Tires; everyone buys them and every classic automobile wears them, but do you know everything there is to know about vintage tires? More importantly, do you know the dos and don’ts of maintaining, running, and storing your classic collector car atop factory shoes?
Well, lucky for you, we turned to Coker Tire and owner Corky Coker to help us dispel some myths about vintage tires and to get the inside scoop about what type of factory-correct vintage rubber is still available out there for enthusiasts.
Since 1958, Coker Tire has been dedicated to providing enthusiasts with safe, period-correct tires for their vintage collector vehicles. Started by Harold Coker, the idea of manufacturing and selling vintage tires stemmed from Coker’s personal knowledge and love for the vintage automobile industry, as well as his own struggles to find era-specific tires for his own vehicles.
In 1974, Harold’s son Corky Coker took over the vintage tire division of his father’s modern tire dealership, selling vintage tires out of a 500 sq-ft section in the back of the store.
Today, Coker Tire occupies over 400,000 sq-ft of warehouse property, several buildings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as an operation in Los Angeles (the City of Industry), California – all dedicated to the vintage tire craft.
Not only that, but Corky Coker has received many outstanding awards for his contributions to the industry over the years, including Tennessee’s Small Business Person of the Year award in 1995, the Automotive Restoration Market Organization’s (ARMO) Manufacturer of the Year award in 1997, an induction into the ARMO Hall of Fame in 1998, and an induction into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 2008. Needless to say, Coker Tire has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the late 50s.
With distributors in over 40 countries and the vintage wheel and tire business making up 100 percent of Coker Tire’s business now, the company has grown leaps and bounds in the last few decades, but Corky Coker still plays a large roll in the inner workings of the company.
How It’s Done
Now one of the largest manufacturers and sellers of newly made vintage tires, Coker Tire provides knowledge and products to thousands of classic car enthusiasts each year, most of this thanks to Corky’s dedication to preserving the classics in the industry.
Stored in a cool, dry warehouse setting, all of Coker’s tires are maintained to the highest standard right up until they are shipped to your door.
To do this, Corky decided early on in his management of the vintage tire business that he would buy discontinued tire molds from old factories to reproduce the tires to modern standards.
When there wasn’t a mold available, Corky had one built from old drawings and specifications. With every mold refurbished or built to today’s standards and thoroughly tested, Coker Tire can provide virtually any vintage tire ever made with the safety backing of modern technology. So what does this mean for the automotive hobby? Well, it means quality options above anything else!
Now, collector car owners can achieve the same look and feel as factory tires without having to frustratingly search out vintage tires (in who knows what kind of condition) to complete their vehicles. It also gives classic car enthusiasts the option to drive and enjoy their vehicles more safely.
Unfortunately, some enthusiasts overlook the benefits, and even need in some situations, of replacing old tires.
“It comes down to personal responsibility,” Corky Coker told us in our recent interview. According to him, every vintage car owner must determine the safety of his own vehicle and tires for himself and take personal responsibility to provide a safe car on the road.
Whether you’re looking to race your vehicle, cruise it around town, or just perform to the highest standards on the highway, Coker Tire has a number of options for any classic application.
A lot of this has to do with the condition of the tires and what the car will be used for, Corky explained.
For example, if you want your ’32 Deuce Coupe to have the utmost performance and safety, replacing the old original tires is a must, just based on technological advances and road conditions. But if you’re planning to just trailer the car to shows, or cruise it around town at lower speeds, newer tires aren’t necessary if the old ones are still in good shape – ie not cracked, dry rotted, low on air pressure, etc.
“Low air pressure is the biggest reason for failure of collector tires,” Corky said. “It doesn’t matter whose tire it is, what tire it is or how old it is. Low pressure means friction, which leads to heat and then failure.”
To prevent this problem, Corky suggests checking and maintaining your vehicle’s tire pressure regularly. If a vehicle is going to be stored for a lengthy amount of time, he also suggests putting the car up on jack stands, out of the elements of course, to get the weight off of the tires as the car sits for months.
Tires can also be filled with nitrogen these days to help reduce the rate in which pressure decreases in your tires. The key is to maintain appropriately so you don’t have to buy new tires all the time for your hobby vehicle.
Vintage Tires And Collectability
So now that we’ve determined how you can maintain your tires and the safety of your collector car by correctly maintaining old tires or buying new vintage tires, like the loads of designs from white walls to redlines that Coker sells, what about those individuals who are looking to preserve the collectability of their vehicles? After all, don’t original tires on a vintage classic make it worth more? Well, according to Corky, it might, but there are limits.
“Tire and wheel assemblies should be chosen first or early in the build,” Corky said. “This determines rake, stance, dynamics, geometry of the suspension and front end, handling, footprint, diameter, and track width. The best car builders choose tires and wheels before they even start.”
“Correct tires and wheels are a fine detail that does matter when building a car,” Corky explained. “But if you’re not going for correct DOT numbers for something like a Concours or NCRS Top Flight, what value do they (original tires) have other than to have the correct tire?”
Coker Tire aims to provide a solution for those individuals looking to run era-correct wheels and tires on their vehicle while considering modern performance and safety. That’s why all of Coker Tire’s products are ECE approved, meaning they are backed by stringent criteria that looks at noise, tread wear, traction, etc. in order to be sold in Europe, DOT approved, made from scratch and never cut down from another tire, and guaranteed against defective materials or workmanship for the life of the tread.
“We have a broad spectrum of tires, from exact original to modern design in a classic radial – true nostalgic that will work and perform perfectly,” Corky said.
If you’re going to use your vehicle regularly, more than just trailering it to shows, replacing old worn out tires is a must.
Other Myths And Misconceptions
So other than original tires being important to keep on a vehicle no matter what their condition to increase collectability (myth dispelled), what are some other vintage tire myths? Well, according to Corky, many people think that tires are a “mysterious mixture” of components when in fact, they are highly engineered and precise products. Corky also told us a common misconception is that “belts slip” when a vibration in a tire occurs, when in fact nothing really moves at all.
But topping our misconception list has to be that a number of people believe radial tires are always better than bias ply tires. As Corky points out, bias ply tires are safe and actually have a firmer frame than radials. The difference is in the performance and possibly the core of the myth comes from the way bias ply tires move away from a bump rather than mold over it like radials would, Corky explained. Radial tires do, however, take “the wandering” out of older cars when driven at today’s highway speeds.
The Best Options
No matter what your preference, Coker's wide selection of vintage wheels and tires is sure to have something for every classic car enthusiast.
“We are car collectors – I grew up in the back seat of a 1910 REO, love this hobby, and love car guys because I am one,” Corky told us. “We enjoy the same things customers do. We believe in what we do, good people stand with us, and we want great products out there supplied by great people.”
Coker Tire is a prime example of that, whether you’re looking for vintage originals or the performance of today with the look of yesterday, Corky and his company provide some of the best options in the industry. So when it comes to considering replacing your old tires with new, safer and better performing ones, Corky says, “Just do it.” And with the backing of a knowledgeable sales team at Coker, you know your experience will be as great as the project car you’re working on.