Coker Tire: How one man’s passion led to building a business

Photography Courtesy Coker Tire

Do you know why Coker Tire has earned a reputation for its attention to detail, quality of its product offerings and knowledgeable staff? That’s because the company’s founder, Harold Coker, restored vintage cars, too. He understood what restorers need to complete their vehicles, and nothing finishes a project like tires and wheels with a period-correct appearance.

Early Beginnings

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Harold founded Coker Tire in 1958 as a tire store and service center. Originally located in Athens, Tennessee, he moved it to Chattanooga and became BFGoodrich’s first tire dealership in the area.

When he wasn’t running a business working on customer cars, he restored antique vehicles. Finding original parts for 1900s to 1930s cars was a challenge even back during the 1950s and 1960s. Tires to fit those prewar vehicles were virtually impossible to obtain. Harold not only wanted them to fit, though–he also wanted them to have the period-correct look, too. Details matter.

So, Harold thought, “Why not make them?”

He had the connections to tire manufacturers. He understood the tire business. He knew antiques.

So, Coker Tire manufactured reproduction tires in small batches starting in the 1960s, leading to the creation of the Antique Division of Coker Tire.

The company would find obsolete tire molds, usually from other countries, and refurbished them to create tires that looked like the originals. Well, that’s because they came out of the same exact molds.

By the 1970s, Harold’s son Corky Coker started overseeing the Antique Division, and it became a larger portion of the overall business.

The Coker Tire team hit the road to spread word of their offerings, making appearances at car shows and swap meets all across the U.S. As they grew, they began to advertise in magazines and spread awareness of the niche market the Coker family had carved out.

In-House Innovations

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When it comes to quality, Coker Tire doesn't cut corners. The company built its business by manufacturing tires that not only looked period-correct, but also used modern materials and machinery to create safe and reliable tires.

A prime example of this came in 1994, when Coker Tire introduced the world’s first wide whitewall radial tire, the Coker Classic. It provided that classic look, but also provided the smooth ride and crisp handling of a modern radial.

Nearly 30 years later, the Coker Classic remains in production as one of the company’s best-selling product lines for classic cars.

Since then, Coker Tire has expanded its radial offerings across its product lines to cover many applications. That includes tires with raised white letters, redlines and other vintage-style sidewalls. For those looking for a truly authentic experience, the company still sells those tires in the original bias-ply construction, too.

Coker Tire also offers the Bias Look Radial. It has the narrow tread profile and piecrust shoulder of a vintage bias-ply tire, but the handling of a modern radial. The company offers the tires in vintage-style sizing and sidewall profiles, including the popular 750R14 and 670R15 sizes. The Bias Look Radials are available in black sidewall, wide whitewall and narrow whitewall.

Not Just Coker-Branded Tires

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Remember, Coker Tire started as a tire service center, selling tires from many different companies. That led to offering many antique tires from other notable brands.

In 1992, Coker Tire started working with Firestone to sell reproductions of its famous tire models, such as the Non-Skid, Deluxe Champion, Wide Oval, Dirt Track and many more.

Other deals were forged, which led to BFGoodrich Silvertown tires, U.S. Royal tires, and other brands.

Coker Tire became the recommended distributor for Vredestein, Avon and Dunlop tires, with fitments for sports cars of the 1930s to the 2000s.

Coker Tire is also the exclusive North American distributor for Michelin's line of classic tires. The tires look period-correct, but are constructed with premium materials and offer excellent ride quality. Designs include the XZX, XAS and TRX metric fitments from the 1980s. Michelin also produces tires for the neo classic market, fitting sports cars from the 1980s to 2000s.

Michelin expanded its lines to include a series of whitewall tires, too, perfect for cars from the 1950s through 1970s.

Regardless of brand, you can count on Coker Tire's knowledgeable staff to help guide you to the tire that best suits your classic car.

Coker Tire Today

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Coker Tire does not only sell tires for classic cars. They also offer authentic steel wheels through Specialty Wheel and Roadster Wire Wheel brands. More recently, they struck a deal with Cragar to offer the famous Cragar S/S wheel. For any customer purchasing tires and wheels together from Coker Tire, they get free mounting and balancing.

Another great perk from Coker Tire? They stand behind their tires with a Life of the Tread Warranty. Customers can also opt for Extended Tire Protection or Extended Wheel Protection warranties, too.

Coker Tire’s catalog has grown to more than 2000 tire offerings. If for some reason you can’t find a particular tire for your vehicle, there is a special-order process for small-batch production runs, if enough demand is present.

Coker Tire’s customer service experience goes well beyond selling tires. The tire and wheel experts on Coker Tire’s staff offer insights about original fitments, as well as options for radial upgrades and custom tire and wheel fitments. You can also find technical resources on Coker Tire’s website, including specifications of each product to ensure you’re getting exactly what you need.

Although Coker Tire’s business model has changed from its original beginnings, the company is proud of its 65-plus-year heritage. With a constant push to improve product quality, inventory control and new product development, Coker Tire is ready to continue serving the collector car market with best the quality tires and wheels and industry-leading customer service for many decades to come. 

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Comments
David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/15/23 10:07 a.m.

The truth is that most people or companies can supply a lot of the parts needed to keep our classics on the road. Someone can stitch up an interior or rebuild an engine. But making tires from scratch is a very specialized process, and we’re be stuck without them. 

Jesse Ransom
Jesse Ransom UltimaDork
3/15/23 10:52 a.m.

I don't know whether it's a CM thing, a GRM thing, or just me and a terrible idea, but an overview of some details of this field would be really cool.

Specifically, I know some of the reissue and vintage-style stuff is in "modern" compounds and/or updated carcass construction, but I'd love to know how they compare to modern tires.

I mean, I know they're not going to be competitive with the latest 200TW tires,  but if you've got a fun driver you occasionally autocross, which vintage tires or smaller fitments are performance tires with good feedback and so forth, and which are DOT approved donuts suitable for driving direct to a car show. I'd hate to mount a set of proper looking tires and find out they drive like the most uninspiring all-seasons...

It's understandable that Coker doesn't really have a stab at this on their website since I think a fair portion of their business really isn't too worried about anything beyond semi-correct fitment and appearance (not sure how much one can discern about a tire while sawing at a Model T's wheel), but it would be really cool to know which tires are built how, and when to guess that a vintage tire will drive well and when to know that if your priority is driving that you just need to wedge a modern size under your old car.

In any case, it is awesome that there is someone specializing in odd and old fitments, and that rising prices on '80s cars appear to have the silver lining of better market support.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
3/15/23 11:27 a.m.

In reply to Jesse Ransom :

Interesting idea. I'll run that by the rest of the team and see if there's anything we can do there.

And yeah, although it's frustrating at times the increase in value of Rad-era cars, the increased market support can (almost) make the rising prices worth it.

Jesse Ransom
Jesse Ransom UltimaDork
3/15/23 5:45 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

Thanks, can't ask for more than that!

And yeah, as much as I'd love to be able to grab a half-decent Mk1 GTI for Challenge money at any given time, that was never going to last, and now I can put tires on the stock snowflakes when I find it!

Surely the folks at Coker would love the opportunity to provide more depth... But I suppose that doesn't answer whether the target audience is just me.

So many follow-up questions... Seems like A008s have been the 10" Mini tire of choice for forever... how have they changed?

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