When one of 12 massive aero-styled GM Futurliner vehicles (designed to transport the GM Parade of Progress show across America in the 1940s and 1950s) sold for $4.2 million at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2006, a new generation was introduced to the historic significance of this incredible vehicle. The record-setting sale re-energized interest in the remaining Futurliners and set into motion a series of events that allowed Coker Tire to once again be called upon solve a one of a kind tire problem for an iconic collector vehicle.
Coker Tire Company’s first contact regarding the Futurliner tires began in 1999. Volunteers working on the GM Futurliner Restoration Project for the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS) were restoring one of the famous Futurliner trucks. NATMUS was looking for 1000-20 wide whitewall truck tires with unique raised lettering that read “GENERAL MOTORS, PARADE OF PROGRESS, US ROYAL, FLEETWAY” and carried the original round “US RUBBER” logo.
So, where do you find someone to create the original type whitewall tires with very specific raised lettering for a half-century-old historic truck? NATMUS restoration team leader Don Mayton, a retired GM plant manager, and his team placed calls to almost all of the tire companies but none were interested in helping. They even tried to enlist the services of a Chinese company, but received no response. Finally, they placed the last call to Corky Coker of Coker Tire.
“We asked NATMUS to loan us the best remaining example of an original Futurliner tire to study, measure it and to determine if it would be feasible to re-create the original engraving in a 1000-20 tire mold and manufacture new tires with the wide whitewalls,” said Coker. “Unfortunately, the NATMUS restoration budget did not include the substantial costs required to do the engineering, the mold engraving and manufacture a few new tires for a single vehicle.”
Mayton’s team settled initially for a normal set of black-wall truck tires — minus the appropriate lettering — from a Muskegon, Mich., tire shop that repaired tractor-trailer and truck tires. The tire shop ground down the sidewalls and “vulcanized” some white rubber to the black sidewalls. The NATMUS group clearly did not consider this process to be an acceptable solution. They were interested in real tires for a real collector vehicle.
Then in 2006, another Futurliner, once used by the Michigan State Police and subsequently restored by a Canadian group, went on the block at Barrett-Jackson. Following the historic $4.2 million dollar sale, winning bidder Ron Pratte contacted the Muskegon tire shop to inquire about obtaining a similar set of whitewalls for his bus.
“During the discussion Ron learned of Don Mayton’s efforts to have us create authentic, detailed duplicates of the original tires,” said Coker. “Ron Pratt contacted me and after we crunched the numbers, it was time to get these Futurliners back on the road in as close to original condition as possible. Don Mayton gratefully shipped his original tire to us once again and our engineers went to work, creating the new molds, complete with the unique raised lettering. Once DOT requirements were satisfied and testing completed we began manufacturing the required quantity of authentic, real tires with wide whitewalls for these unique vehicles.”
Today, nine of the original 12 Futurliner vehicles have been located, with two of the nine already beyond repair, serving only as “parts” vehicles. One inventive collector converted one Futurliner into a motorhome. Another, used by a bus company in Massachusetts, now does duty as a display vehicle for the bus company. Once decommissioned by GM, still another found its way into the hands of the Oral Roberts’ crusades in the 1960s, dubbed the Cathedral Cruiser. Still others are in various states of restoration.
These incredible vehicles are 33 feet long with a 248-inch wheelbase, eight feet wide and stand nearly 12 feet tall. One of its most unusual features of a GM Futurliner truck is its dual (side-by-side) front wheels steered of course by a hydraulic power steering. Now restored Futurliner trucks have the ability to be shod correctly in stunning, period-correct real wide whitewall tires thanks to famed collector Mr. Ron Pratte and the folks at Coker Tire.
For more information about the GM Futurliners, and the restoration of Futurliner #10 by the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States, visit http://www.futurliner.com.
Coker Tire Company, Inc. of Chattanooga, Tennessee is the world’s largest supplier of collector vehicle tires, with distributors in more than 30 countries. The company offers vintage bias-ply and nostalgia-style radial tires for collector vehicles from the late 1890s through the mid 1970s, including products for antique autos and trucks, hot rods, vintage race-cars and vintage motorcycles. Coker Tire also sells vintage-style wheels and rims, Michelin memorabilia, novelty bicycles and unicycles. Customers can visit http://www.cokertire.com to shop, request a catalog, and place an order or call (800) 251-6336 for more information.