Vandespar Chronicles – Big Healey Tyres


Big Healey Tyres

I am on the Eurostar on the way to Brussels to see a BN7 that in typical Healey fashion may or may not be for sale.  It has been a long-standing quest to find a good straight 3000 2 seater. Having suffered the agonies of a very troubled Thames Link service to St Pancras, missing my train with a non-transferable ticket thankfully changed due to train chaos by Eurostar, I have finally settled down to write about possibly the most important component of any car,  the tyres.

Bertie my MK III 3000 has been on Michelin XVS 185 80 15…more about them later.

My inspiration to write about tyres has been prompted by the annual MOT check, this usually conducted by Terry. Yes I am a musician and I do mean conducted! He is a very thorough old school mechanic at the local MOT testing station.Bertie is in fantastic shape, approaching a star ship mileage of 250,000 miles, though carefully looked after by the team at Rawles Motorsport, use and abuse must take their toll.

Criteria for choice and when to change

Why do I go to Terry? He lets me look at every inch of the tyres, inside and out. They have always passed the test, masses of tread but I always want to check for cracks. These usually start as the barest hairline, but under stress, heat and hard or fast driving can rapidly open up, ultimately causing the tyre to fail.

Terry is a killer as far as wear and tear in the suspension, brakes, exhaust, lighting and any form of structural rust, but his hands are tied as far as the age and roadworthiness of tyres.  If they meet the tread and structural standards of the MOT they pass regardless of age. I believe testers can fail cars with a mixture of cross ply and radial tyres or differing sizes on one axle, but they can only advise if there is a mixture of speed rating or unwise mixture of makes of tyre on the car. (Rules are changing all the time, would appreciate feedback if this is no longer the case)

Big Healey Tyres

When tyres get too old the rubber hardens, grip is reduced and the rubber begins to perish. Hence the cracks! The brake testing rollers at MOT stations have a high grip surface, which itself is regularly inspected. The brake test does not reveal how well the tyres are gripping in normal road conditions.

With most modern cars doing average mileage, tyres wear out before their use by date. My issue with old tyres is principally a problem for those in the classic, veteran and vintage car fraternity who don’t wear out their tyres within 2 or 3 years. (Tyre life is dependent on different factors: tread wear through use is obvious to the eye, climate, storage and time are factors in the breakdown of the rubber and other materials used)

Talking to a Jaguar friend recently, who is coincidentally preparing a commercial article on Jaguar tyres, he related several disturbing stories about ‘legal tyres’, which were in fact well past their use by date. In a dry climate state in the USA a mechanic was collecting a really beautiful and road legal E Type, had to brake for a queue of traffic; brakes were fine, but tyres so hard they had no grip, slid straight into the back of the car in front. The tyres were perhaps twenty years old, no serious damage to the car or driver, except a perfect original E Type bonnet bent. More seriously a recently MOT’d car having a motorway blow-out with tragic consequences, later crash analysis blaming tyre failure due to age.

We are prepared to pay a fortune on rebuilding, maintaining and beautifying our beloved machines; the tyres seem to be bottom of the list.

Avon ZZ soft compound

Big Healey Tyres

I think I have become a bit of an anorak; any ‘Healey’ person I talk to gets the tyre inquisition! Talking to a fellow club member recently, who enjoys a little spirited hill climbing, I found another Healey driver who had also experienced the revelation of the Avon ZZ. Setting up a recently acquired BN7 (!) she found the change to ZZs the biggest and most cost effective improvement she had made!

I don’t race or hill climb but I enjoy all aspects of my car! With new rear springs, Koni shock absorbers and adjustable camber (carefully set up by Rob at Rawles Motorsport), Bertie is ready for anything.  The first thing I noticed on the road was that ZZs are supple and communicative.  OMG coming up to the first roundabout, the BRAKES, much more effective, more feel and control. The roundabout then seemed to be absorbed, steering directly connected to brain, or what’s left of it. WOW!

I am now on a train to Luxembourg having spent an exciting afternoon and early evening dashing around Belgium with Emmanuel, the owner of the BN7 I came to view. Loosing each other successfully at Brussels Midi station, we were at opposite ends, never having met… mobile phones are wonderful things!

Due to my delay it was beginning to get dark by the time we reached the Healey, tucked away in a lock up with no power! Emmanuel had conjured up a generator; donning overalls, inspection lamp in hand, I had a really good look at the car. Obviously well restored in the 80’s, several years languishing unused in the lock up had taken their toll. Floors fine but surface rust on the chassis and inner panels, is taking a hold. Bright work was green but looked polishable. Mechanically it was impossible to check, in that the car was taken off the road due to a faulty clutch and not used since. A bit sad, but Emmanuel was really aware that something had to be done, or he would soon have a wreck on his hands.

Tyres were mismatched hard and had begun to perish!

Back to the ZZ experience!

Big Healey Tyres

I recently met a 100/6 owner in Beckenham High Street (my local high street is not known for it’s Healey visitors to the supermarket). I couldn’t ignore a beautiful red Healey, and when the owner showed up we started chatting. Small world, also has his car looked after by Rawles Motorsport, and of course he got the tyre inquisition. He complained of wheel lock up under hard braking, tyres appeared in good shape. Clearly this needs to be investigated, but there is a clear correlation between tyre grip and braking.

The Avon ZZs give a profoundly new feel to my Healey’s braking, rain or shine, the supple grip is astonishing.

My Michelin tyres have now passed their use by date. For high mileages they are extraordinary, good in the wet, and the slightly higher profile must improve economy. I am aware that with the 80 aspect ratio, braking will be effected compared to the use of 70s. However having used Fulda Y2000 185 65 15 with an even lower profile I did not notice this dramatic change of braking feel and confidence.

The Fulda is, in my opinion, a very good all round tyre, really good grip and feel in the dry, and secure in wet weather. They do not have the elasticity of the ZZs or the comfort of the Michelin, but they are competitively priced, which means a less bitter pill if you take my advice and change tyres regularly rather than wait passively for the MOT tester to condemn them.

Inner Tubes Out of sight and out of mind

Most of us have wire wheels and inner tubes. The latest generation of wires can be used without tubes but most garages recommend their use in any case.

Big Healey Tyres

They cannot be inspected, they are made out of perishable rubber, and we put ours and other lives at risk if they are not changed regularly. Should this become part of the regular maintenance, greasing, brake checks and oil changing?

Normally they are changed with the tyres, again as long as these are changed regularly, that should be ok. Type of use, climate and of course time, will cause deterioration and break down of the rubber.

Size profile and ‘look’

Longstone tyres have focused on the taller profile ‘look’ in Revcounter adverts. I think it is a matter of opinion which looks best and cars vary enough in spring height, chassis type and panel fit, to make it a matter for personal choice rather than which is best. It is perhaps worth a trial fit before deciding, as tall tyres can rub on inner wings, or wiring on the front side lights, and they will affect the dynamics of the car. There is physically more tyre between car and the road, which depending on the make and sidewall stiffness, will cushion the ride. Centre of gravity will be higher, this will affect agility, braking will require slightly more effort to produce the same retarding effect compared to a lower profile. Taller tyres will affect gearing: slightly slower acceleration, better fuel economy and a slightly slower reading on the speedo

Tyre Manufacture dates

Big Healey Tyres

Anorak to the fore again! I used to have a rather special early 911 for which I was looking for Bridgestone SO2 tyres. At the time Bridgestone had just stopped producing them. I found a set of 4, brand new in Cornwall. Very excited I went to pick them up, actually in Bertie, I had family nearby so it was a welcome trip. The tyres were 4 years old, they were from a specialist tyre dealer who assured me they had been carefully stored, sold them to me for a song but showed me the date code on the tyres and wanted me to understand they were ‘old’ new stock. Should I have bought them? They were fantastic on the car and possibly the last set available, and I was warned not to keep them for too long. I think most manufacturers date their products though different codes are used.


I have wanted to write about tyres because I feel it is an often-overlooked issue in the care of our cars. It goes without saying that regular and consequent servicing and maintenance is vital; finding a workshop that you are happy with and will get to know you and your particular car is important. Every Healey is different, they have very differing characters in a most endearing way; it is one of the reasons they hold so much appeal to us. The team at Rawles Motorsport responds to me for my particular car wishes and needs, and I have seen their totally engaged but differing responses to other people and their cars, which I find very refreshing.

Work has got in the way of finishing this piece! I am now on a train in the heart of Japan rushing towards Tokyo. Donning the anorak for a moment, how I used to like Yokohama A008s! As far as I’m aware there is no Yokohama suitable for the Healey, but there are Kuhmo and Toya tyres that I would like to compare.

This is a work in progress; there are other tyres to write about and hopefully reader views to incorporate. I am looking forward to the harder compound ZZs on a European dash and comparing tread wear between the two compounds. I have approached manufactures for input, and was very impressed with Avon, their obvious pride and confidence in their products and willingness to help. I have tried in vane to make contact with Vredestein technical department for advice, because I note the use of their Sport Classic by many Classic Aston and Jaguar owners, but so far I have only spoken to one Healey driver who has used them, and was not terribly happy. Carefully controlled, experiments with tyre pressures and suspension set up can make a huge difference to the ‘feel’ of a car, but an input from the manufacturer can be useful.

Tyre wear vs. Tyre life

Big Healey Tyres

As with many things in life, the ‘best tyre’ may not be the best for you. For example if you use your car rain or shine and cover a high mileage your criteria for choice will be very different to the summer only driver doing short trips and the odd track day. Healey drivers come from all walks of life, cherish and drive their cars in different ways, and will have varying needs in tyre requirements. My purpose here is to serve as a wake up call; tyres will deteriorate imperceptibly over a relatively long time before reaching the point when they become dangerous. Often they are fine up to a moment when there is an extreme traffic situation or poor weather conditions to be dealt with.

Are your brakes as good as they used to be?

A final note, for those not using their cars over winter: tyres become misshapen, (they get a flat spot) if the car is left standing without being moved or put on axle stands. I think it’s simply a good idea to drive Healeys all year round!

I am working with Rawles Motorsport to test more types of tyres on Bertie and their web site will feature my findings and feedback from others, where they will add more information on tyres and provide a vehicle to coordinate comments from this article and future work on tyres. If you would like to e mail me your thoughts and contribution pleas do so at