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Q&A with Kit Foster: December 13, 2012


Q. In response to Marvin Honeycutt’s question regarding the Chevron starting fluid can (Nov. 1 Q&A), I am very familiar with the product and the procedure for its use. In the early 1980s I worked as a mechanic for a transport company that used these capsules as a starting aid for the Mack diesel engines in our fleet during the cold winter months. The capsules, or “pills,” contained ether and were used by inserting the pill into a metal cup that was threaded into the air cleaner. The cup had a spring-loaded top cap. It was very similar in looks to the oiler cups used on generators in the automotive industry, only larger in size.

The pills were made of a type of plastic that, when inserted into the metal cup, would be punctured by a sharp-pointed poker in the cup. The pill would drip or leak the ether into the air cleaner of the truck. The pills were approximately the size and color of a large red grape. The metal cup would hold only one pill at a time. After the pill was empty the plastic pill would be removed and discarded.

I am sure this starting aid was also used in the construction industry and also on farm equipment. An aerosol can of starting fluid was easier to use, but I’m sure the design of the pill and cup was to prevent the driver or operator of the machine from over-ethering the engine with a spray can. One pill at a time would be much less harmful to the engine on cold starts. If the empty pill was left in the cup in very cold weather it was rather difficult to remove before you could put in a new one. Most of the time a pocket screwdriver or hook type tool was used to get the used one out.

In the shop where I was employed we were not allowed to use aerosol spray cans of starting fluid. The pills were the only procedure we were to use. Management didn’t do inspections of our tool boxes. Every mechanic in our shop had at least one spray can of starting fluid hidden in his bottom drawer, wrapped up in rags. Another treat that our company had was the use of Ingersoll air starters on the trucks. That’s another story.

— Dean Zingre, Sandwich, Ill.

A. I was pretty sure our readers would have more information on this starting device. The response has been great. In the nearly five years I’ve been moderating Q&A the only topic that’s drawn a greater number of replies was the toilet paper oil filter back in October 2009. We’re grateful to Tom Petrozzola, Craig Starr, Pat Jacobs, Louie Pippin, Dave Baranowski, John Richey and Robert Vosatha for their recollections of this system. John Freeman used one to start old diesel generators on NATO missile sites when he was in the Army, where the capsules came in an olive drab can, and Stanley Byerly adds that he remembers a kit that could be installed to enable an aerosol ether can to be used merely by pulling a cable, without messing with capsules.


Q. I have a 1976 Cadillac Milan, which is a cut-down Seville. It is a two-door limited-edition convertible sport model. About 500 were made. The car had a starter problem and I tried to solve it with a Chevrolet 350 replacement part. It did not work. NAPA checked the numbers and found that the starter on the car would only fit Olds, Pontiac and Cadillac Seville models. The starter is on the driver’s side of the engine.

— Harley Larson, Des Moines, Iowa

A. Yes, you learned first-hand that not all GM 350s are created equal. As I mentioned in the Oct. 25 Q&A, the Seville used an Oldsmobile block, quite different from a small block Chevy. I had not come across the Milan convertible before. The conversion was by Milan Coach Builders and Milan Convertibles, Inc. of Simi Valley, Calif., and involved shortening the car by 18 inches. The cars retailed for $39,500, and a $1,495 kit is said to have been available for the adventurous craftsman or dealer to try it at home.


Q. I own a 1953 Cadillac Coupe de Ville hardtop. Unfortunately, one of the “Hydro-electric” power window cylinders has developed a leak. In looking at the door panels I found that they are nailed to the door. I have the shop manuals and there is no mention of the removal process. Furthermore, a search of the Internet has proven fruitless. Do you or any of your readers have a procedure to safely remove and re-install the door panels? I am deeply afraid to proceed and I don’t want to cause any damage to my nice original car.

— Jason McHone, Johnson City, Tenn.

A. I don’t have much experience with Cadillacs, but Old Cars Weekly editor Angelo Van Bogart does. He hasn’t worked on 1950s Cadillac door panels, but says that on his 1962s the nails act more as guides than fasteners, and that there are hidden screws actually holding the panels on. He recommends the Cadillac LaSalle Club forum at http://forums.cadillaclasalle for help from fellow owners.

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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