Q&A with Kit Foster: January 15, 2015

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Q. I bought this old steering wheel 20 years ago at a rummage sale. It is 17 inches outside diameter with a 3/4-inch hole, two key slots and has a 2-1/4 inch rise. I know there were many such wheels made in the past, but I thought it would be a good challenge for you or your readers to identify this one.

— Dale Thompson, Janesville, Wis.

A. The dished shape spells “Model T Ford” for sure. The late Bruce McCalley’s “Model T Ford: The Car That Changed the World” gives great detail on the evolution of the Model T from 1908 to 1927. He tells us that the steering wheel increased from 14-1/4 inches in diameter to 15 in 1911, to 16 in 1920, then to 17 for the final two years, 1926 and ’27. However, by then it was no longer wood but a synthetic material called “Fordite,” and the spokes were pressed steel, not forged. Fordite was made by recycling baked lacquer from the paint booths, very characteristic of Ford’s frugal ways. I believe your wood-rimmed wheel with the forged “spider” is an aftermarket item.

 

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Q. I once owned a 1931 Dodge four-door sedan, with dual sidemount spares on the front fenders. The car, which I did not keep, had only one good hubcap, with the familiar “DB” stamped on it. I’ve seen similar Dodges with all their hubcaps intact, but inquiries with the owners indicated the hubcaps were present when they bought the cars, which had been restored by someone else.

How does one go about replicating such hubcaps? The steel back of the hubcap was a stamping, with the plated “DB” exterior a separate stamping crimped on. I suspect the steel backing may have been a common part used on other automobiles with similar wire wheels, but with the plated logo part added for each manufacturer. While replicated Ford parts are common, obtaining same for Dodges, Buicks, Hupmobiles, etc. is not so easy. Are there companies that can replicate things like hubcaps?

— Bob Yarger, via e-mail

A. Yes, there are, although I cannot name a hubcap replicator off-hand. The technology exists to replicate almost anything, particularly if a good sample is available as a pattern. Today’s scanning and numerical-control machine capabilities make it very feasible – but not inexpensive. That’s why Ford parts, for which there is a huge market, are frequently reproduced, while less popular makes lose out. Individual marque clubs and networks, however, frequently produce small runs of critical parts. A member, who knows other members who need the parts, also knows a guy who can make good-quality reproductions. Advance orders are taken, often with a deposit to pay the set-up costs.

 

 

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Q. My wife had a Rambler while she was in college. When I saw a Rambler wheel cover for sale at a Dennis Carpenter open house, I brought it for her. When I cleaned the front, it looks like it has never been used. When I cleaned the back, I found the following written on it – ORIG.SAMPLE, 1964 RAMBLER, 3831310 B/P “B”, 3171262, 6-12-63, SAVE – N. HILL.  Could this be a real prototype? How many of them were made? Is it collectible? What is it worth?

— Glenn Simmons, Concord, N.C.

A. I consulted OCW contributor Patrick Foster, who has written extensively on this era of American Motors. He replies: “Could it be a real prototype? Possibly, but not likely at that late a date. The 1964 cars would be going into production in another month or so and wheel cover designs are usually prototyped about a year or so in advance. Hundreds of thousands of them were made. It’s collectible if you like collecting wheel covers. I have no idea what it’s worth, but I wouldn’t plan my retirement around it.” Perhaps N. Hill worked in a dealership instead, or this wheel cover was “archived” at the plant of an outsource supplier.

 

To submit questions to this column: E-mail angelo.vanbogart@fwmedia.com or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

 

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