1956 Nash four-door sedan with factory color-matched Continental tire mount

A continental tire or a continental kit is a term used in the United States for an upright externally-mounted spare tire located behind an automobile's trunk, made popular by the Continental Mark Series, which carried a simulated continental tire until 1998.

The term also describes a non-functional bulge stamped into the trunk lid or a cosmetic accessory to the rear of the car giving the impression of a spare tire mount.

Early spare tire mounts

1932 Nash Ambassador Rumble Seat Coupe with matching spare wheel with whitewall tire

The pre-mounted spare tire and wheel combination on early automobiles typically meant an external mounting because motorists would often need to change tires.[1] Automakers often mounted a spare tire, or two, on the rear of the car.

Some cars featured side-mounted spare tires in the fenders behind the front wheels.[2] Automakers also offered side-mounted spare tires as an option.[3] Early European sports cars had their spare tire attached to the back of the automobile since their trunk or storage space was often minimal.

These rear or side mounted spare tires were not described as continental tire.[4]

The development of the enclosed trunk on automobiles meant the spare tire could be placed out of sight. This arrangement used up valuable space for carrying luggage. Manufacturers offered the sidemount option to increase trunk capacity.[5] Some sports cars accommodated the spare tires inside the trunk resulting in a tight fit and it even projected a portion of the tire into the passenger area necessitating a vinyl cover.[6]

The continental tire mount

1941 Lincoln Continental
1956 Ford Thunderbird with continental mount

Edsel Ford had a special car built after returning from a trip to Europe that would have a "continental look" – including a spare tire mounted on the trunk.[7] The 1939 Lincoln Continental's short trunk with its external rear spare tire mount became a distinctive design. While this was not the first car to either carry its spare above the rear bumper or integrated it into the rear bodywork, it was the first to do it so elegantly and thus this feature became known as a "continental tire" even if the design was found on other brands.[4]

Similar external spare tire placements were added as standard or optional to popular mass-market and also described as a "continental kit", borrowing their name from the production Lincoln Continental.[8] Consumers were also able to have aftermarket "continental kits" installed on almost any vehicle.

There is a legend that Henry Ford II complained that the trunk of his personal Ford Thunderbird did not have room for a set of golf clubs without removing the spare tire.[9] The 1956 Thunderbird had its spare tire mounted outside. However, adding weight behind the rear wheels was said to adversely affect steering and handling.[10] For 1957 the Thunderbird's trunk was stretched 5 inches (127 mm) to allow the spare tire to migrate back inside, although the continental mounting was still optional.[11] This external spare wheel mount became a customizing aftermarket appearance accessory during the 1950s.[12]

In the United States, the external continental tire mounting was a factory option on various types of cars during the 1950s and early 1960s. On some smaller models – such as on the Nash Metropolitan and Jeepster Commando – the continental tire was a standard feature. The two-passenger Nash Metropolitan's rear-mounted spare tire was more convenient because access to the trunk was by folding down the seatback on the early (1954 through 1958) models.[13] The large-sized 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser was the top-of-the-line model and included what Ford described a "Dream Car Spare Tire Carrier" among its many standard features.[14]

The car's rear bumper was often extended, and the tire had a fabric or metal cover. The bracket for the spare wheel was designed to swing away for access to the trunk. Manufacturers included continental tire mounts for their perceived "distinctiveness" as well as a means to increase luggage space in the trunk, such as on all the 1954 Nash Custom models.[15][16]

The Jeep DJ was available in a "Surrey Gala" appearance package from 1959 until 1964.[17] Included were a fringed top, seats, and a continental tire mount with a colorful vinyl-coated fabric covers in "candy stripes" of pink, green, or blue to match the car's body colors.[18]

Simulated continental tire

1959 Imperial with imitation spare tire bulge on its decklid
Continental Mark III with simulated spare tire bulge

Automotive historians also use this term to describe a nonfunctional circular bulge stamped into the trunk lid to give the impression of a spare tire.[19]

This design feature was popularized by several 1950s Italian-bodied Chrysler concept cars.[19] The trunk lid bulge was later embraced by Chrysler designer Virgil Exner and incorporated on many cars such as the luxury 1957 Imperial as well as mass-market models such as the 1959 Plymouth Belvedere and included on the compact Plymouth Valiant by 1960.[19][20][21] Some critics described this bulging styling element on the trunk lid as a "toilet seat."[22]

The Lincoln Continental Mark III in 1969 included a "bump" in its rear deck lid to vaguely substitute the original 1939 Lincoln Continental spare tire design.[4] This distinctive rear design was continued on the Mark series, including the Mark VIII coupe that was produced through 1998. [23]

Modern use

Outside rear-mounted spare tire on a van or recreational vehicle
1998–2000 Toyota RAV4 with externally mounted spare tire

Contemporary examples of continental kits are sometimes found on old and newer customized automobiles, including late-model Lincoln Continental cars that never included a factory design or option.[24][25] It has become an accessory that typifies "the spirit" of the 1950s.[26] After-market continental kits are available for customization of 200 different automobile models.[4] Some after-market applications may not enhance the design of the car.[27]

Continental kits and trunk lid add-on spare tire trim were also made popular by the garish pimpmobile era of the 1970s and featured in "Super Fly" movies.[28][29] Continental kits and simulated spare tires were also featured in some of the transformations done on the Pimp My Ride show.

Continental tires are known as 'fifth wheels' in hip hop slang. For example, in the Houston hip-hop culture, "slabs" feature a rear-mounted wheel that has been "cut in half and enclosed in a fiberglass casing."[30]

Numerous compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) models include an external rear-mounted spare tire from the factory. Accessory spare tire mounts that fit into a car's tow hitch are also available.[31] Recreational vehicles may also have a spare tire on the rear. The wheel and tire combination may be exposed or covered with different materials that may have logos or other designs. These rear spare tire mounts are no longer described as a continental tire. Moreover, manufacturers have improved the packaging to mount spare tires under the car or cargo area floor.[32] The externally rear-mounted tire appears on Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes-Benz G-Class vehicles to facilitate easy access when off-road.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Commerce, United States Congress Senate (1965). Tire Safety, Hearings before the Committee on Commerce United States Senate 89th Congress First Session 89-1, on S.1643, May 25, June 7, August 13, 1965. p. 125. Retrieved 15 July 2022 – via Google Books. Instead of carrying two or three spare tires, as the early drivers did, today's motorist may drive through the entire life of a set of tires without ever using the spare tire...
  2. ^ Boggart, Angelo Van (2010). Just 30s. Penguin. ISBN 9781440241222. Retrieved 15 July 2022 – via Google Books. The body of this 1932 Nash was built by the Seaman Body Corp. It has dual sidemount spare tires and five louvers on each side of the hood.
  3. ^ Earnest, Brian (2010). Just Chevys: True Tales & Iconic Cars From America's No. 1 Automaker. Penguin. ISBN 9781440241208. Retrieved 15 July 2022. This four-door sedan wears dual sidemount spare tires. The option was a rare one and is seldom seen on 1936 Chevrolets.
  4. ^ a b c d Donnelly, Jim (November 2006). "A Classy Rear". Hemmings Motor News. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  5. ^ "'Candid' Clark gets pictures for an ad in "Life" ... and a No. 1 car to boot! (advertisement for Terraplane". Life. Vol. 2, no. 20. 17 May 1937. pp. 54–55. Retrieved 15 July 2022 – via Google Books. 18 cubic feet in the standard enclosed rear compartment which was originated in cars built by Hudson. In either trunk or compartment models, entire space is usable for luggage when spare tire is carried in a smart side-mount, available at a special low price
  6. ^ Anderson, Gary G. (2000). Austin-Healey 100, 100-6, 3000 Restoration Guide. MotorBooks International. p. 59. ISBN 9781610608145. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  7. ^ Schuon, Marshall (14 October 1990). "About cars: A 50th Birthday For Edsel Ford's Continental". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  8. ^ Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (27 May 2007). "1941 Lincoln Continental". Archived from the original on 2 November 2016. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  9. ^ Rothermel, Bill. "History of the Ford Thunderbird 1955-2005" (PDF). artistryinmotion.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  10. ^ D'Argis, Larry. "Thunderstruck" Winnipeg Free Press, May 9, 2008, retrieved on 2008-06-27.
  11. ^ Vance, Bill. "1955-57 Ford Thunderbird". Canadian Driver. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  12. ^ "The Continental History". lincolnanonymous.com. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  13. ^ Auto editors of Consumer Guide (23 October 2007). "1954-1962 Metropolitan". auto.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  14. ^ "1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser 2 Door Convertible". www.barrett-jackson.com. 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  15. ^ "1954 Nash Airflyte brochure". oldcarbrochures.com. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  16. ^ Gilbertson, Scotty (9 June 2018). "All Original! 1954 Nash Ambassador LeMans". Barn Finds. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  17. ^ Silvestro, Brian (29 December 2016). "This 1960 Willys Jeep Gala Runabout Is Your Ticket to Paradise". Road & Track. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  18. ^ Earnest, Brian (1 May 2013). "Car of the Week: 1963 Jeep Surrey Gala". Old Cars Weekly. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  19. ^ a b c Feibusch, Rick (4 February 2012). "The Continental Kit – That Tire On The Back". Undiscovered Classics. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  20. ^ Golfen, Bob (23 June 2015). "1962 Plymouth Valiant Signet 200". ClassicCars.com Journal. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  21. ^ "1959 Plymouth Belvedere". Mecum Auctions. July 2020. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  22. ^ Niedermeyer, Paul (14 May 2020). "Cohort Outtake: 1960 DeSoto Imitating a Chrysler 300F – No Fake Spare Tire Bulges For Me". Curbside Classic. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  23. ^ Severson, Aaron (12 September 2009). "Mark of Success: The Lincoln Continental Mark Series > Ate Up With Motor". Ate Up With Motor. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  24. ^ "Continental Kit". kustomrama.com. 28 April 2022. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  25. ^ Niedermeyer, Paul (3 April 2013). "CC Outtake: Because It's Not A Proper Continental Without It". Curbside Classic. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  26. ^ "A lifelong labour of love for Kelowna's continental kit king, The Vancouver Sun, 28 August 2015". continentalkit.com. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  27. ^ Niedermeyer, Paul (6 March 2020). "Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: How To Take The Flair Out Of A Flairbird". Curbside Classic. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  28. ^ Golfen, Bob (14 October 2020). "Pick of the Day: 1970 Cadillac Del Caballero fit for 'Super Fly'". The ClassicCars.com Journal. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  29. ^ Taylor, Thom (24 March 2021). "Dunham Corvorado: The Most Outlandish Cars Ever Made". MotorBiscuit. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  30. ^ Gessner, Daniel (3 May 2019). "'Slabs' and 'swangas' — a look at the cars that were built on Houston hip-hop". Insider. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  31. ^ Lamb, Robert (27 October 2008). "How Spare Tire Mounts Work". auto.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  32. ^ a b Demuro, Doug (28 September 2018). "The Rear-Mounted Spare Tire is Dying". autotrader.com. Retrieved 15 July 2022.