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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 your high-performance classic.

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

You can find other all-season radials, some with white lettering, some blackwall. But none (that I’m aware of) have an H (130 MPH) or higher speed rating or compounds/tread designed for high-performance driving.

So how come no one makes performance tires for older high-performance cars?

Well, they do make them – just not for the factory 14 and 15-inch steel wheels most ’60s and ’70s-era muscle cars originally came with. You can get the same super-aggressive Michelin Pilots that come on a new Corvette or Mustang GT – provided you use modern large-diameter wheels like you find on a new Corvette or Mustang GT.

You’ll probably need to change up to at least a 16×8 rim in order to have access to modern performance tires for your older performance car.

Unfortunately, doing that also changes both the look of the car – and may adversely affect the way the car rides and handles. At least, if other changes aren’t made to the rest of the car’s suspension system.

1960s-’70s era performance cars were designed for 14 or 15 inch wheels (and tires appropriate to wheels that diameter and width). Larger (taller/wider) wheels and tires will increase rolling resistance as well as the car’s unsprung mass. Steering feel could become weird. Overlarge wheels/tires may also 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 correctly. Just because a 17 or 18 inch 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 steel wheels and a set of 225/70-15 Radial T/As.

There’s also the aesthetics issue – though I admit, this is a subjective issue.

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 proportions of the factory-issue 14 and 15 inch rims – which were considered “large” back in the day. You can get away with a 16 inch rim without changing the car’s original stance too much – but 17 and 18 inch wheels and the  super-short modern sidewall tires that are commonly used with them often look awkward – just not right –  when fitted to an otherwise stock classic-era muscle car.

Most muscle cars came with unique-to-that-model wheels that helped 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 late ‘7os Trans-Am without its snowflakes ? 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. 

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-era muscle car. Coker and other suppliers manufacture  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. I think there are probably enough of us 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 performance 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 performance car’s factory original 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 performance tires in 14 and 15 inch sizes 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

www.bfgoodrichtires.com

Goodyear:

1144 East Market Street
Akron, OH 44316-0001
www.goodyeartires.com

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14 COMMENTS

  1. 345 35 15 on the back of my Porsche. Since it’s my daily driver I live in constant fear of nails. I would like to stock up on tires but I’ve heard that tires have a shelf life. Any reason I shouldn’t buy an extra set if I find them cheap. Or am I stuck just paying through the nose when I need to change them out?

  2. It also seems that the only kind of belts you can get in tires now is steel.

    I had a set of Aramid (a Kevlar derivative) police radials on a car I owned in the eighties, and they handled way better (and smoother) than the steel radials I replaced.

    Here’s a photo of Goodyear’s “Flexten” (Goodyear’s house name for aramid cord) line.

    By the way, Kelsey Tire makes reproduction Goodyear tires for classics and muscle cars.

    • Hey Marc,

      Yup, but the Goodyear repros are repros of the period tires, like the Polyglas GT. In other words, not speed-rated, performance compound modern performance tires.

  3. I have several late 60’s and early 70’s American Motors automobiles, and I have been dealing with this very issue for some time.

    My Ambassador wagon, for instance, came with a tire that was roughly 27-1/2″ in diameter: H78-14. Translated to a modern size, that is supposedly a 27.3″ P225/75r14. Trouble is, no one makes them in a 14″ — except companies like Coker Tire and Classic Industries.

    And of course they’re sky-high, with prices north of $100 each; even $200 or more.

    I also mess with 1978-1980 Ford Fiestas, and they all used 155R12 tires. That size used to be the “loss leader” all the tire stores cited as their cheapest tire; right up into the late 90’s they could be had for less than $20 each. Now, only two or three are left on the market, and they’re frankly low-grade imported *junk*. ‘Course, most tires are nowadays.

    The temporary solution for muscle cars originally equipped with 14″ tires is to go with 15″. Many cop cars from the mid-sixties used 15″ wheels, and many hobbyists chase after those wheels for our own cars to replace original 14’s.

    However, even 15″ tires will probably not be readily available in 10 to 15 years; as even manufacturers are moving further into rubber-band tire territory.

    The largest 14″ tires with decent width that seem to be still readily available, are 235-60R14’s. Tires-Easy.com has a number of them listed, all around $100.

    Go one size larger, to a 245-60R14, and all you’ll find only one: The T/A Radial.

    One thing that really bugs me is the fact that manufacturing has gone overseas and products (usually) turn to crap, the prices seem to increase rapidly.

    Why?

      • But are these available in a 245 (or 235 or 225) 60 (or 70) 15? A 195/55/15 would be all wrong for an old muscle car like my Trans Am, which originally came with 225/70-15s

        • The goodyears don’t go that far, the Sumimoto HTRs go to 215/70R15, and they are only T rated now.

          I guess tire manufacturers have decided that speed ratings faster than the original cars could reasonably be driven for sustained lengths of time are not necessary any more. But it’s not really the speed rating, it’s if the tire is better than what what the stock brakes and suspension can take advantage of. It just sucks for people who upgraded with keeping the stock wheels in mind.

          • Yep.

            My Trans-Am has been upgraded with polyurethane bushings (including the subframe), larger diameter sway bars, new leafs and coils, high-performance shocks and everything else brought up to “as new” condition. Now, the fact is – despite the conventional wisdom – that the ’70s-era Trans-Am was a fine handling car, even in factory stock condition. It posted better skid pad numbers than the same-era Corvette. The ride was (and is) rough by modern standards, but the car can corner. It just needs decent tires. Which are unavailable.

  4. I would have to do some checking on the old mustang wheel sizes and dig up what size I used on my ’73 maverick but there were a ton of choices for the 15×6 rims on my Mazda when I got tires for it some months ago.

    But even with the limitations the tires are way beyond the suspension’s capabilities as is. Once the suspension is modified why not get some of the aftermarket wheels that have the same appearance but have larger diameters and/or widths? For instance Magnum 500s for mustangs can be purchased in a variety of sizes. Yes, it’s an expense, but so was modifying the suspension so it could get to that point.

    That’s the logic I used with my ’73. It has as I recall 14×6 wheels. Aftermarket that were on it when I bought the car. I have a set of original alloys of the same size that will be eventually swapped on. Essentially I felt any modern tire of reasonable quality would be so vastly superior that it would make the brakes and suspension the weak point. Once I put on the most recent set of tires I could not get the brakes to lock up any more. Essentially the 4 wheel drums can’t exceed the grip of the tires on dry surfaces. I suppose I could make them lock if I tried, but they don’t do it like they used to.

    • Did some checking with my mustang info… 14×5, 14×6, and 15×6 seem to be the original common sizes for the rims. Also ran into this interesting table: http://www.mustangsunlimited.com/wheel-tire-fitment.html

      There seems to be some difference on what modern tire sizes to run too: http://www.turbinecar.com/tires.htm and http://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/45_conversionchart.html And this may be part of the problem, not that tires that will work don’t exist, but what the conversions are doing. And I am finding conversion tables giving very limited selections.

      I looked up what I last got for my ’73, 205/70HR-14 Sumitomo HTR 200. Looking up the same size now I’ve found that selection on tire rack has shrunk dramatically and the prices have gone way up. The equal to what I purchased at $40 a tire last time are $75 now!

      • I have not been able to find anything better than the BFG Radial TA for my Trams-Am (15×7). BFG used to make an H-rated version of that tire, but hasn’t in 15-plus years. It’d take some digging, but I don;t think there’s been an OE performance car tire in less than 16×7 since the early 1990s.

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