Making Redlines

Article: 8 Author: Mike Noun Email:

This procedure is for those that have blackwall tires, and wish to get the old "redline" look at an affordable price, actually for around $1 and a little hard work.

"Why not buy repro redline tires or have them custom striped?"

Yes, there are some services that will convert any tire to a redline, but most involve actually engraving the sidewall and then applying the redline stripe. In my particular case, I could not do this to my rear tires (M&H street slicks) as the sidewall is too thin, and the cost (and hassle) of sending a set of tires out for this procedure would be astronomical. The repro redlines currently available duplicate the original versions, but are expensive, and there's no way a healthy 400 or 455 will get even marginal traction running stock G70-14 redlines. Repro redlines (like the originals) will smoke for blocks and blocks behind a stout GTO or Firebird.

There are also radial redlines that have just been made available, but not in a "sticky" compound. I also prefer the classic bias-ply, "squared off" look of a 1960's Musclecar tire. Most importantly, in my particular case, I had to have the added traction that my rear M&H street slicks provide.

By the way, if you have white letters or "blocked" lettering (still blackwall), forget about this procedure. If you have regular bias plys, or tires with outline black lettering, read on. On most tires, the redline stripe will be in between the edge of the rim and the lettering, so it's up to you whether you want to try this or not.

The Paint

I tried several methods of applying a stripe. I tried red tape, tape with rubber cement backing, pinstriping tape with glue designed for fixing rubber goods, red duct tape (no good, could see the fibers through the stripe), etc. The tape method would obviously be the easiest to apply as you could buy the width and shade of red you wish, and apply it like pinstriping. Believe me, it won't stay on. I tested these methods on the inside part of the tire on my daily driver, and it simply will not stand up to the centrifugal force of a rotating tire.

Painting the stripe is the only way. The paint I used is straight from Dupont, and is available at any Automotive Paint Store that carries this brand. This is the same paint that is used to re-dye interiors, and Dupont has only one shade of red available. In case you can't tell, I don't have the part number available! This is not a custom mixture, but the gentleman at the paint store gave me a sample straight from a pre-mixed can. Since the minimum amount they sell is 1 pint (which is about $16), I simply asked for a sample. He threw some paint into a can and charged me $1. It only filled about a 1/2" from the bottom of a pint can, but believe me, it's more than enough for what we're going to do. This paint has the consistencey of water, and the gentleman said it was SEM. It also looks like a very dark red, way too dark for a redline stripe, but for some reason once it's on the tire it becomes several shades lighter. I matched it to an original redline spare and it's dead on.

The Procedure

1. Lay the wheel and tire flat on the ground, facing up. The first step is to clean the tire. Any Armor All or similar coating must be TOTALLY removed. I used Brakeleen sprayed onto paper towels, then I wiped the sidewall over and over again. You only need to do the section roughly where the stripe will be. You end up with dozens of black paper towels, but I can't stress how clean the rubber must be in order for the paint to adhere. When finished, the area you've cleaned should actually have a slightly "gritty" feel on the rubber. Don't worry, when we're done, the shine in this area will come right back.

2. Determine where (and how thick) you want the stripe. The standard Firestone Wide Oval from the 60's had a redline that was 3/8" thick. You can use issues of Musclcar Review or similar books to get the feel for how far away from the rim your redline should be placed. My stripe is approximately 2-1/4" from the edge of the rim, and I used an original redline as a model. WARNING: look for factory photos if possible. There were several companies making redlines in the 80's (Mickey Thompson, BFGoodrich, etc) and I've seen cases where the stripe is a brilliant red, too wide, or way to close to the rim. Seems like hundreds of cars equipped with these tires appeared in books and magazines, so be careful. If you want to get an authentic look, go for factory color photos out of source books.

3. Measure out the distance from the rim you desire (again, about 2-1/4"). The redlines used on Oldmobile 442's had the stripe halfway between the edge of the tire and the rim, but Pontiac's were much closer. Again, look for FACTORY Pontiac photos. Incidentally, the Firestone repros from Coker Tire are dead on accurate.

Using a ruler, measure out from the rim and make a hash mark every few inches with a lead pencil. Go all the way around the tire. Now repeat the procedure measuring 3/8" out from the those hash marks. The area in between will be your redline.

4. Using regular old electrical tape (it works great, and is flexible), tape off around the inner and outer marks you made, leaving a stripe in the middle that we will paint. If you have cleaned the tire properly (see step 1), the electrical tape will stick very well. If the stripe happens to go through a nib or a section of an outline black letter, the tape will form right around it. My rear M&H tires have the red stripe touching the bottom of the "M" and the "H", and it's barely noticable.

5. Using a brush (you could also spray this paint through a gun if you wish, but would require you to tape off the entire tire and wheel to prevent overspray), apply the Dupont paint. As you brush it on, you'll see it will need several coats. By the time you make it around the tire one time, the point that you started from will be dry, so you can literally finish the whole tire in about 30-45 minutes by going round and round.

6. After about an hour to allow complete drying, peel off the electrical tape. I pull the tape away from the stripe as I'm peeling it off to eliminate any lifting of the paint.If the tire was clean, and the tape was pressed down firmly, you should not have to do any touch-up. If you have a slight dribble of paint around any lettering (or nibs) that the electrical tape did not quite cover, carefully scrape it away with an X-acto knife or razor blade.

7. If all is to your satisfaction, you can now Armor All (or whatever you use to shine your tire) and you're all set. I have not subjected the stripe to wheel cleaner yet, but No-Touch and Armor All seem to have no effect on it.

The durability of our "homemade redline" has so far been phenomenal. You can rub it with your finger quite vigourously and it will not come off. If you take a piece of duct tape, press if firmly on the stripe, and pull quickly, you can lift a little of the stripe off, but I can't imagine this scenario happening too often! I've scraped it will a lug wrench while putting a wheel back on, and it won't flake or peel off. I have also heated the rear tires on a burnout, and the stripe stays put.

Also, the stripe may be damaged if you bounce off a curb, but a regular repro redline would be damaged as well. Besides, I hope we drive our old Musclcars more carefully than that!