Going Dutch on the #Saab
Tyres on the wheels that transmit the power generally wear more quickly than those that simply hold up their end of the car. The difference is yet greater in a front-wheel-drive car, because the driving wheels also have to cope with directional changes and a nose-heavy weight distribution. So a front-driver’s rear tyres can last for a very long time.
In the case of classic cars that cover fewer miles than an everyday modern, it can mean that rear tyres can still have plenty of tread even though they are ancient and their rubber thoroughly hardened.
So, shortly after I bought my Saab 96 in Sweden in 2001 and drove it home, I replaced the very old, comically squealy Trelleborg Safe Ride crossplies with a set of Firestone F-560 radials, and never has a car been transformed so dramatically. The grip, the smoothness, the crispness of response… these skinny, humble radials were a revelation.
Throughout the Noughties, the F-560 was a good-value tyre very popular among owners of classic cars. It looked quite ‘period’, and Firestone had itself a useful market niche. But when the front ones finally wore out, I discovered that Firestone no longer made them. It had abandoned the market.
What could I do now? Pirelli and Michelin made the correctsize replacements in period designs, but they were very expensive. The solution? A pair of Vredestein Sprint Classics, which looked right, came from a fairly well-known Dutch tyre company and were very good value.
These tyres seem to have taken over Firestone’s niche very effectively. You see them on many classic cars in many sizes, and they work well with good wet grip and a supple ride. Meanwhile I still had the old Firestones on the back wheels, and they seemed fine with no signs of perishing. It helps that the Saab is garaged, out of sunlight’s ultra-violet reach.
However, the tyre industry is uneasy about the ability of its products to stay fully effective for more than about six years because of the possible degradation of the rubber, be that by perishing or just hardening. That’s the worst-case position, and tyres on classic cars kept in the dark should stay viable for longer, but a chat with a friend who just happens to work with Vredestein reminded me that the Saab’s rear tyres were now 15 years old. That’s too old.
So a deal was done and the Saab now has four new Sprint Classics. It’s always nice when all four tyres are the same, rather than a mix of brands, and within yards of setting off from Dawson’s Tyre and Exhaust Centre in Bedford, the efficient fitting station where the truth and concentricity of the Saab’s 55-year-old steel wheels was observed with wonderment, it was obvious that those old Firestones had become very age-hardened. The Saab’s tail has turned from lightly jiggly to relaxingly supple.
It feels terrific: agile, grippy, all-of- a-piece. We should hope that Vredestein finds the classic-cars niche a profitable one, because the demand for appropriate tyres at affordable prices must surely be strong. The company may expand its range if it thinks there’s a market, for example to include 155 R12, which would suit my Sunbeam Stiletto among many small 1960s and 1970s cars. As for the Vredestein company itself, it has come through two bankruptcies – the first when wholly Dutch-owned, the second under Russian ownership. Now it’s owned by Apollo Tyres of India. How the world order changes. I’m writing this immediately afer the Brexit vote. I fondly remember driving my newly bought Saab home from Sweden in 2001, waved through by customs on its Swedish plates despite my British passport.
‘That’s a nice car, look after it,’ said the Swedish passport officer. Having been bought in the EU, the Saab attracted neither import duty nor VAT. The free movement of classic cars between mainland Europe and the UK might be about to end, I fear.
Clockwise from above Slippery Saab makes good use of 38bhp; floor mat needs anchoring properly; oldschool tyre shop fitted new Vredestein Sprint Classics; old steel wheels are in good shape.