When the French general Jean-Baptiste Kléber died in Cairo in 1800, the concept of a tyre industry was something people at the time could simply not even dream of. How was the general to know, then, that more than 100 years after his death, through an interesting series of events, his name would be used for one of the world’s most popular choice of car tyres?
This is the story of how Kleber tyres came to be.
In 1901, the American company BFGoodrich established a factory in the French town of Colombes. Rumour has it that the firm’s director, Mr Work, decided to build the plant while sailing on a barge through a flooded region around Paris.
This French subsidiary began operating on the 13th of July, 1910 and the first tyre was produced on the 8th of December, 1911. While the official Kleber brand would not be established for another three decades, this can be considered the first significant date in the company’s history, as well as their first car tyre.
The logo of Kleber tyres
By 1927, the Colombes factory was in full production developing a range of goods, not just tyres. This included other rubber products, such as transmission belts, gaskets, machinery parts and various other devices.
Developing car tyres
In the 1930s, the Colombes plant made original tyres for Chambord and Versailles cars. In 1935, it presented its first all-terrain tyres, as well as characteristic whitewall tyres which, at the time, were considered the height of elegance.
The bosses at the firm, fortunately, did not forget to ensure adequate promotions for their products. Alongside posters of beautiful women, the company also featured dogs to symbolise their products. These tyre dogs were carefully chosen. A poster promoting white-sided tyres, for instance, showed a proudly posturing greyhound, while the universal model was represented by a German shepherd dog.
Where did the kleber name come from?
After the Second World War, the french firm loosened its links from BFGoodrich. This involved a move, from Colombes, to Paris, where it found a location for its new headquarters on Kléber Avenue. Since the company needed a new name, it used its address as part of this. Its full name was Pneumatiques, Caoutchouc Manufacture et Plastique Kleber-Colombes, but it was often known as Kleber-Colombes. A new logo was also designed, set on a blue and orange background.
Increased fame for Kleber France
Just two years after these changes, the first tyre under the Kleber-Colombes brand made its debut on the French market. This was a snow tyre known as the Ours Blanc, or “White Bear” and there was even a separate model produced for goods vehicles. One of the most characteristic features of this tyre, however, was the eponymous image of a white bear in front of a snow-covered iceberg.
Fortunately, the model proved to be a successful hit, especially among transport firms. One company, a dairy called Le Petit, fitted this tyre to all of its delivery vehicles.
The Ours Blanc tyre received further renown in 1950 when Maurice Herzog, an employee for Kleber, headed a French expedition to the Himalayas. On the 3rd of June, they reached the 8,078 meter tall peak of Annapurna. At the summit, Herzog planted the French tricolour, the pennant of his mountaineering club and the standard of Kleber-Colombes. His amazing feat was reported by magazines the world over and the French firm could not have dreamt of better advertising.
In 1951, Kleber became famous for providing an important invention and a vital contribution to the development of the tyre industry. During the Paris Motor Show, in front of the President Rene Coty himself, the firm’s engineers presented the first tyre fitted with an air chamber.
This received huge interest, especially as the firm demonstrated that this new model of tyre would not be punctured even if it rolled over nails. The President himself took part in these tests and apparently, for a very long time, he could not conceal his amazement.
Later, in 1968, the firm stopped searching for a name to give its Parisian brand, as it finally dropped the Colombes part of the title and it has been known as Kleber ever since. The first model launched under this new name was the Boxer tyre, with the French firm returning to its tradition of advertising its products with tyre dogs. The name of this particular product leaves no doubt as to which breed was chosen to promote it.
Kleber changed owners in 1980. After operating independently for several decades, its bosses decided to establish links with Michelin tyres France - to this day, the Kleber Michelin connection is still going strong..
A year later, Kleber won a substantial victory over other tyre products, including Michelin tyres, in the World Rally Championship. Here, famous female driver Michèle Mouton won the San Remo rally driving an Audi fitted with Kleber tyres. She would later add three further victories in this season, finishing second in the overall rankings.
In the middle of the 1990s, the French brand would go on to to boast further success, this time in the marketplace. It signed a collaboration agreement with the car manufacturer Renault, wherein Kleber tyres were supplied as original equipment for the Renault Twingo. At the start of the new millennium, the firm unveiled its popular Dynaxer series. This featured a directional structure, which is another important piece of innovation in Kleber’s history. In fact, later generations of the Kleber Dynaxer are still available.
Another equally interesting and successful idea came in the form of the Kleber Assistance programme in 2002, providing 24-hour tyre repairs all over Europe. Even a slight tyre defect was enough to have experts, specialist in the elimination of that defect, appear on the scene.
In France, the quality of reliability is said to be especially highly valued and Kleber tyres UK products certainly seem to carry this legacy just as well. After all, when using the name of General Kleber, there is a certain obligation and reputation to uphold.
Check Kleber tyre offer in our shop
Want to see more? Here, we have a series of photographs and advertisements from throughout Kleber’s history, showing their journey from a small company into a large tyre manufacturer.
Promotional poster of Kleber brand.
Maurice Herzog Turing mountains climbing.