Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vintage Hot Rod Dash and Stewart Warner Gauge Sets

Here's a nice compilation of hot rod dashboard set-ups, with Stewart Warner and other gauges....

1927 Motor Magazine January, McClelland Barclay Cover

This is one of the stunning covers McClelland Barclay did for MOTOR Magazine. This is the January, 1927 issue...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari

In my opinion, one of the five greatest drivers of all time. Here's a rarely seen headshot from the June, 1936 issue of Motor magazine...

And here's a link to one of his thrilling victories, where he was outgunned and running against a pack of high-powered Germans ...

Friday, February 22, 2013

1936 Ford Crash

From Popular Mechanics, 1948. I think we're looking at a Ford, am I wrong?
I think the dog's gonna make it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Restore A 1933 1934 Dodge Dashboard Gauge Set

You have the Fenton heads, and the chopped down Cadillac steering wheel. You’re running on Bias-Plys with finned Buick drums. But to go all the way, you need to take that dashboard away from the same-old off-the shelf cookie-cutter to the custom look, and there are 100 years worth of gauges to do it with.       
   Everyone lusts after the King of hot rod panels, the 1932 Auburn set-up. With it’s convex-lensed row of Stewart Warner gauges and array of pull-switches displayed in an engine-turned canvas of steel, it has been the gold-standard for fifty years. But they are few and far between, so unless you snag one from beneath a pile of hubcaps at a local swap-meet, be prepared to spend a lot or do without.

1932 Auburn Dash Set

   A great alternative are the Mopar instrument panels of the early 1930's. The 1932 Chrysler is rare but not in Auburn territory yet. The 1933 to 1934 Dodge and Plymouth panels can still be captured in the $100 -$200 range, and they are some of the most beautiful of the pre-war gauge sets. What makes them so great to work with is that they were self-contained units, easy for a junk-yarder or hobbyist to pull from the dash, and so they are just as straight-forward to install. What we’re going to take a look at is the cosmetic restoration of a 1934 Dodge set; disassembly, cleaning and tips on further resto.
   This panel was purchased off ebay for $100. It’s solid, but dirty, so it’s a good candidate for a light exploratory cleaning.

No, that's not bad photography, it really does look this crappy

   I often find gauges with previous amateur tell-tale plier crimps marring the edges. A common error in taking the backs off of gauges and re-sealing them is using the right technique. If you don’t have a gauge bezel roller (not easy to find, even if you have the dough) the best way to remove the backs of most gauges from the 30's is with a medium-sized screw-driver and a work-shop table edge. Using the edge of the table as a brace on the front, take the screwdriver to the back edging where it is folded over the bezel. By working the blade under the bezel rim and lifting it a bit at a time (too much and you can crack the bezel, especially this style of panel) work your way around the top 3/4 of the gauge panel. This is enough to work the overlay free, and give you a set-in start-point when you are ready to remount the overlay.

 This set consists of the gauge mounting, the glass, the inlaid engine-turned insignia panel, and the over-lay bezel. The outside of this is straight, but tarnished. Using a fine steel wool, double or triple aught, will help in polishing this up, or it will hold a chroming nicely. You will notice in the back of this piece that the glass sits on cork spacers. This can be replaced with rollable 3-M window sealer. Once the set is apart, you can really see what the condition is. This set is solid, and would be a good candidate for a deep restoration, but for now we’ll give it a top-end so it presents nice.

After blowing out the wasps nests, clean the glass. If this is broken, no problem. It’s flat glass, easily cut by any glass shop. If it looks good, clean as you would any glass, with soap and cool water, and use the fine steel wool to take off any built-up crust.
   Next is the engine-turned inset. This is delicate, and you cannot use an abrasive. A very weak acidic solution, or soap and water with a soft sponge will give you the best results without damaging it. Remember, this is one of the reasons to get this set, so be gentle with the inlay.
   Use the same procedure with the gauges. GENTLY dab at the finish, especially the odometer numbers (they are very susceptible to chipping) and always wipe WITH the direction of the needle sweep. The needles will bend very easily, and they are time-consuming to correct, so go slow and easy. 

   A more complex resto would involve removing the gauges and media-blasting and re-painting the case, again, very-straight-forward and simple to do with these sets.
   To re-assemble, just reverse the process. DO NOT use pliers to crimp the edges back down. Use the edge of the screwdriver with the gauge set backed by the table edge. What you will be left with is a beautiful set with a light “old-time” patina, and odds are that some or all of the gauges will be in working order. On this set, the gas and amps still register, and lines can be run from the oil and water gauges. The speedo can be sent to a number of restoration services, or if it looks pretty good, lubed and hooked up with one of the many speedometer cables advertised on-line and on Ebay.
   So if you have the desire for “something different”, a dash set that will get second-looks from the other hot-rodders, check out the early 30's Mopars, and design a dash as unique as you are!

1934 Dodge Dash Gauge Set

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Retro Fiberglass Hot Rods - The Venus

 One of the most beautiful creations of the 1950's fiberglass Specials era was the Venus.

1954 Venus from the cover of Motor Trend Magazine, May 1954

It was a very-low production car, less than ten built, and few still in existence. As was the custom back in the fifties, many of the body "extras" were from other cars, such as the unusual grille configuration which was actually made from parts off of a 1951 Mercury rear bumper.

Original Picture of the Motor Trend Magazine Cover, Above

The styling still holds up well. One of the great advantages of the nascent sports car era is that backyard-builders and  at-home designers could create a dream, and see that dream come to fruition through a combination of a "miracle material" that could be shaped and produced without giant stamping machines or expensive and time-consuming aluminum working. You could literally sketch out a design, make up a wooden frame, pull a reverse plug from the original and make multiple copies of your creation. The 1950's was the height of this home-brewed automotive alchemy.
 If you're interested in the real story behind this fantastic creation, checkout these two links:

Here is a personal history, from a family member of the designer...

And here is a fantastic site on all things Fiberglass from the Fifties, run by the impresario of forgotten history, Geoff Hacker...

Airplane Dash Illustration By Count Alexis De Sahknoffsky

1948 Packard Dash Art

1948 Packard

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1933 Car Gauges, The Shift To Modernarity

The 1930's were the height of the art deco influence on automotive gauges. The stunning sweep of the 1934 Pierce Arrow dash, the elegance of the 1933 Chrysler Lebaron six instrument engine-turned finish display, and the swooping shape of the 1933 Willys array were all standard-bearers for the parade of sophisticated design.

1934 Pierce Arrow
1933 Willys

1933 Chrysler Lebaron

But it was also a time of transition, out of the post-1920's grandeur in all things, into the more practical, yet still stylish designs of the mid-to-late Thirties. This is when the condensation of gauges visually became more and more common, either by proximity to each other or by consolidation into a single cluster.
And the leaders were the same companies who led the way into auto instrument sophistication - Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth. They combined the utilitarianism of the lowly truck dash, and put a beautiful veneer on it.
A prime example in contrast is the 1933 Diamond T Truck cluster by Stewart Warner. Again, as per usual for SW, the design of the Diamond T is bold, simple, yet striking. 

1933 Diamond T truck gauges

Chrysler took that practical thought a step or two further and applied it to the commercial possibility. What works for a truck will certainly work for the family sedan, but the mass consumer wants a little more flair for their dollar, and the 1934 Chrysler delivered.

1934 Chrysler

Note the soft hue of gold and the stylized graphics. They have the same function as the truck gauges, but with much more elegance.

Stewart Warner would also become famous for their "All In One" cluster, which included three or four ancillary gauges and either a tachometer or speedometer in the middle, like this Segrave cluster...

It was a style that was emulated just a handful of times in commercial cars. One was the 1936 Plymouth, a really gorgeous set that came in different color combos, including this regal black and grey...

1936 Plymouth

Also the 1939 Zephyr used this approach, and today is one of the hardest to get and most valuable sets from this era...

1939 Zephyr

And famously, the 1948 Tucker!
The Tucker set was a head-scratcher when I came across it. It's a Stewart Warner set, stamped as such, but I couldn't find a cross-reference to the numbers in all of my books (I have most from that era). It took a lot of posting in forums, asking guys who asked other guys, but eventually I just stumbled across the same dash in a picture of the interior of a Tucker automobile. 
Since they had only made fifty complete cars, I determined that this was part of their back-inventory, either as a replacement set for a broken one down the line, or perhaps it was sitting in the warehouse, waiting for the call to come, and when it didn't, it got parceled out at a liquidation auction and floated through the nebula of flea markets and swap meets until I pulled it from the morass. 
I did eventually sell it, knowing full-well that I'd probably never own another. But for awhile, I owned a piece of one of the most legendary and storied cars in our automotive history. And that was enough for me.

1948 Tucker

Friday, February 8, 2013

1948 White Trucks Stewart Warner Gauges

The 1948 White Truck dashboard set, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful sets designed both in form, graphics and color.

The background is a stunning bronze/gold, with a brick-colored "bullseye" centerpiece graphic.

Both the gauges have the distinctive "Arrow" needle, an elegant compliment to the utilitarian function of a large truck instrument, and the black and white color scheme makes them stand out, and easy to read.

The multi-gauge set-up is perfect. All levels can be read at a glance, with big clear numeration and again, contrasting needle color to the background.

This style is one that was popular in the late-forties with SW customers. Crosley was another noted user of this style, with a different needle and one color backgrounds and the Crosley name and arrow logo.
 Here's the Crosley version, below...


And the speedometer. Notice the "Plain Jane" needle.

Interestingly, the White Truck gauge needle was shared with a few other car makes, including a rare mid-thirties Desoto set.
The needle was lengthened out a bit to fit the larger instrument size more esthetically.

All in all, the 1948 SW White Truck set is a keeper, and the boldness of it's design and color scheme impress today as much as they must have back then.