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Q&A with Kit Foster: January 19, 2012

Q. In the Nov. 17 Q&A, John Koll mentioned converting a series of 6-volt batteries to 12 volts for starting a car. He said that the switch to control it was made by the Orpin. Co. I can’t seem to find that company online anywhere, and was wondering if there’s another name that it goes by. Or do you know the name of other companies that supply the same type of unit? I have a 1948 Dodge with 6 volts and I want to see if the 6-/12-volt conversion is possible.

Ken Francis, via e-mail

A. I, too, did a survey online, and I couldn’t find the Orpin Co., either. In fact, the online forums imply that lots of other people are looking, too. Apparently they were sold by J.C. Whitney at one time, and one commenter said that his was sold by the Automatic Battery Corporation of America in Healdsburg, Calif. Google maps, however, show the address as a residential area, so perhaps this company was a garage or basement operation. Owners of diesel tractors apparently use similar switches to allow 12/24-volt starting, and I found several relays of that type on eBay, one referencing a Delco part number 1119844. Be advised, though, that they’re expensive: $159 for Buy-it-now. Before getting too enthusiastic about this conversion, however, read on.


Q. I have previously responded to the many questions concerning the efficiency of old and slow 6-volt car systems. At that time, the magazine evidently did not think much of the idea, so I have never seen it in print. Step one: Install an 8-volt car battery. It is manufactured in the same size and configuration as a 6-volt, and sold at most large auto parts stores — a bit pricey at $140. Step two: Connect a voltmeter from the starter to ground, rev the engine slightly to generate maximum generator output – 6-volt generators will put out 10 volts or more with existing equipment. Step three: Adjust the charging voltage at the regulator from 7.25 to 9.25 volts, using the provided adjustment screw, if present, or adjust the small spring at the voltage location in the regulator. Tighten or loosen spring. Done! Faster, brighter, louder. Absolutely no breakdowns ever.

Kenneth J. DeBoer, Caledonia, Mich.

A. Okay. It’s in print. Now for another view.


Q. In the Nov. 17 issue, you printed a letter regarding the Orpin switch, using 12 volts to start a 6-volt car, then reverting to the traditional six-volt system. Cars and trucks were using 6-volt systems very satisfactorily into the 1950s, and there is no reason that 12 volts should be required today if the electrical system is properly cared for. Over 90 percent of starting problems in 6-volt cars and trucks can be traced to two factors: battery and starting cables that are too small for the necessary current, and dirty, corroded connections.

Virtually all the replacement battery cables you can purchase today at chain auto parts stores are wire gauge size #1, #2 or smaller — not enough for a 6-volt system. A 6-volt system should use at least a size #0 wire; #00 is even better. Sources for these cables include Restoration Supply Company, YnZ’s Yesterdays Parts, Brillman and others. These cables are the ones that go from battery to ground, from battery to starter switch and from starter switch to starter motor.

Next, the terminals for the cables at the points mentioned above should be wire-brushed or sanded until they are shiny and bright. Even a little corrosion will prevent enough juice from passing to its destination. The cables must be disconnected at both ends and the contacts must be cleaned. Don’t just clean the outside of the connection. That will not do the job. With proper-sized cables and spotlessly-clean connections the car will start better, the lights will be brighter, the charging system will be more efficient, and it will provide the kind of service that the 6-volt vehicle had when it was new.

Neil Maken, editor, Skinned Knuckles magazine, Huntington Beach, Calif.

A. I call 12-volt conversion for 6-volt cars the “brute force” method: it uses higher voltage to force current through tired, tarnished connectors. It is very laborious to clean connections the way Neil Maken describes, but perhaps no more so than making a complete conversion. One additional item that should accompany the “tune up” of cables and connections is an overhaul of the 6-volt starter. Turn or polish the commutator, install new brushes and check the bearings or bushings for excessive wear.


Q. I am currently restoring a 1956 Pontiac Star Chief convertible, and trying to acquire a set of outside rearview mirrors. When I purchased the car it had one rusty old mirror in a box. I couldn’t get any numbers off it. Last week I picked up a mirror that looks similar to it. It had Guide #Y-50 on it. Can you tell me what vehicles used this mirror? It has a small, short base, and measures 3-3/8 by 1-1/4 inches in size.

John Scoff, via e-mail

A. A quick look online seems to associate the Y-50 with 1953 to 1962 Corvettes. Can anyone identify the correct mirror for 1956 Pontiacs?

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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