Q&A: February 6, 2020 Edition

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Q. On the headlamps question by Don Alexander (Oct. 24, 2019), I don’t know anything about passing lamps, but I think it’s funny that some old cars have headlamps that move with the steering so you can see better when you turn. Some cars today have turn signals in the headlamp so they shut the headlamp off so you can see the turn signal. I guess if you have your turn signal on you know where you’re going so you don’t need to see.
— Arnold Maunu, Bailey, Colo.

A. I think you’re referring to Pilot Ray driving lamps, seen on many big Full Classics from the 1930s. They have a linkage from the tie rod to the pivoted lights. Guess what? Technology has brought them back in a new way. My 2012 BMW has what are called “adaptive headlights,” one component of which actually steers the “projectors” in concert with the angle of the front wheels at low speeds. The mechanism, not surprisingly, is electronically controlled.

As for turning a headlamp off while the turn signal is on, it concerns daytime running lamps. Particularly where the turn signal is within the headlamp assembly, the turn signal can be hard for oncoming drivers to see in daylight. There’s a whole part of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 that deals with it, and also has regulations for cases where the two types of lights are not together. If there’s interest, I can go into it further.

Q. In the Oct. 24, 2019, issue, Dick Black was curious about the headlamps on his Dad’s custom Crosley (p. 18). They look very much like the Guide units used on many 1940s-vintage trucks and also a common replacement upgrade for many older, pre-sealed-beam cars. The mounting bolt is opposite the parking light. They have just been tipped over on their side to mount to the body. They were usually mounted with the parking lamp on the top. Our 1930 Ford Tudor, “Chloe,” was equipped with them in 1961 when we purchased her at a used car lot. She is still wearing them.

I wrote you in early 2018 about my ’57 Ford NAPCO “fire truck.” You published my letter in your Apr. 12 column. I have since found out it was apparently purchased by Matanuska Electric Association and used as an off-road service rig. I found very faded “MEA” decals under the paint, snow machine decals and racing decals. MEA is the electric utility north of Anchorage.
— Bill Parker, Funny River, Ala.

A. Yes, those Crosley headlamps do look like generic units that were common in the 1940s. Glad to hear you’ve unearthed the history of your unusual NAPCO Ford truck. You’ve given new meaning to the term “automotive archeology.” It’s amazing what one can discover by digging beneath the skin.

Q. I have a question I’ve asked of people, and never got a satisfactory answer. I was born in 1935, and grew up with many brands of cars around in the Midwest, but the mix was preponderantly Chevy and Ford. It was many years later in California that I heard the Chevy emblem referred to as “bowtie.” It never looked like a bowtie to me.As a matter of fact, I don’t remember noticing that Ford symbols were often in a blue oval, and never heard that term used back in those days either. How did that come about?

Now a technical question:For years I keep hearing how torsion bars provide a better ride. I question that, as a coil spring is also a torsion bar. It seems to me that the difference in ride has to be how much “torsion” is built into the product, not the shape of the product.The only advantage that is apparent is that a torsion bar can be installed in such a way that adjustment of tension, and thus torsion, could be accomplished. At least one could adjust for wear. I had to change out front coils years ago, as they were sagging, and I had noticed that on other high mileage cars. Is there some other explanation that escapes me?
— “Pat” Jacobs, Redmond, Wash.

A. I’m not quite a decade younger than you, but I don’t remember talking about “bowtie” or “blue oval” in my youth, either. The blue oval was not badged on the cars then, although the term was reportedly used in print as early as 1907. We all knew what “MoPar” meant, though. That said, after I repeatedly came across the word “fratzog,” I had to ask Google what it meant. Any readers have opinions on our evolving automotive lexicon?

To your second question, torsion bars do not necessarily provide a “better ride.” Like coil (or leaf) springs, they can be designed with many spring rates and other characteristics. In addition to the adjustment feature you mention, they also have a different “form factor,” being more compact, yet longer. This may have an advantage in structurally or esthetically designing the rest of the car. As for longevity, I, too, had to put four new coils in a 1970 Chevy, which had spent most of its 100,000-plus miles with only the driver aboard and sagged profoundly to the left.

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