New Performance Tires for Old Performance Cars

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 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 and 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 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—a 16×8 wheel at the least.

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 wheel wells 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.

Brake fit/performance is another possible issue unless you also upgrade the brakes.

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.

And it may never look right.

As with the ’60s and ’70s-era suspension geometry, the relationship of the car’s body lines and proportions to the wheels and tires’ size 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 wheel well will likely change.

You can usually get away with a 16×8 wheel without hugely altering the look of a classic car, but 17s and larger with ultra-thin sidewalls are obviously not from the ’60s or ’70s.

It’s not just a weird look—it’s the same look. Modern large diameter wheels all look alike.

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.

Can you think of any modern wheel that is part of the car in the way that something like Pontiac’s ’70s-era Honeycomb wheel is?

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 has.

That brings us back to the dilemma of finding performance tires for the factory wheels that are worthy of the capabilities of a classic muscle car.

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.

A shame given that modern performance tire technology applied to a 15-inch tire would significantly increase classic performance cars’ performance capabilities without mauling their classic appearance.

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 them 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.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars and blogging about cars+ for his website

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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