In present day we have coloured smoke for gear-heads to express their mood, but in the ’50s and ’60s, the idea of glowing tyres was kicking around, and actually came to fruition in 1961 thanks to Goodyear.
William Larson, a chemist at Goodyear, worked together with fellow employee Anthony Finelli to create a polyurethane compound called neothane, a material which allowed Goodyear to build a tubeless, cordless tire which could be dyed in a variety of colours.
“Goodyear’s translucent tire can be produced in any color to match the car…or perhaps the wife’s new outfit,” Goodyear’s development manager John J. Hartz said in 1962.
“Someday a wife may tell a husband: ‘Charlie, go out and change the tires. I’m wearing my blue dress tonight.”
Dubbed as one of the “most dramatic tire developments in the history of the industry”, these tires were made of a synthetic rubber known as Neothane.
The unique compound had the ability to allow light to pass through. Goodyear used the translucent material, dying it various colours – bright green, yellow, blue, and red, just to name a few. Then, the company put 18 light bulbs inside the tyres giving them the glowing effect seen in the photo below.
Goodyear paraded its tires around to grab public interest. It placed a set of red tires on a Dodge Polara and drove it around downtown Miami.
It did the same in Manhattan with a Chrysler Silver 300. Pedestrians were dumbfounded — after all, this was the ’60s.
While the synthetic Neothane was durable and quite simple to make, as it combined plastic and rubber characteristics, there were several problems associated with the material that made the fad fade a more quickly than Goodyear may have wanted.
For one, the material was too expensive for production. But the real nail in the coffin was that they tended to melt if the driver hit the anchors too hard, and they also performed poorly in wet conditions. There were also reports of the tyres causing confusion and distraction to other motorists.
Despite the public appeal, the tires never officially went on sale. Instead, Jim “Street” Skonzakes, the creator of the Golden Sahara II caught the attention of Goodyear, and was given a set of the tires.
The Golden Sahara II was a work of art in its own right. The vehicle was truly ahead of its time, and it’s clear to see why Goodyear was happy to see the futuristic glowing tyres at home on the Golden Saraha II.
It could be driven via a remote control, had four different steering options including aircraft-inspired controls; in-built television and tape recorder/player; electronic doors; vibrating massage seat; a hydraulic trunk and light-up neothane tyres made this car truly ahead of its time. A 24 carat gold trim interior, a white mink carpet and a mini bar in the back seat.
At the height of its fame, having toured all over the USA for over four years, owner Jim Street retired the car into his collection. After Jim passed away, current owner Robert Olson bought the derelict car for a reported $350,000 and entirely restored it to its former glory.
The video below shows the stunning restored automobile, complete with a set of functional glowing tyres that gives us an insight into what could have been.