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Choosing the Correct Jaguar Tyres

"Get a Grip" by Philip Porter. This article originally appeared in the September 2013 Issue 192 of the XK Gazette.

Jaguar Tyre

Tyres are something that many of us probably rather take for granted yet can make a massive difference to a car in terms of handling, roadholding, wet weather behaviour, and comfort. I am no expert, but I acquired a set of PIRELLI CINTURATO™s about two or three years ago and fitted them to my 120 Fixed Head.

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Frankly, I think they are superb.

For a start, they have a good period look but more to the point they give me a great confidence when I am pressing on, and I do like to drive XK's as they were designed to be driven, and that is not slowly!

I think they are at their most impressive in the wet. As we all know, the XK is a pretty heavy car, certainly by modern standards, and when the car breaks away that weight has a certain momentum. However, I find the CINTURATO™s have a very high level of grip and when they do break away, it is all very undramatic and controllable. Having said all that, they are not cheap - but then, quality rarely is. They need to be good for the price, but I enjoy the car so much on these tyres that I feel it is worth the investment.

They are, after all, the only contact the car has with the road.

The ride is also good and thankfully, I do not seem to be wearing them out, which the old wallet is relieved about.

On the matter of price, the CINTURATO™s were considered incredibly expensive when they first became available in the 1950's but they are actually cheaper now than they were 20 years ago, whereas some other makes have nearly doubled in price and caught them up.

Today, we are in the very fortunate position of having a wide range of choice when it comes to the tyres for XKs. I can remember when there were hardly any 16in tyres produced and CINTURATO™s were seemingly rationed. I can recall conversations with specialist suppliers back in the '70s, and maybe into the '80s, along the lines of, "I have just managed to acquire a few PIRELLIs; I could let you have four". You moved fast or they were gone. From memory, they only made a batch every so often.

In those days, I used to rely on Avon Turbospeeds of the period, which were more affordable but, being crossplies, didn't last long if you indulged in motoring sideways.

It is a debatable subject to what degree you want to improve a classic car's roadholding by fitting wider and wider modern rubber. The greater the adhesion, the greater the loads you are putting through all the associated mechanical parts including steering, suspension, mountings and all sorts. We need to bear in mind, the basic XK design goes back 65 years.

Furthermore, do we want our XKs to drive like modern cars? Surely not; surely the character, personality and fun is that we are enjoying the best sports car of the 1950s. I am certainly not arguing against upgrading, and each to his own, but an XK, in my opinion, would look wrong on massive boots and would lose much of its charm if it drove as though on rails. I always remember a splendid comment from a reader in a letter to 'The Motor' magazine when I was a child. Referring to a Lotus Elan, he wrote, "Anyone can drive a tram!".

As I said earlier, I am no expert but I know a man who is. Rather like the Michelin Man, though not in girth, Dougal Cawley is surrounded by, and immersed, in tyres. He runs Longstone Tyres and is a total enthusiast. I asked him to talk us through some of the tyres available today.

"Presently the Michelin X is the cheapest radial tyre I sell for an XK. The X and the CINTURATO ™ are the only genuine period radial tyres for an XK. The X will last longer than Willy Wonker's Everlasting Gobstopper. If you punish yourself by looking at cars for sale in a 1970 edition of 'Motor Sport', you will notice the Michelin X tyre was often used as a big selling feature. However, today the Michelin X is not the best tyre for sporting use. On a road, that honour goes to the CINTURATO ™ as it is more progressive.

Avon TurboSteel: this tyres was new in the '80s as a high-speed tyre in the right size for an XK, because there pretty much wasn't anything else. They are quite a bit smaller in diameter and the footprint is very wide, which gives them lots of grip and they are very good on the track.

Jaguar, I know, did have a close relationship with Dunlop and I like to think that two of the leading companies in the automotive world at that time were British: Jaguar and Dunlop. I would suggest that it was a little bit the other way round as well. Between them, they did so much testing. BUt I also believe that that excellence was with crossply tyres. Today I would suggest that if you want to stick to crossply tyres, then it would be the original 600H16 Dunlop RS5.

Michelin Pilote X 600WR16: ultimate grip, highest speed rating, looks like an Englebert racing tyre of the '50s and '60s. Excellent road/race tyre. Not as progressive as the CINTURATO ™, but for very high speed road use they are excellent and they are the best for the track.

I think the PIRELLI CINTURATO ™ 185VR16 CA67 is the best XK road tyre. It is still a genuine PIRELLI CINTURATO ™. It is made by PIRELLI. It has the same tread pattern and sidewall design, and the carcase has the same dimensions and shape to maintain the original handling as well as appearance - a more modern design would have a wider contact point, which is not good for classics on the road. It also makes heavy steering even heavier.

Today, tyre manufacturers are not allowed to use some of the chemicals and materials that were used back in the '50s, '60s and '70s when these tyres were current. The CINTURATO ™ lives up to modern standards of tyre manufacturing, and is made using modern compounds but in a way that keeps the XK handling the way it should. The 185VR16 PIRELLI CINTURATO ™ was original equipment on the 250GT Ferrari, Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, Maserati 3500GT and Mistral."

So there we have it from Dougal, not forgetting Vredesteins and Blockleys. I look forward to trying some of the other tyres on the market but, meanwhile, am very happy with my Michelin Xs on my 120 OTS and the terrific CINTURATO™s on the FHC. Given the current rate of progress with my 140 DHC restoration, it is going to be a year or three before I have to make a decision on tyres, but the great thing today is that we have such a wide choice compared with 20/30 years ago.

Philip Porter

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