Having your tyres changed isn’t normally an enjoyable experience. In fact, the whole process is normally right up there with a visit to your accountant in terms of overall pleasure (unless you happen to enjoy hanging around seedy warehouses with only Styrofoam coffee cups and six-month-old ‘artistic’ magazines for company).
But not all tyre dealerships are created equally, so there’s a secret way that you can get your tyres changed by the same company that supplies Formula 1, without feeling that you’ve stumbled into a grubby den of vice. That’s thanks to the aptly-named ‘Pirelli Performance Centre’ in the automotive capital of the United Kingdom: Burton-upon-Trent.
Actually, Burton is much more famous for beer, Marmite, and biscuits. But it’s where Pirelli has been based in the United Kingdom since 1922. In 1928, the factory was even visited by the soon-to-be King Edward VIII, who inspected the production line. Thankfully, Pirelli’s presence in Burton lasted for considerably longer than Edward’s reign, with the Pirelli Performance Centre built there around five years ago as the ultimate tyre dealership. And that’s no exaggeration, because this unique facility isn’t principally there to sell and fit tyres: although anyone can book their car in there to have tyres changed. Instead, it’s intended as a training facility and template.
Pirelli has more than 100 Pirelli Performance Centres scattered across the UK: a network of carefully-audited tyre dealerships that have to pass a stringent series of tests – both on the technical and the aesthetic side – in order to join the elite club. But the one in Burton sets the standard to follow, with state-of-the-art facilities and all the latest technology, as well as a wide selection of factory-fresh tyres that wouldn’t disgrace a Formula 1 pit garage.
Not only does the Burton facility show the other Pirelli Performance Centres how it should be done, but it also serves as an example for the five P Zero boutiques across the world: in Dubai, Melbourne, Monaco, Los Angeles, and Munich. There are even rumours of one popping up in London at some point.
As the locations suggests, these designer tyre shops are established in areas where there’s a high prevalence of supercars and people willing to spend money on them. And these go beyond tyre dealerships: instead, they are truly immersive experiences where you can buy everything from P Zero tyres to Formula 1 souvenirs. You can get a taste of the experience when you head to the Pirelli Performance Centre in Burton, because this showcases the latest technology that all the P Zero World boutiques should have.
The facility in Burton is a place with plenty of fans: many people come specifically from London and even further just to get their supercars fitted with new tyres, often using the trip as an excuse for a blast in the nearby Peak District afterwards (or maybe before, if there’s a set of tyres that needs finishing off before replacement…)
When you get there, your tyres are automatically scanned to give a 3D render of their exact condition, before your car is lovingly whisked off to the ramp to have its new Pirelli boots fitted. Then everything is balanced and tracked perfectly, using all that cutting-edge equipment. It’s no exaggeration to say that your car leaves the place feeling just as sharp as when it came out of the factory. And of course, you can watch the whole process from a comfortable room with glass screens, while sipping an espresso. There’s even a Top Gear style ‘Cool Wall’ with all the best cars that have come in, from Pagani to Porsche. You might not immediately associate Burton with Italian chic, but that’s what you get here.
Personally, I loved the whole experience, as you receive attention to detail that you just don’t find anywhere else, with the whole tyre change taken as seriously as any other major mechanical intervention. And that actually makes you feel like a bit of a driving God, as if you have your very own tyre engineer devoted to maximising your performance. Which, for one day, you have.
And the best bit of all? This exclusive service will cost you no more than any other tyre dealership. It might just be the best-kept secret in the world of tyres.
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.
Photographs courtesy of Pirelli