Good Luck Finding Performance Tires for Your Classic Muscle Car

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If you own a ’60s or ’70s-era muscle car, you’ve probably become aware of an ironic problem: It is virtually impossible to find high-performance tires for these high-performance beasts.

The BF Goodrich Radial T/A is about as good as it gets – and though it’s a good-looking tire, with handsome raised white lettering, the Radial T/A is not really a performance tire. It’s pretty much a basic all-season radial with a standard passenger car “S” (112 mph) speed rating and tread designed for normal street driving.

And that’s about all there is.

You can find standard radials, some with white lettering, some blackwall. But if you want a sticky-compound performance tire with an H (130 mph or better) speed rating, you’re going to find the cupboard’s pretty bare.

So how come no one makes performance tires for old muscle cars?

Well, they do make them – just not for the factory 14 and 15-inch steel rims those cars originally came with. You can get the same super-aggressive Michelin Pilots (or whatever) that come on a new Corvette or Mustang GT – provided you use modern large-diameter wheels.

At minimum, you’ll need to change up to a 16×8 rim in order to have access to modern performance tires for your old muscle car.

But that changes both the look of the car (for sure) and (very likely) will dramatically alter the way the car rides and handles – possibly not for the better, either. At least, not without making appropriate changes to the rest of the car’s suspension.

Keep in mind that the typical ’60s-era, 70s-era performance car was designed for 14 or 15 inch wheels (and tires appropriate to wheels that diameter and width). Just because a 17 or 18 inch tall rim physically fits doesn’t mean it’s right – or even safe – for the car. Before you contemplate such a swap, consult an expert or you could end up with a car that handles worse than it did with the factory 15×7 steelies and a set of 225/70-15 Radial T/As.

Much larger (taller/wider) wheels and tires will probably also increase rolling resistance as well as the car’s unsprung mass. Steering feel could become very screwy. Overlarge wheels/tires may end up rubbing inner fender wells or bottoming out whenever the car hits a pothole or dip in the road. It may be necessary to completely modify the factory suspension set up (springs, coils) and alter the geometry/camber, caster and all the rest of it – in order to get modern-sized wheels and tires to work right.

And they will never look right.

As with ’60s and ’70s-era suspension geometry, the relationship of the car’s body lines and proportions to the size of the wheels and tires was based on the look of 14 and 15 inch rims – considered “large” back in the day. You can get away with a 16 inch rim, but 17 and 18 inch wheels just look awkward on a classic-era muscle car – like colorizing classic movies from the ’30s.

The fact that it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

Sure, there’s a possible performance enhancement to be had – both in terms of handling and traction (a big issue for V8 muscle cars). But modern large diameter rims all look pretty much the same. Can you think of a modern wheel that really stands out – is part of the car – in the way that something like Pontiac’s ’70s-era Honeycomb wheel or a Chevy Rally rim stands out?

Most muscle cars came with factory wheels that defined the package and contributed greatly to making the car what it was. What is a Shelby GT500 without its factory Magnum 500 wheels? Or a ’71 GTX sans its Hurst mags? These wheels may be small by modern standards, but they have a style – and history – that you throw into the dumpster when you take them off the car in favor of a set of look-alike chromed-generic ree-uhms that every other pimped-out Escalade is also riding on.

But that brings us back to the dilemma of finding a decent tire – for the factory wheels – that’s worthy of the capabilities of a classic muscle car.

Coker and other suppliers are remanufacturing OE-type tires for numerous classic cars, including classic muscle cars. This is a relatively small potential market, but apparently, there’s enough interest to make it economically worthwhile. It is possible there are  enough classic cart freaks out there with muscle cars we still like to drive (as opposed to just trailer to high-end car shows) to make it worthwhile for an outfit like Coker (or maybe even BF Goodrich) to make us some decent tires to fit our cars’ stock/factory rims.

But we need to make our wants known for this to happen. So, if you feel like I do and would like to be able to buy a performance tire to fit your muscle car’s factory wheels, drop ’em a line and let ’em know. The two most likely prospects are BF Goodrich and Goodyear, both of which used to make great tires for American muscle cars but don’t anymore.

Maybe they will again, if we raise enough of a ruckus…

BF Goodrich (Uniroyal/Michelin):

Michelin Consumer Relations
P.O. Box 19001
Greenville, S.C. 29602-9001


1144 East Market Street
Akron, OH 44316-0001

Run-flat tires are another option; see here.

Cover your prized asset.

. . .

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  1. For me, going with up-sized wheels is the lessor of evils. I bought a set of Radial T/As back in 1986 for a 79 Trans AM, and I hated them. When I drove up on the freeway after picking them up, I was sure something was horribly wrong. The car felt like it was on ice anytime I would change direction. I pulled over and checked the pressure, and it was at 30 all around. Those tires just have really soft sidewalls, making the car feel really loosey-goosey. I ended up running the tires at 50 PSI to be able to stand them.

    As much as I have a soft spot for the old cars, there are some aspects of new cars that simply work better. An old car would have to be a resto-mod for me to live with it, which is fine because I love that idea.

    • Hi MrBear,

      I know whereof your speak! I have a ’76 TA – essentially the same as your ’79 – and it wears a set of BFG Radial T/A tires, too. They’re terribly limiting. My car actually handles very well; as you know, ’70s Trans-Ams were about the best handling car you could buy at the time and even today, they are quite competent in stock trim and with a few minor upgrades – polyurethane bushings, a set of Koni or similar shocks, subframe bracing – they can run with modern performance cars in the curves . . . if they have good tires.

      My car doesn’t. The tires give up long before the suspension does. It’s fun,in a way,because I let the tail out or drift the car at low speed – less risk – but it also means just about anything new, even a crossover SUV, can keep up with me on Bent Mountain, if the driver knows what he’s doing!

      But… the BFGs look great. So also my Pontiac Honeycomb wheels. To change wheels would disfigure the car, in my view. I especially do not like the much-too-tall 17 and 18-inch wheels commonly used, including the aftermarket ones meant to emulate the appearance of the ’77-up Snowflake wheels. The car looks anomalous. Almost like a horse-drawn carriage with an LCD touchscreen. It doesn’t fit.

      What I’d like is something more discrete like a modded 16×8 version of the factory wheels. A little larger – just enough to allow the use of a modern performance tire – but not obviously modern.

      If I had the time and money I’d look into this and see whether such a thing could be done at a viable price.

  2. I have a set of ET IVs 14×7.5 and 14x9s used to run Mickey Thompsons G 60s and H50s and want to run them on my 1928 Model A and cant find tires

    • Hi Adrien,

      I’m assuming you’ve checked Coker Tire? There may also be early Ford resources others here know about….


  3. Just found this website today. Any suggestions for me trying to get some tires for my 1969 Dodge Charger. I used to have Mickey Thompson L-60’s on 15″ rims. I would like to increase the rim size, keeping the tire width, height similar like the old Mickey Thompson’s.


    • Hi John,

      The dilemma is: Stick with the stock rims to retain the vintage (and “correct”) appearance – and be limited as far as what tires are available to mount on them. Or, go with aftermarket rims – available in almost any combination of width/height and offset to suit – and choose from a wide array of available tires of all types.

      Most classic muscle cars came wit 14×6, 14×7 or 15×7 wheels. There are virtually no performance tires (high-speed/handling) available for these rims today. You can get reproductions of the original tires (and in radials that look like bias-plys) from Coker Tire and so on. There are also drag race compounds for the old rims from Mickey Thompson (and others) and, for the street, the good ol’ BFG Radial T/A.

      I have seen stock-pattern (and looking) slightly larger (wider) factory “Rallye” wheels for Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Chevys; I think they make these for some Mopars, too. However, they are only 15x8s… which frankly doesn’t help much.

      There are also some kinda-sorta factory-looking wheels, like the 16×8 (IIRC) and 17×8 (also IIRC) aluminum “snowflake” wheels for ’70s Pontiacs. These allow the use of modern performance tires, but – to my – eye – they look all wrong on the car.

      • eric, I’d have a devil of a time finding wheels for the Elco. Because of being a trailer tow package almost everything on it’s different including the wheels. They are 15X7.5 with an offset to the inside of the car making the beauty rims an exotic find also. I think the tires that are on it are L60X15’s, wide for the day.

      • Hi Vic,

        I looked it up – and it appears to be very much like the Radial TA. That is, a standard/all-season passenger car radial; R speed rated, etc. Not really a high performance tire. I’ve looked around – I don’t think anyone is making a high speed-rated/handling tire for 15×7 wheels.

  4. As fas as a modern speed rated tires your only choices are going to be the Pirelli P600 235/60ZR15 and Pirelli P4000 225/65ZR15 but most of these cars arent being driven that hard on the twistys and just need something to smoke up.

  5. Tires are not two dimensional. If got the high side 5 inches up and the tire was 5.01 inches wide sitting flat on the pavement, there would be light contact.

  6. I’d have to investigate, but with the right higher diameter rim and shorter tire wall (as is common today), you may be able to come out even on net wheel-tire diameter compared to the old stuff. Performance wise you would get better handling at the expense of some comfort (less tire based shock absorbtion).

    Not that I disagree with you, proper rims always look the best, Im still searching for a pair of sawblades for my 80s corvette as the previous owner I obtained it from a decade ago traded them for some more modern shiny chrome things. But lets be fair, tires have a shelf life, require tooling swaps to be made for various styles, and there are only so many people with a ‘cuda out there looking to replace the tires at a time. I’m glad tires are available at all sometimes for some cars (like my nash).

  7. I agree with you, you shouldn’t do much aftermarket including wheels to the original muscle cars. I cringe when I see the pictures of the modern dodge chargers with 22 inch rims- it’s sad. I’m actually in a complete opposite dilemma though. I want old school raised white lettering tires on my stock 18″ dodge charger r/t wheels. Tire places unanimously online and in person don’t have modern tire sizes of the old school raised white lettering tires. I had recently been told that if they did make them that it would ruin or take away from the look of the modern muscle cars. I took offense to that, first off the guy probably drives a Honda something and he’s going to give me his opinion of the tribute I want to give to the original 60s & 70s muscle cars? And second if he hasn’t seen it done then why would he assume the worst? I know my alternative could be to buy a set of 15 or 16 inch wheels and put the original looking raised white tires but 4 wheels and 4 New tires is too expansive for me at the moment and the smaller wheels might give the car an awkward stance. It’s a shame though, I really wanted to have those awesome “looking” raised white lettering tires on a modern muscle car. Maybe I’m alone in this desire though. 🙂

  8. Just because these cars came with rally or honeycombs (I have a GTO) doesn’t mean they have to keep them . Take it from someone who grew up “in the day” nothing looked wimpier than a set of stock wheels . Even if you only had a Javelin with that 290 boat anchor (had one) you wanted (couldn’t afford it) a set of Cragar SS with 10 inch wide 60’s in the back (and , a pair of air shocks) . They make 18 inch honeycombs by the way (about $900 each) . “Big John Milner” didn’t run wagon wheels on that T-Bucket those were chrome reverses Daddy-o and , 4 times wider than stock (also , that was a small block by the way) . Same thing relatively speaking .

    • That’s true –

      But one of the things that makes a classic muscle car cool today is its wheels – which were often very specific to that particular car.

      The honeycombs on my Trans-Am, for example. This was a Pontiac wheel – and like the engine-turned dash and hood bird and shaker scoop, it’s a big part of the car’s identity as a Pontiac.

      These cars are now 30-plus years old (most 40-plus). They’re artifacts – history. It’s cool to see them as they were – with their original rolling stock.

      Any car can have a set of generic chromed Cragars (or whatever). Back in the day, sure. But why mutilate a classic car today?

      If I added larger, non-stock aftermarket wheels to my TA, sure, it would handle better (with larger modern performance tires).

      But to me, it would be just like pulling the Pontiac 455 under its hood and replacing it with a modern Chevy LS …

      It’d be quicker – but the price for that would be its soul.

      No thanks.

      I’m hopeful that eventually Coker or some other company will start selling performance tires for OE muscle car wheels.

      Of course, to each his own. But I cringe every time I see a classic Firebird or GTO with 18 inch (or worse, bigger) aftermarket rims on it.


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