Q&A with Kit Foster: April 17, 2014

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Q. When did the major car makers change from floor shift to column shift? Was it ever an option?

— Chuck Klein, Georgetown, Ohio

A. In general, the sea change from the “wobble stick” to “three on the tree” swept in from 1938 to 1940. A principal reason was to make more space for three-abreast seating in front, but the column mount also meant less time in one-handed driving. All Cadillacs and La Salles had column shift from 1938, and Pontiac offered an optional column-mounted “Safety Gear Shift” for $10 that year, too. Oldsmobile and Buick also had the optional Automatic Safety Transmission, which was actually a semi-automatic with column control.

Column shift came to the rest of the Olds and Buick lineups for 1939, when Chevy made a vacuum-assisted column shift optional, then standard in 1940. Column shift came to Chrysler along with Fluid Drive in 1939, but was also included on standard shift cars with the exception of P-7 Road King Plymouths. Ford, Mercury and Lincoln waited until 1940, although from 1938 Lincoln-Zephyrs had used an odd floor shift that emerged from the upper left side of a tall dashboard console.

The independents followed a similar pattern, with a few wrinkles. Hudson went to column shifting in 1939, but had offered the earlier “Electric Hand” from 1935. Similar to the Bendix shifter on the Cord 810 and 812, Electric Hand controlled vacuum-operated shifting from an electric switch located in a pod on the steering column. Packard took on column shift in 1939, although on the foundering Twelves it was optional. Nash had an optional vacuum shift in 1938, with the lever extending from the dashboard. Conventional column shift came for 1939, as it did for Studebaker. Reo’s short-lived 1933-’34 Self-Shifter transmission had a T-handle control mounted below the dashboard, but the make did not survive long enough to join the three-on-the-tree brigade. Readers may be able to fill in details of makes I have not mentioned.


Q. Just read the “Q&A” on the Sunoco antique car series coins (Dec. 12, Jan. 30 and Mar. 13) and thought you might be interested in another antique car coin series. In either 1973 or 1974 (and I think it was 1973) the Chrysler-Plymouth Division of Chrysler Corp. awarded a unique sterling silver coin each month to dealers who hit their monthly sales objective. The coins featured significant 1920s and 1930s model Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles. Each coin could be displayed in a granite-like base. A complete series is pictured and was called the “Chrysler-Plymouth Millionaire’s Club Collection.”


I was working for Chrysler in the Boston Chrysler-Plymouth regional office at the time, but I cannot remember the significance of the “Millionaire’s Club” designation. Perhaps it was a challenge to sell a million cars for the year. Nor do I know who minted the coins. As you can see however, the complete collection still makes a very attractive and unusual display 40 years later.

— Larry Baker, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

A. A million cars a year would be quite a feat, given that the entire U.S. industry peaked out around 16 million a few years ago. I think a million dollars’ worth is more likely the criterion. At average 1973-’74 prices I think it works out to about 250 cars. Does anyone know more about the Chrysler-Plymouth “Millionaire’s Club”?


Q. I got a windshield for my ’57 Imperial from ProSource Glass International, 9 Lamancha Way, Andover, Mass. 01810. The contact is Richard Tankel at 877-345-2800. I was very happy with the service. If there are any windshields out there, they can probably find one. This may help Douglas Taylor (Feb. 27), who was looking for a windshield for his ’56 Plymouth.

— Wayne Norton, via e-mail

A. Thank you. I knew I had read of a company such as this, but had an idea it was in a different part of the country.

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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