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Q&A with Kit Foster: September 19, 2013


Q. I have a car bumper from the 1920s that I cannot identify. No one at the Iola Car Show knew what it was, either. “The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942” shows very few cars with a bumper. It is 59 inches long, has three round bars curving toward each end and wrapping around a pin. The only identification is a letter cast into the center of a chromed bar in the middle of the bumper. The flat back bars have no holes nor wear marks indicating how the bumper may have been attached. It does appear to have some oil or dirt on one end of the back bar. I enclosed a rubbing of the letter. Can you identify it?

— George Peltier, Menomonie,Wis.

A. The reason there are so few 1920s cars with bumpers shown in the “Standard Catalog” is because bumpers were not generally standard equipment prior to the end of that decade. Bumpers were accessory items, sometimes installed by a dealer, but probably more often purchased at an accessory store, like Western Auto, and put on by the owner. The bumper manufacturers put their own logos on them. My 1925 Hudson, for example, has bumpers with the letter “E.” We have been able to identify some of these bumpers, particularly when the maker included the whole name of the company. Your rubbing looks like an “H.” Does anyone recognize it?


Q. Regarding the question from Tony Wieber in the Aug. 15 issue about a license plate topper, wasn’t Gene Autry’s corporate logo something along the lines of “Flying A”?

— Jim Bourg, Plano, Texas

A. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. According to the official website, Autry founded Flying A Pictures, Inc., on April 17, 1950. The company produced five half-hour “wholesome westerns,” The Gene Autry Show, The Range Rider, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and The Adventures of Champion, between then and March 1956. He sold the rights to all but The Gene Autry Show in the 1970s. The logos do resemble one another, and more so than the Flying A gasoline emblem, but since Tony Wieber’s topper was apparently made before manufacturer Dura-Products ceased operations in 1945, I’d say there isn’t an obvious connection. I know, this doesn’t have much to do with cars, but isn’t nostalgia wonderful?



Q. While stationed in Germany, my first car was a 1950s Opel Kapitaen. The air cleaner on its engine was stamped “Front” instead of the German “Vorn.” It had an inline six-cylinder engine that as I recall looked like a Chevy engine. Up to World War II, General Motors built the LaSalle automobile. A cutaway view of a 1950s Cadillac that I saw in a magazine was almost identical to my Opel. My question is, at the end of the war when most German factories were rubble heaps, did GM ship the LaSalle tooling to Germany and start producing what was essentially the LaSalle under the Opel name?

— Bill Evans, Denver, Colo.

A. Not exactly, but there were many corporate connections, as Opel was taken over by GM in 1929. The immediate postwar Kapitaen was a carryover model from 1938-40. It was styled by the American designer Frank Hershey, and featured front fenders flowing into the front doors, in the manner of 1942-48 Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Buicks (and some Cadillacs). As you can see from this photo of a second-generation (1948-50) Kapitaen (courtesy Softeis, via Wikimedia Commons), the “greenhouse” is “very GM.” These cars had a 2.473cc (151-cubic inch) overhead-valve six, a three-speed manual transmission and 106.1-inch wheelbase. They were very “American” in nature, but nothing like the LaSalle, which, in its final year (1940) had a 322-cid flathead V-8 and a 123-inch wheelbase. While the noses of the two cars are similar in shape, the LaSalle had a much narrower grille. The LaSalle did live on, however, in a way. The 1941 Cadillac Series 61 was a LaSalle in all but name.

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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