History | Coker Tire Chattanooga
Introduction to Coker Tire
Harold Coker started the Coker Tire Company in 1958. Harold’s first hand knowledge of the old car hobby, and his own struggle to find the correct tires for vintage cars led him to the concept of producing and selling era-specific tires for classic cars. It may have been a gamble, but gut instinct took over and Harold set out to make an attempt at the vintage tire trade, which was in its infancy. At the time, the old car hobby was very different, and no one had a firm grasp on the future of the industry, or if it would be a profitable market.
In 1974, Corky Coker was handed the reigns of the fledgling antique tire division of his father's tire dealership. During these early years, he sold vintage tires out of a 500 square foot area in the back of the retail center, while the main business came from walk-in customers wanting tires for their everyday drivers. Aside from direct sales, his job was to determine how to produce tires that were no longer being manufactured, and which sizes and styles would be most popular. He also decided how to market and distribute the tires, so he had plenty to keep him busy.
To overcome the challenge of producing brand new tire designs, Corky determined early on that he was his own best source of vintage treads, by purchasing discontinued molds from old factories. He literally searched the world, including South America, the Philippines and Australia to acquire molds from various factories. When the molds cannot be sourced, Corky has new molds built from original drawings and blueprints. Either way, the molds are refurbished to today’s standard and tested thoroughly.
He brokered deals with major tire producers that gave Coker Tire the worldwide licensing agreements and exclusive distributorships to big-name vintage brands. These brands included B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, Michelin and U.S. Royal thus increasing the variety of products available from Coker Tire. To expand his customer base in an industry with no recognized method of distribution, Corky initially went to his customers by way of car shows and swap meets. He and an employee would load a small van with tires and set up at car shows across the country. Larger trucks took the place of the van and show travel became the mainstay of Coker's commitment to its customers. Today, Coker Tire attends more than 40 shows a year utilizing a fleet of tractor-trailers.
Now, after nearly four decades, the antique tire division consumes over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space alone. The company now occupies several buildings in the historic Southside district of downtown Chattanooga and there’s a 100,000 square foot Coker Tire store and warehouse located in City of Industry, California as well.
Coker Tire's antique tire division started with one employee in 1974 and today has grown to more than 80. Full-time managers now oversee the Exports, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, Distribution and Accounting Departments, but Corky is still heavily involved with his company.
As evidence to his Coker Tire’s success, Corky Coker was named the Small Business Person of the Year for the State of Tennessee in 1995. In addition to that honor, the Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO) named Coker Tire 1997 Manufacturer of the Year. ARMO is the auto restoration arm of the Specialty Equipment Market Organization (SEMA), the world's largest automotive aftermarket trade organization. Corky was inducted into the ARMO Hall of Fame in 1998 for his outstanding contributions to the collector car hobby.
After serving numerous years on the SEMA Board of Directors, Corky assumed the chairmanship of SEMA in 2003, making him the first chairman to come from the Restoration/Street Rod segment of the automotive aftermarket. In 2005, Corky stepped down from the Chairman position, but he was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 2008, which is a testament to his hard work and perseverance over the years. Corky is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Collectors Foundation, a group of individuals who create grants and scholarships for students interested in the antique car or wooden boat hobby.
Take a look at everything Coker Tire Company has to offer, and you’ll see why it’s a staple in the old car hobby, and a passion for Corky Coker and his entire crew.