Q&A with Kit Foster: October 13, 2011

Q. Thank you for sharing my questions about my 1956 Buick with everyone (June 30 “Q&A”). Mr. Taylor asked about the term “muffler.” I had only the bottom of the two-barrel air cleaner, so I was looking in Old Cars Weekly and on the net in an attempt to locate the top. Then I saw the four-barrel air cleaner in my Buick factory manual. It’s so cool, I knew I had to own one. When I received it, I discovered it contained the top of the two-barrel air cleaner. I know I can install a ring adapter so it will fit. The reason I called it “Ram Air” is because the muffler extends to the small grille just below the jet in the center of the hood. Unless I misunderstand the term, as the Buick travels down the road, air is rammed through the grille and pushed into the carburetor. Other air cleaners are passive cold air breathers. Also, thanks for the information about the transmission. I’ve talked to several people and I can buy an adaptor for the engine and install a T-700R. When I do this, I’ll be forced to replace the rear end. I can get around the torque tube by welding the end of the torque tube to a driveshaft. However, I’ve discovered that the 1955 or ’56 Chevy rear end has the same axle span. Also, I think a Corvette individual axle rear end should give me a smoother ride. Either way, the rear ends are standard General Motors so I can re-gear them for better gas mileage. My 1957 Chevy had zero sway, so I assume firmly attached trailing arms will stabilize the rear end. My wife is going to retire, and I want to use the Buick as a cross-country car. It’ll be parked in the back of my re-framed, extended and lowered 1936 GMC school bus. When we get to wherever, we can lower the power tailgate of the bus and back out my Buick and tool around.

Lonnie Stepp, Tempe, Ariz.

A. Thanks for the update. Your “ram air” setup is as I suspected. The term didn’t come into general use until the muscle car era, which confused a number of readers. All forward-facing air ducts ram the air to some extent. The actual ram effect and benefit depend on the individual design. An air cleaner that merely filters ambient engine compartment air could be called “passive,” I suppose. With respect to your axle change, bear in mind that by changing from the torque tube you will have to provide some other sort of torque member. You mention trailing arms and Corvette-type independent suspension. These aren’t trivial modifications. You’ll probably get good advice from street rodders in your area, since they do these mods all the time. Good luck in your touring. I’ll bet when your rig pulls into a town you’ll have plenty of interested onlookers.

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Q. I purchased the headlight lens pictured at an estate sale simply because it was interesting and unusual. I put it in my display of automotive memorabilia. The only marks on it are “Viso – Patent Pending.” Can you tell me what car it’s from?

George B. Goodwin, Jr., Prescott, Ariz.

A. I couldn’t find anything like it, so I consulted Donald Axelrod, who has responded to this column before. Mr. Axelrod has been selling headlight lenses and rims for 40 years, and he answered as follows: “When the cars went over to electric headlights, every small glass company wanted to get into the act. They all came up with new ideas about how to get the best light out of the headlights. Each company had a lot of different designs for the lenses, and they put salesmen out on the road and advertised the designs. The individual states all set up testing labs to approve all these different lenses. The auto manufacturers shipped the cars to the dealers with clear curved glass. When the cars arrived at the dealership, the dealers would fit the headlights with whatever lenses that the local salesman had sold them that week, as long as it met state approval. The lens you have is just one of the many lenses that were available at the time. It was never a factory original fit for any car.  In fact, some of the glass companies advertised in the magazines of the day, and people would like the looks of some lenses and go to their local auto supply house and buy them for their own installation.” I did a bit of searching online for a glass company named “Viso,” and found one called Société Nouvelle Viso in France. They do not currently make headlight lenses, but it’s possible that they did back in the 1930s.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail ron.kowalke@fwpubs.com or mail to: Q&A, c/o Ron Kowalke, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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