


The following summer I bought the 1962 MGA 1600 Mk II that I still have today. When I picked it up, it had four radials on it and two spares, which were snow tires. Apparently the owner drove the car in the winter in the Sierras and he needed traction. Those tires eventually ended up on my mother’s Saab 99EMS.


All through the 1970s I encountered people who had snow tires on their Alfa Romeos, Fiat 124s, MGs, Triumphs, and Datsun 240, 260 and 280Zs, not to mention their American Muscle cars, including Mustangs and Camaros that are highly collectible today.  Of course, using them in the winter, particularly in the northeast and upper Midwest, meant that they rusted to bits, but that’s just the way things were.


In the 1980 and early 1990s my daily drivers were cars that are fast becoming collectible today: a first generation Mazda RX7, Rabbit GTI, Honda CRX Si and an early Miata. I put winter tires on all of these cars and with the exception of the Honda, they all did pretty well in the snow. But now, as these cars have been relegated to weekend and summer use, it seems odd to think of them as salt encrusted, filthy winter workhorses.


This scenario is similar for many generations of cars. There was a time when all kinds of Packards, Cadillac V-16s, Auburns and Cords were used year round, and they suffered for it.  It was just as true for the cars of the 1950s and 1960s. Now we wouldn’t consider taking the ’55 T-Bird on a ski trip to Vermont, or taking the Porsche 356 to the slopes. There were also plenty of Hemis and Ferraris that saw their day in the snow. And 20 years from now we’ll look askance when we see a 2010 BMW Z4 or a 2013 Camaro battling a blizzard. But, the cycle will go on year after year. Though once in a while you’ll still see a rusty car of the 1960s or 1970s sitting in a car corral or on a trailer wearing worn-out old snow tires, and it makes you think about the way things were.

46 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bill Leavens United States December 27, 2013 at 21:44
    The problem isn't the snow or even the ice. It's a cheap thrill to be able to throttle steer at will. The real demon out there is all the salt that is put down to ease the way for the poor schlubs who have no idea how to drive. That salt will collect wherever it cannot be rinsed out and it will slowly, pitifully kill your vehicle in a most unsightly manner.
  • 2
    David Brickner Tiffin, Ohio January 1, 2014 at 14:51
    Back in the early 80s I had a Datsun 240 Z pretty well rusted. I cut out the rear wheel wells and put on rubber lip and chains when snow got bad one day!!
  • 3
    Fred Long Shreve, Ohio January 1, 2014 at 15:08
    Back in the winter of 1968 when a junior at Ohio State University, I drove my bugeye Sprite as my only driver. At 11:00 pm. at the end of a weekend, I would get in, duct tape shut all of the cracks and openings in the soft top, turn the "heater" on and begin the 90 mile trip back to school often in blinding snow. No big deal. Later that winter after commuting in the Sprite to my night job in minus ten degree temperatures, I traded it straight across for an Opel station wagon. (with snow tires, roll up windows, and a heater). It seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • 4
    John Datsko United States January 1, 2014 at 15:52
    For years my first new car a 1972 TR-6 was my only vehicle. I drove that for work all year round. It was one of the best cars in the snow. The heater was the best also, keeping me warm in these cold snowy New England winters. I still have that car.
  • 5
    Dennis Greene Bainbridge NY January 1, 2014 at 17:03
    Yep, I ran snows on my 64 SS impala, 63 corvette split window & 65 GTO. could only afford 1 car and you drove what you had
  • 6
    Car Collector Chronicles SE Wisconsin January 1, 2014 at 18:05
    It was routine back in the 1950's and 60's to have 2 extra steel wheels on which snow tires were mounted and ready to put on the car.
  • 7
    RJ West Michigan January 1, 2014 at 18:10
    Interesting you start with the MGB/GT as a winter driver. Back in the 70's I ran Volvo 1800S's in time trials on frozen lakes in W. MI - the MGB/GT was the only car I had to worry about.
  • 8
    Bob Prusinski Michigan January 1, 2014 at 18:16
    I had a 1957 MGA roadster and would put snow tires on the rear in winter. There was such close clearance, that everytime I would hit a bump, the tires would rub the wheel wells. But it did the job and keeping gas tank full helped also.
  • 9
    JJ here January 1, 2014 at 18:21
    In 1970, on a ski trip to Kitzbuehl, Austria I saw a Jaguar XKE roadster with STUDDED snow tires at all four corners!
  • 10
    Ron Davies SoCal January 1, 2014 at 18:35
    My daily driver in '65-70 in Southern California was a '64 Austin Healey 3000 Mk III. I drove it regularly to the local mountains as I was on Ski Patrol in Big Bear. I remember using yellow plastic "chains". It handled great but tough when you had boots on. The windshield wipers were just about useless. It was stolen in '70 and I now have a '67 and can't imagine taking it in the snow now.
  • 11
    Bob Calgary, Alberta, Canada January 1, 2014 at 18:42
    I own a Ferrari. I was mystified/mortified to see a Ferrari 328 all covered with our (salt-based) road grime during our winter. I have seen the car repeatedly. Didn't know if it had snow tires, but it must have. Others have seen it as well. No, I have not driven mine when the salt and gravel hits the roads!
  • 12
    Nick Akers Edmonton, Alberta, Canada January 1, 2014 at 19:24
    I drove my new 1982 Mustang GT in the winter. Temperatures would drop to -30 degrees centigrade and we would get several feet of snow and icy streets were no exception. I did have a pair of TRX M&S winter tires (220/55/390 HR). Getting stuck in snow drifts was a common occurrence. I still have that 1982 Mustang and it is equipped with the TRX snow tires I purchased in 1993 but I only drive it from April to September and rely on my Suzuki SX4 AWD to get me to work safely in the winter. No more white knuckle driving as the Suzuki flies like a frog on a lily pad in winter.
  • 13
    Steve Adil Columbia CT January 1, 2014 at 19:25
    I remember the first year I had my Cuda 340 I tried driving it in the winter - Goodrich Radial T/A's in the front and bias belted snows (no radial snows available yet) in the rear. The car was terrible in any condition. In the snow the light rear would mean no traction. In the dry the combination of low profile radials in front and bias belted rears produced a phenomenon where I could twist the wheel and then bring it back to center - and then the car would twitch and straighten afterward. Very entertaining. I completed a rotisserie resto of the car about 6 years ago and still drive it (in limited fashion) year round - but not in snow any more!
  • 14
    Pete Koehler Southeast Michigan January 1, 2014 at 19:29
    In the early '70's I drove a 3-cylinder 2-stroke Saab 96 to school. In the winter I put an old pair of VW Beetle snow tires on the front wheels. As long as I had ground clearance I was fine, but it could get high centered on a snow drift. Front wheel drive was great!
  • 15
    Bret Traverse City January 1, 2014 at 19:39
    I've driven my '66 Mustang over 100,000 miles as my every day driver all through the 80's and 90's. First in WV, then in KS and finally here in MI. I still have the chains in the trunk from when the weather got bad in the mountains!
  • 16
    John Kreimer Woodstock GA January 1, 2014 at 21:36
    I still have the "strap on" chains that I used from 1966-1980 on my MGA's wire wheels when I lived in Ohio. The strap on the chain went through the spokes and hooked to the other end of the chain. Each set had two cross chains. I still own the chains and the MGA, but I don't drive the MGA if it snows.
  • 17
    chris portland Or January 1, 2014 at 21:39
    God some of my best times was in my 1st Car at 16 it was1959 triumph TR 3 diving it all year long, tires we just i could find cheap what ever fit. Driving in the snow you learned to look ahead and never ever stop once that happened you started spinning and melting ice.One time I saw a bunch of friends in a fied on dirt bikes on a track the made so I just took the Triumph right along side of them. That was in 1968
  • 18
    Ross ABQ January 1, 2014 at 22:18
    I used to drive a Healey 3000 in Illinois winters with snow tires. It was already well past gone, rust-wise. Then I got a better idea, I moved south...
  • 19
    Tom Wasney Poughkeepsie, ny January 1, 2014 at 22:19
    I remeber I put bias ply snows on my 70 MGB roadster back in the day with radials on the front, Bad Idea, the rear wanted to go ahead of the front and was very dangerous driving in the snow... My folks had gotten the snows for me for Christmas for my 63 Comet S-22 convertible, they were great on the Merc but not too swift on the "B", I learned real quick not to mix Radials and bias type tires.....
  • 20
    Bob Long Island New York January 1, 2014 at 22:35
    In 1972, when I was nineteen, I bought my 1968 GT500KR (which I still own) and that became my daily driver.I had to buy snow tires as the posi rear coupled with the polyglas only allowed me to go sideways rather than forward. I rarely used the car in the snow as I knew way back then that this car was a keeper. It paid off twenty five years later as only the quarters and the torque boxes had to be replaced which was pretty good knowing the rust history of these cars.
  • 21
    Bob Long Island New York January 1, 2014 at 22:37
    In 1972, when I was nineteen, I bought my 1968 GT500KR (which I still own) and that became my daily driver.I had to buy snow tires as the posi rear coupled with the polyglas only allowed me to go sideways rather than forward. I rarely used the car in the snow as I knew way back then that this car was a keeper. It paid off twenty five years later as only the quarters and the torque boxes had to be replaced which was pretty good knowing the rust history of these cars.
  • 22
    Brian Long Island, NY January 2, 2014 at 13:11
    Had a '86 CRX Si with snows on all four corners; that car was unstoppable in the snow.
  • 23
    Jim Borovsky Canton,Mi. January 2, 2014 at 13:43
    I guess someone needs to check out what an AAR is (Cuda). As a Cuda nut I have owned one over 40 yrs and still have a set of Goodyear raised white letter Polyglas snow tires that I use to run on it in the winter. I never had any troubles with it in the snow...unless the snow was so deep that the car would be lifted off the road from the snow packed up under her. Well that time is long gone, now she is sitting in the garage out of the snow looking out and not driven in the snow and the snow tires are in the corner, now just a conversation piece of what they use to make, raised white letters on one side and 2 narrow white stripes on the other.
  • 24
    Wynemac Woodcock Buffalo, IN January 2, 2014 at 16:16
    In 1967, my new wife bought me a 1961 Corvette convertible(no hardtop). It was my only vehicle for 32 years. It was a daily driver to work (74 miles) and elsewhere until I retired in 2000. It never saw snow tires except on other folks cars. In 1986 we showed it at the Bloomington Gold Corvette Corral and Swap Meet in Illinois. This was my wife's only long and last long distance travel in the Vette. I still own the '61 Vette which currently has 964,000 miles on it. I have kept all the records for this car over the years showing my maintainence as well as others (darned few). We did a frame off restoration in the summer of 2009. I recorded most of the process on film and video. It actually was a joint process that included two other corvettes, a 1963 split window and a 1964 convertible that belong to my friend, Mike Ezra.
  • 25
    Craig V Iansiti Mason, MI January 2, 2014 at 08:08
    I remember my 1961 MGA that I had while in high school. It had a hard top and set of plexiglas side windows for cold weather use. Winter has always been interesting here in Michigan, but other than a lot of sliding around fun, I don't recall having any major issues getting where I needed to be. Almost forty years later I ran across this same car in a barn less than a mile from our home in another town seventy miles from where I had lived when I owned it.
  • 26
    Dave New Mexico January 2, 2014 at 08:47
    Yep, I used to carry a set of cable chains in my 1967 Triumph GT6. I needed them several times every winter to get to my house in the mountains back when the car was my daily driver.
  • 27
    Bernie Baltimore January 2, 2014 at 08:49
    I put a pair of winter radials on the front of my FWD Fiat 128, and could probably climb buildings with it. A state trooper pulled me over one night; "too fast for conditions", he in a Plymouth Fury with bias-ply tires. "And look", he says, shining a flashlight on my rear wheel, "you don't even have snow tires on this thing!"
  • 28
    steve Minnesota January 2, 2014 at 08:57
    I purchased a set of rasied white letter polyglas snow tires back in 1974 to use in the winter here in Minnesoata on my 1971 Javelin AMX. Today I would not even dream of doing that, but I was a lot younger then! Steve
  • 29
    Eric Northern New Jersey January 2, 2014 at 21:20
    1986 Mustang GT with Dunlop mud and snows on the factory ten hole rims. Every move was like a panic attack......
  • 30
    Lou NYC January 2, 2014 at 09:33
    I used my 1972 MGB-GT for 10 years in rain & snow & sleet & slush . Then when the weather was nice I took it on vacations to Florida & Texas etc...Never any issues . I had a set of Conti-Contac snow tires for the rear . Nothing stopped me in that car. Ski trips in snow storms in the Adirondacks. It was a really nice B-GT . Overdrive etc.... Well kept. The rocker panels had slight bubbling when I finally sold it . I'll never forget that car or those days....
  • 31
    will good hamburg mi January 2, 2014 at 21:40
    had many well worn winter cars that would be collectible today,then they were beaters that were driven slideways which I was very proficient at as well as my friends back in the day. 70 cuda gran coupe, 74 camaro lt, 79 mercury capri rs, 84 t-bird turbo coupe to name a few. now in my 50's had great fun today in the snow with my 2002 subaru wrx beater, and I'm sure someday these will be to valuable to be driven in the snow/salt.
  • 32
    William Northern Michigan January 2, 2014 at 09:46
    I only stored 1 car every winter back in the day.A 1968 Cougar.The rest got driven years round including a 65 2+2 421,tripower 4 speed w/o snow tires.
  • 33
    Bobby Collierville, TN January 2, 2014 at 10:01
    My 1967E-Type was my daily driver. I was on my way home from work at 2 in the morning and it was really snowing (eventually Memphis got 18" in March 1968). I opened the door because I felt that the car was "tilted" the wrong way, and yes I was against the curb on the wrong side of the road. I got corrected and as I drove further the engine began to overheat as the snow had impacted into the nose. Luckily my parents house was halfway on the way home so I parked the Jag in their garage for 3 days while it thawed out.
  • 34
    Ray Boise January 2, 2014 at 22:08
    Last year with 4 inches of snow on the roads I got a few funny looks driving my stock 66 fastback with a 6 cylinder to and from work. I already did the prior rust repair and covered the bottom with por15 so I can enjoy it now. They are still fun to drive in the snow today!
  • 35
    Ken PA January 2, 2014 at 10:10
    Back in about 2000 I did a restoration of a 1972 Chevy Nova 350ci, open 3:08 diff. I did new rear quarters, just patched and painted/undercoated the floor pans and a fresh vo-tech paint job in metallic blue. Drove it through the Pennsylvania snow to work and high school as my daily driver with studded rear tires. Knowing the fender rot concern I had already fixed once, I often rinsed it off with a hose. Drove to Texas multiple times for college semesters (open, flat, high speed limit roads are nice down there). Now that I got a hair cut and a real job I rarely drive in the rain, it has a nice garage to sleep in and I can choose when to drive it! It was rear ended once, hit in a parking lot several times, keyed once, run off the road once into a 4x4 post, it deserves a break and some respect. Modern cars get "totaled" for less.
  • 36
    Jim Patterson Denver January 2, 2014 at 10:13
    I use to put chains on my 340 sixpack Dodge Challenger, that I still own since I was 17 years old and go skiing,
  • 37
    TonyF Fort Worth TX January 2, 2014 at 10:22
    I used to drive my TR3 and later my MGA year round in Vancouver when I was at UBC. Both cars were great in the snow especially with the top down. The best snow car (Vancouver snow is wet and slippery) was my brother's 62 VW bug. It could go and get out of anywhere in the snow. Cheers.
  • 38
    Phil Denofrio Island Lake,Il January 2, 2014 at 11:32
    I bought a used MGB in 1970. It was a 67. I found it riding the bus to college inn February. Well I drove off that lot full of pride and after she warmed up I was freezing. I found a piece of cardboard and stuck it the grill, ran the temp gauge all the up and was still freezing. It was a week before I realized there was a vent under the dash wide open. I loved that car even when I had to brush the snow off the driver seat.
  • 39
    Frederick New York January 2, 2014 at 12:14
    I bought an E-Type roadster new in 1968, and it was my only car for 4 years. Each winter I used 4 snow tires, and the only time it was parked was when the snow was deeper than the rocker panels were high. The car recorded 100,000 miles in those 4 years, and I still own it.
  • 40
    Alan Mid MI January 3, 2014 at 15:37
    In the early 70's my daily driver, a 68 Spitfire, was a great but cold winter car, snow tires and almost sitting on the rear axle gave it great traction. And if you do get stuck It is light to push out. It plowed through eight inches of fresh snow and only left two tire tracks and a muffler drag. Fun time.
  • 41
    Bill WV January 3, 2014 at 21:12
    Growing up in NJ in the mid 70's, my daily driver was a '62 Impala. Had positraction and a set of studded snow tires. With a couple of granite blocks in the trunk, it would go ANYWHERE in the snow!! LOVED to just go out a drive whenever it snowed... also LOVED getting it sideways in the turns!!! :) My current '63 Impala SS stays in the garage when there's salt on the roads...
  • 42
    Andrew Williams CT January 5, 2014 at 10:55
    From 1969-1978 I drove a 1958 MGA, 1963 MGB and 1974 TVR all year round when I lived in Rhode Island. I don't remember any of them being particularly bad in the snow but they sure were cold, especially the MGA! The biggest problem I had with the TVR was that the lower grill would fill with snow causing it to over heat. I have an old Road & Track from around 1960 that has a story about someone driving an XK120 roadster from Providence to Vermont on a frigid, snowy Friday night for a ski weekend. Wish I could be more specific about the date but it's worth reading if you can find it. Those were the days.
  • 43
    Bruce Colorado January 5, 2014 at 11:50
    Growing up in the mid-west in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, we always had rear snow tires mounted on an extra set of rims. They served us well on progression of cars (Pontiac Catalina wagon, Olds Vista Cruiser, Pinto Esquire wagon, Gremlin X, and Ford Ranger pickup). Putting on the snow tires was an annual ritual, as was putting on the "summer" tires in the spring. We also kept a couple of 50 lbs sand bags in the back which served double duty. It was extra weight for traction and could be sprinkled under the tires when needed. I still run separate summer and winter tires on our daily drivers, a Honda Civic and Eagle Talon AWD. I am also a fan of studded tires, which remain legal in Colorado. While there are excellent all season tires available these days, nothing beats purpose built studded snow tires on snow and ice.
  • 44
    Jeff B Rochester, MN January 6, 2014 at 13:28
    The cars I have owned and driven in Minnesota winters (out of need not choice). 1986 Camaro SS 350/4sp. 1973 Triumph Spitfire. 1975 MGB. 1970 Porsche 914 1.7L and many '60's vintage VW bugs. ALways got there but not alwasy warm or on time!
  • 45
    Brian Judd California January 7, 2014 at 13:24
    My 1969 Mercedes 280 SL came with two pairs of snow chains and a trailer hitch! That's a two door roadster coupe with the previous owner went skiing in the Sierra and towed a small sailboat.
  • 46
    Richard Kuschel Missoula Montana January 8, 2014 at 20:54
    I used all of the cars I owned for ski cars. '68 Firebird Sprint, '70 Mustang 351 Cleveland Mach I, '67 Jaguar E-type Coupe and the '68 E-Type OTS that I currently own. I have a picture of that with 18" of snow on top of it at Whistler in 1974. It actually went well in the snow, but I had to put chains on it to get back to the main roads coming back from BC. I bought a Jeep the next year and ran it for 25 years.

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