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Radial Tires on a Classic Car?

There's been a trend in recent years to switch cars from the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s to radial tires. Some do it because they don’t know where to purchase the style, size and construction of the original tire. Others do it because they've been convinced the car will drive well with radials.

Here's the truth. Very few, if any, collector cars drive well with radials. These cars were not designed to run on radials, and radial-tuned suspension was not commonplace on American cars until the mid-1970s.

Radials have a lower profile, making your car ride and look lower. In some cases, such as "950x14", no comparable radial exists. As a test, we added the correct-size tire to a 1960 Lincoln Continental that had been poorly fitted with the largest available radial. The result was a car that sat almost two full inches higher, and immediately took on the look of a restored classic, as opposed to a run-down hulk. No other item you can add to your car can make it look crisper and more authentic than a fresh set of tires that are the correct size and construction.

Wondering where to buy tires for your classic? Contact the folks at Coker Tire in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They have tires to match cars of every era and style. (While you're working on the tires, it's also a great time to restore the look of your wheels with Eastwood's line of Wheel Paints.)

Some folks will tell you their car already has the correct style of wide whitewall tires, but it still drives horribly. This is most likely because the car has a set of older tires or tires made from molds featuring a straight-rib tread design. For your car to track properly, your tires have to have a real tread. Straight-rib tires follow every irregularity in the road, while treaded tires do not.

We took a set of Lester straight-rib tires (no longer made) off a 1938 LaSalle and replaced them with a set of the latest available, correct-style B.F. Goodrich tires from Coker. The owner was completely amazed how much better the car drove and steered.

You'll note that wide whitewall radials are now available. While these are great on street rods, we still recommend going with the OEM bias tires in a correct size and tread pattern.