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Drivers Do a Double Take as Two-Tire-Wheels Roll In : Roadability and Safety Stressed

Jeff Rowe is a free-lance writer

For Salvador Soto and Ray Lopez, the fun begins when they get on the freeway.

Passing drivers do a double take when they notice that Soto’s Mercedes and Lopez’s Porsche have two tires on each wheel.

But the two men are hoping the eight-wheel concept for passenger cars will draw more than long looks--they recently opened a shop in Cypress and became the nation’s first retailers of the twin-tire wheels.

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The radical system, developed in Switzerland, uses special Italian-made wheels with mounting grooves for two British-made Avon radial tires, which together give the car an eight-inch-wide footprint. The small gap between the two tires allows rainwater to escape and cooling air to flow around the brakes.

Owned Porsche Garage

“Jerry Juhan (a Czech-born engineer) came up with the idea three years ago,” said Soto, 43. A native of Guatemala, Soto came to the United States in 1960 to race motorcycles and later became a racing mechanic for Vasek Polak, a Hermosa Beach auto dealer and race car owner. For the last 15 years--until he sold it in October to finance the twin-tire venture--Soto owned and operated a Porsche repair garage in Hawthorne.

At present, Soto and Lopez drive the only cars in the United States with eight wheels, but Soto, who lives in Buena Park, has invested $200,000 in inventory in hopes of making the eight-wheelers a common sight on California roads.

Besides improved stability and cornering ability, the twin-tire wheels improve control on wet roads by preventing hydroplaning and allow a driver to press on without changing tires if one of the pair should get a puncture or blowout, said Lopez, a native of Cuba who lives in Inglewood. The increased traction apparently comes from a doubling of the amount of tire “shoulder,” or edge, that can grip the pavement.

“You’re always in control,” said Soto, explaining a German- and French-narrated video showing cars outfitted with the new wheels and tires racing through tight turns with nary a slip or a skid.

Not Widely Known

Also, because of reduced stress, each of the eight tires lasts longer than a comparable single tire, Soto said, and the need to carry a spare is eliminated.

The twin-tire concept for passenger cars is so new that many auto industry analysts haven’t yet heard of it.

Bob Ulrich, assistant editor of Modern Tire Dealer, a monthly trade magazine based in Akron, said, however, that the publication’s correspondent in Europe did report that tests on the twin tires indicate advantages in handling and hydroplaning prevention.

If the system works as billed, it could find a market because drivers are becoming more safety conscious, said John Hemphill, an independent auto industry consultant based in Westlake Village.

At $1,200 to $2,500 for a set of four wheels and eight tires, Soto and Lopez don’t expect great demand for the twin-tire wheels from owners of 1973 station wagons. But they reckon there are enough luxury and performance cars in Southern California to build a thriving business.

Limited Availability

At present, the wheels are only available to fit BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes, Audis and a few other cars. But later this year, the Swiss company that developed the system, JJD (Jerry Juhan Development), will introduce twin-tire wheels to outfit Honda Preludes, Toyota Celicas and Volkswagen Golfs. Next year, the company plans to expand its product line to include wheels for Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Chevrolet Corvettes and Pontiac Fieros.

The dual-tire wheel is one of a number of innovations in the tire industry, which has been dealt a combination punch in the last decade by aggressive competitors from overseas and the shift to longer-lasting radial tires, which were introduced in the United States in the early 1960s.

Recent developments in tires have been refinements of the radial tire, which lasts longer than bias tires because the radial’s flexible sidewalls allow more of the tread to stay in contact with the road in a turn.

Bridgestone Corp. recently introduced its Rolling Contour Optimization Theory tire, a radial which has rounded sides and thus doesn’t compress on the road surface like ordinary radials.

“These tires are built in the shape it will be on the road,” said Al Goldberg, a spokesman for the company.

Tokyo-based Bridgestone, whose U.S. operations are based in Torrance, says the new design offers greater performance and fuel economy.

Other new tire designs include “roll-flat” tires that stay on the wheel rim if punctured and thus allow a car to be driven 50 miles or more to be repaired. Perfection of the roll-flat tires will allow car makers to eliminate the spare tire, saving weight and expense and freeing cargo space.


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