It All Starts With the Cover

Jan. 24, 2020

One hundred years. More than 1,200 covers, including convention extras and product catalogs. With all those choices, how do you choose the best 10 Modern Tire Dealer covers?

Certainly such a task is highly subjective. But after a lot of discussion (and some haggling!) the MTD staff picked the Top 10 Best Covers anyway. Here’s how it went down.

No ads!

From our first publication in August 1919 through September 1954, MTD covers featured advertising, a common practice at the time. Only three times during that run did the magazine have its own cover.

   In February and March of 1934, we had type covers focusing on a blockbuster issue: a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s pricing and trade practices as they related to Sears, Roebuck & Co. For its time, this was a great cover.

The second cover highlighted what Tires, the magazine’s name at the time, was all about: “What the tire dealer thinks of the mail order business as expressed in the Goodyear-Sears hearing.”

We also ran a type cover in November 1934 about tire pricing. Since then, we have only used type covers when the subject matter was important enough to do so. One that sticks out appeared in our February 1965 issue. The stark front cover clearly showed the industry was under trial by the federal (“Federal Trade Commission holds hearings on tire marketing practices) and state (“Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission airs proposed tire standards”) governments.

However, there were plenty of non-type covers that also addressed important issues. As a result, we eliminated all type covers from our best covers list. As for the ad covers, since we didn’t create the ads, we chose not to consider them, either.

In living color!

Under the tutelage of our first editor, Jerry Shaw, an ad almost always graced the cover, and the same shade of blue was used to outline the ad and our logo. The magazine even billed itself as “The Blue Book of the Business” until Shaw died in 1954 and the magazine changed its cover format and distinctive coloring.

Not until October 1962 did the magazine, under the name Modern Tire Dealer, run a four-color photo on the cover, and that didn’t become standard practice until 1970. You will note that three of the Top 10 Best Covers featured two colors.

With that in mind, here are our Top 10 Best Covers in chronological order, in glorious four (or two) colors! 

July 1966: V-1 Tire Standards

May 1968: Growing Industry Dilemma: What to Do With Scrap Tires?

May 1971: Parnelli Jones, Well-Known Race Driver Turned Independent California Dealer

April 1976: When fire strikes your dealership!

Mid-April 1986: Modern Products for Modern Times

April 2006: Play Ball! Sports marketing and the tire industry

May 2007: Katrina Aftermath

May 2010: Is the glass half full or half empty?

August 2013: Is this the tire of the future?

September 2016: One man. One superstore

Here is a look at each of our Top 10 Best Covers.

July 1966, backstory: Maryland and New Jersey became the first states to pass Vehicle Equipment Safety Commission tire standards. Tires manufactured after July 1 could not be sold in the states without the V-1 stamp of approval. Both states required a “cut growth test,” which was designed to determine whether or not a cut made in a tire would grow enough to become a safety hazard. Kansas and Kentucky were considering following suit. The cover illustration was one of many drawn for Modern Tire Dealer by George Booth, the famous New Yorker cartoonist and one-time MTD art director.

May 1968, backstory: The cover itself showed just how bad the scrap tire problem was becoming. The question posed by the cover copy focused on the real issue: What to do with scrap tires? As the story inside noted, “You can’t sell, burn or dump ’em.” One dealer worked closely with a rubber reclaimer. Another kept the location of the landfill where he dumped his tires a secret: “Although we have some close friends in the tire business here in D.C., if they were to discover the location of our landfill, they’d want to dump their tires there, too.”

May 1971, backstory: Famous race car driver Parnelli Jones, then 37, was a relatively new independent tire dealer getting ready to open his third store in California. Although the new outlet served all tire buyers, it emphasized high performance tires and services. “Basically we’re tire people,” he said. “We’re in it all the way and for keeps… and hope to open several new retail stores in the years ahead. We may even develop a national chain.” By 1988, he owned 43 Parnelli Jones Firestone outlets and was ranked 15th on MTD’s list of the top 25 retail outlets in North America.

April 1976, backstory: Originally a black-and-white photo, the cover was designed using Pantone Red to make it more dramatic. Two dealers were profiled; the first, Clarence Wisdom, owner of Wisdom Tire Service in Jonesville, La., wrote the first-person opening story. When he heard one of his six stores — the one 100 miles from home — was on fire, he quickly packed an overnight bag and hit the road. “As you drive, a flood of questions hits: How did it start? How bad will it be? Are my records safe? Am I covered? And why didn’t I increase my policy as my auditor advised in April?” The photo was provided courtesy of the Beaver County Times.

Mid-April 1986, backstory: Our Mid-April Products Catalog was first published in 1975. The special issues were supposed to highlight the latest products available to tire dealers, from tires and wheels to shop/office equipment and supplies: in essence, “modern” products. I remembered the famous 1936 Charlie Chaplin film about working at a state-of-the-art factory, and thought “Modern Products for Modern Times” would be a great tagline if I could get permission to use a photo from the film. The Charlie Chaplin Estate and Curtis Licensing Corp. obliged. The sepia tone effect used on the black-and-white photo combined with the movie/film font for the headline make this, even 23 years later, my favorite cover.

April 2006, backstory: In order to support our series on sports marketing, we asked manufacturers and marketers to supply us with golf balls sporting their respective logos. I already had collected a number of them from various golf outings, three featuring tire dealer logos (Gem City Tire, Tire Source and S&S Tire). We couldn’t display all the balls, of course, and based on some feedback, gave the suppliers another chance to send some in. I followed up with a Parting Shot on the topic, and displayed nine more golf balls, including a Belle Tire ball.

May 2007, backstory: We covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s attack on the Gulf Coast by sending Managing Editor Lori Mavrigian to Louisiana and Mississippi with representatives from Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC. They were checking out the progress of six of their dealers in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in our country’s history. The dealers proved to be more than survivors; they answered the call when their communities needed them the most. As one dealer told Lori, “Tire dealers were very critical during the crisis.”

May 2010, backstory: This may be our most professional-looking cover, and we shot it ourselves! “Is the glass half full or half empty?” referred to the effect 35% tariffs on consumer tire imports from China were having on private brand tire companies six months after they had been implemented. The cover not only received a gold medal for editorial excellence from the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), but also finished first in the “Best of Graphics” division of the competition. And we have a crystal trophy to prove it.

August 2013, backstory: Tall, thin tires on hybrid and electric concept vehicles were getting some press. DeltaWing Project 56 LLC even was considering the design for race cars. The tires offered extreme fuel economy. Volkswagen Group of America claimed its XL1, with size 115/80R15 Michelin Energy tires on the front and size 145/55R16 tires on the rear, was capable of getting 262 miles per gallon. Bridgestone Corp. said its skinny 155/55R19 Ecopia ologic tires on the cover were in production. Six years later, tall, thin tires have yet to be married to vehicle design.

September 2016, backstory: A number of our Tire Dealer of the Year covers were in the running to make our Top 10 Best Covers list, but there was something about this photo of 2016 winner Alpio Barbara that gave it the edge. With his Redwood General Tire Service Co. store in the background, Alpio was photographed in front of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle at dawn. If you know Alpio, you know this photo perfectly captures his personality. And the cover type said it all: One man. One superstore.

Not good enough

A number of covers almost made the cut, including one of my favorites, our February 1986 performance tire issue featuring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas from Miami Vice. The photograph, courtesy of NBC Television, was teamed with the headline “Performance… not just Miami’s Vice.” We also used the TV show’s trademark pastel colors to complement the cover design.

“Congratulations are in order for the fine job you did in creating such an attractive cover for the February 1986 issue of Modern Tire Dealer,” wrote Tim Mills, service manager for Barones Auto Center in Middletown, N.Y. “The contemporary layout of the cover served to enhance your timely article on performance tires.”

Our response? “That has proved to be a very popular cover, and issue.”

You might be surprised to know I have appeared on more MTD covers than anyone — five. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn none of them were even considered a Top 10 Best Cover.

In the past, MTD employees often were used as cover models before they were known in the industry. I first appeared on the cover before I had written one word in the magazine. Within the next few years, my silhouette, hand and arm became cover fodder. The back of me, in a suit, was pictured in a business meeting.

Mike Mavrigian, editor of our company’s Auto Service Professional magazine, has, to the best of my knowledge, only appeared on four MTD covers.

We don’t pretend that all our covers have hit the mark. One of those in particular comes to mind.

In November 1986, we ran a photo of a man missing a front tooth standing behind a tire. It was centered on the cover, with the tagline, “Inside: Dealing with success.”There was a short reference to the man in the photo in very small type: “The Refrigerator plugs a tire.” Sports fans at the time may have recognized football player William “Refrigerator” Perry, a member of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, but the type sure didn’t leverage his celebrity.

The gap-toothed NFL star had been hired as a spokesperson for Tire America. The item represented a small part of our Dealing with Success profiles on innovative tire dealers.

Without enough explanation, the photo was odd. Simply, the cover copy did little to draw dealers into the magazine.

Maybe it’s just me, but more than 20 years later, I still dislike this cover.    ■

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.