What are balloon tires? Essentially a fancy name for our modern style tires that we still use today. Until balloon tires, car tires were more like bike tires—narrow and tall, using a very high air pressure of 60 psi. Balloon tires were essentially wider tires that were high volume and low pressure which were around 30 to 35 psi. The advantages of balloon tires were:
- A more stable and comfortable ride
- More braking power due to more tire surface on the road
- Less skidding
- Longer tire life and better for suspension
- Less chance for air leaks and blowouts due to low pressure
- New modern style
Firestone created the new balloon tires and Cole partnered with them to become the first production car to offer them. There was quite a bit of engineering required to make these tires work right. You had to change the rims, the suspension, brakes, and even the transmission. In 1922, Cole built the two-person Coupe Test Car (featured in this exhibit) with all of these engineering advancements as proof positive that they worked—touring them at the auto shows of the time. Upon successful testing, Cole launched balloon tires as standard on the 1923 Aero Volante and then on all 1924 Coles. Cole was the first pace car with balloon tires at the Indy 500 in 1924 as well. The tires quickly caught on and became standard in the industry. Today, we use and evolution of the same tire concept.
Firestone used the success of Balloon tires at Cole to push the other big makes such as Ford to adopt. Thomas Edison was also a big fan and proponent. Here is the content of a 1923 letter from Harvey Firestone to Henry Ford talking about Balloon tires and Cole’s success. (Letter found in Ford Archives)
Here is a 1924 ad featuring Thomas Edison’s view on Balloon tires. In 1924, Edison had Henry Ford modify his Model T to work with Balloon tires. Edison’s Model T modifications are in follow up to the notation he made in the Cole Brochure as noted in the Ford archive letter.