Q&A with Kit Foster: July 23, 2015

Q.  I read your answer to the “four eyed” 1956 Cadillac question (Apr. 16).  Actually the Sedan DeVille in the photo is probably the only actual quad headlight prototype done by Cadillac on a production car. It was a hardtop Sedan DeVille that was shown by Car Life or Motor Trend in late ’56. Cadillac had built Motorama cars with four head lights since 1954, but to my knowledge this Sedan de Ville was the only production car modified with four headlights by GM.
Now here is were I might step on some toes. There are two ’56 Eldorados that have surfaced over the years that have been advertised to have been prototypes for the “four eyes.” The black Seville has lightly-trimmed ’58 Cadillac bezels (zinc pot metal) and the Biarritz has 1958-9 Rambler headlight bezels (aluminum). When GM built prototypes and concept cars in those days they cast the chromed parts out of brass. If anyone ever comes up with a hardtop Sedan DeVille with custom brass headlight bezels they will have found the real deal.

—Marty Martino, via email

A. Mr. Martino has restored a number of GM concept cars, so he’s familiar with their construction. We’re still trying to find the car pictured in the Apr. 16 column.

Q.
I just read your Q&A on the 1957 Lincoln quad lights (June 11) submitted by Ron Miklos. Ron stated that “There is no way one can activate all four vertical light bulbs at the same time.” I would like to clarify this statement. I have a 1957 Lincoln convertible and when I pull out my light switch one click I get my parking lights, if I turn on my aux light switch located on the steering column  I will then get my lower set of lights (the 5-inch ones). If I pull my light switch all the way out I get my upper hi/low beam lights. If I turn on my aux light switch I get my aux lights to come on.  So I think Mr. Miklos is wrong in his statement that there is no way one can activate all four vertical light bulbs at the same time. I have done nothing to the wiring system for the lights to change anything that was installed at the factory. In the states where quad lights were not acceptable, the Lincoln dealers in put in blanking plates that the factory provided.

— Bob Hardisty, Southlake, Tex.

A. As it happens, David Cole, of Santa Maria, Calif., chimed in, too. He sends a copy of the March 1957 edition of the Owner’s Manual, which states: “For Dim Conditions (at dusk, in light fog, etc.), pull the main control to the ‘halfway out’ position. This illuminates the road lamps [the lower five-inch lights], tail lamps and parking lamps. For night driving, pull the mail light control to the ‘out’ position, to fully illuminate all driving lights. To dim or brighten the instrument panel illumination, rotate the control knob to the right of the light switch. An auxiliary over-ride switch for the road lamps is located on the right surface of the steering column. In normal operation, this control remains up. To use parking lights or headlights alone, move this switch to the ‘down’ position, thus turning off the road lamps.” I’m not sure how Mr. Miklos’s car works, but yours seems to function as the factory intended.         David also responded to the “14 states” question about locales that prohibited quad lights. In contrast to Mr. Miklos’s Owner’s Manual, which lists 15 states, David’s March 1957 manual says nothing about states’ prohibitions. In October 1956, Motor Trend reported that the list was already down to eight.

Q. I have long wondered about the transition to the four-headlight system, why most, but not all states where ready in 1957. My theory was that GM was working behind the scenes to ensure that the nationwide switch was not implemented until 1958. Why?  Because Ford and Chrysler had new bodies for 1957 that were wider and ready to accommodate the new system.  GM did not. To envision the problem for GM take a look at what Studebaker had to resort to in order to add quad headlights for 1958. Then just imagine a 1957 Chevy with such a treatment. I doubt they’d be the icons they are today.
The General certainly had a lot of clout and it’s not unreasonable to imagine that they successfully lobbied some state legislatures to hold off a year on approving the four-headlight system.  I have tried to find evidence that this occurred, but it would seem that the trail, if there was one, has long since gone cold.  In 1958 General Motors had all new wider bodies and was ready.  Studebaker didn’t have the money for that.  The result is awkward to say the least, and I’m a Studebaker fan

— Fosco Picchi, Las Vegas, Nev.

A. Interesting, but I’m skeptical. Mercury’s approach on the 1957s was even more ungainly than Studebaker in 1958, after all. I think we’ve pretty well seen the light, so unless someone has a blinding flash we’ll leave the topic here, for 1957 Lincolns anyway.

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