New tyres for the 250SE and the DS

Every classic car community has an issue that polarizes opinion and spawns countless threads on Internet discussion boards.

For the Citroen DS, that issue is what is the right tyre for the DS?   Michelin were the owners of Citroen during the entire production run of the DS.  During that time they pioneered the radial tyre, which was introduced in 1949.  The Radial was obviously standard fitment to the DS on release in 1955.   In 1965, Michelin introduced the XAS, which was the first asymmetrical radial tyre.  The premise was that the inside of the tyre needs to work differently to the outside of the tyre, in much the same way as your foot when you walk.   The XAS was standard fitment on the DS for the 2nd half of its production run.  Given most surviving D’s are from that time, the original tyre for most cars.

In 1972, Michelin launched the XVS, which is a high performance variant of the XAS. (The shoulder design differs and it offers a higher speed rating).   Michelin still manufacture both the XAS and XVS, although for many years the XVS was the only one available.   These tyres are very expensive, generally costing around AUD$350 each fitted.

The expense of these tyres naturally drive many owners to seek alternatives.   The size required for the DS is not common and there are only a few options.    the correct size for my car is 180R15.  The later injected cars specified 185R15.  These sizes are actually 180/80 R15 and 185/80 R15.  Many of the tyres available in this size are light truck tyres that are a very poor choice for the DS.   Other owners fit a slightly different size instead.

This is where the argument comes in.   Some owners will have nothing other than the Michelin tyres and consider them an integral part of the design.   They also raise the point that if nobody buys the Michelin tyres, they will stop making them and they won’t be available anymore.   This has happened with the better type of brake pads for the DS, when a cheaper (but not as good) alternative came out, sales dried up for the good ones and they stopped manufacturing them.   This is less likely on the tyres as the DS is not the only car that uses them. Prices already only cater to the well heeled DS owner.

The arguments on the other tyres (e.g. Federal, Vredestein, etc) is that tyres have come a hell of a long way since 1965 and a modern radial tyre is better in every way than a 1965 one.   Paying 3x more for something not as good, and on a car that likely does not drive many miles per year does not make sense.

But now there is a 3rd option.   Nankang, a Taiwanese tyre company make a replica of the XVS tyre under their Retro brand.  The tyre is called the Classic 001.   As it is like the XVS, it comes in the 185/80 HR15 size.   I have heard good things about the Nankang Retro and it offers the look and asymmetrical pattern for a price very similar to the alternative tyres.


My DS was fitted with XVS, and they were around 15 years old.   As classic cars are not driven daily, tyres need to be replaced not because they become bald, but because they get too old and the rubber becomes hard.   Drive a set of old tyres in the wet and you’ll see what I mean.

This was a good opportunity to replace them with the Nankang Retro tyres.   I had thought about having my wheels powder coated to the correct colour.   Unfortunately I didn’t have time and there are other things I would prefer to spend money on.   I also had the best of the current tyres put on the spare as it was old and bald.   My local tyre place was able to get them in and they have the ability to balance wheels without a center hole for the hub, which many tyre places do not have. The DS is a French car so must be different in every way, even simple things like how to balance a wheel.

Unfortunately it turned out the fittings to the balancing had been loaned to another shop and the salesman I had been talking to was not aware of this, but in any case the tyres were fitted and even unbalanced and a short drive back they feel better.

At tyre place

I also had the tyres replaced on the 250SE while I was there.   Tyres for Mercedes are not as contentious, although Mercedes did perserve with 14″ wheels for a long time.  14″ wheels does limit the selection, and there are some really rubbish tyres out there in this size (195/70 R14) or the easier to get 195/75.   I went with the Kumho tyres for the 250SE.   I went on a long club run in the evening and they went very well.

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