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Q&A with Kit Foster: March 13, 2014

Q. In the Jan. 2 Q&A, a reader asked if any U.S. make had a four-speed column shift. International Loadstar cabover trucks (before they took the Cargostar name in 1970) had a five-speed on the column. I don’t remember how the linkage was set up, but they were a little bit of a chore to drive — kind of like a worn-out C-model Ford shifter. If memory serves, the two-speed axle switch was on the dashboard.

— Jim Randall, Augusta County, Va.

A. Interesting. I’ve never come across “five-on-the-tree.” The column shifter that intrigues me most is on the Divco stand-and-drive trucks, with four-on-the-tree and the throttle on the shift handle. A single pedal controls clutch and brake. Unless someone knows of a six-speed column shifter I think we can leave it there.


Q. I recently came across a newspaper clipping found in an old house in Oxford, Pa. Headlined “New 1932 Chevrolet Special Sedan,” it shows a photo of that model and describes the features of the 1932 Chevy cars. What was the “Special Sedan?” ­ ­

— James D. Kerr, Sr., Norristown, Pa.

A. The Chevrolet Universal Series Special Sedan was introduced in the 1930 model year, as a successor to the Imperial Sedan of the 1929 International Series. The Special Sedan, at $685 the most expensive Chevy, featured dual sidemount spares, wire wheels and bumpers as standard equipment. Bumpers were still optional on most Chevrolets, and factory photos typically show them without bumpers. The Special Sedan could be ordered with wood artillery wheels if the customer desired, in which case the sidemount wells held tires on demountable rims. Although the Special Sedan initially trailed its “regular” four-door companion model in popularity, by 1931 it was second in sales, at nearly 110,000 cars (surpassed only by the two-door Coach). 1932 was its last year, and while sales fell by more than half, to 52,465, it still ranked second. The Depression was having its way with prices, too. The Special Sedan had dropped to $615.


Q. Allen Hoffman asks the ratio on a dwell meter to feeler gauges (Dec. 19.) I had a 1967 Chevy El Camino 396, 350 hp, on which the feeler gauge setting was 16 and the dwell was double that or set at 32. I remember those settings being what my truck was set at since I was into street drag racing and I was told to never trust a dwell when my eyes were more accurate. It ran pretty well like that and my timing advanced a very few degrees.

— Larry Marshall, New Castle, Ind.

A. Dwell angle is measured in degrees and breaker point gap in thousandths of an inch, so the apparent ratio is really an apples-and-oranges comparison. Dwell angle increases as point gap gets smaller, and that’s all you can really say. The specifics are determined by other factors. For example, 1946-52 “Stovebolt” Chevy sixes are specified at 0.022 gap, 31-37 degrees dwell, while the 1953-62 cars are 0.016 gap and 38.45 degrees dwell. As you can see, gap goes down and dwell goes up. But 1965-66 Ford 200-cid sixes have gap specified at 0.024-0.026 inches and dwell of 35-38 degrees. The dwell angle is the more accurate figure, as it averages out distributor cam lobe wear and bearing sloppiness. To average the point gap over all lobes would be a real nuisance. If you have a dwell specification and a dwell meter, use them. If not, set the gap with a feeler gauge.


Q. I’ve been trying to get an answer about battery cables. Why were, and are, negative cables made with braided wire and not a solid cable? I’ve asked some high-level people over the last 10 years. No definable answer was ever given.

— Dave Van Hall, Warren, Mich.

A. Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same things. By “negative cables” I presume you mean the cable leading to ground, what I would call a “ground cable.” On old cars, particularly, they are not always negative polarity. By “solid wire” I’m presuming you mean “not braided,” but not necessarily solid. To me, “solid wire” is what you use in house wiring, one solid conducting element. Cars usually used stranded wire, many small conductors twisted together. Stranded wire is much more resistant to vibration, and thus a better choice for automotive use. The “braided” cables to which you refer, I suspect, are the flat, uninsulated type, which are indeed braided. Flat, braided cables do not lend themselves to insulation, which pretty much relegates them to use for grounding. In fact, you’ll find ground straps for all sorts of applications, not just automotive, tend to be braided, and they come in many sizes, although many cars today use stranded cables for both “hot” and ground. Braided grounds are also usually short. Braided cables have greater surface area than comparable stranded or solid wiring, and thus lower resistance, which is particularly important in six-volt systems.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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