During the 1950s and ’60s, a transformative era for Western culture, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. embarked on an ambitious project that would capture the imagination of many: the creation of illuminated and vibrantly colored car tires. This endeavor was a product of the changing times, where personal expression extended to vehicles and innovations were sought after to reflect individuality.
William Larson, a Goodyear chemist, collaborated with colleague Anthony Finelli to develop a polyurethane compound known as neothane. This material revolutionized tire manufacturing, allowing Goodyear to produce tubeless and cordless tires that could be dyed in a wide range of colors. The outcome was a visually striking tire that served as both a functional component and an avenue for self-expression.
What set these tires apart was their ability to transmit light. Engineers ingeniously integrated 18 light bulbs into the wheel’s center, resulting in an electrifying glow that emanated from the tires onto the ground and into the car’s wheel wells. This technological marvel captivated public attention and showcased Goodyear’s innovative prowess.
The tires were showcased in grand style, fitted on vehicles like a Dodge Polara parading through Miami and a Chrysler Silver 300 making its way through the bustling streets of Manhattan. Passersby were astounded, as this was a time marked by a fascination with futuristic concepts and visual novelty.
However, despite the immense public interest, the illuminated tires never entered commercial production. Instead, a local custom car builder named Jim “Street” Skonzakes became the owner of a set of these remarkable tires. Skonzakes was behind the creation of the futuristic Golden Sahara II, a vehicle that embodied the spirit of the times and proudly showcased its “glass tires.” This automotive marvel even made its way onto the silver screen in the 1960 comedy film “Cinderfella.”
Over time, the Golden Sahara II faced challenges and faded into obscurity. But its story took a dramatic turn when the automotive museum Klairmont Kollections acquired the car at auction. The restoration process that followed saw Goodyear stepping in to provide four brand-new translucent tires, returning the vehicle to its former glory. The completed project was proudly displayed at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show, a testament to the enduring allure of innovative design.
Despite their captivating appeal, the illuminated tires faced practical challenges that prevented their widespread adoption. The tires’ luminous properties diminished after just a few miles due to wear and soot accumulation, rendering them less effective. Moreover, safety concerns emerged as the tires’ grip on wet roads and under hard braking conditions was compromised, owing to the unique compound’s limitations.
Ultimately, after a decade of development, practicality took precedence over aesthetics, and the illuminated tire project was shelved. The tires remained a captivating artifact of a bygone era, embodying the creative spirit of the ’50s and ’60s while highlighting the intricate balance between innovation and functionality in automotive design.