Q&A with Kit Foster: January 17, 2013

Q. I enjoyed reading the Oct. 4 issue about 1912 Cadillac with the first electrical self-starter. Did Cadillac use 24 volts for all electrical service on these vehicles, or was it a dual system with six volts for all other loads? I would also like to know how long Cadillac used 24 volts for starting, before they reverted back to the standard six-volt system.

— Bill Angerer, Foresthill, Calif.

A. The first Delco starting system, used on the 1912 Cadillac, had four six-volt batteries. They were connected in series for 24-volt starting. The other electrical functions on the car ran at six volts. This lasted only one year. In 1913, a more compact six-volt starter-generator was adopted. Cadillac was not the absolute first, by the way, to come up with electric starting. The major advance of Charles Kettering’s starter was its (relatively) compact size. He had learned, through his work for National Cash Register, that an electric motor could be greatly overloaded, as long as its duty cycle was short. This is the case, of course, in automobile starters. Kettering also recognized that the electric starter made sense as one component of a full electrical system for the car, including ignition, lighting and convenience features like a horn. The starter motor, too, could be used as a generator to recharge the battery, as it was in his early Delco systems.

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Q. In regards to a comment from James Smith about a Chevelle which admitted to no valve stem (Nov. 29), I have a similar incident with a late ’70s Chevrolet Monza. I worked in the Reliability Department of the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant and a dealer in a mid-Ohio town about 100 miles away called about a Monza he had just received with NO valve stems in all four wheels. This was discovered when the service department was installing the wheel covers that were shipped from the factory in the trunk. Since I had some knowledge of the tire/wheel room I had to investigate how this could happen. Missing valve stem holes were a rare but not unheard of occurrence but it was normally caught at the stem operation. I questioned the utility man in the wheel room if he had seen any wheels with missing stem holes and he replied that he had accumulated four over the past few months and that they were on the salvage rack “right over there”…and then he noticed they were gone, replaced by four of the same steel wheels with stem holes. The loader at the wheel room had a sly grin when questioned but admitted to nothing. All I could account for was that we had four and now we had none. The next morning I delivered four replacement wheels to the dealer. He and his service department had the same question: “How did you put air in them in the first place?” Mr. Smith described the inflation and balance process in those years quite well.

Also, I have some recollection of the 1953 Hydra-Matic transmission plant fire and some of the consequences. My family had a Lincoln-Mercury dealership from 1948 until 1960. There were no Lincolns available during this time unless the customer would settle for the syncromesh/overdrive unit. When Hydra-Matic production returned, Lincoln, Nash and Kaiser received the first of the units as General Motors was anxious not to lose their contracts. As years progressed, the Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles with the Dynaflow transmissions became real losers on the used-car market. The NADA books of that time listed a substantial loss of trade-in value for those Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles. My only experience with the Powerglide in the Pontiacs was that I had a classmate who tried to change one back to Hydra-Matic and had not figured the column shift into the replacement process. I recall he scrapped the car after six months of backyard wrenching. I don’t know if the rarity of any of these cars would be enhanced by the Dynaflow or Powerglide transmission.

— Steve Myers, Newton Falls, Ohio

A. Thanks for sharing those experiences. As for the “substitute” GM transmissions, the 18,499 Powerglide-equipped 1953 Pontiacs represented just 4.4 percent of model year production. But as we all know, rare does not always mean valuable.

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Q. To answer Sam Gordy’s question about antennas on a Model A before World War II (Q&A Nov. 29), Model A hot rods needed an antenna to hang a raccoon tail on, to be a cool cat. Radios were not needed at all.

— Lou Thomas, Cobleskill, N.Y.

A. Yes, the intent was almost certainly cosmetic. Although professional rodders usually made design changes to the body and chassis, without relying on dress-up accessories, backyard builders often relied on catalog stuff they could install easily. Back in the day, an over-dressed car was referred to as a “gook wagon,” or, as a good friend of mine says, “it had everything but the door to Western Auto.”

 

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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