We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Vehicle Magazine strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with John Northeimer, General Manager of Universal Vintage Tire. Most will recognize the company Universal Vintage Tire, as one of the leading business dealing in rubber for historic military vehicles.
With more than 27 years experience in the specialty tire market John has a very good sense of the ebs and flows of our hobby. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions about the HMV Tire Market.”
Military Vehicles Magazine (MVM): The foundation of your business has been supplying tires to people in the historic automotive vehicle hobby. What led you to specialize in the historic military vehicle facet of the hobby?
Universal: We are always looking for new or expanding markets to grow our business. We saw the historic military vehicle facet of the hobby really take off in the past 5 years or more.
MVM: You are known for supplying rare tires…What is involved in responding to a request for a tire you don’t already have in stock?
Universal: First, we would check globally to see if the tire might be offered by a manufacturer or another distributor. If the tire is not currently on the market we may try to source an existing tire mold that is in mothballs and have it produced.
If a tire mold is unavailable, we would then do some extensive market research to determine if the tire is a viable product that we could develop and ultimately produce. Developing a new tire is very costly and involved process. It is not always economically feasible for us to do so. It all depends on how high the demand is.
MVM: You work with manufacturers in the USA to supply rare tires. What tire would you say was the most exciting for your reproduce for the historic military vehicle hobby?
Universal: I would have to say the 600-16 Firestone NDT tire. A lot of time was taken to make this tire historically correct as possible.
MVM: What sort of “pitfalls” do new historic military vehicles owners commonly encounter with tires? What should a potential vehicle buyer be looking at when it comes to tires?
Universal: Availability is very important. Before purchasing any historical vehicle the individual should do a little research and make sure tires are currently available to fit it. Once the potential new buyer has determined that tires for the vehicle being considered are available, a close visual inspection of the existing tires should be made to determine if they are road worthy or if they need replaced.
The buyer should look for any signs of cracking or faint lines in the sidewall and also check carefully for cracks in the tread area between the lugs of the tires. Old tires can be tricky to drive on at best, dangerous at worst. When replacing older tires, remember to purchase new tubes and flaps also.
MVM: A lot of people in our hobby don’t put a lot of miles on their tires…maybe only a few hundred each year. But, they might own a vehicle for fifteen or twenty years. What advice do you have for maximizing tire life for historic military vehicle hobbyists?
Universal: The life of a tire is certainly finite. The key to a tire’s longevity is proper inflation and storage. When driven, under inflated tires generate excessive heat which can lead to premature cracking or failure. Ozone is also a concern. Ozone exposure accelerates the aging process of a tire. When possible, tires should be kept away from direct sunlight or any electrical motors in your garage. If storing unmounted tires for an extended period of time, keep them in a cool dry area and laid flat. If the tires are on the vehicle and it is in storage for a long period of time, we also recommend elevating the vehicle up on jack stands to take the weight off the tires to prevent premature sidewall checking or cracking.
MVM: Walking around the MVPA National Convention, it would appear the “shiny car” effect has entered the olive drab hobby. Can you comment on “tire dressings” that many use to make their tires appear darker? How do dressings interact with the rubber?
Universal: If an individual does choose to use a tire dressing we strongly recommend using a product that is water based. Stay away from dressings that contain petroleum or silicon products as an ingredient. These ingredients can interact with a tire’s rubber compound and weaken it over time.
MVM: Many in our hobby think that buying surplus tires is an “economical” approach. Obviously, you would recommend your tires over surplus, but can you actually speak to the economics of reproduction new tires versus surplus military tires?
Universal: Surplus tires certainly cost less. You get what you pay for. The major concern when buying surplus is the age of the product. This ties in to your previous question about tire life.
Over time tires tend to dry out and get hard. Older tires are more likely to skid on slick surfaces or skid while braking to a quick stop. Since they are less pliable older tires are more prone to ply separations and blowouts.
New tires perform much better and are safe. New tires also carry a warranty against defects in workmanship and material from the manufacture.
MVM: You must have seen a lot during your near 27 years in the hobby. What trend in restoring vehicles have you seen develop and then taper off?
Universal: One thing I have noticed over the years is the tendency away from highly restored vehicles that have more new parts than old, to vehicles that have a high degree of originality.
Vehicles that have not been restored or modified from original often have more value these days than their “over-restored” counterparts. This trend seems to be industry wide, including the military hobby.
MVM: Is there a particular tire size / vehicle type that has surprised you in the last few years, either for popularity or lack of interest?
Universal: In general, I am just surprised at the variety of historic military vehicles I see each time I go to a military show. You always seem to see something new.
MVM: For our last question, we want you to look into your crystal ball. Tell us how you see the historic military vehicle hobby changing during the next ten years. What advice do you have for current vehicle owners?
Universal: I think this hobby will definitely continue to grow as more and more people are exposed to it. I also think the cost of buying or restoring a historic military vehicle will increase as more individual’s enter the hobby and original surplus parts become more scarce.
My advice for current vehicle owners is to simply enjoy them as much as possible. I also encourage everyone to pass your enthusiasm for this hobby to the next generation. It should be our duty to get the younger audience involved to insure this hobby continues.