1966 Chevrolet Corvette: Handle With Care
June 1, 2015
I'm a big fan of the term "period-correct." Up until the early 1970s, before radial tires took over, bias-ply tires were the norm. What's the difference? Here's a simple explanation from Michelin, but I'll summarize it by saying that radial tires have better compliance characteristics, are less prone to overheat, and provide better traction than bias-ply tires.
Our 1966 Chevrolet Corvette is shod with bias-plies and they clearly demonstrate why radial tires are better. Even when driven conservatively through a turn, you can hear the bias-plies squeal. In one instance, I needed to cross an intersection quickly and the tires spun with very little provocation.
With this in mind, the Corvette requires a lot of care in daily driving. I drive it in the same manner I drive my old Thunderbird with its narrow whitewall radials and drum brakes. I give myself plenty of room to stop and don't ease into the throttle until I'm well through a turn.
It would take an abundance of runoff and bravery for me to drive the Corvette hard, but in the event I ever got it on a skidpad, I'd love to see how it slides. I'd also like to see how it would handle mid-corner bumps, because bias-plies are notorious for skipping like stones on water when loaded with traction, then interrupted. In the event we swap the tires for radials, it'd be an interesting comparison.
As far as comfort, it's a little difficult to gauge how much impact compliance the bias-ply tires have, since the Corvette's suspension isn't particularly stiff. As the car is now, there's not much harshness over bumps.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor