by Michael Clark

Pirelli P6
Pirelli P6. Click image to enlarge

Winnipeg, Manitoba – When it comes to fashion, a quick scan of the runway often proves that what’s old can definitely be new again. While that may work for polyester prints, think back to the tires of the 1970’s. The whitewalls and raised lettering was as bold as their owner’s chequered pants. The best advice for handling was not to hit any cracks, unless you wanted to yank your Gran Torino across three lanes of traffic. All by itself.

Those dark days of Bee Gees and leisure suits did spawn a Pirelli tire that has stood the test of time; the P6. The name is, thankfully, the only retro feature. While the P6 exists as a High Performance tire in global markets, Canadians get the added benefit of the P6 Four Seasons model. Sturgeon Tire of Winnipeg took care of mounting and balancing for test purposes. The new Italian shoes were fastened to my favourite low-tech sled: a 1981 Toyota Celica Supra.

The Supra choice makes perfect sense. The original alloys wear still-usable Goodyear Wingfoot HPs, which can deliver hot tire pick-up squeals by simply looking at them the wrong way. These meaty doughnuts more befitting an ’81 Camaro are an excellent example of low-tech tire design. While you may be able to navigate the odd corner with the screaming symphony underfoot, one must remember that any tire shrieks signal that the rubber is at the limits of adhesion. I’d rather honk my horn twice to signal my arrival, instead of wiping out someone’s garden gnomes.

It appears polyester is back; the material is used in the construction of the tire casing, which contributes to a smoother ride and crisp handling. Pirelli’s Safety from Technically Engineered Profile (STEP) platform contributes to increased rigidity, resisting the deformation that affects all tires under varying loads. The P6 is lighter than previous generation tires, thanks to the use of a high tensile steel cord. It accomplishes a 20 percent weight reduction.

The tread pattern may not qualify as gorgeous, but what a personality! The asymmetrical footprint uses two large centre ribs to disperse water. The 90-degree tread blocks are the snow-biters; we’ll have to take Pirelli’s word for it, at least for a couple more months. There is further wet grip afforded by the silica compound embedded in the tread. Interesting to note is that the P6 Four Seasons skins were original equipment on the Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo V70. That could explain the Supra’s inexplicable urge to explore old River Heights.

The recent weeks have been a blessing of parched pavement and rain-slick asphalt, usually during the same day. The first thing you’ll notice is the total absence of tread noise; they should change P6 to P-Shush. In fact, the P6’s were downright mute, even during quick take-offs and on-ramp wrangling. The P6’s allowed the old school Toyota to make corner entry and exit much quicker than the Wingfoots could ever afford. Half-throttle punch from standstill didn’t even return a whimper. Sure, it’s not a 5.0-litre ‘Stang, however the same experiment with the Wingfoots would make the Supra sound like a frantic pony car, with the usual disapproving stares.

The Euro descriptions for things P6 speak of “high class saloons, estate cars, and multi-purpose vehicles.” (And no, a high class saloon is not the Glitter Gulch in Vegas.) The grouping seems limited; the P6 definitely has the potential to run with the sexier V-rated set. (And it does, in certain fitment categories.) Especially when you consider that few V-rated vehicles ever achieve their maximum speed rating. Think of it as the strong, silent type, with a Black Belt in traction, braking, and cornering. Sorry they won’t go with the 8-track in the Gran Torino.

At a glance: Pirelli P6

Size Range: 35 to 65
Size tested: P185/65 R15, H-rated
Price as tested: $204.83 each (plus installation and balancing.)
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