Thursday, July 05, 2018

Ever hear of the Firestone 500 tire recall? In 1978, Firestone announced the recall of 14.5 million steel belted radials produced by the company, the largest tire recall to date.

Firestone’s problems arose from the company trying to switch to a new tire building technology without first perfecting the methods to do so. In late 1971 and early 1972, Firestone, feeling the pressure of competition from Goodyear and Michelin, began the production of radial tires, almost two years before it had fully developed and installed its modern radial tire-building machinery and processes. From the start, Firestone had serious problems with the adhesion of the rubber compounds to the brass-coated steel wire in the tire’s inner belts.

Between January, 1971 and March 1978, Firestone produced over 23.5 million 500 steel belted radials

Failures of the Firestone 500 and closely related TCP steel belted radials have caused thousands of accidents resulting in hundreds of injuries and over forty known fatalities.

and why post about this? Even Hemmings was talking about using this tire, and seemed unaware of the recall

The New York Times reports 14,000 tire failures, 29 deaths, more than 50 injuries and hundreds of property damage accidents involving the tires, up to August 1978

 The total failure rate of the Firestone 500 steel belted radial is not precisely known; however, the high adjustment rate - the number of tires it has had to replace due to consumer complaints - was found to be significantly higher than the adjustment rates of five other tire manufacturers checked. "In fact," she said, "Firestone's rate was two times greater than any other tire."

Since 1972, Firestone realized that they were having problems; however, Firestone, instead of withdrawing the tire until a satisfactory cure could be developed, continued to sell the tire while making changes on the assembly line. Thus, in effect, they were using the public as their guinea pigs.

Firestone said through a spokesman in Akron, Ohio, that "we do not believe the proposed recall is justified. There is no safety-related reason for the public to be concerned about continuing to use the Firestone steel-belted 500 or any other Firestone-made tire."

In 1974, after the death of an Alabama State Policeman caused by the failure of a Firestone 500 steel belted radial on his vehicle, the National Bureau of Standards investigated steel belted radials in general and Firestone steel belted radials in particular. The report released by the National Bureau of Standards concluded that steel belted radials had a tendency to fail at high speeds and suggested that they not be used on police vehicles.

Firestone reported its first loss in its 55‐year history for the second quarter of 1976, ended April 30. The $44.4 million deficit was attributed by company officials to a $73 million write‐off to phase out tire production at some plants, as well as to lagging demand, price competition and rising costs. The quarterly results also dragged firsthalf earnings into the red ink, to the tune of $37 million. The losses followed several quarters of disappointing profits that were registered as the company attempted to regroup after the 4½‐month‐long rubber workers’ strike that hit the industry in 1976.

“It has hurt the dealers and it has definitely hurt the company,” said Lester L. Loescher, a 57‐year‐old Firestone dealer in Kearney, Neb. Mr. Loescher is a second vice president of the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders As. sociation, which has discussed the impact of the Firestone safety debate internally, but has not taken a public posture.

“We know the 500 was no good and they they should have been recalled voluntarily,” said Mr. Loescher, Firestone dealer for 27 years and prior to that a company employee for 10. “They didn't need all that publicity and press that's going out on the negative side because they've hurt the industry as a whole,” he said. “People think it's the whole radial tire that's in trouble.”

In 1976  the federal government became interested. First the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated a safety standard compliance investigation of the 500 steel belted radials after dropping an investigation of the 500 steel belted bias ply tires. The investigation of the 500 steel belted radials was later quietly dropped.

 In December, NHTSA announced a survey of 100,000 car owners who have radial tires. After learning that the results of the survey were unfavorable to Firestone, Firestone filed suit in the Cleveland Federal District Court to block release of the survey results.

But the results of the survey were obtained in November 1977 by a Washington‐based public service group founded by Ralph Nader, the Center for Auto Safety, who urged Firestone to recall defective 500 steel belted radials.

During this time, Firestone was unloading its remaining inventory of 500’s in half-price sales in some southern states.

The Chairman of the Subcommittee John E. Moss (D Ca), concluded in the Subcommittee’s report: The record is clear that Firestone had early knowledge of the serious failure propensities of the 500. Its high adjustment rates in the early years, its unusually brisk activity in settling damage claims, and its energetic efforts to improve on the earlier tires all suggest its early knowledge. These facts lead to but one conclusion. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. is, and has been for some time, in a position to avoid the devastating toll of human destruction which it knew its tires could cause. In the exercise of clear and conscious choice, it nonetheless permitted this destruction to take place.

The "private brands" subject to the recall included a lot of rebranded licensees:
 Wards Grappler and Grappler II steel radials,
 Shell steel radials,
 National steel radials,
Seiberling RT 78 steel belted radials,
Holiday Supreme steel radials,
LeMans steel belted radials,
Atlas Goldenaire II Caravel Supreme radials,
Caravelle Double steel radials,
K Mart radial 40,
Union steel radials,
Zenith Supreme steel belted radials, and
JTW Ferrari and Ferrari Supreme steel belted radials.

I'm on record as admiring Firestone up to this discovery and I'm shocked to learn that they disregarded safety like this, in contrast to their company history.

That, is an example of corporate greed being given free rein instead of ethical moral safe consideration of the lives of it's customers. We drivers trust our tires not to kill us, they aren't cigarettes.

Perhaps some of you even remember that in 1999-2000, 148 people were killed when they were driving on Firestones.

That recent failure forced the recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires most commonly found on the Ford Explorer, the best selling sport/utility vehicle, and the model linked with most of the deaths.


  1. Had 2 go on my 1st car.

    1. Damn, did you get compensated for them? Did the car survive the tires "going"?

  2. Yep they didn't both go at same time and was lower speed when it happened and you just posted my first car but it was a 73 formula 350 with dual scoops canary yellow.

  3. I had an uncle that had two blow out and I don't think he ever bought Firestone again. After the second blowout he went and got Michelin tires on his car.

  4. My personal history with Firestone 500 Series Radial Tires, with subsequent products and with the company at large was complicated, but generally satisfactory. I feel a personal connection to the company and was a loyal customer for decades, but recurring major debacles and better products from one competitor ultimately drove me away.

    In 1977, my new Chevrolet Camero came equipped with original equipment 500-series radial tires. Over the next 2-plus years and 36,000 miles, three of the five tires - full size spares in those days - bulged due to tread-belt separation. Fortunately I caught the defects in time and did not experience blowouts. Firestone replaced each defective tire on a pro-rated basis. I then appealed to Firestone to replace the remaining two tires and they readily agreed. The five replacement 721 radials performed well, albeit one of the four developed a belt separation near the end of its guaranteed tread life.

    At this point I parted ways with Firestone and began using Michelon X radial Tires. I found the wet traction and tread life of these to be deficient on both my Camero and on my newer Impala.

    I went back to now Bridgestone/Firestone and over the next two-plus decades I faithfully used Bridgstone Teranza Radial Tires that performed well in all respects, particularly wet traction.

    I again parted ways with Firestone/Bridgestone due to problems with mechanical repairs - not tires issues - done at two different Master Care Centers over a period of a few years. On my current Ford Tarus I now drive on Michelon Defender Series Radial Tires and so far, after nearly 15,000 miles the results are excellent. Time and miles will tell the full story.

  5. Sorry that I misspelled Michelin in my earlier post.

    1. misspellings happen all the time. Particularly in foreign language words like Michelin and Camaro... which was made up to name the new Chevy with a word that started with the letter C. To keep in the Corvette, Chevelle, Corvair, Chevette line of names. You swapped an a for an e in Camaro too, and Taurus has two letter "u"s, if you're going to analyze your writing for errors. So, why bother? We all hit the wrong keys when typing, it ain't nothing.
      I've only heard good things about Michelins.

  6. I bought a new Ford Granada in July of '77 that had Firestone 500s factory installed. Four of the five separated by early 1979. They wouldn't compensate, claiming my serial numbers were outside the affected production run. I still have that car AND the one 500 that didn't pop. It's still in the trunk as a novelty.

    1. WOW, that's a great novelty item to hang onto! My compliments! I have a bad habit of buying and keeping novelty stuff simply because things amaze me for some reason or another... so, I am completely onboard with keeping a tire like this!

  7. I had a set of the Montgomery Ward grapplers on my car and put almost 50k miles on them when they were recalled. I had very good luck with them. Some had nothing but problems. I was very lucky and got a free set of tires out of it. Uniroyal tires has been my brand of choice for the last 35 years.

  8. Had the Monkey Wards versions on my old 69 Bel Air. Brought the car in just before Christmas and the mechanic looked at my 4 tires and responded, "Merry Christmas." I got 4 new tires. Fortunately, I had no problems with my tires.

  9. I worked in a gas station during this time, and I remember changing tons of Firestone 500s that had separated. The tread would come apart from the inner part of the tire and lots of them had sharp steel wires reaching out hungrily. None of us would think of buying Firestone tires for a long time after. I don't remember any of these causing an accident, just a ton of crappy tires.