The Year Automobile Designers Became Dress Designers

I happened across a story in a 1940 newspaper about automobile designers making a foray into women’s fashions. The feminine styles were supposed to match the 1941 automotive offerings and were designed by the same men who created those body styles. This was all done to promote the New York auto show. There were pictures to go with the story, but no names, so I had to keep digging. I discovered that the first one was designed by none other than Harley Earl, and this streamlined creation in silver rayon featured wings to mimic the hood emblem on a ’41 Caddy.

Photo credit: Rex Gray, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The stories I found do not give credit for this stylish jacket with a yolk based on the shape of the Packard grille. Perhaps the designer was Howard “Dutch” Darrin?

Photo credit: David Berry from Rohnert Park CA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This swimming suit is based on the 1941 Chevrolet. You can see the shape of the grille on the model’s midsection, and her shoes were even made out of Lucite!

This ensemble was designed, I believe, by E. T. Gregorie and was meant to complement the Mercury. Notice the belt, which was based on the Merc’s bumper guards, and a purse modeled on the hubcaps.

Photo credit: JOHN LLOYD from Concrete, Washington, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One article said this coat was made with upholstery plaid, so it must be based on Chrysler’s Highlander. Oliver Clark was likely the one who designed this modish outerwear.

This promotion was done in cooperation with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and the clothing was actually available to be purchased on Fifth Avenue. I have no idea how well it sold, but I would absolutely purchase all of it today if still available (and I might run someone over to get to that hubcap purse).

A 1942 Buick Barn Find

While out buying car parts the other day, we noticed the seller had something very exciting sitting in one of his shops:  a genuine barn find! It is not pictured in the barn setting here, having already been retrieved from an old Nebraska farmstead, and this stop is just the beginning of the journey for this old beauty.

It is a 1942 Buick convertible, and it looks like a Series 40 Special, the most compact of Buick’s 1942 offerings with a 118-inch wheelbase. The Super and the Roadmaster, Series 50 and 70, would have the “Airfoil” front fenders that carried all the way back across the side of the car to the rear fender in a tapering contour like the one seen in this advertisement:

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, the ’42 Buick was produced until the first week of February, with 1,776 of those being the Series 40 convertible. The ’42 Buicks in every Series were powered by an OHV Inline Eight, and the Special engine had 248CID and 110-hp. It would have been a “blackout” car with painted trim if produced during the January 1942 wartime transition period, so the brightwork on this car indicates that it was manufactured some time prior to that date.

Notice that the advertisement above references Buick’s role in wartime production, the building of Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines:

I don’t know the back story for this Buick, and I’m not sure that I want to know since such stories are often rooted in sadness; at best, it is a project not finished and, at worst, a life interrupted. This story ends with a ray of hope, however, at least for the car. It has already been purchased and is headed back east for restoration. Here’s to a bright future for this survivor!

Mystery of the Pyramid (Hubcap)

I have two of these threaded hubcaps, but I have never been able to determine what vehicle they were on originally.

The logo in the center looks like a pyramid, and in researching that angle I discovered that there was a truck called the Red Pyramid Speed Truck. It was a product of the Service Motor Truck Company of Wabash, Indiana and was introduced in 1920.

The truck was said to be the result of four years of development, although that time span was interrupted by World War I when the Service Motor Truck factories were busy producing Liberty B trucks for the war effort.

It was advertised with the tagline “An Even Load on Any Road” due to being “scientifically cushioned,” meaning it had a unique front spring suspension. The following description was taken from a 1921 issue of The Motor Truck:

“At the front end of the truck a semi-elliptic spring is mounted crosswise, the end being carried on the axle and the center supporting the frame. This spring is pivoted on its central point, so that the front axle is perfectly free to move about this pivot. The entire truck, with this suspension, is carried on a three-point support which, in fact, cushions body, hood, radiator, seat, and steering mechanism against strains and twisting.”

This illustration accompanied the article and showed that, although the wheels were badly out of line, the twisting or strain was on the front springs, a system that was intended to result in a smoother ride.

The truck, capable of carrying loads of up to 2500 pounds, was equipped with a 32-hp OHV Midwest engine that could attain speeds of 40-45mph on good roads. Many more specifications are listed in the 1922 advertisement below.

Here are a couple of photos of the trucks that appeared in 1921 and 1922 publications, respectively.

My hubcaps are made of cast aluminum, so that would indicate some age, and the logo is similar to that of the Red Pyramid Speed Truck, but I have been unable to confirm if my caps have any connection to that early truck. If you have any information about these hubcaps, I would love to hear from you. Email me at

The Easy-On Cap, Part of Eaton History

Eaton has manufactured parts for automobiles since the early days of the American automobile industry. The company was initially founded in 1911 by Joseph Oriel Eaton as Torbensen Gear and Axle Company to manufacture the first gear-driven truck axle. Originally located in New Jersey, the company moved to Cleveland in 1915. In 1916, it was incorporated as the Torbensen Axle Company.

The old cap pictured above is interesting for the inscription on the inside which is a part of Eaton’s history and also helps to pinpoint the date of manufacture. It is difficult to make out in the photos, but it reads, “THE EATON AXLE & SPRING CO. EASY-ON CAP DIV.”

The Torbensen Axle Company had become the Eaton Axle & Spring Company in 1923. Throughout the twenties and thirties, the company acquired other concerns involved in the automotive business, and one of those acquisitions was the Easy-On Cap Company. The Easy-On Cap had been invented by Dr. J. S. Reid of the Cleveland Health Department who had been looking for something more efficient than the threaded cap and came up with the Easy-On which was fastened by a simple half-turn. When Eaton purchased the company in July of 1928, the company was making about one million caps per month including gas, radiator, and oil caps. The Eaton company underwent another name change in 1932 when it became the Eaton Manufacturing Company, so the cap pictured must have originated sometime between the 1928 purchase of Easy-On Cap and the 1932 name change from Eaton Axle and Spring.

The Metal Polisher’s Union was apparently peeved at Easy-On for some reason in 1929, but Easy-On was in good company with Stant, Louisville Slugger and Winchester Repeating Arms also appearing on the Union’s plaintive “We Do Not Patronize” list:

The 1926 Nash came equipped with Easy-On oil and gas caps, and one automobile that featured a stock Easy-On radiator cap was the Silver Anniversary 1929 Buick.

By 1934, it was reported that one-third of American automobile manufacturers used Eaton bumpers, springs, and valves. A 1961 story about the company’s 50th anniversary said there was at least one Eaton-made part in every American-made truck and car on the road. The Eaton company underwent additional name changes before becoming the Eaton Corporation in 1971, but whatever it calls itself, it has played an important role in the history of the American automobile.

Starting 1953 with an Allstate Engine Under the Hood and Allstate Gas in the Tank

The name “Allstate” likely makes you think of the insurance company that was founded in 1931 by Sears, Roebuck and Co., but Sears also applied the brand to a wide variety of car parts and accessories. The ubiquitous Allstate brand was even applied to rebuilt engines as seen in this 1953 advertisement with advice for starting the new year . . .

. . . . as well as gasoline as seen in this 1952 advertisement:

The Allstate brand came into existence in 1925 as the result of a name-finding contest that generated a massive response from the public. The name being sought was for a new Sears tire, and nearly one million entrants provided over two million suggestions. An army of mail openers was required to process the mountain of mail that flowed in from every state in the union and around the world, written in 25 different languages. Twenty-year-old Hans Simonson of Bismark, North Dakota, dreamed up the winning name of “Allstate,” and was rewarded with the first prize of $5,000. The clipping below shows Simonson on the right above a photo of the mail sorters sifting through the contest entries.

In addition to the many Allstate parts and accessories, Sears slapped the Allstate brand on an entire automobile in 1952. Manufactured by Kaiser-Fraser, the Allstate was a revamped Henry J and was offered in two lines with the same 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines that also powered the Henry J. The Allstate’s grille was somewhat different and featured two horizontal bars as seen in the photo below. Notice also the Allstate badge on this survivor on display at Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska:

Despite being the lowest-priced full-size sedan in the country and going 30-35 miles per gallon, the Allstate was not popular with the car-buying public and was only produced in 1952 and 1953. The insurance company, no longer owned by Sears, is all that remains of the Allstate brand.

1952 Allstate

A Race Filled with Legends

This marvelous graphic from the November 23, 1924, Pomona Bulletin shows the favorites going into that year’s Thanksgiving Day race at Ascot:

On the left is legendary Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, the inspiration for the Cannonball Run. Baker set many records for cross-country rides in the early years of the 1900s including a 1914 sprint from San Diego to New York, made on Indian motorcycle in just eleven days. For the Ascot race, Baker was driving a stock Jewett. The man in the center, Cliff Bergere, had a side gig as a Hollywood stuntman and participated in 16 Indy 500 races including the 1941 race in which he went the distance without a single pit stop. He also served during World War II and was a major in the US Army upon discharge. Bergere was driving for Deusenberg, and so was the man on the right, Frank Lockhart. Dubbed “The Boy Wonder,” Lockhart was a talented and innovative racer and Indy winner who met a tragic end at Daytona Beach in 1928 while making a run at the land speed record in a Stutz Black Hawk Special. Incredibly, video of the crash, blamed on tire failure, can be found here on YouTube.

There was another familiar name there for that Thanksgiving Day race, and just look at this colorful write-up about him:

There were 43 starters in all that day, driving approximately 250 miles before a crowd of 50,000 that included celebrities like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The victory went to Lockhart who slid into first place on the 31st lap and drove a masterful race, finishing in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds. He made only one stop with 25 miles to go, and that was to lighten his load by ditching his mechanic. This photo of the action appeared in the LA Times:

The caption above the photo reads, “Photo shows Frank Lockhart, driving his No. 27 Duesenberg, coming down one of the sharp turns with C. A. Chamberlain, at the wheel of the No. 25 Chrysler, close behind. Lockhart, whose speed on the turns won him the race, almost got ruined in this particular instance as Chamberlain was hot on his trail. Inset shows “The Boy Wonder” as he finished the race.”

Cannon Ball Baker had tire problems but managed to cross the finish line on a rim exactly four minutes after Lockhart to take second place. Bergere finished ninth. Unfortunately, there was no mention of what happened to Nebraska’s Noel Bullock, but you can read more about him here: Bullock, Garrett, and the Franklin Mile Speedway: The “Real Stuff” of Nebraska Racing History

A Dictator on Ice

So many fun, and occasionally dangerous, advertising gimmicks were utilized in the early years of the automobile industry. This innovative approach from Blue Sunoco Fuel and Studebaker appeared in December of 1933 and featured an ice-covered Studebaker Dictator:

Here in Nebraska, it is not unusual for an automobile to look like an iceberg on wheels when left outside during wintry conditions, but this Studebaker was a brand-new car, driven right off the production line and into the plant’s refrigeration room. There, with Blue Sunoco fuel in the tank and Sunoco motor oil in the crankcase, the car was loaded down with huge cakes of ice. Then the temperature of the room was brought down to 20 degrees below zero and a wind machine, blowing at a rate of 50 mph, sprayed water on the ice-covered car. In this frigid state, the car was left to sit for almost 48 hours.

During the above process, one window of the car was left open. This enabled one Miss Eloise Metz of South Bend, wearing layers of warm clothing, to be placed through the open window along with heating pads and hot coffee. Once she was ensconced in the ice-laden car, that window was sealed tightly with ice. Then the car was towed to the business center of South Bend where a large crowd and several timekeepers had gathered. Miss Metz was told to start that frozen car, and start it did, taking only three-fifths of a second to do so.

That seems like a fairly effective marketing technique. One has to question the approach of christening the car with the distinctly un-American name of “Dictator” in the first place, however. I have heard it said that the term “Dictator” was chosen because it meant that the car was dictating the standard for the industry, but then why were the other cars in the Studebaker stable called the President and the Commander? Also, check out the caption under this 1934 photo:

That relaxed attitude toward authoritarianism did not last long with Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler operating nefariously on the international stage, and people soon realized the Studebaker wasn’t the only dictator that should be put on ice. The Dictator name did not age well, and the Studebaker company quietly retired it a couple of years later.

Another Mystery Car Part (Hint: It Is Not Made by Mercedes)

Do you recognize this emblem?

This three-point star measures three and one-half inches in width and, although it bears a strong resemblance, it is not a Mercedes emblem. A helpful seller recently listed this full set of six, complete with original packaging and part number, on eBay.

These stars were an accessory “star ornamentation” sold by Ford in the 1950s. The back side of the packaging contains the following installation instructions:

Studebaker made a similar tri-star emblem in 1953, although the Studebaker version is considerably larger at around 9″ in width.

I don’t how many Ford owners would be comfortable drilling a total of twelve holes in the fenders of their car just to add these stars, but that may be why I have never seen any actually mounted on an automobile. If you have one, send me a photo at

Nebraska State Patrol’s 1950 Ford

The Other Highlander and David A. Wallace

We picked up this seldom-seen Highlander emblem the other day, and despite the name, it has nothing to do with Toyota. The lower part of the emblem reads “New Yorker, ” and that gives away its origins as a Chrysler product. Introduced in 1940, Chrysler also referred to the Highlander as the “Scottie,” and described it as “another notable contribution to advanced, original and swanky automobile styling.”

The Highlander featured Scotch tartan plaid upholstery on the pleated seat cushions and seat backs and matching moleskin leather on door panels, armrests and other trim. This 1940 advertisement gives you an idea what that combination looks like:

The Highlander was the creation of Chrysler president David A. Wallace who, like Walter P. Chrysler himself, was born in rural Kansas. While Chrysler hailed from Ellis, Wallace was born in Castleton in 1887. A 1940 story about Wallace in the Detroit Free Press included an interview with Wallace’s first employer, the owner of the hardware store in Castleton. Wallace worked seven hours a day at the store and also lived with the owner’s family. The owner remembered Wallace as a hard worker who pitched in to help with all the farm chores without being asked.

The similarities with Walter P. Chrysler continued as Wallace’s next step was going to work for the railroad. After that, he gathered more experience in automobile manufacturing and mining before manufacturing tractors for Hart-Parr. When the war started, Wallace served in the motor transport service of the Army where he was ultimately promoted to captain. As a matter of fact, Wallace was promoted everywhere he went, a testament to his skills and work ethic. After the war he went to work for John Deere where he started as a mechanic and was promoted to superintendent. This is when he came to the attention of the Chrysler Corporation. Wallace went to work for Chrysler in 1929 as a staff master mechanic and was quickly promoted to vice-president of Chrysler’s manufacturing division. He was made president of that division in 1937 and held that position until his retirement in 1953.

Wallace’s extensive experience in manufacturing served him well, and he developed a method of superfinishing bearing surfaces so that defects were no more than two-millionth of an inch. The talented Mr. Wallace held around 70 patents in all. He must have also harbored an affection for his Scottish ancestry, and so it only seems right to end this post with a quote from another Wallace, specifically Malcolm Wallace from the movie Braveheart.

“I know you can fight. But it’s our wits that make us men.”

David Wallace clearly had plenty of those.

The Highlander was brought back post-war; this picture is taken from the 1953 Chrysler brochure.

More about Walter P. Chrysler: Revisiting Walter P. Chrysler’s Boyhood in Ellis, Kansas

Veterans Day 2023 – Remembering Eddie Rickenbacker

This captioned photo of ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacker appeared in the November 16, 1918, issue of the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Note that the caption describes him as, “First automobile racer to enlist.” Captain Rickenbacker was one of the best-known racers in America when he joined the army a month after the United States entered World War I in April of 1917. He became an aircraft fighter ace and, by the end of the war, had shot down 26 enemy planes. That record made him the number one American ace of the war, but just one of the many “car guys” that made immeasurable contributions to the war effort.

“Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, American Ace, in aeroplane. France. Spad XIII.” 1918. III-SC-50127. National Archives Identifier: 86706270.

Thank you to all who serve.

If you are interested in reading more:

Rickenbacker Radiator Badge

Rickenbacker Sales Brochure