Q&A with Kit Foster: January 10, 2013

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Q. I believe this bomb-shaped car part is an old electric shift mechanism, but age and make elude me. It’s roughly 9 inches long and 2 inches high and says “DEPRESS CLUTCH PEDAL WHEN STARTING ENGINE” by the on-off switch. There are eight wires showing by the bottom front. I’d appreciate any help you or the readers could provide in identifying this piece.

— Jon Schmidt, Hastings Mich.

A. Indeed it is an electric shift mechanism. It’s part of the optional Electric Hand mechanism from a 1935-’39 Hudson or Terraplane. Electric Hand was a Bendix development, one of several 1930s attempts to automate gear changing and, equally important, remove the gear stick from the floor, where it inhibited three-across seating. Electric Hand used electric controls to activate vacuum cylinders that actually moved the gear selectors. It was a pre-selector setup, which is to say that the driver could move the little lever in the “H-pattern” seen on your control pod before the next shift was actually called for. Then momentarily depressing the clutch pedal would activate the shift. When a vacuum-operated clutch, another option, was installed, clutch-dipping was not necessary, since merely letting off on the throttle, in a manner similar to Chrysler’s semi-automatics, initiated clutch disengagement and also the shift. The Cord 810 and 812 had a similar system on a four-speed transmission, which avoided a cumbersome mechanical shift linkage to the forward-mounted transmission.

The system, however, proved troublesome on both Cord and Hudson cars. Hudson had anticipated this and provided an “emergency” shift lever that could be inserted into the transmission top to shift manually. The lever was normally clipped beneath the dashboard, easily removed when needed. Thus quite a few Hudson owners, faced with Electric Hand trouble, just used the manual lever and didn’t bother to fix the electric or vacuum problems. The most promising market for your Electric Hand probably lies within the Hudson Essex Terraplane Club (www.hetclub.org, 2850 N. Meridian Ave., Wichita, Kan. 67204). To be useful, however, it would have to be teamed with the other parts of the system.


Q. The Nov. 8 “Q&A” column asked about trunk-mounted air conditioners. A few years back, I bought a 1955 Olds Super 88 Holiday coupe that had a trunk-mounted Novi air conditioner. Since this was a fairly low-mileage original car, I believe this was a dealer-installed item when the car was new. This unit has two blowers, one for each clear plastic tube on the package shelf. The compressor was large and heavy and leaked Freon.

We could find no reference for Novi units and no parts for it. We decided to replace the compressor with one of the small Sanden units. There is a panel under the dash with a two-speed switch for each blower. There is also an on-off switch for the compressor. We still use Freon 12 and it works really well. It blows down the back of your neck and keeps you very cool. In fact, on a trip this summer, we had to shut the compressor off every 15 miles, then turn it back on after about another 15. I put my navigator (wife) in charge of the on-off switch and everyone was happy.

— Gary Cunningham, Topeka, Kan.

A. My first car with air conditioning was a 1959 Cadillac, which had an under-dash aftermarket installation. Thus my comments on trunk-mounted units come strictly from hearsay. I suspect that the modern Sanden compressor improves the efficiency of your system over the original Novi unit.


Q. I have a 1984 Chevy pickup. The dash has idiot lights in it. I picked up a dash cluster with the gauges in it and want to know how to wire it for the oil pressure and water temperature gauges. I did put the sending units in the motor.

— Jerry Engel, Sussex, Wis.

A. Assuming that the sending units match the gauges, you just need to get 12 volts to the “hot” terminal on the gauges and run a wire from the sender terminal on each one to its respective sender. For the 12-volt “hot” feed, find somewhere that is on the “ignition side” of the ignition switch (i.e. energized when the key is “on”). You should be able to access it at the fuse that feeds the fuel gauge, or just parallel off the fuel gauge feed in your cluster. If you’re replacing the whole instrument cluster, you may be able to use the sender wires already in place for the idiot lights.

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

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