Back in the 1960s, I remember visiting my dad — often — at work. The shop was located on the east side of Detroit — in the heart of the automotive industry, during its heyday.
His specialty was steering gear and suspension. I remember going down in the pits, watching him align everything from Buicks to Zephyrs — and specialty vehicles in between.
On my way out the bay door, I remember trying to measure my "toe," standing on the bars of the scuff machine, watching the needle bounce around the walking bear.
And, there were tires. Everywhere. On racks. In the showroom lobby. In the rafters. Stacked, laced, tire sizes marked on the outside of their paper bindings.
Then, Michelin introduced the radial tire. Those didn't come wrapped like a birthday gift. And, of course, as soon as they were available, they were installed on the family vehicles.
It was funny to hear my mom explain to parking lot strangers that the tires were not "going flat." — "They are supposed to look that way." And when the sizes went "metric?" Like everyone, the first thing we said: "Why?'
Then, losing the "G" or "H" designations and substituting numbers in their place? All of us thought that we would never learn that new system.
Times have changed. A lot.
When I opened my shop, there were no more tires to unwrap. Radials, traveling from all points across the globe, were, now, neatly stacked onto the shelves at my auto center.
I remember advertising a 13-inch, 50,000-mile-rated tire — a Kelly- Springfield line — at $89 for a set.
I made sure that it was a reliable tire, because my reputation — the shop name — was on the top of that receipt.
Then, itemized, I had mount ($4), balance ($3) and valve stem ($2), which equated to $9 per unit. Have a 14-inch? Those were priced at $99; 15-inch at $109 for a set. Plus, the noted extras.
I was picky about the quality — no "cheap" tires. Sometimes, when the local tire rep pushed the next best tire thing, I would install the sneakers on my own vehicles and take them on a test drive.
I remember one time, a manufacturer's rep was boasting how his company's new composition made the tire more durable. So, I put a set on the shop truck.
Then, I took them off the shop truck. No. That was one model I would not be selling to my customers.
And, looking back, that "new and improved" tire didn't stick around within the industry.