News Culture

White-Letter Tires Are Badass

Wan't to make your muscle car or off-roader look cooler? Borrow this NASCAR styling cue.

“In the world of muscle cars, the road to glory is reached only upon white letter-tires.” That could be a quote from some famous guy, but it isn’t—it’s simple fact. Your muscle car’s level of decrepitude is insignificant. Rusted-out rocker panels? No problem. Gray fenders, blue hood, and red doors? Don’t worry about it. If those dull mag wheels have a fresh set of NASCAR-chic white letter tires on them, they’re going to communicate all the vroom vroom that you’ll obviously, eventually, get to on the car itself.

When I was building my sleeper Olds Omega for the cross-country drive for which I didn’t end up finishing the build in time, one of the first orders of business was to toss the dry-rotted thin-white-wall tires that had been living on its rusty steel wheels since George H.W. Bush was president and replace them with something cooler. So I painted the wheels black and called up the folks at BFGoodrich, who sent me a set of their classic Radial T/A muscle car tires.

The new meats immediately transformed my car from a doddery grandpa cruiser into a menacing street machine, even if no actual mechanical capability had yet been realized.

Benjamin Preston/

But there had been a hiccup before these rotary laurels made it to their new wheel niches. I had taken the wheels and tires to a tire shop in Brooklyn to have them mounted and balanced, and when I went to pick them up, the white letters were on the inside of the wheels, where no one could see them. I ran outside to protect the hapless tire installer from the profanity-laced torrent that accompanied my apoplectic rage. Calmly, I re-entered the shop.

“Why are the white letters on the wrong side?” I asked.

Being a lifelong city dweller, he hadn’t been aware that white letters belonged on the outside. It had been his practice to mount them the wrong way because the majority of his misguided urban customers seemed to prefer that orientation. Perhaps they hadn’t had the fortune of watching “White Lightning” when they were growing up. Either that or they were too lazy to complain about wrong-side-out tires. Whatever the case may be, I made the poor guy turn them all around.

“See? Doesn’t that look so much cooler?!” I said, prodding him in the ribs.

He backed away, eyeing a tire iron leaning against some grimy equipment in the corner. He didn’t seem convinced, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to try and sway his opinion (although he could have benefitted from a few lessons in proper tire installation, as I later found out while driving the car at highway speeds).

Benjamin Preston/

When the wheels and white letter tires were mounted on the car, I got all the confirmation I needed. Not one, but several police officers gave me the thumbs up when they saw the car go by. Normal people seemed to like the look, too, but the cop thing was new to me. (Usually, they narrow their eyes into suspicious slits whenever I’m in the vicinity.)

None of this is to say that every vehicle will look good sporting white letters, but a good many of them do well with a splash of NASCAR style. When I put a set of BFGoodrich All Terrain tires on The Build’s project 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser, I faced the white letters out.

No surprise, they looked amazing.