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Q&A with Kit Foster: August 9, 2012

Q. Regarding Rich Fink’s mystery license plate topper (Q&A, May 31), I believe these were used on installation commanders’ cars to identify that it was the colonel or captain’s car, so you could render a salute when it went by. I believe it is out of the 1950s or ’60s. Installations used to come up with their own way to identify high-ranking officer’s cars. Now, for safety, they don’t do it anymore.

Wayne W. Crist, San Antonio, Texas

A. We had a number of responses on this. Michael Yerxa concurs that it would identify a senior officer, and that the blank space would identify his command title. Ray Paszkiewicz, who collects plate toppers, feels it is simply a patriotic item from the World War II era, which could be purchased at an auto supply store, and that one’s initials could be placed in the slots.


Having worked on Navy bases for many years, I have experience with military-access ID insignia. By the mid-1960s, when I started, these were a bumper decal and were all but impossible to remove. They were service-specific (sometimes installation-specific) and usually distinguished between officer, enlisted and civilian personnel. Officers’ cars, of course, rated a salute (no matter who was driving or riding in the car) and the decal alerted the gate sentry when a salute was required. There was also coding for the rank of the individual service member. Some time in the 1970s, I think, a standard Department of Defense decal was adopted, accompanied by an installation-specific supplement, and also the rank insignia. With the adoption of plastic bumper covers on most cars, the scrape-off style of sticker created a problem, so the preferred location was changed to the vehicle windshield. If the “eagle” topper were a military base item, I would expect it to have spaces for more information, as above. So, for now, I’m going with Ray’s opinion of a generic patriotic symbol. Does anyone have close-up photos of cars on military bases in earlier times?


Q. I own a 1940 Chevrolet four-door, completely original, and a 1965 Ford Mustang coupe, second owner and also original. When storing an antique car, with the use being only occasional, should you have a full tank of gas, a half tank or very little? I add STA-BIL, lead substitute and Marvel Mystery Oil to my fuel. My main question is the amount of gas that I should leave in the tank. I use 30-weight non-detergent oil in my Chevrolet.

Carl Ney, Ashland, Penn.

A. We’ve had a lot of advice on this lately, and readers have come down heavily in favor of keeping a full tank. This gives less opportunity for the gasoline to absorb moisture, which, particularly with ethanol fuels, can lead to phase separation and horrible messes in your tank. Unless you drive your cars very hard, I’m not convinced the lead substitute is really necessary.



Q. This tail light is on the back of my 1929 Detroit Electric. Since I was not born that early, I cannot say if the car came with the tail light as shown. I can tell you that I believe it is the same as submitted by Lynn Mosher (Q&A, July 5), with the “SLO” lens at the bottom rather than the top. There are two switches inside my car that operate both lights inside the tail light. The first turns on the light behind the red lens and also shines through a clear lens above where the license plate mounts. The second switch operates the circuit to the “SLO” which is normally activated by the brake pedal. On my car, the brake switch has been permanently engaged in the “on” position so that once the interior switch is pulled, the “SLO” lights up and stays on. There are two terminals to each light, because on an electric car there is not a common ground due to the high voltage (84 volts) and current (up to 150 amps) required. There are buyers out there that would be interested in that tail light assembly for their electric car.

David Lefeber, via e-mail.

A. You’re right, it does look like the same unit, just mounted the other way up. These could have been both aftermarket and OEM items. The car companies, after all, frequently did not make the lighting equipment themselves, so units supplied to manufacturers might also be directed to the aftermarket by the outside suppliers. And as for standard equipment, electric car manufacturers, the most prolific of which was the Detroit Electric Car Company, were among the first to offer electric vehicle lighting, because they had a ready-made source of electricity on board. Electric car manufacturers played up this fact in their advertising.

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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