Q&A with Kit Foster: August 21, 2014

Publish date:

Q. From 1960 to 1970, aged 8 to 18, I grew up along a rural stretch of busy two-lane highway in central Indiana. The road was highly traveled and the section that went past our house was straight as a ribbon for several miles. Even though the speed limit back then was 65 mph, that straight stretch invited drivers to exceed the limit by a substantial margin with regularity.

As a car-crazy youth during that time period, I often spent hours sitting on our front porch watching those great automobiles from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s go racing past at a high rate of speed. I soon began to notice that many Oldsmobiles made a distinctive whooshing sound as they zipped by, most apparent when they dropped down into passing gear to overtake another car. The sound began with an audible “hissss” followed by a pronounced jet-like “whoooosh” as the car accelerated. The sound was so apparent that I could often identify an Oldsmobile with my back turned to the road.

I never noticed this phenomenon from any other make, and it seemed most apparent on Olds cars from about 1956 through the 1960 models. Through the years I have wondered if this jet-age sound was engineered by the folks in Lansing into their Rocket Oldsmobiles, through modifications to the intake or exhaust systems, or whether this sound merely a product of my over-active adolescent automotive imagination. I know that your vast network of readers will probably be able to shed some light on this phenomenon.

— Dennis Caudell, Fairmount, Ind.

A. I can relate to this as I, too, have been able to identify certain cars by sound as well as sight. My adolescence predates yours by almost a decade, so it is the cars of the 1950s that developed my automotive sound sensory awareness. I can’t say I’ve noticed the whooshing Oldsmobile phenomenon you mention, but I could tell straight-eight Dynaflow Buicks from half a mile away. In contrast, today’s V-6 GM cars sound positively angry as they accelerate. The sounds you mention are certainly shaped by the intake and exhaust systems, but whether they were engineered that way I do not know. Perhaps some readers have experience. I do remember that when Ford developed the Falcon Sprint, with the small-block V-8 engine, the dual exhaust system was specifically tuned to produce a mellow burble so that passers-by would know it was a V8. We had a single-exhaust, non-Sprint V8 Falcon for a while and it sounded like any other mild-mannered car of the period.

To my ears one of the sweetest sounds is a 1930s-’40s Ford truck, with V-8 engine and straight-cur gears, winding its way up a hill. It positively sings, in a Pavarotti-like aria.


Q. I worked at a garage which did Pennsylvania State inspections in the 1950s and was qualified to do those inspections. The keystone-shaped bracket shown in the May 29 Q&A was used on construction vehicles and off-road tractors that didn’t have windshields and were driven on the roadways. At that time, any motor vehicle regardless of type was required to be inspected if it was driven on Pennsylvania highways.

— Charles B. Arnold, Newark, Del.

A. Perfectly logical, now that I think of it. Thanks for solving the mystery.


Q. A friend was cleaning out his dad’s garage and gave me some of the old car parts he found. I can’t throw out any part that may complete someone’s restoration project. This appears to be a license plate holder that fits over the trunk handle. I am guessing late ’30s to early ’40s Pontiac. If one of your readers can identify it and need it they can have it for the cost of shipping.

— Brad Kershaw, Burleson, Texas


A. I agree with your approximate date. It’s the type of bracket/lamp used on “bustleback” sedans of that period, but I haven’t been able to match it to a specific Pontiac (or other GM car). I’m sure some readers will be able to identify it, and potential users can be put in touch with Mr. Kershaw.

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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