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Spotlights On Old Cars


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Hi all,

A seller of a Packard just sent me a photo of the car, circa 1948 - and there is one of those spotlights going through the driver's A Pillar. Handle inside, A Pillar drilled out and a big honkin "spotlight" externally.

I have never bought a car with one of these but have seen hundreds on cars for sale and a few at shows. I would say, just by observation - that these had their hay-days in the 40's to 50's.

For you really old timey guys (or collectors more knowledgeable then I) -

1. What was the incentive of adding one of these to your beautiful new car? I mean they are so ungainly. Let's see - I want a spotlight on my 2004 Pontiac Bonneville. I would have to drill through the A Pillar - potentially weakening it - and attach the outside to the inside parts and seal it up. So I can do what? Spot Deer from the road? See if there are strangers in my yard? Spy on my neighbors?

Why did people buy these back in the day and install them on perfectly good cars?

2. Has anyone purchased a car with a spotlight and did you just keep it on your car or remove it and patch the hole?

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In law enforcement, we use those to see things that we need to see at night when they are located in dark areas not illuminated by headlights.

It is before my time but, I suspect that they were extensively used back in the day by everybody to find driveways, side roads, and etc, back out in the country.

On a moonless night, way out in the country, with no streetlights, needing to turn into a driveway and not wanting to drive into a ditch, a spotlight would have come in very handy.

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Pretty good question BJM. As someone I think about your age (42) the only modern cars I have usually seen with spotlights are police cars, so logically you ask why would someone put one on their old car.

My old car buddies and I have often thought that restored (primarily 1950s) cars are often over-accessorized compared to the original then, and I think that is the case with spotlights. BUT I think spotlights WERE used on civilian cars more often then, and the automakers even offered styled factory and dealer accessory spotlights, often integrated with the rearview mirror. But I have to think these are rare. Will look forward to a comment from an old timer.

A similar mindset includes the large "overrider" bumper guards and tubular extensions marketed from the 1940s through the mid 1950s. My dad was thrilled to find a set for his 1955 Ford and they are very popular with the owners. But looking at period photos the only original car I saw with them was a city taxicab. I think car owners just think the more chrome the better and these accessories are very popular, more now than then. Todd

PS--my understanding is that Trippe Lights on classic era cars are like this too, originally seen mostly on trucks and commercial vehicles, not a high end car.

Edited by poci1957 (see edit history)
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Bryan,

I actually put one on my '48 New Yorker around 1988. It was a "vintage" Firestone spot with a 6 inch lamp.

Afterwards, I regretted doing it, as I did not have a template, and put it too far up the A-pillar.

It WAS handy, especially when I was travelling in unfamilar territory and needed to read street signs at night.

They were a popular accessory up into the 1960's, and many car makers offered "authorized" acessory spotllights. These usually mounted to the door frame.

In the mid-1950's, I believe Ford began combining the spotlight with a rear-view mirror.

The fad that REALLY baffles me are/were "Dummy spotlights"... yes, lets drill holes in our cowl to mount two non-functional lumps of chrome... ?? !!!

A friend recently bought a nice 1955 Hudson Wasp Custom 4-door that has dummy spots on it... I keep encouraging him to get rid of them.

The police still have their cruisers equipped with 1950's style "Unity" spotlights, usually painted black as opposed to chrome plate.

If you want a spot on your '04 Bonneville, I would go with the "flange mount" and bolt it to center of your roof, as they do on power and phone company trucks ! :cool:

I don't think I would add a spot to a nice original car (again); by the same token, I wouldn't necessarily remove one that had been installed by the dealer / original owner, and had been done well.

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Back in the day when spotlights were a popular accessory there were many more rural areas than today, plus street lighting was few and far between or non existent. One of the reasons for their popularly was they were very helpful finding house numbers at night. Many manufactures also offered a glove box spotlight that plugged into the lighter which eliminated the mounting hassles of permanently installing one.

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It WAS handy, especially when I was travelling in unfamilar territory and needed to read street signs at night.

The police still have their cruisers equipped with 1950's style "Unity" spotlights, usually painted black as opposed to chrome plate.

Well BJM, sounds like less street lighting was probably the issue.

On the current police spotlight, they are indeed still configured just like the 1950s Unity models, just with black plastic housings rather than chrome metal.

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Yes I agree - and thanks to all the confirmations. You see, I was thinking in the "modern mode" and could not imagine their value or necessity but I have delivered pizzas back in the day and yes - a spotlight would have come in handy - or embrowled me in a gunfight in some of the bad neighborhoods.

So I wonder if collectors buy cars with them and remove them. I would think if it was a nice driver or not ready for restoration - you could remove it and create some rubber grommet to cover the hole.

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Well, Bryan- spotlights were often offered as "approved factory accessories" complete with manufacturers logo on them. Unity Lighting made foglights and spotlights for about all carmakers.

Why people liked them, I don't know. The ones I've known tended to be knee-knockers. I guess they could have been useful for finding a house number or the like at night, and some folks just liked to have every accessory offered ( a trend that hit its stride on TriFive Chevys in the 80s).

It was a regional thing here. Cars up around Martinsville-Henry County VA almost always had them, especially Fords, but that was moonshine territory up there.

Seems like the Commonwealth finally outlawed them for all but law enforcement or emergency vehicles. I remember them getting on one of those kicks back in the 70s, about time I started driving. A buddy had a 64 Galaxie with a Ford accessory spotlight and they gave him a large ration of caca over it at the inspection station- never mind it had been on the car since new. Then again might have been because he was a teenage driver.

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Was it not Floyd Clymer who devised the first spotlightwith a mounting ball on its axis that mounted through a round hole cut in the windscreen itself, and with a pistol grip inside to aim it? I haven't seen one of these at a swap for decades; but I am sure I still have one somewhere.

Based on Matt's experience that a spotlight is useful for Police work, and knowing that when they were built some T-head Mercer Raceabouts were used as police cars, you might wonder if that is the reason some are fitted with a huge free-standing spotlight.

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I must be one of the Old Timers. I bought a new 1951 Ford Victoria when I was in hight sclool.

The first thing I did was put dual Smitties on it, lowered it two inches and put on dual spots,

real cool. Yes I drilled the post and installed them myself. I had to wire the spots with a cross over switch because it was illegal to have two operating spot lights, although I had a switch under the dash so I could turn both on. They were great for locating house numbers, driving in the fog or blinding some guy that didn't dim their head lights.

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As others have pointed out, spotlights were very handy to have in the days before good street lighting.

Before the 70s there were no mercury vapor lamps or other high output lamps. Just a few incandescent bulbs and then only in the busiest sections of cities and towns.

The spotlights were made illegal around 1951. Only official vehicles (fire and police, mainly) were allowed to have them.

The excuse was hot rodders were using them to hold street races, and flash them in the eyes of oncoming drivers. So they were banned in the interest of safety.

They stayed around for a while but you had to cut the wires or risk a ticket.

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I would expect that Spot Lights became popular in the days of poor headlights on cars. Remember they were a bulb and reflector for years after they got electric light on cars as standard equipment.

My 1915 Model T (first year of electric headlights on a Ford) had a bulb about the size of a tangerine. When running on the magneto the light would get brighter and brighter until the bulb exploded! The taill light is kerosene, and so was the car in front of me back then. Not much good for seeing, but others could see me coming better than the previous style carbide lights.

Most Pre WWII cars had better electric lights but mostly still a bulb and reflector that wasn't real bright.

The old 6 volt generators did the best they could, but nothing special. Driving lights and spot lights offered an improvement, especially other than straight ahead. Remember street signs and house numbers weren't always reflective.

I still use a high powered, roof mounted, spot light on our Motorhome to see beyond the limits of high and low beams.

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I have recently been reading some 1920's auto advertising literature that refer to the aimable windshield-pillar mounted light as a "sportlight"...

I love those "free-standing" running-board mounted spots such as Ivan mentioned... I believe I've seen a few of those on 1920's fire trucks...

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Spotlights were still legal in VA and West VA in the '60's. All the young guys had to have spotlights, usual duals, dual exhausts, fender skirts, etc on their cars. Almost any young guy around with a car built from the late '30's up until the mid '50's had them. A friend had a '56 Ford Sunliner with rectangular spots with built in rear view mirrors on it along with a lot of other options. I think it might have came from the factory with them. Dad bought a '37 Chevy pickup with a spot on it in the '50's. He was in his '60's and did not care for the thing being on it. Then he bought a '51 Studebaker log truck with one on it; then a '41 Chevy 2-door with one on it so for a man that did not like them, he had 3. Usually the dummies bolted on to the door or windshield post and did not go through it. Virginia finally passed a law that all lights on a car had to operate so that did away with the dummies. Neighbor had a '49 Chevy Fleetline with a pair of 52-53 Olds taillights on it. Went to get it inspected and they told him to get them operating or take them off so he made them operable. I heard back in the '60's that it was against the law to shine them across the center line. I carried portable lights in my glove box. Quite useful if you had a problem at night or came up on someone else that did. That was when you could still pull over and help a stranger and nothing bad would come of it or you could pick up a kid needing a ride and he'd behave himself and thank you when he got out. Oh, for the good old days and cars.

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I guess I am the only guy out here that remembers goinng to a drive -in movie and chasing a ball on the screen during intermission . I had a couple of cars in my teens with dual spots, and my 40 convert has them now. I don't use them much, but I think they look COOL !

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I had dual Chrome Spotlights on most of my convertibles back in the '50s and '60s. The '49 red Pontiac, '56 Onyx 'n Ivory Bel-air, the white '58 Impala --- and YES "THE OLD GUY", even in New Jersey we used the dual-Spotlights to chase the dot, and to follow the bouncing ball in the Drive-In Movies. I drove the bach roads of New York State's Catskill Mtn. resort areas late at night after our bands played half the night in hotels. The adjustable spotlight was very helpful in finding the next job, and even finding country driveways on those pitch-black nights.

More recently, the '52 Caddy Convertible we drove from the mid-'90s until '07 had dual chrome spotlights, and they both worked. Other than the usual hassle when we lived in Virginia, all of the other states gave no problems related to lights, as long as they were operational.

Personally, I like the look of "period-correct" accessories, and I know that our '34 and '37 Buicks came with their Guide Driving Lights. The Tripp Lights on the Packard are likely correct, since the car was ordered for Paris delivery, and ultimately resided in Monaco. The '41 and '54 Caddys do not have Spotlights.

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:) As Paul Dobbin mentioned, spotlights were a common accessory available in the teens and twentys. I have two twenties cars and would'nt install them, but I bought a old ('20s) Autoreelite spotlght with a mirror on the rear and a "hub" in which the wires coiled so the lamp could be extended, possibly for engine or tire repair in the dark. I did'nt buy it for one of my cars, but thought it looked like a nice collectible. In my late '20s Chiltons supply and accessory manual it lists many manufacturers of spotlights. Years back, I put a couple of dual spotlights on my '55 Century when it was "cool" in the '50s mild customising days, but I just bolted them to the pillar without the handles and when the fad went away I just filled the two mounting holes and repainted the pillars. If you have a retro rod or custom of the '50s era, I think they still look representative of that time.

:) kaycee

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Guest my3buicks

Buick offered a spotlight from 1966 through 1969

Pictured is a copy of the 67 Buick Accessory Catalog information on the spotlight - as you can see it shows the spotlight illuminating a Bridge out sign, I have also seen it shown illuminating a house number.

It is unique in operation - it does a complete rotating 360 and the bulb also pivots up and down

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I think the dual "Sport Lites" on my 1934 Ford Phaeton were brighter than the headlights!

That's a BEAUTIFUL Phaeton, Paul !

From what I recall when I was running my '48 New Yorker as my daily driver, the spotlight was indeed brighter than my headlights ( sealed-beams )...

The headlights on my '28 Ford are pretty good ( when they work ! )... I would consider a period "Sport-lite"...

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  • 9 years later...

 Hello I am looking for both of theses parts for 65-67 Impala remote control search light. One is the switch and the other is a bezel that secures the knob to the dashboard mounting bracket. 

TY

 

(661) 317-5626

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a 1958 Ford Fairlane "Skyliner".  It has factory installed spotlights w/mirrors.  These mirrors are TOOOOOOO SMALLLLL for use, also there is no way you can adjust these to see anything behind you  There is no way that I would consider removing them, what I would like to know if anyone knows of any Retro Kits around that would have a more modern looking mirror that could be attached over my existing mirrors?  Come on you guys, I know somebody out there can come up with an idea that will work!

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the spot lights on my vicky are adjustable they will move around to move them out a little because of the offset mount on mirror besides the spotlight body.very good for the blind spots on either side

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