If you own a classic muscle car made back in the ’60s or ’70s, you’ve probably become aware of an ironic problem: It is virtually impossible to find new performance tires for these old performance cars.
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, like back in the day – the Radial T/A is not a performance tire. It’s a standard all-season radial with an “S” (112 mph) speed rating and tread designed for normal street driving.
And that’s about all there is.
Unless you change the wheels.
If you want a sticky-compound performance tire with an H (130 mph or better) speed rating.
Because no one makes them for the 14 and 15 inch wheels that classic-er muscle cars came equipped with from the factory.
Wheels this small are only found today – if you can find them at all – on small (and low-performance) cars.
A Prius has 15-inch wheels.
A Corolla is available with 17-inch wheels.
Modern performance cars like the new Mustang and Camaro and Corvette come with 18 and 19 inch wheels, at the smallest.
The long and short of it is that if you want to shoe your old performance car with modern performance tires, you will need to upgrade to larger wheels. Both diameter and width.
But that will change other things, including suspension geometry and ride height.
You may need to get new coil/leaf springs to restore the correct ride height and relationship of the body to the wheels/tires, etc.
Tire scrub is another possible problem.
The wheelwells of the ’60s and ’70s weren’t meant to accommodate the wheels and tires of the 2020s. You may find you can’t turn the front wheels to their maximum arc without bumping into something and both front and rear tires might get a shave every time you hit a bump.
Before you contemplate such a swap, consult an expert and make it a package deal – or you could end up with a car that handles (and brakes) worse than it did with the factory 15×7 wheels and a set of 225/70-15 Radial T/As.
You’ll probably have to re-engineer the entire suspension system to get it to work right.
It 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 stance of 14 and 15 inch wheels – which were considered large wheels back in the day.
Also the relationship of the tire sidewall’s height relative to the wheel and both to the wheelwell. The sidewall height thing is the thing.
It’s not just a weird look.
It’s the same look.
Modern large diameter wheels look alike. They are generic – because they aren’t made for a particular car or brand of car but for as large a potential,market for them as possible.
They do not look brand-specific and that is something you will lose if you lose your classic car’s original wheels, which were as integral to the package as steering wheels – and brand-specific engines – once were.
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?
These wheels are small by modern standards, but they have big style – and history.
You throw them both into the dumpster when you take them off the car in favor of a set of look-alike generic rims that every modern performance car is riding on.
Coker and other suppliers manufacture OE-type tires for numerous classic cars, including classic muscle cars. But while these are made to a higher standard than the originals, they aren’t performance upgrades. They are reproductions of what was made 40 or 50 years ago.
Which is a shame given that modern performance tire technology applied to a 15-inch tire would greatly increase the performance capabilities of classic performance cars – without mauling their classic appearance.
You could go faster, in the curves and straight ahead. You’d stop quicker. But the car wouldn’t look different. It’d be especially groovy if performance-compounds were used to make tires that looked classic. The original-style raised white lettering on a 130 MPH rated tire – which by the way is about as fast as classic performance cars were capable of going, their top speeds being mechanically limited by their gearing.
If you’d like to be able to buy a new performance tire to fit your classic performance car’s factory wheels, drop the tire companies a line and let ’em know.
The two most likely prospects are BF Goodrich and Goodyear, both of which used to make performance tires for old American performance cars (when they were new performance cars) but don’t make them anymore.
Maybe they will again, if enough of us ask them to.
. . .
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