Use winter performance tires on that '96 Impala SS by Paul Brand (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/7/96)

   Q. I have a '96 Impala SS equipped with P255-50ZR B.F.

Goodrich Comp/TA radials on 17-inch wheels.  Even though these

tires have a mud and snow (M&S) rating, I would like to know if

purchasing winter tires will improve safety and performance.  If

so, what size wheels and tires do you recommend?

    A. Lucky you!  I wonder if this will be the last of Detroit's

true muscle cars - Corvette motor, four-wheel antilock disc

brakes, performance handling package, trick shocks, big wheels

and tires and all the goodies.  Maybe you should park this beauty

during the winter.

    If you can't store your Impala, I definitely think you'll get

better winter traction with narrower tires.  Yes, Pirelli makes a

17-inch winter tire, but it costs more than $250 - each!  Your

best answer is to step down one size in wheel diameter, and mount

an appropriate winter performance tire.

    Mike Flanagan at Twin City Tires in Bloomington has a world

of experience in finding the right winter tire for performance

vehicles.  He recommends a set of 16-inch wheels in a 6- to

7-inch width.

    He suggested several winter performance tires you could mount

on these wheels, including Goodyear's Eagle M&S, Bridgestone's

Blizzak and Pirelli's W210.  Several specific 16-inch tire sizes

might work in terms of fender clearance and overall tire diameter

- we don't want to fool the car's computers, do we?

    Depending on the specific winter tire, you should focus on

tire sizes in the P215-60/16, P215-65/16 and P225-60/16 range. 

These narrower tires, with their winter tread compounds and

patterns, have approximately the same outside diameter as the

17-inchers, and will minimize the handicap of high horsepower,

light rear end and rear drive in slippery conditions.

    As always, the key to winter driving safety isn't so much the

car or tire - it's the driver.  As long as you don't overdrive

the available traction and vehicle/ tire combination, you're not

likely to have a big problem.