Q&A with Kit Foster: November 29, 2012

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Q. I examined the Delco distributor on my 1972 Buick. I believe the distributor cap that Larry Claypool inquired about (Oct. 18 Q&A) is actually a manufacturing defect. I believe the inserts were placed in the mold prior to the plastic being injected. Most likely, the individual or machine inserting the contacts missed this one and the plastic just filled the void in the mold. Any follow-up quality control checks then missed this defect.

This story reminds me of an incident that occurred in the late 1960s at the former General Motors assembly plant in Baltimore, Md., from which I retired. A customer wrote a letter to the plant wanting to know how we could possibly mount and inflate a tire with no valve stem. He bought a new Chevelle and, wanting to check his tire pressure one day, could not find the valve stem. The plant built Chevelles and Tempests at a rate of 60 an hour. So you can imagine the chore that hand-mounting, inflating and balancing 300 tires an hour could be. The plant had purchased specialized automated equipment that did all of this.

The only thing that involved human interaction was loading wheels and tires into the equipment, installing valve stems and installing wheel weights. Wheels were placed on a roller conveyor that passed by the valve stemmer, who used a small pneumatic press to insert the stem. The tires were loaded onto another part of the machine, where they passed through a machine that applied soap and then passed onto the station where they were placed onto the matching wheel. The next station had a pair of arms that extended and rolled the tire onto the wheel. The next station was the most interesting. Two circular plates compressed the top and bottom of the wheel and tire and with a high pressure blast of compressed air both seated the tire beads and inflated the tire to the proper pressure.

Finally the tire and wheel passed onto a bulb balancer that dropped small drips of different colored wax to show the operator where and what size weight to install.
The wheel on this gentleman’s car had come to the plant without a hole for the valve stem. The operator was supposed to pull them off the line but instead he let this one go by. The gentleman was invited to the plant to see how we assembled wheel and tires. He came for the visit and was given a new wheel and tire at that time.

— James M. Smith, Jacobus, Pa.

A. Thanks. We also heard from Jim Bender, from Bridgeport, Conn., who remembers seeing a distributor cap of this type many years ago. His parts jobber had one on the counter, with which he liked to stump his customers. “Plain and simple,” reports Jim, “it was a production error.”


Q. Why would my 1931 Model A coupe have antennas on both sides of the cowl and also have holes in the back on both sides of rumble seat/trunk that appear to be antenna mounting holes? They also appear to have been on the car since new. I have researched Model A’s for years and have never seen another like it. I believe the car is originally from the Battle Creek, Mich., area. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

— Sam Gordy, Fall River, Wis.

1129qa-Model A antenna

A. I can’t imagine the car came from the factory like that. I think someone merely wanted to dress it up.


Q. A recent discussion in Q&A on Chevrolet engines in Oldsmobiles (Oct. 25 Q&A) reminded me of another little-known fact. Due to a catastrophic fire in the GM Hydra-Matic transmission plant in 1953, approximately 28,000 Cadillacs and 23,000 Oldsmobiles were built with Dynaflow transmissions. Do these unusual automobiles have any special collector value?

– Joe Jackan, Tryon, N.C.

A. I expect many Old Cars Weekly readers are familiar with this little-known fact, as Byron Olsen treated it extensively in his “Motor City Milestones” column a few years ago. In addition to the Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles with Dynaflows, some 18,500 Pontiacs were fitted with Chevy’s Powerglide. A crash program of recovery outfitted the old Kaiser plant at Willow Run for Hydra-Matic production in an amazing nine weeks, but some of the independents using Hydra-Matic — Lincoln, Nash and, ironically, Kaiser — were unable to deliver automatic-equipped cars in the interim. Hudson alone began offering a Borg-Warner transmission, but went back to Hydra-Matic once supplies became available. As for collector value, to someone in search of unusual models the rare transmission could be a plus, whereas marque purists may view it as a liability.

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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