A Look Inside Honest Charley Speed Shop
Tucked away on Chestnut Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee you will find Honest Charley Speed Shop and Coker Tire World Headquarters . The brick facade of Honest Charley’s offers a sense of old America while the other side of the facility houses Coker Tire – a hub of activity and nerve center of one of America’s largest tire and wheel manufacturers. Motor minded people and nostalgia purists travel here from all over the world to visit Chattanooga’s center of speed.
Honest Charley houses an incredible collection of vehicles from every era including a plethora of vintage bikes, and an impressive operation within its walls. Just who is Honest Charley? He was one of America’s pioneering speed parts retailers and called Chattanooga home. A hot rodder himself who raced on Daytona Beach, Honest Charley was also noted for his humorous and well-stocked catalogs. He was an American original for sure.
After Charley passed away in 1974, his son-in-law and partner Robert J. Espy ran the speed shop until he passed in 1990. Then In 1998, Corky Coker – a Chattanooga hot rod aficionado, vintage tire manufacturer and CEO of Coker Tire smartly acquired the brand rights to Honest Charley Speed Shop and revitalized the brand to offer speed parts, tech tips, apparel and old cars. You might remember Corky as the former Chairman of SEMA and star of the TV show “Backroad Gold” a few years back.
While the Honest Charley website offers goods and services worldwide, their facility on Chestnut Street is chalk full of vintage cars, bikes, neon and other automobilia. We have to say, its one of America’s coolest garages. Some refer to it as the Coker Museum.
Holding a lifetime of history within its facility, it is definitely a spot you want to see for yourself. To give you a little sneak peak inside of its walls, here are some of the best sights, until you can see it with your own eyes!
Daily tours are given free to the public, where you can walk the building, see it’s operations, and get all the history you desire. The museum has one of the largest collections of vintage motorcycles in the Middle Tennessee area. From Harleys, Indians, Schwinns, Excelsiors, and even Sears, it is nothing short of spectacular. An entire wall of the museum is dedicated to their vintage bike collection, each bike given its own “stall” against a brick wall. When viewed from across the room, the motorcycle wall is really something.
Big thanks to our man and former co-worker Steve Anderson for getting us access to shoot the museum and for filling us in on some company history. Steve is easily recognizable by his silver mane. He is a walking, talking hot rod historian.
For starters, a 1948 Harley Davidson dirt track factory racer was owned and raced by Lee Flowers. It was powered by a Harley Davidson WR race engine fitted with a lightened “porkchop” crankshaft and roller bearings. During the race season, Flowers damaged his engine and was loaned another one from Joe Leonard, and AMA and USAC Champion. At the end of the run, the engine was returned to Leonard until Coker Museum bought the bike from Flower’s son decades later as well as the engine from Leonard. The bike and engine were once again reunited and are now on display at Coker Museum.
We all love the barn finds and these 1916 Harley’s are no exception. Known as the “The Twins”, these two bikes offer a great before and after visual of a complete restoration. The restored bike offers an example of a courier’s bike from World War I.
The unrestored patina bike is a true original aside from the plugs, wires, and Coker tires. Even more impressive than it’s original condition, this bike still runs and rides on occasion keeping the history alive and well, even 102 years later.
The oldest vehicle in the museum is a 1907 Excelsior Auto-cycle made by Excelsior Moto Manufacturing & Supply Company. A single cylinder engine drives the rear wheel with a leather belt running between the crankshaft and a Mahogany drive wheel attached to the rear spoke rim. Interestingly, with the back of early motorcycles raised on stands, or on the ground pedals were used to spin the rear wheel up, applying rotational inertia to start the engine as an arm snugs the belt around a pulley on the crankshaft.