The guys who restored my Bentley S1 had the grace not to say anything when I asked them to round off their superb job by putting white socks on it. To be fair, they had already misunderstood me once when they turned a rub down and a simple blow over with fresh paint into a full-on restoration that included tearing out enough old metal, filler, lead and rust to build another car – albeit one that belongs in the Wasteland Horsepower tribe.
What I can only imagine was a further miscommunication led to the final bill only being what they had quoted for the job at the start. Neil Greenhouse, I hope you’re not reading this, because as I said, that much work for that much money only makes sense in one direction: Mine. But thank you. It is a truly magnificent job and I hope you can forgive my adorning it as I have.
So, back to the white socks. White wall tyres are not to everyone’s taste: Possibly not to yours. Actually, I have yet to meet anyone who likes them but then sometimes being a style-leader is a lonely old job. Comments thus far have included ‘like white socks with a dinner suit’ and ‘you vulgar little brummie txxt’. But some people have little imagination and those of us leading from the front cannot afford to be undermined by their lack of vision.
The answer lies in the proportions. This car is from a time when tyres were tyres; that is to say, they were enormous. The tyre and wheel together of a Bentley S1 measure approximately 28.5 inches in diameter. Today, that would mean a 28 inch rim with a thin coating of black paint around it and a ride like a grand piano over cobbles. Back then, such a final diameter required just a 15 inch wheel with a whole lot of tyre ballooned around it. Things have changed and rightly so. Tyre and suspension technology mean a volume of cushioning air sufficient to fill the Goodyear Blimp is no longer required at each corner.
The Bentley S1 was built in the 1950s to wear wheels and tyres of a different proportion. Problem is, they look a bit daft. Highlight the hubs and they look tiny, like it’s running on rolling pins. Paint them dark and let the wheel stand out in its entirety and it looks like its running on something nicked from a siege machine. The solution then, to this proportional dilemma, lies halfway between: To look right to the modern eye it needs something highlighted that falls roughly between the size of the wheels themselves and the final radius of wheels and tyres together: Something round about exactly where the sharp, distinctive, curving flash of a white wall sits.
See what I mean ...squint and imagine just the hubcaps highlighted and they look daft, paint the whole wheel black and they look dull.
Yes, it’s vanity and a purely aesthetic adornment. But so it is when James Bond shoots a cuff to show a flash of white beneath an immaculately tailored dinner suit sleeve. And he’s cool, right. To my eyes anyway, the white walls finish it off just like that flash of white cuff at the end of a dinner suit sleeve and look perfect.
Question is, do you agree? And I’d go further and ask, what modern cars, if any, would benefit from a bit of white wall action? I’ve seen early Beetles with them as well as Lincoln Continentals and Buick Roadmasters, but what about something built today? For some reason I can picture the new Kia GT Sports Sedan promised for this year wearing them.
Views and suggestions welcome please……
Photos copyright Willow Hammond