5 vintage winter tire ads to celebrate dashing through the snow
While it may be hard to believe in today’s day and age, there once was a time when driving required more fine motor skills. A certain instinct and dexterity behind the wheel. This was even more true with snow on the roads, and when the novel concept of tires dedicated to winter conditions gained traction, companies began investing millions into developing a way to make driving on the white stuff that much easier.
After the Finns led the charge, American brands got in on winter tire action and launched their own products. Goodyear and Firestone followed suit, but they weren’t alone. Other lesser-known manufacturers came out with their own, aggressive designs. For the most part, they all shared common traits, most notably a chunky mud-terrain tread that was narrower than summer models to increase contact pressure. Keep in mind that, in the 1930s and ’40s, American roads were still largely underdeveloped, and road salt (as we’ve come to loath it) was used sparingly. Estimates indicate only around 5000 tons were dropped on major roadways nationwide (by comparison, roads today can see up to 20,000,000 tons).
In the 1950s manufacturers began to experiment with re-treading. Alternative particles in the rubber composition like sawdust and nut fragments made tires continually turnover (re-tread) an effective porous grip that split through the thin layers of moisture on slick surfaces.
Another revolutionary concept arrived during the 1960s, when metal studded tires rolled onto the scene. Road plowing had increased and improved exponentially, creating slicker compact surfaces. Metal studs could bite into them better than anything else. However, in little time, the apparent damage these studs inflicted on highways was too significant for lawmakers to ignore. Subsequent state-by-state regulations choked out the widespread legality of the studded tire. Once rubber technology took off, newer studless tire quality reduced the need for studs except in the most extreme winter conditions.
The first winter tire to market was called the Kelirengas, a Finnish model produced by Nokian in 1934 and intended solely for commercial trucks. Two years later, Nokian’s celebrated Hakkapeliitta came to life, addressing the needs of passenger cars. By today’s standards, the first Kelirengas was comically alien in its appearance, with aggressively grooved ribs and horizontally transverse blocks that resembled paddle wheels. Aesthetics aside, it performed as intended for deep snow and kept Finnish trucks going, inspiring a boon of growth opportunity in the global industry.
Back in the ’60s, Firestone sat atop a mountain of winter tire popularity with its Town & Country Tires (not to be confused with Chrysler’s offerings). This ad spot features an aggressive ’63 Ford Galaxie blasting through snow banks. Replete with a catchy tune, the Town & Country tires are guaranteed to go through ice, mud, or snow, or Firestone pays the tow. Now that’s both a level of customer service and confidence that’s hard to find nowadays. Firestone even threw in a free plastic ice scraper just for a friendly visit to a shop—sure beats the flimsy fridge magnet you might get today.
Ice climbing. Metal spikes. Hammer-striking-anvil sound effects. Nothing whispers into your ear I gotta have those tires quite like a little over-dramatization and theatrics, right? Goodyear spares no expense here, advertising its Suburbanite Safety Spike tires in 1966. To prove their mettle, Goodyear and Ford flocked to the Swiss Alps with a ’65 Ford Mustang and enlisted the golden voice of actor Dick Tufeld. Debuting in the mid-’60s, deep rubber cleats and tungsten metal spikes propel this particularly hungry rear-wheeled pony around switchbacks. “Spikes work in the Alps, and they’ll work for you,” says Tufeld. “From Goodyear, the safety-minded company.” Nothing showcases safety quite like hitting 100 mph in the Alps!
The oil company? Yes, that Gulf, from an age when gas stations used to provide their own brand of everything short of beef jerky and bagels. To get Gulf’s message across, the ad team created a scene of strategic comparison featuring a sympathetic damsel in distress. Stuck in a rut (literally) a mother and her two children are immobilized in their ’65 Impala … until Gulf-branded mechanics come to the rescue and swap on a fresh set of their winter tires. The tires themselves are deep-cleated like many designs at this time, however this commercial chooses to highlight the self-cleaning nature that lets the cleats discard packed snow. Deliberately marketing to women behind the wheel? Looks that way.
In October 2018, Sears filed chapter for chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was like the fall of the Roman Empire for American retail. For an eternity, the big-box behemoth operated as the one-stop-shop for everything the American consumer desired. This included, of course, Tire and Auto Centers where Sears sold its in-house Dynaglass tires (a fancy buzzword derived from a fiberglass dual-belt construction). The Ice & Snow version in 1971 boasted a central traction groove, enabling drivers to (allegedly) slalom down a ski hill with deft precision, per this particular ad spot. Although the Dynaglass design has long been put to rest, Sears can at minimum boast an impact in the automotive pantheon with success stories like Allstate insurance and DieHard batteries.
Today’s winters are impressive, inspiring a confidence beyond measure. They deliver owners a competent ride with sure-footed grip, while remaining reasonably quiet at impressibly high speed ratings; a far cry to be sure from their groovy ancestors.