Bridgestone WS-50. Sacrificial lambs: Michael Clark uses a set of 1986-vintage 14 inch alloys from a Corolla GT-S for winter duty on his vintage Supra. Click image to enlarge
Review and photo by Michael Clark
Every now and then, I find myself in one of my nostalgic moods. Thoughts of simpler times in the not-too-distant past: a time before debit cards, gangsta rap, even the Internet. It’s usually brought on by too much red wine and Steely Dan on the hi-fi.
If I could go back, Jack, and do it again, the one automotive assist I would throw into the time machine is studded snow tires. These were the ugliest donuts that ever rode a rim, with names like Kelly-Springfield and BF Goodrich Silvertown. The addition of steel studs made them grip to the snow and ice as tenaciously as Peter Parker to a skyscraper. As for entertainment, there was nothing more fun than a darkened strip of dry concrete, with friends cheering as I engaged full lock-up in my Dodge Polara. Spark-tacular.
Today, studded snows are as politically correct as stogies in the sandwich shop. The goal of tire manufacturers has been to duplicate the performance of a stud with sipes, tread block arrangements, and space-age compounds. This week, we examine the performance of the Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50.
The WS-50 is the second generation of Blizzak technology, with a proprietary Tube Multicell Compound. As the tire wears, microscopic pores are revealed on the contact surface, which help disperse water that leads to traction loss on ice. A symmetrical tread design is used on the majority of passenger vehicle fare, with wider, low profiles using a directional pattern.
My 1981 Toyota Celica Supra sees meagre miles between press cars. Yes, she’s driven year-round, with enough undercoat, carnauba, and Rust Check on her flanks to mimic automotive mummification. The primary reason for choosing the Supra for the Blizzak test is the complete absence of traction programs or anti-lock brakes. Plus, it’s a rear driver. The Supra would truly answer whether it’s the tire, or the car. (OK, I’ve got a limited-slip diff, and uncanny winter driving skills, but that’s it).
What has to be remembered with new snows is that the technology won’t begin to shine until a few miles have elapsed. The initial wear helps to expose the pores that are mandatory to wick away moisture, so don’t panic if the traction action doesn’t occur the moment you back out of the tire shop. Local Winnipeg Bridgestone dealer Midwest Tire took care of the install and balancing.
Once broken in, the WS-50s are most impressive when carving through snow, both wet and dry. The tread block design is downright claw-like in snowy cornering exercises that would throw all-seasons into your pick of over- and under-steer.
Icy surface grip seems to be at it’s best in colder temperatures. With plenty of sloppy melt, the Tube Multicell Compound can become overwhelmed. It’s not enough to throw the car into unrecoverable skids, though it will get your attention. The specialized compound exists on the first 55 percent of the tire tread, with the remaining 45 percent being a standard winter tire compound. You’ll most likely grab about four or five seasons of use before it’s time to upgrade, depending on mileage and tire care. For seasonal changeover ease, consider a set of steel rims, or second-hand alloys that you won’t cry over when the salt hits them. Replace valves on used rims to ensure a proper seal and minimum air loss.
Regardless of make, compound or sipes, remember that a winter tire is a traction aid, not a solution. Continue to exercise caution, and reduce speed in accordance with conditions. Tires don’t turn winter into summer, unless you shop at Merlin’s Magical Auto Parts.
Next to spin on the rims: old school Toyota meets new age Bridgestone REVO1s.