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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Detroit's giant Uniroyal tire is a pretty big wheel (that tells a very big story)

If you've driven past the giant Uniroyal tire alongside I-94 near Detroit, you know it's a big wheel. A very big wheel. So big, in fact, that celebrities are drawn to it, fantastical stories have been told about it (no, it never rolled onto the freeway), and a book was written about it.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/detroits-giant-uniroyal-tire-is-a-kind-of-big-wheel...
59 REPLIES 59
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Nice article, however there are a few points to be clarified.

JFK, Jr. did not ride the Ferris wheel. It was widely reported that Mrs. Kennedy visited the fair, April 30, 1964, with her sister, nieces and nephews, and Caroline. Several newspapers mentioned the Ferris wheel ride, but also reported that John, Jr. was ill, and stayed home that day.

The Shah of Iran’s visit to the World’s Fair, June 14, 1964, was well documented by the media at that time. A visit to the U.S. Royal Giant Tire was not on the itinerary. There is no evidence that Mr. Savalas he ever visited the fair at all, although his mother represented Greek women at the 1939 World’s Fair.

The exterior fiberglass panels were not shipped to Allen Park via rail. This rumor was started by a single person being interviewed for a newspaper article at the conclusion of the Giant Tire’s 1994 remodel, citing its proximity to a rail line as ‘evidence’. According to the Townsend Sign Company (contracted to move and reassemble the Giant Tire), it was shipped via 21 trucks. This was also confirmed by former U.S. Rubber employee, Mary Dean, who was responsible for arranging the truck shipments.

The Giant Tire sits on parcel number 82 30 006 99 0002 702 which is owned by Michelin North America Inc., not Baker College. The land and building that was occupied by the former Baker College was part of the US Rubber (later Uniroyal) Midwest Management Center. When Uniroyal sold the property, they retained ownership of the separate parcel where the Giant Tire is located.

Steven J. Frey, author, The Giant Tire.
FloridaBoy
Pit Crew

Thank you for the corrections. Seems like sloppy research for the article.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Agreed. It would appear that they relied on the 2019 interview I gave to the Press and Guide (local newspaper) and Wikipedia. Obviously didn't read my book, which I spent 13 months researching.

 

Still443
Intermediate Driver

Other than that, the article was totally factual.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Almost.

The total number of riders (pulled from official fair records) was 1.89 million.

Also, the official press release from US Rubber in 1963 stated that the weight of the fiberglass panels was 17,500 pounds (8.75 tons). That does not include the weight of the original steel Ferris wheel, or the 'new' structural steel support constructed in Allen Park in 1966.
When the Honolulu Star-Bulletin mentioned the structure weighed 100 tons, it was in a September, 1965 article announcing the entire structure was available to anyone who wanted it. It is presumed the weight was given to the media by U.S. Rubber.

Since its move to Allen Park, the 100 ton number has continued to be published, regardless of the fact that the structure is not the same size as it was, and lacks the Ferris wheel with its gondolas, axle, motor and mechanisms:

The Allen Parker, 1966 The Detroit News, 1966
The Atlanta Constitution, 1975 Detroit Free Press, 1980, 1982, 1985

10 tons is quite often mentioned by the media as the current weight of the structure. That figure is impossibly low, considering the weight of the plastic laminate alone is 8.75 tons. That only leaves 1.25 tons for all of the internal steel structure. The 10 ton figure began to appear at the same time as the Giant Tire’s overhaul in 1994, and may be the result of a typographical error, dropping one zero from the original 100 ton number:

Associated Press, September 1994
Detroit Free Press, September 1994
The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), December 1994

12 tons has also been reported (as picked up by this article), but this still could not be a high enough number to account for the steel structure:

The Detroit Free Press, August 1998, March 2012
Modern Tire Dealer, August 2003
Detroit News, March 2015
RubberNews.com, May 2015

The only way to determine the actual weight of the structure is to conduct an in-depth inspection and recreate a set of engineering drawings. For now, it must remain a mystery, and is much closer to 100 tons, than 10 or 12 tons.
audiobycarmine
Technician

Like the World's Fair Mustangs, Sinclair Dinoland and the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5; I remember this one too, though didn't ride it.
Anyone contemplating a NY visit might consider the original site: Flushing Meadows Park...
We've still got the Unisphere and the NY State Pavilion, as well as that tennis stadium.
RokemRonnie
Instructor

We didn't ride in one of the Mustangs in Ford's display, with four kids and our parents, we went in one of the full size sedans. By the way, there's a family here in the Detroit area that owns one of the Mercury convertibles used in the Ford pavilion. The patriarch of the family worked for Ford and bought it from the company after the Fair.
miata93
Instructor

I'm guessing that it was probably a Monterey convertible.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Arthur Ashe tennis stadium was built in 1997.

hyperv6
Collector

The tire is always one of my land marks when passing through Detroit. Ever since I was a kid I look for it every trip and always pleased to see it still there.

 

Not of trivia. I worked with a number of BFG employees at the time they purchased Uniroyal. Their new name for the purchase was Unrich. 

ctaarman
Detailer

How many gallons of bleachwhite does it take to clean that whitewall? 🤔
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

I don't know, but from my book:

 

193.JPG

Tcoradeschi
Detailer

Thanks for sharing the history of this landmark. It looks totally at home in its current location, see it each time I drive from the airport to Warren. We went to the World’s Fair several times, but I honestly don’t recall seeing it there.
KdFregistry
Intermediate Driver

I grew up in Queens a few miles from the Worlds fair and the folks took us alot. I was only 5 but remember parts of it. Of course the Car related things that was there is what I remember most! The Uniroyal Tire ferris wheel hit me like a ton of bricks when I first saw it. Sure it was that way for many others who saw it too.
chargeral
Intermediate Driver

My family and I rode that several times back in 64 and 65. I still have three copies of the toy that was sold at the World's Fair. Great memory.
bboncke
Pit Crew

Yep, was there, rode on it and still have my Uniroyal Toy Ferris Wheel (still operational).
Camarojoe
Detailer

I worked for Buick, and was involved with tires development, when Uniroyal/BFG (just after that Michelin started the consolidation in the tire business) did a refresh on the tire. They made it into a "radial" and redid the wheel. We wanted them to use the 16" Park Avenue wheel that was some what like the classic Halibrand. Ended up really upset with the chosen design. Do you recognize the wheel? Lexus LS400, the hottest car in the market back then. One of the first moves to a foreign brand.
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

I remeber that remodel, and thinking the wheel was supposed to be a generic, K-mart hubcap. Not far off the mark I guess.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Most people don't realize that the original wheel is still there. When they updated it in 1994, they added the new wheel sections and tire shoulders on top. My book has a great photo of the new sections being installed over the original. You can still see the original if you are fortunate enough to be allowed inside.

 

inside.jpg

Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

Seeing the original hubcap and tire from your interior photo gave me a very similar idea. Restorations back to original are quite routine and considered "the standard"... Think of the main floor in the Ford Service building (7310 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI) which had its muraled ceilings covered by a 1960s-era drop ceiling when used as a state office building, eventually to be removed and put back on display.  Bias-ply tires haven't been used on a new car in 45 years, so there isn't much concern about the public being confused by their slightly different shape. 

 

In its present configuration, it looks as dated as it would have in 1994. The Lexus-styled rim may perfectly represent an anonymous, commodity-car of the 90s, but I don't think that's considered beneficial in 2022 unless you're selling aftermarket floor mats. A square-shouldered bias-ply, with a golden-era-of-Detroit wheelcover/whitewall would have a lot more "pop" and legitimate history than it does now. 

StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

If they changed it now, would it make you buy Uniroyal tires?

DaveT
Pit Crew

Dang, I was 11 when my family went to the World's Fair in 1965 and I don't remember seeing the Tire.
Realmongo
Intermediate Driver

I rode it in '65 with my Mom!
Still443
Intermediate Driver

UNIROYAL has gotten a lot of 'mileage' out of that thing.
gregbeaulieu
Pit Crew

It would be nice if the owners spent a few dollars on tree and brush removal around the tire and did a bit of landscaping. I remember it well from visiting Detroit.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

You must have not seen it in person for several years.

In 2003, Uniroyal spent $1 Million to remove the 11 foot nail that had been stuck in it for 5 years, repair the interior structure and base, install new storm drains and new asphalt and fencing.

They also pay a lawn service to maintain the surrounding area.

 

MBC.JPG

That's a pretty cool thing. Like the story about it. It's too bad more things from World's Fair events didn't survive.
Ken_L
Detailer

I was 10 years old when our family went to the 1964 World's Fair. Unfortunately I don't remember riding the tire Ferris wheel. Only thing that I recall being impressed with was the Ford Magic Sky-way attraction.
BWeston
Intermediate Driver

When I worked for Young & Rubicam Advertising in Detroit in the early-mid 1980's, we had the Uniroyal account. While I had this account in my media group, my counterparts on the agency account team had a lot of various responsibilities with Uniroyal - one of these being to periodically check-on the big Uniroyal tire site, and make any recommendations as to maintenance needs, etc. While the tire site does have a tall fence around it (which might even be topped with some barbed wire) - this apparently did not preclude local area teens of the day from "partying" inside the giant tire! The account guys would find lots of beer bottles and other "party-related stuff" inside the tire's structure - glad I didn't have that aspect of the Uniroyal account!
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Yes, before Michelin purchased the company, the site was easy to break into. It has since been sealed, secured, and indeed does have razor wire on top of the fence.

 

fence.jpg

miata93
Instructor

I rode that thing back in '64. It actually was very boring. It stopped every minute to exchange passengers at the bottom. I don't remember if there was even a full uninterrupted revolution during the entire ride.
The other thing was that unlike a real ferris wheel you could not see much because the tire tread blocked most of your peripheral vision. You only had a moment up at the top to see a full view of the fair.
To this day I am still awestruck that UNIROYAL was able to find and employ qualified stunt drivers for their official stunt driving team with the names Eunice, Roy and Alan. What are the odds !!??
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Funny how memories fade and change over the years.

 

The ride actually made 3 uninterrupted revolutions. The total ride length was 10 minutes. The gondolas were cantilevered out from the wheel, so you would have been able to see a 180° field of view, except for when you were at the bottom, inside the base. (See the photos for reference)

The drivers' real names were Kaye Kaiser, Jake Plumstead and Cliff Cudney, and yes, were real stunt drivers.

 

1970s Uni-Roy-Al.JPG

miata93
Instructor

Thank you Steven for your time and consideration. This post really made my day. I remembered UNI, ROY and AL while watching an episode of American Gladiators and wondering how they found a guy named "Turbo". LOL !!

JimE
Pit Crew

I remember seeing it in 1964 at the World's Fair but don't remember actually riding on it. Roughly twenty years later, after landing at Detroit Metro Airport for a business trip, I was driving down I-94, saw the tire by the side of the highway and immediately recalled seeing it at the World's Fair. The two most memorable rides for me were the Ford Magic Skyway (rode in a yellow 64 Mercury convertible) and unfortunately the It's a Small World After All from Disney (I hate that song).
BWeston
Intermediate Driver

I worked for Y&R Advertising Agency is Detroit back in the 1980's, and we had the Uniroyal account. While my team was responsible for media, my counterparts on the agency account team had many other responsibilities toward Uniroyal - one of the being the periodic checking of "The Big Tire" site - and making any recommendations as to required maintenance, etc. Even though the big tire cement base was surrounded by a tall fence (which I believe also had barbed wire on top of it) - it apparently did not deter the local area teens of the day from "partying" inside the giant tire structure! The account guys would report find numerous beer bottles and "other partying debris" inside the tire - glad I did not have that aspect of the Uniroyal account!
27340
Intermediate Driver

Better get the road hazard warranty. A harpoon in the sidewall and it's toast.
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

There have been several arrows stuck in it over the years, and a few bullet holes.
Pilott
Intermediate Driver

Ok all you car guys, assuming a set of 4 of these, what would be the length and width of a 1964 Chevrolet Impala in the same scale? Answer will be provided at end of .... dang, my computer just locked up ...
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

In today's sidewall nomenclature, the Giant Tire would work out to be something like a 7315/65R-679.

 

A car built to that scale would be over 200 feet tall and 720 feet long.

elsieb
Pit Crew

Six inches shorter than a Cadillac Fleetwood of the same time period!
rixsix
Pit Crew

Growing up in Canada. just south of Detroit, we got to see it many times when visiting family and friends around the city. I remember Detroit as a giant of industry and everything modern but to me the tire was one of the strongest symbol of what set the USA apart from the rest of the world. Today it's more like a monument for all the dead factories.
Bug57
New Driver

I was all of 11 the first year of the Fair and vaguely remember riding  on it. A shame it looks so tired now!

StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

When was the last time you saw it in person? It looks great!
Geok86
Instructor

Born and lived in NW Ohio for first 45 years of my life, and passed by “The Tire” hundreds (maybe thousands) of times, but never knew the story behind it.
SAG
Technician

Nice photo
of Paul and the Band
Jr1
Detailer

My wife still tells me of her visit to the World's Fair and her ride in the Mustang.

I went there in1964 alone when I was in the NAVY, and I don't remember anything about it. As I remember, I only had about 2 hours to "see it all".

My old boss had pictures of the 1939 World's Fair. He told us that he had been hired by the National Cash Register Co. and while being trained, someone came in to ask for volunteers to stay at the Fair for 2 years to keep the registers going. Their building was a giant register and the display at the top was the attendence for the previous day.
Tomwas
Intermediate Driver

I was 13, we lived 75 miles north of nyc... Went in the summer of 64 with the whole family on a bus charter. Rode theFerris wheel, it's a small world, the gm futurama, and mustang ride in a mustang.. Saw Joie Chitwoods auto thrill show.. Fell in love with a lady in a body suit that looked like a Bond girl.. Teen fantasies fulfilled...
StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

It wasn't Joey Chitwood's show. It was Jack Kochman's "Hell Drivers".

Jake Plumstead performed the ramp to ramp jump, and later became "Roy" of Uni, Roy and Al.

 

1970s Uni-Roy-Al.JPG

 

StevenJFrey
Intermediate Driver

Credit for the Paul McCartney photo should go to Robert Ellis, MPL Communications Ltd.