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
1144 East Market Street
Akron, OH 44316-0001