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Q&A with Kit Foster: October 23, 2014


Q. In Jim Luke’s question regarding the movie “Sunset Boulevard” (Aug. 14 Q&A), he wondered if anyone knew if the Isotta Fraschini in “Sunset Boulevard” existed today. While I don’t know exactly, I can add a bit to its life after the movie. In the mid-1960s, the car was on display at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, Calif. It was in front of the building with a wax figure of Gloria Swanson standing in front of it. The car, as I remember, had caning on the doors and a leopard-upholstered interior, and character Norma Desmond’s initials were on the rear doors of the car. In this photo, Swanson appeared with her wax figure, probably as it was unveiled. The museum closed in 2005, so I, too, wonder what happened to the car. According to Wikipedia, the “Sunset car” is back in Italy, on display at Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile at Turin since 1972.

— Dan Weiss, Glendale, Calif.

A. Old Cars Weekly editor Angelo Van Bogart tells me that Nevada collector Richie Clyne owned the Isotta at one time. According to Angelo, Richie said he sold it about four years ago, and believes it went to Hawaii.

There’s been mention lately that the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has recently acquired a Rolls-Royce from “Sunset Boulevard,” also with Gloria Swanson provenance. This sounded odd, so I contacted Leslie Kendall, the Petersen’s curator. He noted, “The confusion is understandable and I am happy to set the record straight. The Rolls-Royce donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum was indeed used by Gloria Swanson, but it appeared with her in the 1970s made-for-TV version of ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ not the landmark Billy Wilder movie from 1950.”

So the “Sunset Boulevard” Isotta Fraschini apparently does survive, but we’re not sure exactly where it is at the moment.


Q. The original reader’s lamp plaque (July 3 Q&A) read “R. Bales.” A man by that name was a Chevrolet salesman in both Winnebago and Blue Earth, Minn., during the 1950s and ’60s. As these were small dealerships, he may have been listed as sales manager to receive this award. I have only seen this first issue of the lamp with dealership names on the plaque. Mr. Bales became the mayor of Winnebago when he retired in the mid 1960s.

Chevrolet used both the car and truck bases for a number of years and for a number of different items. The car lamps were used for “Legion of Leaders” as late as 1979, although the casting was less detailed by then and the lampshades were plain bright silver.

— Chuck Johnson, via e-mail

A. Thanks. I was reading the plaque on Jim Ackmann’s lamp incorrectly. I thought that “R.H. Bales” was from Flint, Mich. The type fonts on the inscription, however, indicate that “Flint, Michigan, USA” refers to the Chevrolet Motor Company instead. Did any of our Minnesota readers know Mr. Bales, perchance?


Q. I have a beautiful ’36 Chevy coupe that has stripped three timing gears on two different engines. I suspect it has something to do with lubrication. Is that oil nozzle supposed to be under pressure? Or can you tell me what’s happening?

— Jim Vouk, St. Stephen, Minn.

A. I think it’s a lubrication problem, too. I’m not terribly familiar with Chevy “Stovebolt” sixes, but I do know that a major upgrade was made in 1937 to address problems that had cropped up in early engines. In addition to adding a fourth main bearing, the redesign included improvements in lubrication, although pressure to the rod bearings did not come until 1954.


Q. I just read the letter from John Quattrocchi (Sept. 18 Q&A) about the GEN light being on when it should be off. Years ago I had a 1961 GMC; the GEN Light would be on all the time when to truck was running at speed; slow down at idle and the light would go off. The problem was a broken “chicken track” on the back of the instrument panel printed circuit board.

— Dean Strohm, Burlingame, Kan.

A. That sounds entirely plausible for Mr. Quattrocchi’s Cadillac as well — heat causing a circuit board to expand and break a current path. Often, circuit boards can be repaired by building a “bridge” of solder over the break. Just work slowly and carefully. A low-wattage pencil iron or small soldering gun works best.

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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