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While we don’t often pay enough attention to our tires after we have them installed, we certainly do spend hours trying to pick the best looking tire. This great social experiment was had recently at a large regional tire center. Being tenth in line, allowed for plenty of people watching and listening. While this isn’t the first time buying tires, it was for some reason the most in intriguing experience for what ever reason.


Understanding tire size

For what ever reason, the mood resembled a children's shoe store. Listening to the sales associates gushing over tread pattern and foot print made many a customer absolutely overjoyed that their car was going to leave that shop capable of maneuvers never before possible. Just as overloading your tank with octane won’t make your car go faster, neither will tires that go beyond your cars capabilities. Perhaps we all carry this philosophy on our shoulders due to our childhood experience of sneaker buying — “these new shoes really make me run faster and jump higher!” And mom always confirmed it, “Oh my, look at you go!”

It is true, there are significant differences in quality, milage, comfort, noise level, protection packages, warranty, etc., but the most expensive tire is not necessarily going to serve you better. The same applies to our classics as we search for the proper tire. As it stands with our 1975 Mercedes-Benz 450SL, there are limited options due to the rim size. The proper tire size for this model is 205/70R14, but what exactly do these numbers and letter indicate? The first number “205” is the tire width in millimeters and in this case it equals 8.1 inches. The second number “70” in a metric tire size is called the aspect ratio and means that the sidewall height is 60% of the section width, in this case 5.6 inches. The third character “R” indicates the tire is a radial and the 4th digits indicate the wheel (rim) size in diameter. In this particular case, a 205/70R14 tire carries the following specs: Diameter: 25.3”, Width: 8.1”, Rim Size: 14”, Sidewall: 5.6”, Circumference: 79.4” and revolutions per mile: 822.


A myriad of tire choices

Let’s look at available tires for our 1975 Mercedes 450SL which are as follows: BFGoodrich - Radial T/A, Cooper Tires - Trendsetter SE, General Tire - Altima RT, Hankook - Optima H724, Kumho Tire - Solus KR21, Michelin - Defender and the Uniroyal - Tiger Paw AWP. It should be noted that only BFGoodrich, Hankook, Michelin and Uniroyal are speed rated at: 112 mph, 118 mph, 118 mph and 118 mph respectively. A personal preference is to always purchase a speed rated tire.
Price points also vary greatly and while that doesn’t mean everything, as consumers, we often pay extra to cover the manufactures advertising costs. Don’t however let that drive you because the age old saying still often holds very true, “you get what you pay for.” In this case, the average price point for our tires are as follows: BFGoodrich - Radial T/A, $118, CooperTires - Trendsetter SE, $63, General Tire - Altima RT, $73, Hankook - Optima H724, $71, Kumho Tire - Solus KR21, $79, Michelin - Defender, $104 and the Uniroyal - Tiger Paw AWP, $78 - per tire.


Choosing the right tire, consider your climate

Another big consideration to look for when buying a tire, especially with a classic that does not have the added safety benefits of traction control, anti-lock brakes, etc., is to purchase a tire that will suit your climate. For example, growing up in the Mid-Atlantic, brought rain, snow and everything in-between for tires to contend with. Now in the Desert Southwest, with precipitation averaging 7 in. a year and extreme heat, a different focus is at hand when purchasing tires. In this case, it is now very important to have a tire that will hold up well to yearly temperature swings which can be as drastic as 95 degrees and rain. Why rain? Well, as seldom as it does rain in the desert, when it does, the road ways become extremely slippery from the many months of oil that surface making for near ice-like conditions. If the tire states it is excellent in show and moderate in rain, that will be a tire I will steer clear of for this particular part of the nation.


My tire size

After much deliberation and much research, and weighing all the tire options, it boiled down to only those with a speed rating and further came down to what would suit the climate best. In short, the 205/70R14, Michelin Defender (all season) won the day. Is it better or worse than the others I opted out of? Who knows until the tire is put to a real life challenge or emergency, which I am fine not encountering. However, should the need arise, the goal is to have a quality tire that will hopefully meet the demand.

REMEMBER: Speed, ice, and hydroplaning are often indifferent to your most expensive tire, 4- wheel drive system and seasoned driver.

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Written by :
Alex Fiehl

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