True aftermarket pioneers are those who create new markets that don't yet exist, precariously assuming financial risk to promote the hot rodding hobby. Joseph "Corky" Coker did just that. Through a combination of perseverance and gut instinct, he created the antique tire industry as we know it today. By resurrecting obsolete tires that were no longer produced, Corky brought period-correct rubber to the neglected antique car enthusiast.
Founded in 1958 by Corky's father, Harold, the Coker Tire Company was originally a BFGoodrich dealer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Constant exposure to his father's collection of Model As and Model Ts fueled Corky's interest in antique cars at an early age. Harold entertained requests from fellow car collectors for historically accurate reproduction tires, but pursuing such a small niche market was a big gamble. When Corky took over the company in 1974, antique tires accounted for only 5 percent of its total sales. Nevertheless, Corky smelled potential and went after the vintage tire market full steam.
Early on, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to produce tires that were now obsolete. Knowing that he had to manufacture the tires himself, Corky traveled all around the world-from Australia, to South America, to the Philippines-to locate original tire molds from old factories. If a certain mold couldn't be found, Corky meticulously reproduced them from their original drawings. Over time, Coker Tire amassed over 800 tire patterns in its inventory, and Corky locked up exclusive licensing rights to vintage brands such as U.S. Royal, Firestone, Michelin, and BFGoodrich. With the blueprints in place, Corky contracted with domestic and foreign manufacturing facilities to establish a worldwide distribution network.
In an era before mail order catalogs, Corky traveled across the country promoting his products. He loaded up his van with tires and attended car shows on weekends, sleeping in the back to save money. As the collector car hobby grew in popularity over the years, business took off accordingly. Today, the company has customers in over 40 countries, ships up to 1,200 tires a day, and generates more than $12 million in annual sales. Not too shabby for what started out as a quaint 500-square-foot tire shop.
While best known for producing vintage tires, Corky devotes much of his time to promoting the car hobby and his efforts haven't gone unnoticed. As one of the founding members of the Automobile Restoration Market Association (ARMA), he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1998. Corky sat on SEMA's board of directors for over 12 years, and served as president from 2003 to 2005.In 2004, Corky was named Meguiar's Collector Car Person of the Year, and in 2005 he received the NHRA Lifetime Achievement award. In addition to attending car shows across the country, Corky participates each year in the Great Race, an annual cross-country race for antique cars. In late 2006, Corky launched a new campaign to promote getting collector cars out from under the car cover and back on the road. The Coker Golden Tire award will recognize two people each year who actively drive and show their cars, in addition to promoting the hobby.
A bona-fide collector, Corky has nearly 100 antique cars and motorcycles in his collection. Outside of work, he likes relaxing on his farm in Chattanooga with his wife, Theresa; daughter, Casey; and son, Cameron. Described by friends and family as down to earth and sincere, when he's not tinkering with motorized toys, Corky enjoys playing his five-string banjo.