While companies like Porsche, Jaguar, and Nissan are investing in heritage-focused programs that re-engineer parts, restore, and build new infotainment systems for classic cars, tire companies are also getting into the game. The latest news comes from Pirelli, which is reintroducing its historic Stella Bianca cross-ply tire.
Fitted on performance cars from its introduction in 1927 all the way until the early 1950s, the Stella Bianca was a mainstay on the road and in racing before cross-ply tires (also commonly known as bias-ply tires) were replaced by vastly superior radial designs. In the early years, cars like the Alfa Romeo 20-30, Diatto Tipo 30, Lancia Lambda, and Fiat 525SS were fitted with Stella Biancas, and the tire stayed popular and effective enough to remain in use by the time they were fitted on the Ferrari 166 and Jaguar XK120 in the 1950s.
While cross-ply tires use thick layers of nylon cord laid at an angle across the bead and the tread (thus the term bias-ply), radial tires use cord or steel belts going parallel across the tread. Cross-ply design allows the whole tire to flex more, making it more comfortable at low speed and on rough roads, but that’s where the advantages end. Radials have better contact with the road, less rolling resistance, and greater stability at high speed with less slip, allowing you to put more power down with greater control and better fuel economy. When Consumer Reports in 1968 released its findings about the vast superiority of radials, it was the death knell for the cross-ply, and by the ’80s every single new car came with tires bearing the updated design.
Now, however, Pirelli claims its classic-look cross-ply tires feature modern compounds that give vintage cars the advantage of vastly improved safety and stability. Interestingly, Pirelli dug into its archives to make sure it got the design for the Stella Bianca correct, and the Izmit factory in Turkey where the tire is made had to effectively re-learn archaic manufacturing techniques to get the job done. Stella Bianca tires will be sold in the most common size for classic sports cars, which Pirelli says is 6.00-16. The tread is specific to the Corsa variant, which was common in competition and track use because of its relative resistance to stress.
Last year Pirelli introduced its Collezione line of vintage-style tires designed primarily for high-end cars 20 years and older, albeit with modern compounds and technology that drastically improves safety and performance compared to the original fitment. Meanwhile, Yokohama is re-issuing the Advan HF Type D for classic Japanese sports cars. The more the merrier, we say.