Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dissect A Dash: The Norm Wallace 1932 Ford Stewart Warner Panel

This is the first of a continuing series called "Dissect a Dash", where we'll take a look at some of the famous dashboard gauge panels in hot rod and race history, and examine the components that went into putting them together as a whole.
The Earl Wallace Deuce roadster was built in the late-Fifties, and the pictures here are from the 1960 HOT ROD ANNUAL. 

1960 Hot Rod Annual, published by Trend Books

The roadster is a beauty, with cycle-style fenders, spinner caps and nerf bar bumpers. Really a prototypical build of the era. It's a style that looks great today, and not dated in any way. That timelessness is really the mark of a great builder.

The Earl Wallace 1932 Ford Roadster

Lets take a closer look at the dash itself. The first thing that jumps out at you is the Stewart Warner "Straight Five" or "Ensign" gauge panel planted smack in the middle of the dash. It has the signature engine-turned fascia finish. What makes it eye-catching from a distance is the surround that Earl has smartly rimmed in white (echoing the whitewall tires and interior trim), giving a border-within-a-border look to the SW panel. The shapes are very complimentary to each other.

So what did Earl use to make this striking arrangement?  Let's do the breakdown...

Here is the central panel, with four SW "Wings" insignia accessory gauges. There is definitely an amps and a water temperature gauge to the right hand side, to the left I'm assuming a fuel and an oil pressure. The center is interesting, because instead of an expected speedometer, Earl has planted what looks to be a six or seven-grand RPM Sun "Football" insignia tachometer. This model is referred to as the "Football" model because it has a red, football shaped emblem smack in the middle of the face. It was an electric model, and it's very telling that of all the gauges in this dash, it was the only non- Stewart Warner one. This speaks heavily to the issues that SW had with their electric tach line, one of the rare SW missteps in their development history.

And here's the Stewart Warner speedo, tucked down below in a custom 3-3/8" chrome holder. This is not a "Wings" insignia gauge like the accessory gauges; this is what I refer to as the "Big Block" insignia, a white square with the SW letters in black. The insignia was introduced in a smaller graphics version a few years later, the "Small Block" series. This was a mechanical speedometer.

Again, Stewart Warner gauges, in the larger 2-5/8" front-mount style. Another pressure gauge, and a vacuum or air pressure gauge. Also a couple of pull switches (Lights? Throttle?) and a Cole Hersee style indicator light.

And more of the same on the drivers side, with an ignition key as well. 

Again, the set-up is simple, yet striking, clean and balanced. The fact that he stuck the tachometer up top lets us know that this car was built for go as well as show. 

The Earl Wallace 1932 Ford Roadster: A Study in Smooth Styling

Monday, March 18, 2013

The 1972 Renault 17

In 1972, Renault produced the Model 15. After woeful performance tests, they beefed up the running gear, stripped down the weight, and voila! The Model 17, later to become the Gordini 17, appeared to save the day. It still looks sharp today, a testament to the designers of the early Seventies.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Fastest Car Of It's Time...

...was the Stanley Steamer. 
In 1906, it flew at 126 MPH, smashing all-records.

This model had a larger steam engine than the regular sedan, and produced twice the power at a curb weight of just over 2,200 pounds!

Vintage MOTOR Cover art, October, 1940

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Mopar Era: 1932 1933 1934 Dodge Chrysler Plymouth Dashboard Gauges

It was the best of times, and it was...the best of times.
It definitely was for the Chrysler family of cars, especially when it came to the cockpit. Their three year design run was economically elegant, not as grandiose as the Pierce-Arrow or Dusenberg panels individually, but as a group, they stood second to none in understated sophistication and design.
The 1932 sets were a big step up from the humdrum, pedestrian layout of previous years. As a matter of fact, they were never really very fancy before 1932, just straight-forward utilitarian designs. But once the early-Thirties rolled around, things changed in a hurry...

1932 Plymouth gauge and panel

1932 Chrysler dash set

The engine-turned inlays were gorgeous, and contrasted beautifully with the starkness of the white or black gauge faces. The units were also self-contained; you could pull the instruments as one, not just individually.

In 1933, the trio decided to add a little more flash for your cash. The 1933 Dodge made a big step towards art deco decadence with their gold-tinted inlay.

1933 Dodge dash set

The exquisite ribbing gave the inlay an almost three-dimensional texture, in stunning gold that reflected a brilliant warm glow as you drove on a Summer afternoon.

The 1933 Plymouth distinguished itself with a softer look, an oval panel that combined the familiar Plymouth needle and number designs with the new insert styling to match the high-concept of it's automotive brethren...

1933 Plymouth set

The flagship of the three, Chrysler, wasn't about to be shown up by it's siblings, and the 1933 Lebaron set is the apex of the company.

1933 Chrysler LeBaron dashboard instruments
They were also popular with the hot rodders as well. Here's a 32 Chrysler set in a 1929 Ford roadster dash...

And here's one from the September, 1955 issue of Rodding and Restyling, featuring a 1932 Chevrolet Sedan sporting the gauges

1934 was the last of the art deco stylings. Dodge simply manipulated the configuration of it's gauges, Plymouth fussed with the colors, and Chrysler began the move for Mopar to separate speedometer and auxiliary gauges... 

1934 Dodge dash set

1934 Plymouth gauges set

The Chrysler set heralded the splitting up of the "big" gauges and the "small" ones (the 1936 Plymouth combination gauge cluster was the exception).

1934 Chrysler auxiliary gauges
An interesting aside is that the Desoto set mirrored the Chrysler set, with slight differences in gauge shape and color.

1934 Desoto gauges

The triplets of Detroit reached for a combination of high-style and functionality, and knocked it out of the park in these three years. Though the shift in design between 1933 and 1934 for Plymouth and Dodge was subtle (just enough to make the gauges incompatible with each others drill holes, so a 1933 Dodge gas gauge won't fit a 1934, grrr!) they stayed the course in presentation, assuring that the triptych of panels would forever be appreciated as a triumphant series.