Why Goodyear’s bright idea for illuminated tires didn’t shine for long


In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Goodyear engineers were feeling enlightened—and their tires actually were. The glow, unfortunately, didn’t last.

More than five decades ago, in what the Ohio tire manufacturer called “one of the most dramatic tire developments in the history of the industry,” Goodyear unveiled a custom car accessory unlike no other: illuminated tires.

“Once the tires reach the market—and that could happen in a few years—auto stylists may use them to carry out a car’s color scheme, perhaps matching the tires with the upholstery,” Goodyear predicted in a 1961 press release. “And it’s not at all unlikely that milady will want tires that enhance her wardrobe, her hair, or even her eyes. Imagine, if you will, one girl telling another: ‘But, my dear, green tires just don’t do a thing for your complexion.’ When that day comes, it will mean a whole new frontier for the tire designer.”

Goodyear illuminated glowing tire inflation full
Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images

Sexist perhaps, but typical of marketing in the era. And Goodyear didn’t stop there.

“Goodyear’s translucent tire can be produced in any color to match the car … or perhaps the wife’s new outfit,” said Goodyear development manager John J. Hartz, doubling down on the awkward characterization. “Someday a wife may tell a husband, ‘Charlie, go out and change the tires. I’m wearing my blue dress tonight.’”

Regardless of what you might think about its marketing strategy, Goodyear’s illuminated tires offered custom car enthusiasts plenty of exciting possibilities. The creation of Goodyear chemist William Larson and co-worker Anthony Finelli, the tires were made of Neothane, a synthetic polyurethane rubber that combined the hardness of plastic with the resilience of rubber. To create the new-fangled tires, the Neothane was poured into molds and baked at 250°F, a temperature much lower than required to make standard tires. Eliminating the more complicated layering construction of traditional tires, Neothane tires were tubeless, cordless, and—bonus—translucent.

Goodyear could add dye to create a rainbow of different tire colors, and 18 small lights were mounted on the rims inside each tire to create a glow that was particularly brilliant at night. The invention caused quite a stir when Goodyear put a set of red illuminated tires on a Dodge Polara and drove around Miami. It did the same with a Chrysler Silver 300 parading around New York City.

Golden Sahara II Goodyear

While Goodyear reasoned that the glowing tires would provide an additional layer of safety because they were more visible in fog and poor weather, they oftentimes had the opposite effect. Since they looked like something straight out of science fiction, other drivers would dangerously hit their brakes or turn their heads to get a better look.

Although the tires never went into production, one set made it into the hands of Jim “Street” Skonzakes, who poured $75,000 (or about $750K today) into creating the tripped-out Golden Sahara II in the early ’60s. The second iteration of a George Barris custom that started with a 1953 Lincoln Capri, the Golden Sahara II wore gold paint mixed with pulverized fish scales, was adorned with gold-plated ornamental work, and featured TV, (non-working) telephone, and a bar in back. It was equipped with state-of-the-art features like remote control start, sensor-based automatic emergency braking, and the ability to drive with one hand by using a “unitrol stick” that controlled both steering and braking.

Those new-fangled Goodyear tires, which Skonzakes referred to as “glass,” were the cherry on the sundae. In 2018, the Golden Sahara II sold at auction—in unrestored condition—for $385,000.

“We refer to the car as a laboratory on wheels,” Skonzakes told television host Garry Moore on I’ve Got A Secret in 1962. “Everyone seems interested in a futuristic car, and the Golden Sahara is a very successful car at auto shows. People appreciate it.”

When the Golden Sahara II was restored following Skonzakes’ death in 2018, Goodyear contributed to the restoration by re-creating a set of urethane tires. While the originals could be filled with air, the new ones are completely solid, meaning the car is only drivable at low speeds.

Goodyear held tight to the idea that its Neothane tires would one day become as common as their black rubber counterparts, but that didn’t happen. After 10 years of work, engineers threw in the towel.

Goodyear Illuminated Tire History

Keith Buckley, senior engineer at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., said in a brief phone interview—with the promise of a longer conversation that never materialized—that the new-fangled tires were doomed for several reasons. For one, while the low melting point made them easy to manufacture, the same low melting point also made them susceptible to melting while braking. And while the idea of changing tires to match your mood (or your wife’s outfit) seemed like an amazing idea at the time, each tire weighed about 150 pounds, meaning there was no such thing as a “quick change.”

But wait! There’s more!

“Cost was the big thing, but they weren’t practical either,” Buckley said. “The Neothane didn’t have the grip of standard tires, which made them more dangerous in rainy conditions. And it wouldn’t take long before they were covered in road grime, which negated the illumination—and that was their big drawing card.”

That’s still their primary source of fascination, even if they’re just a footnote in automotive history.


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    Please cut the sexist woke apology speak. This was a different era and people in the future will be apologizing for you too.

    This was an era of tech advancement, jets, rockets, taller buildings etc. There were many things going on.

    I still have the post card of these tires with the blimp my father brought home from Goodyear.

    Not many years after this Goodyear sold colored tires for bikes. This was around 1970 and that was not a common thing as it later became.

    I was the cool kid making blue skid marks on the drive way.

    What was funny was about 15-20 years ago BFG made color tread for their car tires. It is not last long as gangs were using them to mark their territory with burn outs. Also they really did not prove to be very popular.

    These are only a few things that came and failed with the tire industry.

    Goodyear owned Motor Wheel a rim maker who made those heavy rubber faced wheels of the 70’s for the Monte Carlo and Trans Am. Later they made a fiber composite wheel for the Fiero that never got past testing but later used in a limited number on the SRX Shelby Shadow.

    I have seen a lot of cool things from the tire companies. I wish I had a dollar for every run flat ideal These new tires Michelin and Goodyear have coming have been around since the 80’s. Yet most only on tractors now.

    Dang hyperv6, you had quite the childhood, when you tell us about “the blimp my father brought home from Goodyear.”

    Your dad brought home a blimp? Mine only brought me his pocket change!

    I sincerely hope you’re joking, he clearly and correctly stated that his dad brought home a postcard, which contained the image of the car and blimp that is also featured in the article.

    No, it’s not perfectly clear. It could be interpreted as he still had the post cards AND the blimp his dad brought home.

    “Please cut the sexist woke apology speak. This was a different era and people in the future will be apologizing for you too.”
    Yes, and I wish they WOULDN’T apologize for us. Because it’s completely unnecessary and inappropriate to hold something from decades ago to one modern impression of morality. I’m a millennial, why would I ever judge or compare something done back then to what the world (or at least some of it) expects now?

    I agree with not apologizing, but using the word woke as if being asleep is better shows you need a new alarm clock. Find a new word that isn’t divisive here.

    Woke in this context has nothing to do with sleep or alarm clocks. It’s an agenda and calling it out is no more divisive than the agenda itself.

    @hyperv6, There’s no need to get your feathers ruffled simply because the author was pointing out the sexist copy in the press releases and ad copy of the day. It helps readers understand the voice and text is not coming from the author. Nor does it hurt to point out to the “good old boys” that archaic behavior is a thing of the past. After all, there are still those who think they can grab a flight attendant’s rear (while they all them stewardesses).

    My mom was a stewardess with a major american airline from the mid to late 1950’s. She always proudly referred to herself as a former stewardess, never as a former flight attendant.

    Pan American flying boats had “white-coated stewards” and were renowned for their first-class service on the long routes they flew. These are not derogatory terms, or at least weren’t considered so back then by the people who did those jobs. And yes, I refer to them as flight attendants now.

    Those of us with an aviation background understand that flight attendants/stewards/stewardesses are an integral human part of the safety systems of the aircraft and not there just to serve food and drink. The problem with some passengers today is not so much grabbing flight attendants, but rather a total inability to conduct themselves in a civilized manner when traveling by air. Back when mom was flying passengers dressed well and behaved with dignity and class. So have we really progressed since then?

    Many of us tire of the constant apologies. I would bet there are words we currently use that kids being born today may find objectionable in the future. Just a thought.

    BFG also made colored tires around 1956 (red, green and blue) pastel. A buddy purchased a used
    set of green ones for this 1953 green Ford.

    I can’t understand why these colorful car candies didn’t stay the vogue. I can picture dogs catching them for a bite or even have Goodyear market a lemon, cherry, orange or pinnacle colored tire called the Lifesaver 8. No doubt to get the draw on the Uniroal Safety 8. Seriously, I’ll be here all week.

    As for dumb ideas this one is far down the list as I have seen much much worse.

    You also have to keep the era in mind here. Times were different as were tastes. Recall the 45 RPM record player options. Like that worked on most pot hole roads.

    Or s few years back they had two tires on one rim. It was like two motorcycle tires on when wheel?

    hyperv6: Correction…you wrote:
    “You also have to keep the era in mind here. Times were different as were tastes. Recall the 45 RPM record player options. Like that worked on most pot hole roads’ Chrysler had the “HI-WAY-HI-FI.” – under-the-dash mounted record player. The rarest accessory offered by Chrysler Corporation in 1956. The records were 16 2/3 rpm – (and not much variety) – but NOT 45 rpm records… CHEERS! :p

    Loving it!!! Where can I buy a set would be my question. Even though i grew up in the 50’s and 60’s don’t remember this offering from Goodyear however Loved the “out of the box thinking” of back in the day when design was key as opposed to aero tear drop design of today. Thanks for the history lesson but forget about the apologies for what was said back then as that was then and this is now.

    Yes, keep the “woke” politics out of it, shall we? There is nothing wrong with a husband being a husband and a wife being a wife!

    Back in the early 60’s i had a girlfriend that lived down the street and her Dad had a 61 Dodge Polara that had these tires on it. He worked for a tire company but i thought it was Firestone not Goodyear.He was some how connected in the making of these tires ,so they had to leave the Chicago area and move to Ohio and that is how i lost my first girlfriend ( she was too fat anyway )

    I too “tire” for apologies for stuff from the past. :^)

    It was an interesting super flawed idea. Heavy! 150 pounds per tire, Yikes.

    60+ years later I still don’t find the marketing campaign “cringeworthy” but thats just me.

    “Regardless of its cringeworthy marketing…” I’m afraid your being woke is bleeding through….you lost me there.
    Is your whole organization woke?
    If so ….
    I’m gone.

    You really struggle to see that websites might possibly moderate comments to prevent inflammatory statements or spam? The filter here has flagged me for moderation for typing too fast, don’t take it personally.

    Gads, enough with the apologies! My wife would laugh at this… As I’m sure women did back then as well.

    With all the apology complainers here, I must be two generations younger than everyone else. Is this message board filled with retirees?

    Age doesn’t matter. Even when I was young, I say the folly of one person apologizing for something that someone else did, especially if it happened years ago.
    The apology should come from the person or organization who did the act. An apology from someone else is meaningless.

    Maybe age has some relation to the complaints, but I’ve run into all sorts of attitudes from all ages.

    What I find cringe worthy is the contemporary misogyny implied by the need to politicize the writer’s commentary on the historical advertising language. Many readers of this newsletter are not as old, out of touch, and male as these critics.

    My dad worked for Dupont. They developed polyurethane tires as well. He said they wouldn’t wear anything like regular tires. They dropped the project when they discovered that if you locked up the tires the car was riding on a film of liquified polyurethane and took a very long time to stop. With ABS being common now it might be time to dust off those files.

    ABS doesn’t give you more traction, it just releases the brakes to prevent skidding. So no, driving around like every day is black ice day is not a desirable characteristic for tires, ABS or not.

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