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Interior of part of the tyre store at Beaulieu.


Back in 1962 the veteran, vintage and post vintage car movement was not nearly as large as it is today, and people were only just realising that the post-war car might become collectable, the classic car movement was only just emerging.

In 1962 Dunlop, one of the few manufacturers of tyres for the older car, gave notice that they were going to stop producing such tyres. Lord Montagu and Philip Pollock formed Vintage Tyre Supplies,(VTS) and joined forces with Dunlop to continue manufacture and obtained an exclusive agreement with them to market the Dunlop special interest tyres.

Fifty three years later, VTS is the world’s largest supplier of original equipment tyres for veteran, vintage, classic and the more modern classic cars as well as motor cycles. VTS is based at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu where it stocks 20,000 tyres from more than a dozen manufacturers.

The current MD of VTS, Chris Marchant, joined the company in 1991. Under Chris’s leadership VTS has developed its own brands, Ensign, a high-quality range of tyres for older cars and motorcycles and Waymaster, a well-priced selection of crossply and beaded edge tyres.

Chris explains how some of the other brands came on board at VTS: “Michelin wanted a distributor in UK to deal with its classic range, and VTS took this on. Later Avon wanted to drop out of the specialist market and VTS bought the moulds and worked with the Avon racing tyre department to continue manufacturing them. Racing tyres are much more labour intensive in production and made in small batches, which suited the requirements of the old car world.”

VTS has brought back into production more than 30 historic tread patterns. The Dunlop SP 44 Weathermaster is just one of these.

This tyre was used on Mini Coopers to win the Monte Carlo Rally and is a favourite now with adventurous Mini and Mini Moke owners. Regretfully the original tyre moulds were discarded many years ago and a new mould was needed.

From drawing board to production took two years. First VTS had to find an original tyre to copy, then a drawing had to be created from which a mould would be made. Tyre manufacturing has moved on from the days when these tyres were current so some of the later techniques were adopted to get the best possible tyre. The first run was of 500 tyres.

Most tyres for the classic car were crossplies, but now you can buy some radial tyres with classic looks from VTS. These tyres will give better grip, better water clearance qualities and longer life.

On the subject of longer life, some cars arriving at VTS have tyres that are well past their use-by date. Chris says it is not unusual to find tyres being removed could be 50, or more, years old. He also says that 50 per cent of the new-old-stock tyres advertised on internet auction sites are often over 25 years old so readers beware!

The British Rubber Manufacturers Association actually recommends that all tyres should be replaced when they are 10 years old. Tell tales are a cracking in the tread (even if the tread itself appears to be in good condition) and a cracking of the side walls. Chris is very worried that with changes to the MoT test requirements for classic and earlier cars that there could be a tendency for owners to overlook the age of their tyres. Many older cars only do two or three thousand miles a year, so the tyre is far more likely to deteriorate than wear out.

VTS sells, or has agents, in most old car loving countries in the world. The company also sells inner tubes for every size of tyre it sells as well as car and motorcycle inner tube repair kits and tyre service kits.

VTS likes a challenge and will do its best to find the right tyre for you. The VTS team attend over 20 events a year both in this country and in Europe, plus a number of the rallies which take place at the National Motor Museum.

Tyres are a complicated subject. VTS produces an informative 44-page brochure called “The Tyre” which not only lists every type of tyre and tube it stocks but also includes pages on tyre history and evolution. The brochure also discusses technical subjects such as how the beaded edge tyre works, how to tell the age of a tyre, rim conditions and tube fitment. It costs £4, or it can be viewed on the VTS website.

THE PROFESSIONALS is an ongoing series that looks at those that keep our classic vehicle world spinning...do you want CMM to feature your business? Contact us today!

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