Table of Contents
First, A Bit of History
Buick used the “Somerset Limited Edition” name as a trim level package for 1980 - 81 Regal and advertised this mid-sized upscale luxury car as a first and only edition. The officials expected that a limited production count number would attract consumers to impulsively buy the car, thinking it would be a collector’s item. The two-tone paint and upgraded interior made the car easily recognizable, and consumers seemed to be intrigued with the fresh look. Buick even threw a free umbrella hidden behind the driver’s seat pocket.
For 1985 - 87, Buick decided they needed an alternative to the Buick Skylark (sales for that car were dismal). To attract attention, they advertised the car as an affordable luxury sedan and tried to convince the public that the amenities they longed for were within their reach. The Somerset was fashioned after the Skylark (in other words, the designers got lazy) and presented a coupe using the N body as a separate entry into the Buick lineup. They equipped the Somerset with a basic rough-riding Ironhorse Duke four-cylinder engine, which generated only 92 horsepower. Still, they were pitched as fuel-efficient (it saved on gas but had no power to speak of). This effort was in response to a concern about rising gas prices (gas had increased to $1.13 per gallon, but only five years before, consumers had been paying $0.67).
There were some exciting novelties about Somerset, namely the digital instrument panel it offered. However, the car’s charging system could not handle the load, and the dashboard failed more times than it worked. In addition, the stereo system was supposed to be state of the art. Still, Buick installed it directly above the heating and ac controls, which meant it was almost impossible to remove or replace with aftermarket systems. Buick built a car with no horsepower, no electrical functions (consumers could not tell how fast they were going or how much fuel they had left in the tank), and had no stereo. This Buick looked like every other Buick on the road (albeit slightly smaller). The American public refused to be conned by the new offering, and those who purchased the new car took them back to the dealers shortly after purchasing them - (my Gramps being one of them - he owned a Somerset for less than a week - the dashboard blew three times). After that, the car sales were so bad the first year that less than two years later, it was discontinued in 1987.
What Size Tires Fit the Buick Somerset Regal?
That depends on whether you are referring to the Somerset Trim as part of the Regal lineup for ‘80 - 81 or the bonafide Somerset Regal car manufactured from 1985 - 87.
What Are the Best Tires for a Buick Somerset Regal?
While tire choices are limited compared to other makes and models, you have some options regarding the Buick Somerset. Be careful to find out the actual tire size used for the year your Buick was made.
The Buick Somerset 1980 - 1981
Let’s look at the Limited Edition Somerset sold in 1980 - 1981 as a trim level for the Buick Regal.
Travelstar Radial UN106 | 18mm Whitewall | 195/75R14
The Travelstar UN106 is an all-season tire manufactured for passenger vehicles and a select number of SUVs. The tire has a tread depth of 10/32nd and has an exceptional tread pattern designed to maximize contact with the road surface. The tread is made with lateral grooves that assist with hydroplaning and improve handling under wet conditions. There is a center rib designed to improve the tire’s ability to corner by maintaining contact and when steering control is needed.
The tire is weather-resistant, and the compound holds up under extreme temperatures, making it suitable for all climates. Reviews indicate that the tire operates with a minimum of road noise, and the construction of the tire provides a comfortable ride. The tire is readily available at most centers, including PriorityTire.com and Amazon.com.
- Effective tread depth
- Good road contact
- All season - weather tolerable
- Less expensive than other radials
- 50k mile tread warranty
- No NHTSA ratings
Ironman RB12 NWS 195/75R14
The Ironman has been a stable entry in the tire market for years. Produced by Hercules Tire Company, this tire has set the bar for many other manufacturers. The company offers excellent quality tires at an affordable price. The tire is China-made but an all-season radial with a detailed tread pattern that offers excellent traction and all-weather handling. The tire also performs well on wet surfaces, with minimal road noise. Tires are readily available through Tirebuyer.com and SimpleTire.com.
NHTSA ratings for this tire are Treadwear (440), Temperature (B), and Traction (A).
- Good Reputation
- Less Expensive
- Great Treadweat
- Lower Temperature rating
- Limited Warranty
- No warranty
BFGoodrich Radial T/A All-Season - P205/70R14 93S
BF Goodrich has been making tires since WW II when it was commissioned to help the war effort. Since that time, it has made over 500 million tires sold all around the world. The Radial. comes with classic raised white letters and has reasonable traction control. The tire functions well in all weather conditions and is a favorite among Buick vintage car owners. It has a six-year standard limited warranty. The tire is more expensive than competitors, but the BF Goodrich can't be beaten for owners looking for good stability and longevity. There are some complaints of road noise, but overall, this tire has stood the test of time and will likely be a contender for years to come. The tire is available at Vintage Tire company (vintagetire.com) and other outlets.
NHTSA rating - Treadwear (400) Temperature (B) and Traction (A)
- Good reputation - popular choice
- Overall dependability
- All season - suitable for all weather conditions
- 6-year warranty
- Lower temperature rating
- More expensive than competitors.
Hankook Kinergy ST H735 Radial Tire
The Hankook Kinergy ST is an all-season touring tire with a dynamic tread design that provides excellent stability and minimizes hydroplaning. The compound is more rigid than competitors, extending tread life and longevity. It is heavier than other tires weighing 19 lbs, but the weight doesn’t affect road comfortability.
The tire does perform well under all weather conditions. The tire is very affordable, and Hankook is a growing tire company based in South Korea and is building a reputation for an inexpensive, quality-purpose passenger tire. The tire is readily available through multiple outlets such as Walmart, Sams Club, and Tirerack.com
NHTSA rating - Treadwear (400), Temperature (B), and Traction (B)
- Comes in P 195/75 R 14 and 205/70R14 95T
- Affordable tire
- Good quality
- 6-year limited warranty
- Lower temp and traction ratings
Nexen N’Priz AH5
Originally called Heung-A-Tire, this company began making tires in 1942 as South Koreas first tire manufacturer. This Nexen is a quality passenger tire with a thin whitewall strip on the side. The tire has a limited tread life and a warranty for 12 months/ 12k miles. The tires perform well and have received a 5-star rating on review sites such as PriorityTire.com. The tread pattern will displace water, help control hydroplaning, and is rated for all seasons. However, the tread depth is not as thick as other competitors (only 9/32nd) and is rated for 50k miles. The Nexen is becoming a popular tire for many car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Fiat, Chrysler, Renault-Daimler, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, and others.
NHTSA ratings - none
- Affordable Tire
- Good reviews
- Used by manufacturers
- Good ride - comfort
- Limited Warranty
- Low tread level compared to other competitors
If you are looking for a tire company that specializes in vintage restorations as their niche, Diamondback tire company is the one. The company is a primary supplier of antique car restorers, offering various tires. The 205/70R14 is made from a Nexen base and is offered as a thin or wide whitewall, depending on your car's appearance. The tread is good in all seasons, performs well under handling, and has good longevity. The tires will look vintage, but the reliability and performance of a modern radial. The tires are not the most inexpensive ranging in price from $169 - $249. The tire is available directly from dbtires.com
NHTSA rating - none
- Vintage tire company specializing in restorations
- American- made
- Uses Nexen base
- Not ultra-expensive, but not cheap either
- No NHTSA ratings
1985 - 87 Somerset Regal
The 13-inch tire is much more difficult to find on the market place because most tires this size are used as trailer tires, which are not made for passenger cars like the Somerset. The big boys in the tire market often do not offer a 13-inch tire capable of fitting a 1985 -1987 Somerset. (Goodyear, Bridgestone, Firestone, and Michelin offered no suggestions when their databases were searched).
Maxxis | 5/8 Inch Whitewall | 185/80R13
Coker Tire Company is one of the leading vintage tire manufacturers that also works with other providers as a distributor of tires. The Maxxis MA - 1 185/80R13 radial tire is produced by Cheng Shin (Chinese), which has been making tires since the 70s. The tire is known for quality and affordability and has good treadwear and depth (11/32). It also has a five-star rating on several review sites. The tire has steel belt construction to help improve rigidity and minimize puncture. A solid center rib helps surface contact and provides good traction. The tires are DOT approved, and this is a beautiful 5/8 inch white wall for classic cars like the Somerset or Chevrolet Corvair. The tire is available through Coker Tire Company, SimpleTire.com, or PriorityTire.com.
NHTSA rating - Treadwear (420) Temperature (B) and Traction (B)
- Good tread design
- All-season performance
- Quality tire
- 6-year warranty
- Not the cheapest tire on the market
Duro DS-2100 Radial
This is a standard trailer tire that fits the 1985 Somerset equipped with P185/80R13. (Not available in 205/70R13). While the prospect of placing a trailer tire on your vintage car might not appeal to you, the tire has decent treadwear and is capable of being used. It's all-season, handling different environments and temperatures well. Duro also makes a wide variety of bicycle tires. The tread is only 9/32nd, and the tire is designed for highway use. The tire is available through PriorityTire.com
NHTSA rating - none
- Reasonable priced
- All season
- Lower tread depth than other tires
KONTIO WhitePaw Classic WW 185/80R13
Kontio Tyres is a tire manufacturer from Nokia, Finland. This wide whitewall tire is perfect for cars from the 50s when wide white walls were in vogue and on almost every make and model of car. The company has made its mission to cut the price of tires without sacrificing quality. The tires are a good premium choice that many vintage car owners love. With good treadwear and tread design that performs well on multiple road surfaces, this is an excellent tire if you want a wide white wall. The tire is unavailable in 205/70R13, which was used on 1987 Buick Somerset Regal Limited. The tires are available through tires-online.net
NHTSA rating - none.
- Wide White wall tire
- Vintage Look
- Good treadwear
- Less warranty than other competitors
Diamond Back 13-inch (P185/80R13)
Diamondback Vintage Tires is a company that specializes in producing tires for a variety of antique cars. The company began as a retread center in South Carolina and evolved into one of the country's largest suppliers of vintage tires. Its mission is to provide a tire that looks original but has the durability and construction of modern-day radials. Enthusiasts are very high on Diamondbacks, and the tire is quality built, with good longevity and looks. The tire can be made in wide or thin whitewalls and is offered in redline, goldline, or other coloring options. The tread is profound and channels water away well, aiding during wet conditions. The reviews on its ride are very favorable. The tires use the Maxxis mold as the basis for this 13 in. The tires are not as affordable as other radials, but the quality has convinced many restorers that the extra expense is worth the money. The tire is available directly from the company dbtires.com
NHTSA rating - none
- Company dedicated to vintage work
- Loved by Car enthusiasts
- No NHTSA rating
- More expensive
What Are Some Considerations When Purchasing Vintage Tires?
There are various things to consider when purchasing a tire for an older car. While tires range in size, appearance, performance, and price, a good set of tires can go a long way to making your car the highlight of the show or your garage.
Check Your Owners Manual
To ensure the exact tire size you need for your particular Buick Somerset; you should consult the original handbook. Most owners' manuals have detailed information concerning the correct tire dimensions for your car.
Determine Your Plans for the Car
If you are a purist and are restoring the Somerset as close to the original as possible, you can search for used tires that will make the car look period ready. Finding used tires can be mind-numbing, particularly as limited as parts are for this Buick. Purchasing older tires is time-consuming and generally not considered the best option. Even though you can brag about your car having period everything on it, most old tires will be plagued with dry rot on them, as to be little good. (Unless you plan on mounting them on and taking them off before and after every show). Be careful if you go used - check with your dealer, part dealer, or tire center for availability.
Even if you plan to take your car to shows and compete for judges’ points, you will want a tire that looks as original as possible. Many companies like Coker, Diamondback, and Vintage Tire specialize in making tires that look very close to OEM tires. The tread patterns will not be the same as what might have been on the original Buick, but at a glance, the tires will look right and probably won't cost you any points. These modern tire look-a-likes will allow you to drive them during cruising nights and come in all whitewall sizes. Many enthusiasts who frequent car shows and rallies love the alternative and use these tires as their go-to. The problem with vintage tires or lookalikes is that they are much more expensive than just an all-season radial.
For everyone else that just wants an old car to cruise around in now and then but doesn’t care about what looks exact, then [urchase a set of new all-season radials that perform well, offer a good ride, and last. Be sure to drive your beast every couple of weeks just to keep the tires from dry rotting.
Decide What Kind of Budget You Have
Car tires can range widely in price, so it is best to figure out your budget ahead of time. You will likely always spend more than you want, but if you don’t care about being car show-ready, then several affordable tires are out there. Remember that most tire installers charge extra for mounting and balancing when figuring out your budget.
Consider the Reputation of the Manufacturer
There are a few big names in the vintage tire business. Coker Tire, Diamondback, and Vintage Tire Company are all reputable vendors of tires for antique vehicles. They have excellent return policies and are known for their customer service. While you may be able to find tires at a local or discount tire vendor, be sure to read the reviews wherever you decide to purchase. Remember that many companies offer customers freebies for positive reviews so take the great reviews you read with a grain of salt. Since negative reviews tend to be more truthful, look for less than stellar reviews. You should look for patterns, if more than one client mentions the same concern, it might be a clue to an inherent problem.
Don’t Forget About the Spare Tire
The Buick Somerset came with a full-sized spare, so it won’t just be four tires you will be buying if you need to replace them. The last thing you want is to have a flat tire and then discover a flat or dry-rotted spare you cannot use in the trunk.
How Can I Tell If the Tires Need Replacing?
The old penny test still applies here, but it isn't the only thing to look for when examining tires on a vintage car. Signs of cracking, separated tread, or faded color (dry rotting tends to break down the chemicals in rubber and makes the tires look grey or have a white powdery color). If you see cracks or bulges on the sidewall (bulges are signs of weakened areas that are prone to blowing out), then it's time to replace the tires, no matter what Abraham Lincoln says.
How Do I Tell If My Tires Need Replacing?
Well, the basics apply here, but for the novices who are just getting started, here are a couple of helpful hints.
Know Your Tires Birthday
The tire age has a lot to do with whether a tire is experiencing dry rot. If the tire is older than six to ten years, it has probably been exposed to some dry rot, particularly if the car has been exposed to the elements. The way to determine the tire's age is to look at the tire's sidewall and read the US DOT number stamped on the sidewall. Every tire from 2000 on has this four-number sequence which indicates the week (1-52) and the Year (2013 would read 13).While this won’t help determine the date of original tires on a 1985 Somerset, it is useful information.
Look at Your Tires
A good visual inspection every couple of weeks is a good first step. You want to look for signs mentioned above, brittle, cracking, discoloration, or bulging. If the tread appears to be separating from the base of the tire, then you are a definite candidate for dry rot.
Drive the Car
If tires sit, the rubber compound of the tire tends to do two things, get colder, and settle in the direction of the bottom of the tire. This position weakens the other areas of the tire and makes them prone to cracking. A good drive will rotate the tires, warm the rubber compound and keep the rubber evenly distributed around the tire's circumference.
Store the Car Correctly
If you want to maximize your tire life, then store the car away from direct sunlight and heat, which are very detrimental to tire life. A good tarp can cover the car, help keep dust and debris off, and preserve the paint and tires. (Just try not to use the hood of the car as an extra workbench like my father often did because then you’ll decide that clearing it from all the boxes on top of the tarp is too much trouble, and you won’t be prone to driving anything).
How Long Can I Expect Tires to Last?
Most tires will last a long time if not driven daily. If you drive your Somerset on the road constantly, that continual contact with the pavement will wear the tread down, and you need to keep a close eye on the tire’s mileage.
Most car enthusiasts recommend replacing vintage car tires every five to six years, assuming care is taken to avoid dry rot. You should be good if the car doesn’t sit for a prolonged time but is driven enough to keep the rubber from settling or deteriorating. If the car sits for more than three months without being driven, then Mr. Dry Rot is likely to be a close companion.
What If I Need To Drive on a Tire that Appears Dry Rotted?
The short answer is don’t do it - ever. However, if you need to drive the car to a mechanic or onto the back of a wrecker, then as long as the tires have air, you should be able to do so. If you have to drive a car with dry rotted tires, keep your speed low, flashers on, and have someone follow you. The last thing you want is to place yourself or anyone else on the road in harm’s way.
Is There a Secret to Saving Money on a Set of Tires?
While nobody wants to pay more for tires than they need to, there are a couple of things you can do to save some money on your next set of replacement tires.
Dare To Compare
Do your homework to see if more than one tire dealer carries the brand and type of tire you have selected. If you find the tire listed more cheaply online, consider ordering them from the internet site and taking the set to a dealer or mechanic for installation. Most car repair centers will charge around $20, give or take, for mounting and balancing. If you don’t want to order online, take the image of the ad to the car center and ask if they will match the price, chances are they will, so they can keep your business.
Haggle a Bit
You don’t want to be a jerk, but if you don't ask for a discount, you won’t ever get it. Parts guys are used to negotiating, and the car center might be willing to discount tires if you add another service. The discount might not be much, but every little bit helps.
Use Coupons or Other Discounts Offered by the Car Center
If the car center offers a coupon for a certain percentage off a repair, use it. Take advantage of senior or military discounts that could save money. If you don’t see anything offered, ask or find a shop that will provide a reduction.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding