Tuesday, July 31, 2012
“Each vehicle has a story,” says Corky Coker, avid car collector and owner of Coker Tire, home of the largest variety of vintage car and motorcycle tires in the world.
Coker is known in the Chattanooga area and all over the world for his extensive vehicle collection featuring antique finds from hot rods to rat rods to British cars to race cars. And starting this month, Coker will extend his fan base worldwide with the premiere of his Travel Channel television show, “Barn Finds.”
“My dad, myself, my daughter and my son-in-law will find cars in old barns and negotiate and buy them,” he says of the show’s premise. “There’s a legendary story of finding a gem in an old barn. That’s called a ‘barn find.’”
On the Road
World-renowned car enthusiast Corky Coker is hitting the road for a new vintage venture with Travel Channel. View some of the "local celebrities" from his private collection.
The show will give viewers the chance to experience the thrill of finding diamonds-in-the-rough, like antique automobiles and signage, that have been somewhat preserved in the barns. The opportunity is perfect for Coker and his family, which have been involved in the car business for all of their lives and have found several cars in this fashion. “I was raised in it,” says Coker. “My dad was a collector of Model A and T cars because he couldn’t afford anything else. My grandpa, “Pop” Coker, lived to be 97 and was working on Model As for most of his life. That’s really why we are in the business.”
Coker has amassed more than 100 cars, but he couldn’t tell you exactly how many. “I don’t count because that’s hoarding. That’s counting your riches,” he says. “I treat it like an open hand because these cars will outlive me.” Many of his vehicles are displayed in a warehouse space that is part of the Coker Tire building, located in the historic Southside district. The warehouse is open for free tours twice a day, and Coker says visitors come from across the nation to see the collection in person. “Most people in Chattanooga don’t have a concept of what Coker Tires does,” says Coker. “And not everyone knows that this is even here.”
Although Coker’s impressive collection is open for tours just like a museum, he says that he wants people to really be able to touch and experience the cars instead of viewing them from behind a velvet rope. “Cars are to enjoy and I enjoy celebrating them,” he says. “In most museums or collections, they’ll have ropes or ‘Do not touch’ signs. I don’t do that.”
Unique to most car collectors who use cars as an escape from the daily grind, Coker’s business is his pleasure. “I get to play in my work and work in my play,” he says. But he feels the importance of what he does reaches farther than just his business or a hobby. “I like to impact people. I want to see young kids learn how to work with their hands and their heads,” he says. “More things are invented by farmers who see a need and invent something to meet it than by engineers in a boardroom. I think kids today need to learn how to use their hands again — let’s build a treehouse or restore a car.”
This sentiment hits close to home for Coker, whose first car, a 1932 Ford B-Model pickup, was completely restored by hard work that he and his father put in to it together. “I’ve got three grandsons,” he says. “I wanna see those kids grow up to be somebody, do something.”
As for the future, Coker has many plans to expand and improve “Corkeyville,” including turning the old building which used to house the Turnbull ice cream cone factory into the “Hot Rod Hotel,” with one- and two-bedroom suites and a cowboy bar. “Everybody’s got to keep up with me,” he says. “I don’t have enough hours in the day.”