"When we set out to resurrect vintage tires that had already been out of production for decades, it was not only a novel concept, but also a monumental undertaking. Over the years, sourcing original tire molds and equipment has been the biggest problem. As tire companies became larger and more global, they didn't care about specialty tires produced in low volumes. Big companies don't have an interest in nostalgia, so as the old equipment started piling up they often threw away the molds. Although companies changed tire sizes just about every year on each model, sometimes tire manufacturers stored molds for some reason or another. We were successful in finding some of these molds, but they wouldn't just release them to anyone. Consequently, we first had to convince tire companies that there was genuine value in having us produce these tires once again. Next, we developed licensing agreements with companies like Firestone, Michelin, BFGoodrich, and Uniroyal before we were able to acquire the molds. The global nature of the large tire companies meant that we looked for molds overseas as well, because they have plants in places like Costa Rica, Colombia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Canada, and Australia. When original molds weren't available, we made new ones from the original drawings, so it's not completely accurate to call them reproductions. Since the '70s, I've traveled all over the world looking for molds, leading some people to call me the Indiana Jones of the tire industry. Today, Coker Tire has over 1,000 different part numbers, and now when companies discontinue a tire, they send us a list of molds to pick from. In fact, we just purchased 1,500 molds from Michelin for '80s and '90s high-performance cars."
Big-name tire companies such as Firestone, Michelin, BFGoodrich, and Uniroyal aren't in the business of producing classic car tires. Consequently, while vintage car tires might have Firestone or BFGoodrich logos imprinted on their sidewalls, they're actually manufactured by Coker. "It was by no means an easy task, but we went directly to tire manufacturers in the '70s and informed them that there were large numbers of potential customers that wanted to buy tires they no longer produced. Since hot rodders are so passionate about their cars, we got the tire manufacturers to realize that these cars would show up on covers of magazines and on TV shows, maximizing their exposure," Corky recalls. "After recognizing the value in having their vintage treads brought back to market, companies like Firestone, Michelin, BFGoodrich, and Uniroyal gave us permission to reproduce their original tire designs. We have to pay them a royalty, which is why they're more expensive to produce. As part of the licensing agreement, the tire companies first study how you're going to make a tire to ensure that it's up to their standards."
Instead of just riding on its reputation, Coker Tire is extremely involved in attending various enthusiast events throughout the year. Corky says the decades-old tradition is as much about pleasure as it is business. "I grew up around cruise nights and tours, so if I'm not in the office, I'm in the shop restoring one of my cars or at a show. We're all car guys, and attend over 70 events a year," he explains. "We believe you have to interact with your customers through all mediums, and talking to them face-to-face is extremely important. In fact, that's where we get our best ideas for new product development. People approach us at shows all the time and ask 'Did you ever think about making tires for this kind of car?' A simple encounter like that often leads to a new product in our catalog"
A tire's speed rating represents the maximum speed at which it can be safely operated, but the method used to establish those ratings can lead to some confusion. While the U.S. DOT came up with the Uniform Tire and Quality Grade (UTQG) standards to rate tires on their traction, temperature, and treadwear characteristics, speed ratings started in Europe. The lab tests used to determine speed ratings involves pressing a tire against a metal drum at a specified load, then running it up to a certain speed. For instance, an S-rated tire must hold together at 112 mph, while H-, V-, W-, and Y-rated tires must endure a sustained 130, 149, 168, and 186 mph, respectively. "The rating system is a bit misleading because the test involves running a tire at speed for hours at a time, and most people don't drive their cars at such high speeds for hours at a time," Corky explains. "Also, speed ratings don't necessarily equate to grip. For instance, a V-rated tire can handle higher speeds than an H-rated tire, but that doesn't mean it will have more grip."