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Now You Can Follow Along...

Posted on 12/8/16 with No comments


Now you can follow along with both of the Fifth Avenue blogs...The "Garage Tech" blog and the "Mr. Haney Specials" blog without having to keep checking the Fifth Avenue website to see if there is a new posting.

You simply sign up using your email address, and you will get an email notice anytime there is a new entry on the blog you are following. You need to sign up separately for each blog, the sign-up is free, and you can subscribe to one or both, and you can unsubscribe anytime. 

You are signing up only to be notified of the blog updates. We will NOT sell your email to one of those junk mail bandits who fill up your inbox with junk mail. If there is no will get NO email. You will also notice there is no advertising in Randy's blogs, it is that way on purpose. Randy started his blogs to help you understand how things work and to make you a better informed antique vehicle owner, not to fill up your in box with junk mail or to test your spam filter. As the legal types used to say..."this blog is for educational purposes only..."  Enjoy!

You will find a sign up link on the Fifth Avenue Garage home page (in the upper right hand corner) of the blog that looks like this.

Enter your email, and follow the directions from there. When you are done you will receive an email to confirm that you have signed up as a follower to the Blog. Simple as that!

As for the Mr. Haney Specials...
Randy has been collecting antique auto related collectibles for more than 40 years. "I knew I would have an antique auto parts store someday, and I wanted it to look on the inside, just like those I remembered as a kid, those auto parts store established in the 1940's that seemed to have a personality all of their own, with the squeaky hard wood floors, and the automotive related advertising memorabilia on the walls that us cars guys collect. I wanted that kind of store..."

"In 1993 I bought a building (half a block long) in downtown Clay Center Kansas that was built in the 1930's, originally as a commercial laundry. By the time I bought it in 1993 it was an empty shell used for storage. I moved my business downtown and started in adding things little by little from my collection, and buying more in my travels. Now some 30 years later the store is fully decorated, and so is the finished basement in my house..."

So...what to do with all of the leftovers...? With the store done and his house done, Randy still has almost enough to do another store. Remember he has been collecting for more than 40 years.

Instead of storing all of this memorabilia in a warehouse Randy has decided to sell it and give someone else a chance to decorate their garage or shop. So that is how Mr. Haney Specials came about. Randy will list items he has for sale along with pictures and descriptions. If you see something you like send him an email and make him an offer. He will keep adding more items as time allows so signing up as a follower will let you know when another item or items have been added. Like" Garage Tech" the sign up is free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

You will find a sign up link on the home page of the Mr. Haney blog (in the upper right hand corner) that looks like this. Enter your email, and follow the directions from there. When you are done you will receive an email to confirm that you have signed up as a follower to the Mr. Haney blog. Simple as that!


History of Bumper Cars And How They Work...

Posted on 11/29/16 with No comments


"Two brothers Max, and Harold Stoehrer, of Methuem Massachusetts spent two years developing a car they proudly named the Dodgem. Soon after the Dodgem was introduced to the public, the Scientific American Magazine did a test on one of the cars. The review was less than flattering…stating that the cars were "highly unmanageable, with the steering only relative". The two brothers later admitted that with their cars…." until you have learned how, you often try to go someplace, but often may not end up where you intended on going". . . Never the less, the cars became extremely popular, despite their bad reviews.

The success of the Dodgem cars caught the attention of Joseph Lusse and his brother Ray who together owned the Lusse Brothers Machine Shop Company. The Lusse Bros decided to design and build, their own car and fix, the defects in the design of the Dodgem Cars. The bothers would spend the next nine years working on their car during which time they were awarded eleven patents.

The Lusse Bros. introduced their "Auto-Skooter" car to the public in the Spring of 1930 and the cars were an immediate hit, in part because they had truly solved most all of the problems associated with the Dodgem cars. The Lusse Bros Auto-Skooters quickly established themselves within the market and easily outsold the Dodgem cars.

A 1940's Company advertisement for the Lusse Bros Auto-Skooter proclaimed that "Our cars are built to exacting Lusse standards, which means built-in quality and stamina to spare…"

Among the improvements the Lusse Bros. perfected in 1928, was to mount their engine vertically in the front of the car.

Power could then be transmitted through two couplings to a ring-and-pinion final drive that had a small wheel attached with the rim keyed to each end of the output shaft. This design was much like that used by BWM for the Isetta.

The advantage to this design was that the whole assembly could be mounted on bearings and could be aimed in any direction by turning the steering wheel. There were stop locks installed that prevented the steering from going to far in either direction. Soon enough, young drivers would discoverer that the Auto-Shooter could travel just as fast in reverse as it could forward!

From 1935 on the Lusse Bros., Auto-Skooter Company experienced strong growth and prosperity. A minor interruption during World War 11 only made the company more secure. Improvements continued including updated headlights, fiberglass bodies, and air-filled bumpers instead of solid rubber bumpers.

The cars were driven by an electric motor powered by a curve shaped piece of metal with a copper or brass metal lining called a "spoon". The spoon is firmly attached the end of a wooden pole. These spoons provided electricity to the motor in the bumper car when they rubbed on the underneath side of a series of metal grids located in the ceiling.

 These same spoons could be made to arc and spark (which was cool to watch) when the cars were involved in a multiple car pile-up. Learning how to innocently create a multiple car pileup was an art into itself.

Watching the cars in action while waiting your turn to ride, you could easily spot the faster cars, the ones with the best connection between the spoon and the wire grid in the ceiling. The fastest car would give you a slight advantage, which you could then put to good use.

Turning the steering wheel to full right or left would cause the car to go into reverse. With a little practice, you could become very good at creating havoc on the bumper car highway

Now...For The How They Work Part
First up, the bumper cars need electricity to work. That makes it complicated because bumper cars are one of the few rides that is able to travel forward and backward, side to side, and in circles all at the same time, and are not attached to any controls directly ran by the ride operator.

The better the connection between the spoon and the grid the faster the car will go. A clean shiny contact between the spoon and the grid is what made the fastest cars. Sometimes you would get a really, slow car and the operator would have to take some steel wool and polish the topside of the spoon that had accumulated a corrosion film on top of the spoon That could turn a slow car into a fast car.

The remaining electricity is discharged through the metal floor to ground. So, if there is electricity on the floor… why don't you get shocked if you touch the metal floor while the ride is turned on? Because…the voltage present in the floor has "potential" but not enough amperage to do any work or any harm to you.

Electricity can do work, (turn a motor to power the bumper car for example) when the voltage goes from a higher voltage to a lower one. Most of the amperage, which is what does the work is used up by the bumper car motor, so what electricity that is left, has no amperage. You might get a slight tickle but that is all. The odds of getting shocked were reduced even more if you are wearing tennis shoes, which most kids wore in the summer.

Using the garden hose analogy the voltage is like the pressure in a garden hose and is what forces the current thru the wire. The amperage is like the volume of water present and what actually does the work. You can still have voltage present even though the amperage present is minimal having been used up to do the electrical work, as in this example powering the electric motor in the bumper car. you get it now...?

To make the bumper cars slide around more and to prevent the cars from getting to much traction and hitting to hard, powdered graphite was sprinkled on the floor.

So…What Became Of The Two Original Companies…?

The Dodgem Company lasted up into the early 1970's and continued to make both portable and permanent design rides, all the while holding onto their original 110 volt design when the industry had switched to a 90 volt DC standard. Competition from three different Italian companies eventually proved too much for the company and it was closed in the early 1970's.

As for the Lusse Company, Ray Lusse Jr. ran the company after his father's death in the 1960's. In 1989 Ray Jr. got into financial trouble with the IRS but managed to shuffle money and assets around until 1994 when the bank accounts were finally empty. He died that same year. The rights to the Auto--Skooter were then sold to Designs International located in Dallas Texas. The remaining inventory of original parts and pieces, were sold off, by the Lussse''s last landlord to recover back rent.

And there you have it...the history and the "how it works"...of Bumper Cars. If you have ever thought about buying and restoring an old Bumper Car and put it on display in your office or basement here is a little incentive. Start looking!


Playing The "Diggers..."

Posted on 11/16/16 with No comments


Most of us growing up had the opportunity to visit the traveling carnival when it came to town during the summer months. I went because it was fun to check out all things mechanical. I studied how the rides worked and how they operated. In our small community we got the older carnival rides and equipment that had often seen better days. One of my favorite stops on the midway was the mechanical digger game. For a quarter I had a chance to use the crane to try and pickup a prize buried in the gravel. To me the prize was almost secondary, I just enjoyed the challenge, and eventually got pretty good at picking up "the good stuff." As I look back now seldom was the "good stuff" worth even the quarter. For me...the satisfaction was "making the machine pay out" when others tried and failed.

By the time, I began playing in the late 1960's…I had to pay the attendant every time… to get him to start the crane. To me…in my young mind… it would seem more logical to just install a coin mechanism so kids like me could take care of ourself, and not have to bug the attendant every five minutes for a game.

Now… all of these years later, I now know why it did not work that way. Let me share a little digger crane history with you. Then like me, you will understand that things were not as simple as they first appeared, even in those days.

The first "digger" crane was built in 1896 from a child’s toy and was intended to be a penny candy vendor. The miniature steam shovel was encased in a solid oak cabinet with glass windows on three sides. It was all mechanical, and did not use any electricity, not even an electric light.

During the 1920s and 1930s, many other manufacturers began producing their own version of a digger game. By 1939, there were over 35 companies building and selling digger games. Many of those companies offered the so-called "modern" digger games, which were electrically operated, and had virtually no element of skill. Two of the most popular manufactures of electronic diggers were the Exhibit Supply Co. of Chicago and International Mutoscope Reel Co. of New York.

With the emerging popularity of coin-operated slot machines, tavern owners soon figured out that the digger machines could easily be converted into gambling devices. Clever operators offered silver dollars, paper currency, and little bundles of coins wrapped in cellophane tape as the reward for lucky play.

During this golden era, some models were designed to fit into the décor of the fine upscale hotels and railroad stations. These deluxe models quickly became known as "hotel" models and are highly sought after by today's collectors.

After World War II, the federal government began taking notice of the digger games being used as possible gambling devices. Digger game operators began placing large quantities of Japanese novelty items in the prize field to cover-up the coins and currency that was still being used as the real lure to attract players.

By the end of the 1940s most diggers were working for 10 ¢ per play and were still very profitable. The new trend was for large independent operators to own dozens of machines, and have them operating at multiple locations in units of 10 or 12 games, each. Lee Moss, and Tommy Wells, of Hot Springs Arkansas were two well known large operators of the carnival style diggers.

The commercial operation of diggers changed abruptly, and forever, in 1951 with the implementation of the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act. This new law made it a Federal crime to transport gambling devices across state lines, and all diggers were automatically placed in the gambling device category. Thus, the business of operating traveling commercial diggers ended in 1951

Lee Moss, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, had purchased the Erie Manufacturing Corp. back in 1946 along with his brother-in-law Tommy Wells. During the 1940's they had been operating over 35 traveling units of 12 diggers each, but now, were suddenly out of business.

Moss and Wells immediately brought their equipment home. The FBI quickly began raiding other operators who did not cease their operations. Those operators now in violation of the new federal law, immediately had their machines seized and destroyed.

Lee Moss then organized a small group of former digger operators in an effort to establish a lobbying campaign to have the gambling classification removed.

After two years,  the group was finally successful in changing the "classification" of certain types of digger games from "Gambling Devices" to "Amusement Devices". Diggers could again operate, but only under new and very strict rules. No electrically operated games were allowed after 1951.

Starting in 1953 the diggers began their new life as carnival games exclusively, and only the mechanical (Erie type) were allowed under Federal laws. Gone were the coin slots. Instead, the player was required to pay for each game "over the counter", and the attendant had to manually activate the machine by pulling a string on the back of the cabinet.

In addition, no cash money could be offered as prizes, and no prize could have a value of over $1. The charge to play could not exceed 10c, and the diggers were only legal to operate at agricultural fairs and celebrations.

With the relaxation of Federal laws in the 1970's, mechanical coin slots began to reappear on digger games. Starting in the late 1960's, the cost to play was raised to 25c. Finally, the twenty-year moratorium on coin-activated diggers was over.

By the late 1980s however…the digger business was gone for good. The original mechanical digger games were replaced with more modern computer controlled games.

So...where did all of the original Erie Digger cranes go...?

There were such large numbers of digger cranes produced from 1924 to 1946 that it is puzzling to many collectors as too why so few of them have survived.  The answer lies in coin-op history. Erie Diggers were a favorite of the early traveling operators and remained so up to, and even well past, the Johnson Interstate Transportation Act of 1951.

Most of the original cabinets were used and abused during years of carnival service, and when the machine parts wore out they were often crudely repaired by the carnival operators who owned them.

When Lee Moss and Tommy Wells purchased the remains of the Erie Manufacturing Corp. in 1946, that cut off the source for replacement parts.

The final destruction of most originals came with a mass re-modification by digger owner/operators following the Johnson Act.

The operators who owned Erie diggers were frantic to get back into operation so to be in compliance, they immediately began scraping the coin entries, the intricate mechanical coin mechanisms, and removing the cabinet backs.

They cut-out parts of the cabinet backs in order to reach into what was once the coin mechanism area to manually start the machine using a piece of heavy string. Those are the ones I grew up with.

Some operators even blocked-off the prize chutes to make the game appear more 'legit'. With some cabinets already in sad condition the owners just threw them on the burn pile and built new cabinets of their own design, often in multiples to mount on trailers.

As a result... few originals from the traveling carnival era survive. The survival rate of the deluxe machines was much better because of the surroundings they operated in, and many have been restored. Here are a few sample pictures of some of the deluxe models. Until I decided to do a little homework after seeing an Erie Digger in a museum, I had no idea these fancy models even existed.

The Johnson Act said in part...

(1) any so-called "slot machine" or any other machine or mechanical device an essential part of which is a drum or reel with insignia thereon, and (A) which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or (B) by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or (2) any other machine or mechanical device (including, but not limited to, roulette wheels and similar devices) designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling, and (A) which when operated may deliver, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property, or (B) by the operation of which a person may become entitled to receive, as the result of the application of an element of chance, any money or property; or (3) any subassembly or essential part intended to be used in connection with any such machine or mechanical device, but which is not attached to any such machine or mechanical device as a constituent part.

Not much wiggle room there... and there is more....this part covers the transportation of so called gambling devices..

(a) It shall be unlawful knowingly to transport any gambling device to any place in a State or a possession of the United States from any place outside of such State or possession: Provided, That this section shall not apply to transportation of any gambling device to a place in any State which has enacted a law providing for the exemption of such State from the provisions of this section, or to a place in any subdivision of a State if the State in which such subdivision is located has enacted a law providing for the exemption of such subdivision from the provisions of this section, nor shall this section apply to any gambling device used or designed for use at and transported to licensed gambling establishments where betting is legal under applicable State laws:
Provided, further, That it shall not be unlawful to transport in interstate or foreign commerce any gambling device into any State in which the transported gambling device is specifically enumerated as lawful in a statute of that State.

The new laws were very specific and to the point. They were written
to be easily enforceable with no wiggle room. It worked. The digger
business would never be the same. I clearly got in the the end of an
era. Hope many of you also have fond memories of the digger cranes
and as Paul Harvey used to say..."and now you know the rest of the

How Come The Switch From Generator to Alternator...?

Posted on 10/17/16 with No comments


I get asked quite often why the car companies switched from generators to alternators, and who did it first. To answer the first part of the question you need to understand how a generator, and an alternator each make electricity. I will try to explain those differences without making your head much. As to who introduced alternators first it was Chrysler in 1964, with everybody else following suite the next model year. When you are finished reading this entry you should have a good basic understanding of why the switch was made from generator to alternator.

The Generator...
The generator has a single set of windings used to generate electricity. All of the electrical current made by the generator passes thru the two carbon brushes that ride on the commutator end of the armature.

Because there is only a single set of windings in a generator the output is limited at idle and low rpms, and the overall output is limited by the size of the field coils and the rest of the internal parts. Spinning the generator faster at higher rpms (above factory recommended rpms) will not increase output (will actually reduce output) because the brushes will begin to lift off of the commutator.

The other thing that happens is the generator overheats from excessive voltage, which causes the solder to melt that holds the segments onto the armature. When that happens the segments will come loose... bind up with the field coils and your generator is toast.

In the old days they called this..."throwing the solder out of the generator..." The same can happen when you adjust the regulator to increase output above the factory settings. The generator will overheat the solder will melt and you know the rest. You have caused more harm than good!

It also makes sense that the two biggest wear items on a generator are the brushes and the bearings on either end of the armature. When both are ignored either the brushes will wear down and become short enough that they no longer make good connection with the commutator or the bearing (in some applications bushings) wear out and the armature no longer runs true between the field coils. The armature can then rub on the field coils, damaging both the field coils and the armature. That means you would have to replace both the armature and the field coils...if you can find them! or rebuilt generators often suffer from improper installation. Mechanically, the installation is straightforward but electrically, things are a little more complicated. When the generator is removed from the vehicle for service there is residual magnetism stored in the pole field coils. The polarity of the generator is determined by the direction the current was traveling in the field coils when it was removed from the vehicle.  If... during rebuilding and testing process the current is caused to flow in the opposite direction, (improper testing procedure) the pole shoes will change polarity.

If the generator is then installed on the vehicle, (and the generator not polarized) the reversed polarity will cause the electrical current from the generator to flow in the wrong direction, damaging the regulator (you would be sending positive ground current to your negative ground regulator) and discharging the battery when the car is left overnight. Therefore, all generators must be polarized after installation, and before running the car.

The Alternator...
As we discussed earlier...generators produce direct current which is what all automotive electrical systems run on, even today. By contrast alternators produce alternating current and that current is converted to direct current. It has to do with efficiency... read on!

Alternators have the big advantage of producing a greater amount of current at low speeds as compared to a generator. In an alternator, the "field" windings are placed around the spinning central shaft rather than on "shoes" as in the generator. Two iron pole pieces, cast with "fingers" cover the field windings, and the fingers are interfaced.  The fingers on one pole piece form the North poles and the fingers on the other form the South poles. This assembly is called the ROTOR.

Surrounding the rotor are a series of windings around laminated iron rings, attached to the alternator's case. This assembly is called the STATOR. The engine's crankshaft spins the rotor inside of the stator.

Direct current from the battery is fed through into the rotor's field coil by using brushes rubbing what are called slip-rings. One end of the field coil is fastened to the insulated brush, while the other end is attached to the grounded brush. As the pole fields pass through the stator, current is electromagnetically produced (just like in a generator) but since the rotor is composed of alternating North and South poles the current produced flows in opposite direction every 180-degrees of rotation. In other words, the current is "alternating."

Why is this more efficient? Because the stator windings are made up of three separate windings. This produces what is known as three-phase alternating current. When only one winding is used, single-phase current results (like in a generator). In effect, the alternator produces three times the current of a generator for the same effort on the engine's part. Also, alternators are considerably lighter and smaller than generators and can produce a greater amount of electrical current to cover increased electrical loads.

Converting Alternating Current To Direct Current
Your antique vehicle's electrical system including the battery run on Direct Current also known as "DC" current. The alternator produces alternating current known as "AC" current. Using what are called "diodes", the alternator's electrical output is "rectified" or changed into direct current.

This is done by passing the alternating current thru silicon diodes. Diodes have the ability to allow current to flow readily in one direction only, stopping the flow if the direction reverses. Multiple diodes are arranged in alternators so that current will flow from the alternator to the battery (in one direction only, creating direct current) Diodes are a solid-state device which means they have no moving parts.

The Voltage Regulator...
Like the generators that came before them... most early alternators relied on a voltage regulator that was mounted on the firewall. In the 1970's those regulators became solid state which meant that they no longer had any moving parts to wear out.

The problem with "external" regulators, those regulators mounted away from the alternator, is one of communication. There is often a slight delay in getting the message delivered between the two parties. Dirty or corroded connections along with pinched or broken wires are two common problems that come about with age.

In 1973,  Delco introduced an alternator with a solid- state regulator build inside of the alternator. This increased reliability of the charging system greatly. There was instant response from the charging system and no more broken, pinched, or corroded wires.

When I started building alternators back in 1985 I designed my alternator using the internal regulator Delco design. It makes for bullet proof reliability. I designed my own stator and rotor so my alternator would begin charging at 300 engine rpms instead of the 1200 rpms (which was the idle speed of most engines when alternators were introduced in the mid 1960's).Most antique vehicles built before 1955 have idle speeds of 400 to 600 rpms.

Now we have the best of both worlds. You can install either a Fifth Avenue 6-volt or 12-volt alternator (remember there was no such thing as a 6-volt alternator until I came along)  and have a reliable charging system with minimal "bolt -on" changes to your antique vehicle. You will gain brighter headlights, easier starting, and no more dead batteries. It doesn't get any better than that!

A Brief History Of Automotive Electrical Systems...
We have Allesandro Volta to thank for inventing the automotive storage battery in 1796. He had no idea at the time, that he was inventing what would become a significant part of the modern automotive electrical system. Volta made his discovery 89 years before the first car was offered for public sale. It would be another 25 years before the storage battery would even get a passing acknowledgement from the automakers.

Between 1885 and 1910, most cars and trucks that had gasoline engines did not need storage batteries because they had no accessories that required electricity. Ignition was powered by a magneto, which made its own current. In the rare event that additional electricity was needed, it was provided by a dry cell battery.

By 1911, storage batteries had attained a degree of reliability by being able to hold a charge for 30 days or longer. Once discharged, a storage battery could be recharged and put back into service, unlike dry cells, which were discarded. This degree of reliability was due in large measure to research and development done by the electric car industry, which needed reliable batteries so that their electric vehicles could compete with gasoline models.

The few gasoline car manufacturers who adapted the storage battery, began looking around to see what else they could do with the excess current the storage battery provided, and found electric lights.

1898 Columbia Electric Car 

The first electric lights were introduced on the 1898 Columbia. This was an electric car powered with storage batteries. Manufacturers of vehicles with gasoline engines typically used another way to produce light. It was the Prest-O-Lite lighting system, introduced in 1904. It was a steel cylinder containing pressurized acetylene gas that was fed to headlamps and ignited by flame.

With the adoption of storage batteries the automotive manufacturers then revived the dynamo, which had been around for some time. (Today we call the dynamo the generator, but in those early days most called magnetos were called "generators.") The battery then didn't have to be taken out of the car every month for recharging.

A problem encountered with the early dynamo-equipped electrical systems was battery overcharging. That problem was soon resolved with the development of a variable speed voltage regulator developed by Delco Company. This new voltage output regulator was first used on the 1912 Cadillac, which displayed another feature that took the auto industry by storm..." the self-starter."

1912 Cadillac Electric Starter

Once they adopted the self-starter, auto manufacturers had to adopt the battery/generator system to work the starter. However, the system put out a much more current than the starter, lights and horn needed. The car manufacturers soon realized they could harness this excess current and use it for the ignition, thus making the magneto obsolete.

Self-Starter Beginnings...
The self-starter came about by accident -- literally. In the winter of 1910 on a wooden bridge on Belle Island Mich., a Cadillac driven by a woman stalled. Not having the strength to hand crank the engine herself, she was forced to wait on the bridge in the cold until help arrived.

In time, another motorist, also driving a Cadillac, happened along. His name was Byron T. Carter, and he was a close friend of the head of Cadillac, Henry M. Leland. Carter offered to start the woman's car, but she forgot to retard the spark and the engine backfired, and the crank flew off and struck Carter in the face, breaking his jaw.

Ironically, moments later another car carrying two Cadillac engineers, Ernest Sweet and William Foltz, came along. They started the woman's car and rushed Carter to a physician, but complications set in and a few weeks later Carter died.

Leland was devastated. He called a special conference of his engineers and told them that finding a way to get rid of the hand crank was top priority. “The Cadillac car will kill no more men if we can help it," he announced.

When the Cadillac engineers could not come up with a workable solution, Leland invited Charles F. Kettering and his engineers at Delco (still independent of GM) to work on a solution. Delco presented a working device in time for its introduction in the 1912 Cadillac models.

The Kettering Solution...
Kettering's device was a combination starting motor and generator, equipped with an overrunning clutch and reduction gear. Gear teeth engaged the flywheel to provide a reduction of about 25 to 1 between the starting motor and crankshaft, allowing sufficient torque to crank the engine successfully. General Motors brass didn't trust the new system at first, and demanded a backup magneto and hand crank.

As public confidence in the reliable battery/generator/self-starter system soared, it soon replaced the magneto in all General Motors cars. General Motors enjoyed a sales boom, and the remainder of the auto industry soon adopted the system. Of the 462 models shown at the 1911 New York Auto Show, only 19 had battery/generator systems, and they all had backup magnetos. Of 119 makes displayed at the 1924 New York Show, 110 had storage battery/generator systems and self-starters.

Other Electric Milestones...
In 1939, the first sealed-beam headlamps were introduced which made for much safer driving at night. That was followed in 1949, by the combination key operated ignition and starter switch which was introduced by Chrysler and eventually be adopted by all of the manufacturers.

Prior to 1949 on most vehicles, the starter was operated by a separate button on the dash or by a button on the floor above the accelerator pedal. Starting a car with the floor-mounted starter button was sometimes a challenge: your left foot was on the brake pedal, heel of your right foot on the accelerator, and the toe of your right foot pushing on the starter.

That was a lot going on at one time... especially if you were starting out on an incline. We truly have come a long way from those early days.

The Delco Company...
 The Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (Delco) Company was founded in Dayton, Ohio, by Charles Kettering and Edward A. Deeds in 1909.

In 1918, General Motors (GM) acquired the United Motors Company which had been formed several years earlier by William C Durant to house several prominent parts manufacturers, including Delco, Dayton-Wright, and the Dayton Metal Products Company.

All of these latter companies were associated with Charles Kettering, Edward A. Deeds, and Harold E. Talbott. Kettering became vice president of General Motors Research Corporation in 1920. He held the position as head of research for GM for 27 years.

Delco Radios...
In 1936, Delco began producing the first dashboard-installed car radios.  Based in Kokomo, Indiana, Delco Electronics employed more than 30,000 at its peak.

In early 1956, Delco developed a transistorized hybrid signal-seeking car radio, which used both vacuum tubes and transistors in its radio's circuitry. Transistors were used to replace the radio's audio output vacuum tubes and also the vibrator. This transistorized hybrid radio was available as an option on the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette car models.

In 1957, Delco produced an all-transistor signal-seeking car radio and was available for the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham car models. Delco became part of the General Motors Delphi Group in 1997.

Delphi Automotive traces as it's history back to the New Departure Bell Company, founded in Bristol, Connecticut, in 1888 to manufacture the earliest known doorbell-ringing device. The company's talent for innovation soon extended to transportation, with the 1897 introduction of the first bicycle coaster brake.

Other Delphi predecessors have been involved in automobile lighting since 1906 and manufacturing wooden auto bodies beginning in 1908.

In 1908, Albert Champion, who had been making spark plugs in America since 1899, joined Buick Motor Co. to make spark plugs in the AC Spark Plug Division, which was acquired by General Motors founder Billy Durant in 1909. Durant acquired Dayton Engineering Laboratories, which would become Delco, in 1914.

Other pre-Delphi innovations included the Ring Terminal, developed in 1930; the first car radio (1936); the first radio with mechanical push-button presets (1939); and mechanical power steering (1951).

As Paul Harvey used to say at noon everyday..."and now you know the rest of the story..."


Radio Antenna 101…How They Work, How to Troubleshoot Them.

Posted on 10/12/16 with No comments


How exactly does a car antenna work anyway? When you get that annoying background buzz in the radio speakers of your antique or classic vehicle..., how do you determine if that buzz is coming from the radio itself, or from the antenna, and once you figure that out, how do you fix the problem?

Most late model radios and modern antennas are a cut and dried event. For this class, I am talking about the factory radios and antennas found on cars of the 1940's through the 1970's.

Many of us want to keep our original radios and have them restored. but it is no fun if the radio does not work as it is supposed to once it is back in the vehicle.

First a little history. The "stick" or "fish pole" antenna that all of us from the "older" generation know best, first appeared on cars around 1937 about the same time that all metal roofs became popular with car makers. Before 1937 the roof insert of most cars were made up of wooden bows with the headliner tacked to chicken wire that was nailed to the wooden bows.

In the early days automakers used the chicken wire in the roof insert as the radio antenna. By attaching a shielded wire to the chicken wire in the roof insert then routing it over along side of the windshield post, the auto manufacturer could advertise the car as being "wired for radio".

A cool custom trick during the 1940's era was to use the side mount spare as a radio antenna. All you had to do was insulate the metal parts of the car body from spare rim. Next, up attach a shielded wire to the spare tire rim. The tire rim then became the radio antenna. If you had dual side mounts, you could have dual radio antennas. How cool was that!

During the 50's if you were really, really, sneaky, you could insulate the trunk hinges and attach the antenna wire to the trunk lid. Then the entire trunk lid became the car antenna. Who would ever suspect that the entire trunk lid was your car antenna?

No matter what part of your car becomes the antenna, the "antenna" must be tuned to your radio and the lead-in wire must be well grounded at both ends just as if you were using a conventional stick antenna. If you have a poor ground or a loose connection, you radio is gonna have poor reception... guaranteed.

If you are getting a lot of ignition noise in your radio, the first place you should look is the antenna. There are only two ways engine noise can get into your radio, from the battery powered "hot" wire, and from the antenna. The obvious way is through the hot wire but most radio manufacturers took care of that by installing noise filters inside of the radio.

So how do you determine if it is the radio, or antenna that is at fault? It's simple...just tune in the radio on AM band to the noisiest spot (which is usually on the upper 1400 kc part of the dial). Now reach down and unplug the radio antenna from the radio. If the noise disappears or is greatly reduced, you have found the source of your radio noise…the antenna. In most all cases, the cause of engine noise in the radio is the result of a poor ground at the antenna end of the cable.

Some of us (we know who we are) never had any radio problems until we painted our car. That is because we spent more time and effort than the factory did priming and painting places that were never painted at the factory. Among the places we painted was underneath side of the fender where the antenna base mounts to the fender. Because paint is an insulator, the antenna is no longer grounded, at the antenna base. No ground, No Elvis. Simple, as that.

To make your radio work again as it did before you need to restore the metal to metal contact on the underneath side of the fender. A tooth washer will help insure that you have a good solid metal to metal ground connection on the underneath side of the fender. While you are tuning up things, you might as well trim the antenna to the radio and the car body.

Antenna Trim Adjustment...
The antenna trim adjustment has a big effect on how well your radio works and how many stations your radio will receive. The trim adjustment also helps to determine if the stations will fade in and out during your favorite song.

The Trim Screw Location Of a 1957 Chevy Car Radio

The Trim Screw Location On The Outside Cover of The Radio

Adjusting the trim is simple and many of the radios built after 1960 have a thumb screw so no tools are required. To adjust the trim tune the radio to a weak station at the top of the AM band (usually around 1400 kc) then turn the trim thumbscrew in and out until the station is the loudest. Next, gently tighten the thumbscrew and you are done.

On earlier radios, the trim screw adjusts with a small flat, screwdriver. The owner's manual will show you where the trim screw is hiding. On some early radios I have found them hidden behind the volume knob. They were pretty sneaky when it came to hiding the trim screws in the early days.

One, final thing. The round ball on top of the metal car antenna is there for what purpose? A) protection from the sharp end. B) a decoration. C) static- discharge?

If you said static discharge, you are correct! While you are driving down the road static discharge builds up and collects on your radio antenna. Without the ball on top of the antenna the static will continue to collect until eventually it forms a visible ball of static sparks known as a "corona discharge" in radio speak. This static discharge will travel through your radio antenna wire causing that annoying popping sound you hear through the speakers on a dry cold night.

Conelrad Symbols on a Radio Dial
Oh, I know someone will ask…the Conelrad symbols, (the little triangles that appeared on car radio dials during the duck and cover days of the early 1950's...) they first appeared on Studebaker and Chrysler vehicles beginning in 1954. Ford included them beginning in 1955 as did Hudson and Mercury. GM and Packard included them starting in 1956. They were there to tell you where to tune your radio in case of a national emergency, like a nuclear attack.

Now you know the basics of how a radio and the antenna are designed to work. Some simple adjustments will keep you and your radio in tune and singing to Elvis and Hank Williams.  Enjoy!!

Psst...Wanna Buy A Tucker Car Radio...?

Preston Tucker had every intention of putting his cars into production. His goal was to produce 100,000 cars his first year. As was standard practice in the industry Preston ordered materials, especially long lead items, well ahead of scheduled production. Motorola was the company selected to manufacture the radios for the Tucker cars. Motorola geared up and made upwards of 10,000 Tucker Radios in anticipation of a brisk sales year.

As we all know, only 51 Tucker cars were built and all 51 were equipped with radios. So the burning question...what happened to all of those extra radios...?

In the early 1950's the assets of the Tucker Car Company were liquidated. The McGee Radio Company of Kansas City Missouri bought the entire inventory of nearly 10,000 leftover Tucker Radios for the modest sum of a dollar each. They began selling the radios as aftermarket add-on radios new in the box with antenna for $20.00 each.

Then in 1955 the car manufacturers switched to 12-volt electrical systems, thus making the McGee radio kits nearly obsolete (with just a few hundred sold via mail order), as all of the Tucker radios were 6-volt radios. Sales of the Tucker radios slowed to a trickle. With hundreds of radios still stored in their warehouse in Kansas City, a fire erupted and the entire warehouse was completely destroyed, including the balance of the Tucker Radios.

Many people assume that the Tucker Radios are quite rare. But we know every car that Tucker built... all 51 of them, came with a radio. So clearly there are way more spare Tucker radios left than there are Tucker cars to install them into.

Some projects are just doomed from the start and do not get better as time goes on, but instead go from bad to worse. When your next project seems doomed and you think it can't get any worse...just remember the Tucker radios. There is always a project somewhere, worse off than yours...


Keeping Cool..When Did Air Conditioning Become An Option in Automobiles...?

Posted on 10/10/16 with No comments


This car which served as a Taxi for the wealthy in New York City was one of the first to be air conditioned in 1933. The biggest problem with this early system was that there was no way to control the output, the compressor ran all of the time so there was cold air output all of the time. This system was considered to be one of the first applications of air conditioning in an automobile, long before it was common in most houses. The inventor of this system lacked proper backing, funding, and marketing skills. As a result he was only in business a couple of years. The cost to add this system to an automobile was in the neighborhood of $450 in depression dollars... way above what the average car owner could afford.

Other Options For Keeping Cool...

Keep in mind that air conditioning in homes was not common until after World War II. Window air conditioners first started to appear in the late 1930 but were very costly and were mostly bought by the wealthy. "Swamp Coolers" worked much like the "Car Coolers" described above and were mainly found in the desert southwest and locations where there was low humidity. Central air did not become common in houses until the mid 1960's.

Most of the Air conditioning units sold and installed in automobiles beginning in the 1950's's were aftermarket units. The big three Ford, GM, and Chrysler considered air conditioning to be a limited market confined to the south and was not worth the development costs. Not surprising Texas was the home to the majority of aftermarket air conditioning manufacturers because they had the three things needed, heat and humidity, plenty of customers, and money.  

The Texas companies had a monopoly for about 25 years, before the OEM companies realized that air conditioning was an option the public wanted, and would pay for. The Texas companies such as Mark IV sold thousands of aftermarket air conditioning units. They established hundreds of "authorized" installation centers throughout the southwest and even up into the eastern part of the United States.

In the 1970's the aftermarket companies even picked up contracts to install air conditioning units in newly imported vehicles from such manufacturers as Toyota and Datsun, who had the air conditioning units installed as soon as the new vehicles were unloaded from the ship, and before they were delivered to dealers. The Texas aftermarket manufacturers even engineered a kit for the Volkswagen Beetle. 

When the OEM manufactures finally caught on, the honeymoon was over, and the Texas companies sold out, consolidated, diversified, or went bankrupt and were liquidated. It is interesting to think about how three main aftermarket companies from the south were able to advertise and install such a popular automobile accessory for more than 25 years, before the OEMs got wise and finally began offering air conditioning as a factory installed option.

Can I Add Air Conditioning In My 6-Volt Antique Vehicle...?

I often get the question from customers..."Can I add air conditioning to my 6-volt antique vehicle...? The answer is yes and no... let me explain. The air conditioning unit requires a blower motor and it does not matter if that blower motor is 6-volts or 12-volts. The actual air conditioning system does not require any electricity. The problem is with the compressor. 

Most early air conditioning units from the 6-volt era had no clutches on the compressors so the compressors ran all of the time. So that means there is also no temperature controls for the air conditioning units... they had a constant output all of the time. The only way to shut them off was to stop and remove the belt from the compressor that was driven off of the engine. 

If you are running a Fifth Avenue 6-volt alternator you have plenty of electrical output to power the extra blower motor(s). Again...the compressor clutch is the issue. Early design air conditioning compressors required 4 to 6 horsepower from the engine. You might be old enough to remember that when the air conditioning was turned on, the idle speed of the engine was automatically increased 600 to 800 rpms to compensate for the horsepower load of the compressor. 

The modern air conditioning compressors are much more efficient than the compressors were... even in the 1980's, (they are also smaller in physical size) and they require about a third of the horsepower that the early compressors did. I have had a few customers do some research and find a modern 12-volt compressor clutch that would engage with voltage as low as 7.0 volts. The output of a Fifth Avenue 6-volt alternator is 7.5 volts so it worked. If you want to do something bad enough you can usually find a way. 

But generally... because most all of the 6-volt compressors used in the early air conditioning units had no clutch, there is no control of the output. It would also be really difficult to find a working 6-volt air conditioning compressor. If you want to add air conditioning to your antique vehicle, it works best in most applications, to upgrade the electrical system to 12-volts. It is not difficult, I help customers do it every day. At least now you know how everything works.

Henry Ford And Air Conditioning

This Henry Ford story is not true of course, but it has been associated with automotive air conditioning since the 1950's and a lot of people have been suckered in, and believe it to be true. Now you know better... but you can still have a little fun at the next car club meeting telling this story.


Are We There Yet...?

Posted on 9/27/16 with No comments


In my younger years I spent more than my fair share of time hanging out at the local gas stations. I learned a lot from the older retired "experts" who used to hang out in the office, and tell stories. They got me involved every now and then when they needed a good laugh, and it usually came at my expense. I knew I had to pay my dues.

One thing I always remember is that nearly all of those early stations had a display rack of road maps next to the cash register. They used to be free to the customers, and there was always a bundle of them under the counter to restock the rack. All of the local stations gave away road maps in those days, While still free when I came along in the late 1960's, they were not nearly as colorful or as detailed as the early maps.

Derby Map rack from The 1960's

In the early days the oil companies tried to establish brand loyalty by offering a number of free services. Beginning in the 1920's oil companies started posting road maps on the wall of their stations. They would provide weekly updates of road conditions and detours. Because road signs were neither common or standardized in those early years, traveling even over to the next county was an adventure, especially if you were not familiar with the local roads and routes. Weather also played a big factor because few roads were paved in those early days.  Gravel was considered a luxury.

Often times the local sheriff would help identify impassable roads and roads under construction. When customers saw the sheriff getting gas at a certain station and providing the road condition updates it made the information credible. It was also good for that brand of gasoline. After all... who needed dependable quality gasoline more than the Sheriff?

1929 Atlantic Road Map

In the mid 1930's CONOCO began offering "trip planning" for their loyal customers even going so far, as to provide personalized booklets of maps, and travel information, including suggested stops and suggested routes, with all of the CONOCO stations identified along the planned route. Many other oil companies soon followed suit. You could write a letter to the company tell them where you wanted to go and when, and they would plan you trip, figure out your route, the miles you would travel, put it in book form and send it to you at no charge.

One example I have in my collection provided for a CONOCO customer in 1939 that details a complete trip around the USA with stops at the New York World's Fair, and the Golden Gate Exhibition. The personalized booklet contained over 200 pages and highlighted all of the best roads and motor courts. In all, the customer's route covered 10,799 miles with a suggested driving time of 39 days. I often wondered if the customer actually took that trip. Not many people could afford to travel for 39 days and 10,000 miles.

1930 Standard Oil

By the mid 1930's...full service was the rule of the day with "service station attendants" wearing white uniforms complete with five star pointed hats displaying the company logo. They greeted you on the driveway, offered to check the oil, and wash your windshield, at no extra charge. Gas stations were truly full service, and service with a smile. (Up until the 1970's is was illegal in some states for customers to pump their own gasoline, Washington State was one). In addition, most service stations had a "mechanic on duty" who did oil changes, install new tires, and did engine tune-up work.

1940 ESSO Map

By the end of the 1970's, the free maps were disappearing as were the free trip route service. That was soon followed by the introduction of the "self-serve" gas station with just one attendant on duty to collect money. With cars more reliable and requiring less maintenance, the "mechanic on duty" also disappeared. The full service "service station" was becoming a "thing of the past". I am glad I got to at least experience some of what a "full service, service station was like in my younger days.

1941 Tydol Map

One thing I do as a result of those early years is collect road maps and travel guides from the 1920's through the 1960's. When I travel, if my time allows, I use those old road maps from the 1940's and 1950's as a guide. They identify the old routes, through the small towns. Many of those old maps also identify the exact location of the early gas stations. If you collect the old oil company signs and related advertising from gas stations like I do, these old maps become treasure hunt maps. They will lead you right to the location of the old service stations. Many are long gone but I have gotten lucky on occasion and found a building still there and still untouched after all of these years. The owner may have died and the family just locked the door and left everything. It's like walking into a time warp!

Parco Oil Road Map From 1931

So... if you see me out and about in some strange locale and you say to yourself "what in the word is he doing out here in the middle of nowhere" you know.

More Oil Company Trivia...The Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome scandal was a bribery incident that took place in the United States from 1921 to 1922, during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding.

In 1922 and 1923, the leases became the subject of a sensational investigation by Senator Thomas J. Walsh. Fall was later convicted of accepting bribes from the oil companies and became the first Cabinet member to be sent to prison. No person was ever convicted of paying a bribe, however.

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy largely converted from coal to fuel oil. To ensure that the Navy would always have enough fuel available, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft.

In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control.

 The Teapot Dome (so named for the shape of the rock) oil fields were located  in Natrona County, Wyoming.

Later in 1922, Albert Fall leased the oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation. He also leased the Elk Hills reserve to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. Both leases were issued without competitive bidding. This manner of leasing was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.

The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies, which secretly made Fall a rich man. Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.33 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.36 million today. It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living was suspect.

Oil businessman Edward L. Doheny (second from right, at table) testifying before the Senate Committee investigating the Teapot Dome oil leases in 1924

In April 1922, a Wyoming oil operator wrote to Senator John B. Kendrick, angered that Sinclair had been given a contract to the lands in a secret deal. Kendrick did not respond, but two days later on April 15, he introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of the deal.

Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. At first, La Follette believed Fall was innocent. However, his suspicions deepened after his own office in the Senate Office Building was ransacked.

Democrat Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, the most junior minority member, led a lengthy inquiry. For two years, Walsh pushed forward while Fall stepped backward, covering his tracks as he went. No evidence of wrongdoing was initially uncovered as the leases were legal enough, but records kept disappearing mysteriously. Fall had made the leases appear legitimate, but his acceptance of the money was his undoing. By 1924, the remaining unanswered question was how Fall had become so rich so quickly and easily.

Money from the bribes had gone to Fall's cattle ranch and investments in his business. Finally, as the investigation was winding down with Fall apparently innocent, Walsh uncovered a piece of evidence Fall had forgotten to cover up: Doheny's $100,000 loan to Fall.

This discovery broke the scandal open. Civil and criminal suits related to the scandal continued throughout the 1920s. In 1927 the Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been corruptly (fraudulently) obtained. The Court invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February 1927 and the Teapot Dome lease in October. Both reserves were returned to the Navy.

Senator Albert B. Fall, the first U.S. cabinet official sentenced to prison.

In 1929, Albert Fall was found guilty of accepting bribes from Doheny. Conversely, in 1930, Edward L. Doheny was acquitted of paying bribes to Fall. Further, Doheny's corporation foreclosed on Fall's home in Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, because of "unpaid loans" which turned out to be that same $100,000 bribe. Sinclair served six months in jail on a charge of jury tampering.

Although Fall was to blame for this scandal, Harding's reputation was sullied because of his involvement with the wrong people. Evidence proving Fall's guilt only arose after Harding's death in 1923.

Another significant outcome was the Supreme Court's ruling in McGrain v. Daugherty (1927) which, for the first time, explicitly established that Congress had the power to compel testimony. In February 2015, the Department of Energy sold the oil field for $45 million to Stranded Oil Resources Corp. after extracting 22 million barrels of oil over the years.


The 1949 Chevrolet Car Building Project...

Posted on 9/20/16 with No comments


I started my business in a large two car garage in 1987. By 1991 I was out of space and began looking for a building in downtown Clay Center.  I wanted a building at least a half a block long so that I could have a storefront, and also warehouse storage in the back, to work on projects. In my demented mind I also wanted to cut up an old car and put it on the front of my store.  I looked for a store front building with that in mind.

I found this building in the spring of 1992. It had been used mostly for storage the previous ten years and with the owner passing, it became available. After I purchased the building and doing some remolding, I went to the local City Hall to see what the local sign ordinance rules were. (I kept my car on the front of the building idea to myself.) The city clerk stated the rules and then I asked for them in writing. Basically there were three requirements...had to be so many feet above the sidewalk, couldn't be flammable, and had to be securely attached to the building. With copy in hand I was off.

Next up I hunted down a donor vehicle. I wanted something from the 1940's or 1950's. My original plan was to cut the car length wise and install it onto the building, make the wheels spin and then use the exhaust pipe as the vent from the furnace so when the furnace came on in the winter, smoke would come out the exhaust. After some measurement I determined the building front was not tall enough for that idea.

Plan "B" was to cut a car off width wise, and attach it to the front of the building. Of course the headlights would still have to work, along with the park lights and the horn. I found my storefront car on the outskirts of Vining Kansas (population  45). Two old bachelor brothers lived together on the farm and used the car to go to town on Saturday night. Being of German heritage they enjoyed having a beer...or three.

One Saturday night on their way home they sideswiped a bridge. The bridge had metal guard rails and the bolts were installed backwards. The protruding bolts caught the right front fender and acted just like a "can opener", and tore a two inch wide gash the whole length of the passenger side of the car.

Not hurt, the two brothers walked home. The next day the drove their farm tractor back to the scene of the crime hooked onto the car with a chain and towed the car home and parked it in the hedgerow. That is where it sat until I found it some 25 years later.

I had never cut off the front of a car to install on a building, but how hard could it be...? I soon found out it is much more difficult than it looks. I took the car up to Ed Gunter's welding shop in Morganville Ks and told him what I wanted to do. After he got done laughing and figured out I was serious, we got to work.

Cut number one... we measured eight inches back from the headlight rings (on both sides) where the headlight rings attach to the fender, and snapped a chalk line across. Ed fired up his plasma cutter and cut it off. "This is gonna be too easy"... I say to myself. When we flipped the car front upright onto the shop floor, it quickly became obvious that the "easy" plan did not work. We ended up with a two inch gap at the hood curves.

Cut number two... we measured  from the opposite end (where we had just cut) and tried to straighten things out and get rid of the gaps.  As often happens, that only made things worse!

Cut Number three... We were running out of car and had enough for one more cut. If this didn't work it was going to the junkyard. We turned the car up on end measured from the floor about every two inches all the way across. We connected the dots then stood back and admired our handiwork. We both had the same terrified look on our faces. The line was as crooked as a snake! Nothing to do but try it. We double checked our measurements and fired up the plasma cutter.

When we got done and flipped it back upside down and no gap!! It was perfect!! Amazing!! Time for celebration! Next it was off to the body shop. I painted it 77 Corvette Sunflower Yellow to help hide some of the damage to the RH fender. The yellow color also draws a lot of attention. Once painted, I did the wiring and installed the original 6-volt headlights and horn.  The car runs on a 6-volt  car battery, that was originally connected to a battery charger that I plugged in once a week. Now it is connected to a 6-volt battery tender. Simple is good!

On the Monday of Labor Day 1993 while the residents of Clay Center Kansas were out enjoying the holiday Ed, myself and about half dozen close friends attached the car front to the front of my store. You always attract plenty of adult supervision when doing a project like this. I wired things up and the headlights worked, and the horn honked. Better than I could have wished for!!

Tuesday morning the citizens of Clay Center discovered the yellow car on the front of a building downtown. Word spread quickly. All were impressed except the city fathers who determined that the car front was not in keeping with the "aesthetics" of the downtown area. A check of the sign ordinance confirmed I was in compliance.

Now some thirty years later the yellow car has become a local landmark. When out of town customers stop and ask for directions, everyone in town knows where that yellow car on the front of the building is located. It has been the best advertisement I could have ever hoped for.

And for those of you in a panic thinking I cut up a perfectly good car you can relax. The RH front fender still has a few wrinkles even though we did the best we could after welding the hole shut made by the guardrail bolts. The metal was stretched pretty bad from the wreck. With a few coats of body filler, hanging it fifteen feet in the air, and painting it a bright color helps hide a lot of the damage.

As for the rest of the car it went to a good home. I had a local customer who was restoring a 49 Chevy car and need a few interior parts and the LH rear side trim. He bought all of the side trim (which was in perfect condition) for $100.00 and he got the car that was attached to it for free.


Nitromethane Was Discovered As A Racing Fuel Way Back In 1954...

Posted on 9/13/16 with No comments


I have a large library in my office consisting of Hot Rod "How-To Books" and Annuals from the 1940's 50's and 60's. During one of my recent review sessions I found a chapter introducing nitromethane and its use for Drag Racing. Keep in mind this is 1954 technology…

The article began by explaining that today's hot rodders (in 1954) have exploited every possible means of inducting more oxygen into the cylinders of an engine through improvements in volumetric efficiency. Not matter how much fuel is delivered to the cylinders; the point has been reached that not enough oxygen can be introduced to make the fuel burn efficiently.

 This has lead to experiments being conducted using oxygen bearing chemicals. Among the oxygen bearing chemicals that is showing good promise is nitromethane that is currently being manufactured as an industrial cleaning solvent. Nitromethane burns rapidly when heated, without the aid of outside oxygen.

Nitromethane is however, quite dangerous and has a lasting harmful affect on everything it touches. If spilled on the painted surface of a race car, nitromethane will run off onto the ground, taking the paint of the car with it. If nitromethane is left in a metal storage can, it will eat the bottom out within a week’s time. It is also very toxic to humans. Care should be exercised to avoid exposure to the skin and lungs.

Larger fuel lines, bigger carburetor jets and dump tubes, are some of the changes necessary when converting to nitromethane. An excess of nitromethane is needed within the cylinder so that enough water is created during the combustion process to cool the valves and pistons. Not enough nitromethane will cause an engine to meltdown… literally. Popular proven mixtures include 95% nitro methane, 5% alcohol / water and castor oil. 

It is also common to see the tachometer read 2000 -2500 for up to ten seconds after the fuel is shut off. This is common until the cylinders cool down enough to stop igniting the leftover nitromethane.

Lower compression ratios are also necessary with the use of nitromethane. The top Flathead Fords on the West Coast now run a compression ratio of 6:5 to 1. However… when the engine is running at top speed, the cylinders build compression higher than conventional 12:1 full race engines.

Nitromethane is not for everyone; it can cost as much as nine dollars a gallon in some locations compared to methanol alcohol that typically costs sixty cents a gallon. Other less expensive combinations have been tried including…nitro / hydrogen peroxide, nitro / benzene, nitro / benzoyl, nitro / acetone, nitro / di-ethel ether, nitro / picric acid, and nitro / propane. Dyno testing results have proved however, that nothing is as efficient or as consistent as nitromethane.  

Currently the only other alternative to nitromethane is a secret formula developed and recently introduced by Wilcap Automotive in Los Angles California.  This formula costs ten dollars a gallon and burns at the rate of 3/4 gallon per mile. It is used at no more than 30 percent strength and is said to provide the same results as a 90% mixture of nitromethane. Many records have been broken at southern California tracks using this new mixture. The only drawback is the solution is extremely destructive to engines not specially built for its use.
                                                                                                          - (Hot Rod Handbook 1954)

What Exactly is Nitromethane…?
Technically...Nitromethane is known as a monopropellant fuel, which means it has the potential to combust without any air at all. That's why nitromethane was once used as a rocket fuel. Fortunately for hot rodding, nitromethane also has industrial-world uses-primarily as a dry cleaning solvent, which makes it readily available. 

Enter Vic Edlebrook...
According to most hot rod historians, nitro's first competition use in America was by Vic Edelbrock Sr. and his associates. In the late 1940’s, Midget racer Ed Haddad came into Vic’s shop with a gallon can of nitromethane he’d been given by one of the Dooling brothers, who manufactured slot cars (the tethered miniature cars that ran on a circle track popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s) Ed didn’t want any part of the new fuel because he had heard "it will blow up in your face." 

Edelbrock, Bobby Meeks, and Fran Hernandez added 10 percent nitro to the methanol in their 136ci V8-60 Midget car engine. With no tuning or familiarity with nitro, Vic Jr. recalls that the strange brew "just about broke the beam on Dad's old 200hp-capacity Clayton dyno."  The spark plugs were so hot they turned into glow plugs. When they tried to shut it off, the engine kept running. They finally had to throw a towel on it to get it to quit." The engine was toast, but eventually they learned to add lots more fuel, colder spark plugs, and stronger internals to stand up to both the higher output as well as nitromethane's corrosive effects. The Stromberg 81 carbs had to be nickel-plated, as did the fuel containers (hidden from prying eyes inside cardboard boxes). 

Eventually, Edelbrock settled on a 20 percent nitro / 80 percent methanol mix that added 40 hp. Edelbrock was able to keep the fuel a secret for a while, but with flames coming out of the exhaust, fellow racers knew something was up. Vic disguised the distinctive odor by blending in a little orange oil. 

By 1952, an Edelbrock Ford flathead running 40 percent nitro had run 201 mph one way at Bonneville (before the exhaust valves got sucked into the ports). With the word out on the new fuel the article appeared in the Hot Rod Handbook 1954 edition.

How Come So Many Flames Out Of The Exhaust Headers...?
The simplest explanation is that much more nitro is being delivered to the cylinders than can be burned. That is done on purpose, not for the horsepower advantage but to help cool the cylinders, to keep the engine from melting down…literally!

The excess nitro fuel goes out the exhaust, where it immediately ignites on contact with atmospheric oxygen, burning with a characteristic yellow flame. If the rich mixture has entered into the monopropellant phase, hydrogen and carbon monoxide are produced as a byproduct. Bright white flames are then generated, by the burning hydrogen. The burning of this excess fuel is what provides that distinctive crackle sound. It will also burn your eyes and your skin. Not all of the nitromethane coming out of the exhaust headers will burn because of the volume of fuel present.

Starting a Nitro Burning Engine
Initial start-up with high nitro concentrations is very tricky. According to those in the know… "You must get the engine cycling. It won't start up spinning at 200 rpm like a gas engine would. You need to get some heat in the engine and spin it at 1,800 to 2,000 rpm." 

There's so much fuel pouring into the cylinders that failure to get the engine spinning fast enough before controlled ignition can hydro-lock the engine, or even blow a head off. The common practice is to start and warm up the engine on gas or alcohol then switch over to the nitromethane.

The high percentages of nitro have led to massive breakthroughs in ignition technology. Today's top-of-the-line MSD units put out 50,000 volts and 44 amps on the top end. That's about the same output of an arc welder at each cylinder-and today the top fuelers run two of them.

Once you get a nitro engine going, it may not want to stop. At 7,500 rpm on the top end, there's so much heat in the engine it may keep running under auto ignition even if you shut off the magnetos. Essentially, it becomes a diesel. Fuelers today shut down by turning off the fuel pumps as well as the ignition.

Who would have thought that the fuel used to power 1/24 scale tethered slot cars would end up being used as fuel in Drag Racing? Imagine how excited Vic must have been to gain 40 horsepower simply by switching the fuel he burned in his race car?

Now that you know the history of nitromethane as a racing fuel, you will never look at the local dry cleaning store the same again. 


About Me

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Since 1987, Fifth Avenue owner, Randy Rundle, has been making antique, classic and special interest vehicles more reliable and fun to drive.