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1939 / 1940 Ford Battery Gauge And Upgrading To 12-Volts ...What You Need To Know

Posted on 7/16/18 with No comments


Starting with model year 1939, Ford installed a "Battery" gauge in the dash of their Deluxe model Ford, Mercury and Lincoln Zephyr model cars, instead of an Ammeter. No one seems to know why this happened, some speculate that there was a shortage of Ammeter gauges or that production could not keep up with demand. It doesn't really matter as long as you know how to identify what you have in the dash. The use of a "Battery" gauge in the Deluxe models continued into the 1940 model year.  The Battery gauges used in the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models are marked with the colors of Red, Orange, Green and Red again at the top of the gauge markings.

Here is a 1940 Ford truck Ammeter

If your dash gauge doesn't look anything like the one described above, but instead, the dial says DIS and CHG  with the needle in the middle, you have an Ammeter instead. When you upgrade to 12-volts, you do not have to do anything to the Ammeter, because an Ammeter measures the volume of current...not the voltage. Again all standard model cars, and the trucks got Ammeters instead of Battery gauges.

If you have a Battery gauge in the dash...which in reality is a volt meter, (although not calibrated as such) the Battery gauge is designed to display the amount of voltage present in the electrical system when the ignition switch is in the "on" position.

1939 Mercury Battery Dash Gauge

The markings on a Ford Battery Gauge are as follows...Green was normal operating voltage, and represented a voltage range from 7.1 to 8.25 volts. The Red on the high side identified voltages of 8.25 to 9.0 volts. The Red voltages on the high side were unsafe for light bulbs, and often resulted in the water being boiled out of the battery from overcharging. Excessive generator voltage output (from stuck points in the regulator) can cause permanent damage to the generator. (All Ford Lincoln and Mercury Battery Gauge markings represent the same thing.)

The Orange sector represented voltages from 6.2 to 7.1. When the needle dropped below the green on the dial but stayed in the orange that meant the headlights and electrical load was equal to the generator output, and no current was being replaced into the battery. If headlights were not on such as daytime driving it meant the generator was not recharging the battery and the charging system may need attention.

If the needle dropped into the Red on the bottom of the scale, it represented 6.2 volts or below a warning to the driver the charging system was not keeping up with the electrical load and the current in the battery was fast being used up.

This is a backside view of a Ford Battery Gauge.  Battery current flows thru heater wire which in turn heats the bi-metal which moves the needle on the front side of the gauge.

The battery gauge on the left is the 1939 design, while the battery gauge on the right is the 1940 design. Remember it was just the deluxe models that got the battery gauges, the standard models along with the trucks got the ammeter gauges in the dash.

Part of this information on the Ford Battery gauges came from a Ford service bulletin dated October 1939. I wanted you to be able to read and understand a Ford Battery dash gauge, and also know the difference between a Ford Battery gauge and a Ford Ammeter. 

So now the burning question becomes...what do you do with the Ford Battery gauge that is calibrated for 6-volts, when you upgrade your Ford electrical system to 12-volts? 

The answer is simple! Install a "Runtz" voltage drop onto the back of the battery gauge just like you will do for the gas gauge and the rest of the electrical dash gauges, (water temp, oil pressure) and you will live happily ever after. The "Runtz" will reduce the 12-volts down to 7.75 volts which will be in the "Green" markings in the original Battery dash gauge. The Battery gauge will then function just like it always did.

I know that often times the solution from the experts is to just swap out the "battery" gauge for an "ammeter" gauge and everything will be fine. That will work, but the gauge face of the Ammeter gauge will not match the rest of your gauge faces.

Now that you know the simple solution of installing the Runtz onto the original Battery gauge which allows to keep and use all of your stock gauges, the upgrade to 12-volts just became that much easier.


The Thirty Year Education

Posted on 7/5/18 with No comments


2018 marks the 30th year of my education with the Great Race. That's a long time for an education, one that will likely continue for a few more years to come. A lot of you ask why I am still involved with the Great Race after thirty years and what exactly I get from it every year, that makes my involvement worth while.

A Little Background Is In Order...

Back in 1985 I invented a 6-volt alternator for antique vehicle applications. My 1951 Chevrolet pickup was the reason for the invention of the 6-volt alternator. I bought fixed up and sold dozens of these 1948 thru 1954 Chevrolet pickups in my high school years from 1972 thru 1976. I learned to always park on a hill to be sure they would start. I had first hand knowledge of dead batteries, dim headlights, and hard starting. I reasoned that if I was having trouble with my 6-volt electrical system, so was everybody else. I decided the 6-volt electrical system needed fixing, and I was just the guy to do it.  Besides...when you are young, you know everything!

How hard could it be...? If I had only known. I ended up spending all of my money figuring out how to make the 6-volt alternator work (and not work), so I had little money left for marketing. I did sell about a hundred of them locally over the next year, so I knew they worked, but I soon figured out I needed to find some new customers out of state, if I was going to continue to sell my 6-volt alternators. 

So...I started Fifth Avenue Antique Auto Parts in 1987 to market my new 6-volt alternator nationwide. It was in 1988 that I found out about the Great Race in which  they drove pre 1942 vehicles 4500 miles across the United States in two weeks time. I decided that was a perfect market for my new alternator. So I acquired a list of the entrants and started knocking on doors trying to convince one of the Great Race entrants to try my new alternator.

This 1951 was a one owner truck that I bought in 1972 when I had just turned 14. I still have that truck (it looks much different now ...and so do I) and it still has 6-volt alternator number one installed, which still works!) 

 They all asked the same thing..."have any other of the Great Race entrants tried them...? "  Not yet "but they should"... was my reply " because they work "... " Well you know there is no such thing as a 6-volt alternator..." until now... is my reply." well come back and see us when you get someone signed up and we might try one then "..that was how it went until I got to number 12 on the list, one Bud Melby of Seattle Washington.

Bud drove a 1936 Cord in the Great Race, a car I had never even heard of a Cord till then. Oh...great I say to myself, I get a car I know nothing about and never heard of, I will never sell this guy an alternator! But...Bud was more than receptive as he explained that the generator charging system in his Cord could not keep up with the additional electrical load from the electric fuel pump, the electric radiator cooling fan and the related accessories. 

He said he changed out the battery at noon each day, because when the battery voltage got low, the transmission would get stuck in overdrive. A Cord is all electric shift on the steering column and the overdrive is also electric shift. In the Great Race the car was being shifted way more often than it would be in normal driving, which was part of the reason for the dead battery.

I knew my alternator could fix that but I had to convince Bud. I finally said..."I will give you the alternator for free and if it works to your satisfaction then I want an endorsement from you at the end of the race. " Fair enough " he said.  He installed the alternator entered the 1989 Great Race and drove the entire race on the same battery!  He later said..." I couldn't believe it...some farm kid in Kansas invents this 6-volt alternator and tells me it will work on my car. I truly had serious doubts but figured it couldn't be any worse than what I had now. But that alternator actually worked just like he said it would! "

It was Howard Sharp that parked next to Bud each evening during the 1989 Great Race. Howard was driving a 1929 Dodge Sport Roadster one of only 1200 made. He too was having battery problems so Bud showed him his 6-volt alternator. Howard's response was..." if something like that would work they would have figured that out a long time ago...!

This sun faded picture is in the display case in my store. When Howard won in 1993 I asked for the winning alternator back and I sent him a new one. I wanted the alternator for display. It was my first win and was proof my alternator worked.

Howard watched that alternator the whole race and while he was charging batteries each night Bud never touched his. Two days after Howard got home from the race he called. He said..." That 6-volt alternator you sold Bud Melby, I want one for my Dodge, how soon can you get it here! " I sent him the alternator he installed it and drove it in the next two Great Races finishing in the top five both years. Like Bud...he never again replaced a battery.

In 1993 Howard won the Great Race and collected $30,000 and a new Buick car. He was now a believer in the 6-volt alternator and has became my best salesman. Soon other entrants in the Great Race discovered how Howard went from swapping batteries every day to not touching his battery the whole race. The word was out and the alternators began to sell to the Great Racers.

Another benefit I hadn't counted on from being involved with the Great Race, was the local car collectors who came down to look at the cars entered in the Great Race each evening, to see how the cars entered in the Great Race were different from the ones they owned. They would see the alternator with the gold sticker on top, and write down the phone number. 

The next day they would call and say..."I talked to one of the entrants in the Great Race last night and I want the same alternator he has, for my car. " The Great Race became my best advertising as antique car owners could see the alternators installed on a car and could talk to the Great Race car owners firsthand to learn all they wanted to know about how the alternators worked.


After the alternator secret made the rounds a few of the Great Racers led by Bud came to me and said..." you fixed our electrical problems, now we want you to fix our overheating and our vapor lock problems..."

So that is how I got involved with the Great Race in depth. They came to me with problems and I worked on finding a solution. They tested my new products and I knew if what I designed survived the Great Race it would survive anything the average antique vehicle owner would need. This has been going on for 30 years now, and is how most of the 40 specialized products I now offer for sale, came about.

Today, the Great Racers will drive 3500 miles in the Great Race in just two weeks time. They drive on much more difficult roads in much more extreme temperatures for much longer periods of time, than the average antique vehicle owner does. If they can break or abuse a part they will.

After Howard won the Great Race in 1993 he moved up to the expert class. He decided to take advantage of the age factor and buy an older vehicle. I get a call..." Hey... I just bought a car for the Great a 1911 Velie and I need an alternator for that car, so send me one when you get one built...and he hung up the phone.

This became one of the most expensive alternators I have ever built. The Velie has an idle speed of just 450 rpms and a maximum engine speed of 1200 rpms. 

Once again, I had no idea what a Velie was... so I did my homework. I found out the idle speed was just 450 rpms and the max engine rpms was 1200 rpms. I knew Howard needed an alternator with at least 30 amps at engine idle and at least 70 amps at highway speeds. Most alternators start charging about 800-1000 rpms and are designed to produce their full rated output at about about 4500 rpms engine speed. This would be a challenge. 

In the end using a special built one off high output stator and rotor assembly, (along with every trick I had learned in years past to extract more amps out of an alternator at low engine rpms), the alternator worked and more important proved to be reliable.  It became the most expensive alternator I had ever built to date, but it did deliver 40 amps at Velie engine idle and 74 amps and Velie highway speeds of 1200 rpms.

All was good till about 2006, when I get another call from Howard..." the route next years goes up Pikes Peak in Colorado, how are we going to keep the Velie from overheating at high altitude? I knew if Howard was onto the case, the rest of the Great Race entrants would be soon enough, so I needed to come up with an answer.  

Evans Coolant boils at 370 degrees and freezes at minus 80 degrees with no pressure in the cooling system. It has proven to be a lifesaver for the cars entered in the Great Race.

After six months of intense searching I found Jack Evans who had invented a waterless coolant that boiled at 370 degrees and freezes at minus 80, with no pressure in the cooling system. I knew immediately I was on to something so I spoke with Jack numerous times explaining what the application was and that I wanted to know if his coolant would work in a 1911 engine? While designed for modern high performance applications like the Corvette, he agreed to send me some of his coolant on a trial basis.

He explained the temp gauge in the dash will read 15-20 degrees higher as the Evans coolant will physically draw more heat from the engine and suspend it into the coolant, which will make the temp gauge read higher,  but the block will remain cooler. I knew as long as the coolant wasn't boiling it was still able to absorb heat. The Velie would prove to be a good test for the Evans Coolant. 

Well...much to everyones amazement, the Velie made it to the top of Pike's Peak without overheating. The Evans Coolant worked! It proved to be even more of a test, due to the fact that the Velie lost half of it's 40 horsepower climbing to the top, which made the engine work much harder and in turn the cooling system also work that much harder. There were lots of Great Race cars stranded on the way to the top and the Velie should have been one of the first casualties. It really struggled to get to the top and was only going about 3 mph when it reached the summit. It was a sweet victory for me and the Sharp racing team. We had conquered the mountain.

The Velie proved to be a challenge to drive in the Great Race each year. Howard's arms got as big as his thighs from the Armstrong power steering. With the alternator, the electric cooling fan, the electric fuel pump and the rest of what I had learned to date had made the Velie rock solid reliable much to the amazement of the other Great Race entrants. The Velie was the oldest car entered in the race most years, and it always finished in the top five, but gravity always seem to win at a crucial moment. The Velie had trouble pulling some of the long step hills on the Great Race routes.

Then in 2011 the Sharp Racing Team wins the Great Race driving the oldest car entered in the race, the same year the Velie turned 100 years old! All of the things I knew (or at least thought I knew) proved to be correct. It became pretty clear to me that if I could make a 100 year old car reliable I could make most any antique vehicle more reliable and fun to drive!

The Velie earned a well deserved retirement in 2011 and was replaced by a 1916 Hudson Speedster. Here we go again! So the Hudson got the same treatment that the Velie did and in 2015 the Sharp Racing Team won the Great Race again!

                                   Howard and Douglas Sharp in the 1916 Hudson.

And so it goes... every year the Great Race route presents new challenges, and new customers mean working on different types of antique vehicles. While all of the preparation to the electrical cooling, and fuel is basically the same, each individual antique vehicle is unique. But... after 30 years of preparing Great Race cars I pretty much have things down to a science. Having the car you prepare for the Great Race, win now and then, helps confirm that you are getting it right. It also help draw in a few new customers who now know without a doubt, that you know how to make an antique vehicle reliable.

That is what makes this fun for me. I enjoy the challenge, and the chance to learn something new. I tell people that preparing cars for the Great Race will teach you two will separate what you know... from what you think you know... and you will learn that what is supposed to work in theory... does not always work in real life.

So when you call and ask me questions about the electrical cooling and fuel systems on your antique you know why I can give you an answer right away without hesitation. I do this every day for a living, and have for the past thirty years. So... yes I can make most any antique vehicle more reliable and fun to drive, including yours!

This car was built in 1960 as a parade car.  It was built using two 1939 Chevy car front ends. Both ends steer. The 6-volt electrical system was recently upgraded to a Fifth Avenue 6-volt alternator to make it more reliable in parades. It is still owned by the same family of the original builders. You can read more about the history of this car in another Garage Tech entry. 

Regular customer's antique vehicles have, trucks, tractors, buses, airport tugs, wooden boats, railroad track inspector cars, airplanes, stationery engines, backhoes, shovel cranes, fork lifts, semi trucks, fire trucks, and about most anything else you can think of. They all have something in common, the same electrical cooling and fuel issues. Ironically the same cars when used in the movies also share the issues, which is how I got into the movie business.

When a customer calls and asks..." Can you help me make my antique vehicle more reliable,  and I begin to explain the process, I will ask them how many miles they drove their antique vehicle last year? " 300 miles...less than a thousand...not as many as I'd like..." are common answers. When I ask why..."doesn't start good when it's hot"..." headlights are dim so I can't see after dark "... " every time I go to start it the battery is dead "...are the common answers.

So imagine that same car owner who once drove his antique vehicle only 300 miles a year because it was not reliable... now puts 3,000 miles a year on the same vehicle because it is now... just as reliable as his modern car. He is now a proud owner of an antique vehicle that he has confidence in driving,  and the smile on his face is a mile wide! He can truly enjoy his antique vehicle. That is the rewarding part for me...when a new customer hits the starter for the first time and the antique vehicle immediately starts..the look on their face is priceless.

And it was because of my thirty year Great Race education that we are both smiling!

And my job is done...


The End Of An Era...

Posted on 6/13/18 with No comments


It looks kind of empty and hollow now, the gas pumps out front disappeared long ago. "Doc's" Garage was an institution. Located in Oak Hill Kansas population of fifty more or less... not located close to any town of size, with far more cows than people in the neighborhood. Orville Chartier or "Doc" as he was always known started out on the mid 1950's running the local service station at the edge of town. There were more people in town then... with a school and a post office.

A few years later he had polished his mechanical skills and needed more room to work. So he bought the building uptown that used to be a blacksmith shop and moved in. He would remain there for the next fifty years.

He would witness the town slowly fading away, the school closing, the post office disappearing, along with most of the businesses and families one by one. Doc was the last business on the two block gravel main street in recent years... until recently, when health issues finally took their toll.

I started going to Doc's when I was about 15 years old. It was like a step back in time. Doc was a patient person and would take the time to show you what he was working on and explain what was broken and how he planned to fix it. He could fix most anything, at least that was my view in those early days.

I went on to make regular visits two or three times a year for the next 40 years. During my visits to Doc's, I always got an education, some of it hands on.

For Example...There used to be an old pot belly stove in the office that he burned hedge wood in during the winter months. The building he was in was already fifty years old when he moved in some the windows were a little drafty and the walls had a few air gaps plugged with shop rags etc.

There was an old bar stool chair next to the wood stove. That is where you sat when you first came in from the cold.

One day on about my second or third visit I am sitting in the bar chair warming up and Doc comes in from the shop area to make out a bill...or so I assumed, as I had watched him do that many times.  The locals were lined up on the church pew and I was listening to the conversation... they having made it clear they did not need much input from me though not in so many words.

Doc comes in sits down at his old roll top desk and the next thing I know my behind is getting the heck shocked out of it and the locals are having a good laugh at my expense.

Doc just smiled finished making out his bill and went back into the shop. I figured out upon doing some investigation, that there was an old tractor magneto in the bottom drawer of that roll top desk with the wires running out in front of his parts counter on the floor well hidden by the water pump, starter and generator cores lined up on the floor. There were two 16 penny nails in the seat of that chair about two ass cheeks apart.

You only got it once unless you were a slow learner. But then it was fun to watch the next victim experience the same thing you did. When it is twenty degrees out and you come in and sit next to the stove... you mind is at idle and all you are thinking about is getting warm. I never forgot that lesson. It taught me to pay attention more to what is going on around me. It was a good lesson for a kid who was thinking he knew it all.

I have sought out and visited hundreds of garages like Doc's over the years and they all seem to operate about the same. The owners are very resourceful and with parts being delivered only once or twice a week, you had to make those deliveries count or drive 80 miles round trip to get what you forgot to order which also cost you a half days labor in addition to the gasoline.

In the back of my mind, I always compared the rest of the garages I visited, to Doc's. He kind of set the standard. With Doc's recent passing, his garage will be cleaned out, an auction held and the building sold. It will truly be the end of an era. I am glad to have experienced it first hand.

Ironically not much changed in the forty years since my first visit to Doc's Garage. There was some comfort in that. It was kind of like going home. The bar stool disappeared when the stove burned thru...If you know anything about hedge wood you know it burns hot and provides good heat, but it is awful hard on stoves.

There was never any indoor plumbing at Doc's there was a hydrant out on the drive and the bathroom was an out house even up until the end. Lighting was powered by knob and tube wiring and 150 watt bulbs. Doc used a trouble light where he was working. It was something you never questioned.

So.. I want to share with you a few pictures from the inside of Doc's Garage. These were taken in 2018 although they could have been taken in 1980 as well. I went down and helped the family identify some of the old parts and tools Doc had.  I am now 60 years old and it would be my chance to visit Doc's Garage one last time.

Doc needed something to help pull an engine out of a chassis so he made this lift bar out of an old axle. He used that for years.

All of his equipment was well used but it all worked.

Both of these were carried over from his service station days. The station was likely established in the 1920 or early 1930's.

Part of the line shaft equipment was still mounted to the ceiling from when the building was a blacksmith shop. Notice the old knob and tube wiring which was still being used.

This was in the shop area. There was a stove in the shop for heat but never any insulation in the walls or the ceiling. The lighting you see is all there was.

This was his cash drawer in the office. He rigged up a bell to the drawer so if anyone tried to get in it while he was working in the shop he could easily hear it.

The shelves behind his counter were full of parts both new and used. He seldom thru anything away because he might be able to use something off of a used part to fix something "to get by" until the new part showed up. He was very good at figuring out how to make something work with the used parts he had on hand.

Cleaning out these shelves we found parts he had bought in the late 1960's and did not use but kept on hand "just in case." It was like a treasure hunt. We also found parts for cars and trucks in the 1930's and 1940's. He had a system for locating parts in these shelves but nobody else could ever figure out how it worked.

How do you turn on the light behind the parts counter with your hands full? Simple...Use a dimmer switch with one side burnt out and mount it into an electrical box and set it on the floor. Then all you had to do was step on it to turn on the light.

He also did his bench grinder this way....walk up to it and step on the dimmer switch on the floor and it turned on. That worked good if you were working on something that required both hands to steady. Yep that is where I learned that trick.

I learned from Doc to look at things as how they function and not just at the application they were designed for. The dimmer switch was a good example. I used to just throw those away when one contact burned out. Not anymore....Thanks Doc!

So I hope you have had the same experiences I have had growing up and that there was a Doc in your neighborhood. We can learn a lot from the previous generation and we in turn need to pass that knowledge on to the next generation. This is stuff you can't learn from any book, you need to experience it first hand and then pass that opportunity along. Otherwise it will be lost forever!

Remember Red Crown Valve Stem Caps...?

Posted on 6/5/18 with No comments


Hardly anyone today, remembers full service where they pumped your gasoline, washed your windshield, checked your oil, and the air in your tires. It was the same at most any gasoline station with one exception. At the local Standard Oil Gasoline Station, if you needed air they added it at no charge and put a set of these valve stem caps on to let the world know that you bought gasoline at the local Standard Oil Station. You got Red Crown valve steps if you bought regular or Gold Crown valve stems caps if you bought premium.

The "Red Crowns" were a reminder of the Red Crown Gasoline they sold. The Red Crown Caps were a likeness of the glass Red Crown globes on top of the gasoline pumps on the drive. The Red Crown was by far the most popular grade of gasoline they offered.  Red Crown gasoline was introduced sometime around 1914 along with White Crown (premium) gasoline which would become Gold Crown premium gasoline in 1951.

The Red Crown valve caps were nothing short of advertising genius. For just pennies the Standard oil dealer could advertise his gasoline on half the cars in town. In addition... if kids rode in on their bicycles they too could get a set of Red Crowns. And you know... as soon as one kid in the neighborhood got'em the rest were soon to follow.  Car owners and kids alike would come by the station to get something for free... just like they still do today. Station owners literally ordered the Red Crown valve stem caps by the hundreds.

The Red Crown Valve Stem caps were introduced sometime in the 1940's and lasted until about 1962. Their popularity was the strongest from about 1955 thru 1962. They introduced the Gold Crown Caps in 1951 to help market the new Gold Crown Gasoline. You seldom saw a set of Gold Crown Valve Stem caps, the Red Crowns always seemed to be more popular, the bright color seemed to be more eye catching.

The good news is both the Red Crown and the Gold Crown valve stem caps are now available in the parts department at Fifth Avenue. They became one of my nostalgia projects because of how popular they once were and the genius marketing idea they represent. It is the detail you need to set your antique vehicle apart from the rest. These are an exact match to the originals.

So a set of the Red Crowns (5) will set you back $8.00. The Gold Crown caps are the same price and also come in sets of (5).  These are the authentic red color of the originals.

If you want to make them look like they have been on your antique vehicle since the 1950's just set them out in the sun for a while the gloss will disappear and they will fade to a dull red and look just like used set from the 1950's. Life is good !

Meanwhile... Here is more Standard Oil Red Crown gasoline history...


Tag Toppers Available For Your Business, Car Club Or Event...

Posted on 6/1/18 with No comments


I have been collecting license plate tag toppers for close to forty years, and have more than 200 different Tag Toppers in my collection. If you have read my other entry on Tag Toppers you know that I have reproduced some of the original design Tag Toppers with the Fifth Avenue logo for use on the Great Race cars. I also offer them to customers who what an original design auto advertising accessory to display on their antique vehicle. My current 2018 design features a reflectorized background, so it shows up at night.

Meanwhile...Here are a few of my originals....

Example of an early Tag Topper from the late 1940's.

This One Has Some Well Detailed Graphics...

Tag Toppers Came In All Shapes And Sizes...

This One Has Lots Of Detail And Is Porcelain... A Keeper.

Example Of An Early "Downer" Tag Topper


This one was designed to go behind the chrome bezel of the trunk handle.

Tag Toppers are still a very effective way to advertise as I found out in 1993 when the car I sponsored in the Great Race won the Great Race Sportsman class and the driver Howard Sharp earned a 10 minute interview on national television.

    My first Tag Topper Design That Ended up on ESPN TV.

Howard Sharp the car owner did a sit down interview in front of his car with an ESPN reporter, and my tag topper was proudly on display attached to the front license plate bracket of his 1929 Dodge Sport Roadster, with my business name and phone number proudly on display! I got free advertising on national TV for ten minutes, and all I had invested was the cost of that tag topper. As I was watching I was thinking to my self... that tag topper was a dang good investment!

Howard now enters this 1915 Hudson in the Great Race with is son Douglas. Howard went on to win the Great Race twice more, in 2011 and again in 2015. I have sponsored Howard in the Great Race every year for more than 25 years and we have become good friends.


The Willys Overland Jeepster Club designed these and each of their 400 members in good standing got one in honor of the clubs 50th anniversary.

I often get asked if I can make custom Tag Toppers for car clubs, other businesses, and special events. The answer is yes, and have been making them off and on for about ten years but have not formally offered the service. But I am getting enough requests that I decided to explain the process and outline the options so if you want to have some made you will have some idea what is involved.

First up is the blanks. They are made of 20 thousandths thick aluminum (same thickness as an interstate road sign) so they are very durable and they will not rust.

As for the colors... you can use most any combination of up to five different ink colors, in addition to any background color so you could end up with six different colors  on a Tag Topper.  My current Tag Topper has 4 colors, Green, White, Red, Black, and the background color of yellow for a total of five colors.

Along with the colors you can screen the background to lighten a color to highlight a detail. The light green color in the background of my logo, is the same dark green color behind my telephone number. It has simple been screen down to thirty percent to give my logo some depth.  The black is also screened for the grill and front bumper.

Reverse type is also available, which is what I have done on the Fifth Avenue Tag Topper to draw attention to the telephone number.

Bleed to the edge... simply means that the background color can be printed out to the very edge of the Tag Topper and a non print boarder area is not necessary.

An example of reverse lettering on an early Tag Topper

Some Tag Toppers Were Even Embossed...

We can add most any logo or graphic along with most any lettering style. A lesson from the billboard company... simple is good and if you select a light colored background such as yellow or white, you should select a dark color of ink such as a black, dark brown, red or dark green. The better the contrast the more eye catching it will be.

We also offer a reflectorized background just like a modern road sign so your tag topper will show up at night. The Fifth Avenue Tag Topper examples shown at the top of the page are reflectorized.

Think about road signs, a stop sign for example, red background, white lettering. the colors catch your eyes and the message is easy to read from a distance. And once you have seen it you immediately recognize it again.

This is an example of a well designed Tag Topper. Notice the bright contrasting colors, the simple message and the logo. This one is easy to read from a distance and it is very eye catching!

The billboard people say an average driver has just 7 seconds to read an entire billboard message at 60 mph. that is why most billboards have a short simple message and a graphic to catch your eye.

The advantage to a Tag Topper is that while it is smaller in size than a billboard it will likely be in front of the car following you for a lot longer than seven seconds. And because antique vehicles tend to travel slower than their modern counterparts, you pretty much have a captive audience.


Uppers and Downers...refers to the mounting of the Tag Topper, it can be mounted to the top of a license plate or license plate bracket such as the one on a gravel pan behind the front bumper or the tag topper can be designed to mount hanging down such as on the headlight bar of a Model A Ford.

I use Tag Toppers to identify the cars I have prepared for the Great Race. This one is on a 1936 Ford police car.

A tag topper will usually mount to the front of modern cars and trucks, either as uppers or downers.

All of the ink used on Fifth Avenue Tag Toppers is UV resistant and fade resistant and is the same ink they use on interstate road signs.

That means you can power wash your tag topper at the car wash to get the bugs off without worrying about the ink coming off with it. All of the Fifth Avenue Tag Toppers have passed the Kansas June Bug Test... where you hit a Kansas June bug a 70 mph and there is no damage your tag topper. Sorry...we can't same the same for the June bug.

And last but not least the Fifth Avenue Tag Toppers are made in the USA by the same company that was established in 1946 to make what else...Tag Toppers identifying volunteer fire department members. That same company today, makes all kinds of graphics for fire trucks, ambulances, and rescue vehicles, police cars and the like.

They have kept up with technology and that is why we are able to offer multi-colored Tag Toppers, although they did not apply that technology to Tag Toppers until I showed up on their doorstep. They mainly use the multi-colored graphics on the firetruck, ambulance, and rescue vehicle graphic projects. I was happy to expand their horizons.

I worked in graphic arts for 20 years before I started Fifth Avenue, so I am able to design and layout all of my own books, catalogs, and advertising. I knew how to design tag toppers but I wanted authentic ones from a company who was established when tag toppers were popular. I also wanted them to be USA made.

I finally found a company and we compared notes and we are on the same page. Now here we are some ten years later and I am still making custom tag toppers. I do it for the fun of it, to keep a part of automotive advertising history alive. Some things you do for the fun of it, not the money. And the Tag Toppers I create today will be collectible in later years just as the originals are today.

A Tag Topper is a period correct automotive advertising accessory that is just as effective today as when they were popular in the the 1940's and 1950's.

So if you are interested in a custom tag topper for your business, a car club, or event drop me an email at and show me what you have in mind. I will help you figure out and a design that will result in a good looking tag topper than you will be proud of. Below are some of the more popular ones I have done in the past.



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.