Restorer32

In the interest of historical accuracy

Recommended Posts

 Last evening I watched an episode of a popular collector car show. The host described himself as having a life long interest in early cars. He was speaking to a crowd of 1500+ and was describing Brass Era cars. He stated, and this is not an exact quote, " Brass Era cars are called that because the headlights and other trim pieces were brass plated over the metal to prevent rust. Then came the Nickel Era when the brass was plated with nickel. Finally chrome was introduced to protect the nickel ".  As far as I know few, if any, parts on Brass Ear cars were brass plated steel. Also, I believe nickel cannot be plated over brass very successfully. He did get the chrome over nickel  thing right. Sadly this person helps judge many Concour events. Better if he had just said "Brass trim pieces were nickel plated in later years

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The only brass plating I've ever seen on a "Brass Era" car is on the shifter & brake lever of my 1910 Mitchell. Actually, all that remains is the plating on the inside of the brake lever ratchet but, because the car is unrestored, I can be sure it was there when new. Brass was used for lights and radiator shells because it is easily shaped with the tools available at the time and was readily available. So, your show host doesn't know what they are talking about - which is hardly surprising. I stopped watching television at least 20 years ago,

 

Oh...and even then brass was relatively expensive so as new machines were developed to work sheet metal it was replaced with much cheaper steel. The steel was either painted or nickel plated. Nickel plating was developed in Boston in the early 1870s and, at the time, experimented with as an "anti-rust" coating by the Ordnance Department which bought some nickel plated No.3 Smith & Wesson revolvers and had about 100 Trapdoor Springfield rifles plated. It was available before the advent of the automobile and was used on some early car parts. Hiram Percy Maxim had some of the engine parts of his first experimental tricycle, built in the early 1890s, nickel plated. I don't think nickel would stand the heat generated by a carbide light so it wasn't used for lights until electric lights were available. Brass lights were a PIA even then...unless you had a chauffeur to polish them. They sold special black heat paint for them so you wouldn't have to polish them.

 

There is no problem nickel plating brass - it just wasn't done very often, The trick of getting nickel to stick to steel, which it didn't do very well, was to flash the piece with copper. This wasn't discovered until later so the plating peels off those early S&W's and Springfield rifles. One of the ways you can date early plated guns – or tell if they have been mucked with – with is to look for traces of the copper flashing since very few fakers know it wasn't done in period.

Edited by JV Puleo
syntax (see edit history)
  • Like 3
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The wealth of information that an expert can share, much of it incorrect, always amazes me.

 

The reason so many parts on early cars were solid brass is that they couldn't form the complicated shapes out of steel.  Everything else on an early car is flat or curved or cast, no compound curves.

 

Is that true?  I don't know, I just made it up.....

  • Like 5
  • Thanks 2
  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
50 minutes ago, trimacar said:

The wealth of information that an expert can share, much of it incorrect, always amazes me.

 

The reason so many parts on early cars were solid brass is that they couldn't form the complicated shapes out of steel.  Everything else on an early car is flat or curved or cast, no compound curves.

 

Is that true?  I don't know, I just made it up.....

 

Yes, to a large extent. The huge presses and dies that were needed to make things like fenders and curved body panels developed over time and were extremely expensive to build. The technology to make them existed early on but the capitol investment to build such a machine was beyond almost all early car makers (who were almost always under capitalized). Many of the steel parts that were made early on, like pressed steel chassis rails, came from specialist manufacturers rather than the auto industry. We were probably into the 1920s or even 30s before car makers were selling enough to make the investment in the appropriate machines. I'll add that this is why making parts for brass cars is, in many ways, easier than making them for later cars. The machines and materials they had to work with were fairly limited which gives us a shot at replicating the parts where elaborate hydraulic presses the size of a house or sophisticated die casting equipment is impossible to find even if we had the time, money and space to make use of it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sometimes, when I'm at a car show with my '46 Ford "Woodie", I just stand to the side and listen to the "experts" tell the people they are with, all about station wagons. Many tell their audience that the bodies are made from oak, which we know is not correct, it's maple. They made the bodies out of wood because of steel shortages during the war. Well, what about all the wood bodies made between 1928 and 1941, before the war years? They stopped making them for safety reasons, really? The best I heard is when one guy told the lady he was with that they stopped making "Woodies" because they made so many, that they literally ran out of wood! I guess some people like to impress people and say anything that they think will impress people.

  • Like 6
  • Haha 4
  • Confused 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I heard a guy telling his buddy that the priming cups on an early car we were showing were "compression releases". He explained how you open the valves, get the engine spinning over then close the valves quickly and turn on the ignition. 

  • Like 1
  • Haha 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

my 07Maxwell has nickel over the brass- was told people did this early on, so as not to have to polish the brass.

 

sounds logical

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The best comment I ever heard at a show was a fellow walking by my '38 Packard with his son.  "Look, son, a Packard, the only European car made in the United States...."

  • Like 3
  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once back in the day I had my Hudson stepdown parked on my space at Carlisle. A lead guy who was an old car expert walked by with two followers in tow. The expert pointed at my car and said "Look, there's an old Mercury." One of the followers commented that the car said Hudson on it. He replied "Yeah, well, Hudsons, they were made by Mercury". So much for historical accuracy.

  • Like 1
  • Haha 2
  • Sad 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Brass plated steel parts, as well as nickel plated parts, were very much a thing early on.  Autocar (automobiles) offered nickel plating as an extra cost option, as did other manufacturers.  On higher end cars it was an option or standard.  Stanley was an early user of nickel lamps.  Also, many parts were brass plated steel and the commonality you see on such parts is they tended to do it with things that rub where paint wouldn't last any time at all, like shift quadrants, linkages, and engine cranks.  When you find an early car that hasn't been restored or was done once a long time ago it is not hard to find traces of the plating.  It wasn't purely decorative.  As to brass plated steel, many parts on Model T Fords up to mid-1911 were finished as such until they started to further cut costs and started enameling things.  Many of the brass bolts and screws that are sold as solid brass reproductions today were originally brass plated steel, and for good reason if they are things that take a load, such as steering column-to-firewall bolts.  On a 1911 Torpedo one of the cowl lamp bracket bolts is shared with a bracket that holds the cowl to the firewall.  The solid brass bolts used in place of a steel one will shear after the body twists on it for awhile.  Also, brass clad steel is often overlooked.  Many cars used steel windshield support rods clad in brass that today people remake out of solid brass tube and if your car sees rough service they don't hold up so well.  The people that designed these things weren't idiots and replacing steel parts with solid brass often spells trouble.

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At the Lemay Museum in Marymount, the 'expert' guide tried to say 'the Gremlin was derived from the Hornet station wagon', which is incorrect, as the Sportabout was introduced in the fall of  1970, some five months after the Gremlin was release on April 1st of that year.  And he tried to tell the group the 1957-59 Skyliner was 'Ford's "only" retractable hardtop'.  I again told him afterward, Ford sold a version of the Focus (Focus 'CC') in Europe which was also a retractable hardtop.

 

Craig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My definition of an expert is: “one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about positively nothing”

  • Like 5
  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Restorer32 said:

 Last evening I watched an episode of a popular collector car show. The host described himself as having a life long interest in early cars. He was speaking to a crowd of 1500+ and was describing Brass Era cars. He stated, and this is not an exact quote, " Brass Era cars are called that because the headlights and other trim pieces were brass plated over the metal to prevent rust. Then came the Nickel Era when the brass was plated with nickel. Finally chrome was introduced to protect the nickel ".  As far as I know few, if any, parts on Brass Ear cars were brass plated steel. Also, I believe nickel cannot be plated over brass very successfully. He did get the chrome over nickel  thing right. Sadly this person helps judge many Concour events. Better if he had just said "Brass trim pieces were nickel plated in later years

Why defend the expert, who is he? Burnout and donut driver no doubt. 

 

 

Bob 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Let's just say he is one of those guys who spends his time "pursuing high quality cars".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, 46 woodie said:

They stopped making them for safety reasons, really?

 

That one is sort of true. The EPA clamped down on the because of the interstate transportation of wood and the potential of shipping invasive species of insects. That's a little gnawn fact.

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, trimacar said:

The best comment I ever heard at a show was a fellow walking by my '38 Packard with his son.  "Look, son, a Packard, the only European car made in the United States...."

 

I'd say he got that mixed up with the Packard Predictor.

 

Along that line, in December 1954, there was a big Christmas party at the Altman & Newman Packard dealership in Southbend. The new V8 was out and Packard was ready to regain it's place in the prestige auto world. A man came in the door offering a new European car franchise. "Oh, go away with that funny little Volkswagen, don't you see the V8 signs? Our future is secure!"

 

By the way, has anyone seen the new Fiat 124 Spyder? It has a familiar look.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't speak to what was common on brass era cars,..... but many wood and coal stoves from as early as before 1900 used a lot of nickel plating. It was plated directly onto cast iron and steel parts that got VERY hot. And, there was no other type plating, such as copper, used as a subsurface. The nickel plates very well onto cast iron and steel that it doesn't need it.

 

I collect antique stoves. Two that I use all Winter are a 1903 kitchen range and a 1908 parlor stove - both with lots of nickel trim that is very close to the firebed that often has the cast iron glowing red.  I have a friend that used a 1879 Glenwood wood-burning kitchen range with nickel plated trim rails on the shelves, cooktop, and the oven door medallion.

 

And the steel hand tools to tend the fire, such as fire pokers and cooktop lid lifters were nickel plated right over bare steel.  It holds up very well even being used with  such high heat.  So well that many people mistake the original nickel on antique stoves for chrome plating. 

 

So the technology for plating nickel directly onto steel was common as early as the later part of the 1800's , even if the early auto industry didn't use it much.

 

Paul   

 

 

Edited by PFitz (see edit history)
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, trimacar said:

The best comment I ever heard at a show was a fellow walking by my '38 Packard with his son.  "Look, son, a Packard, the only European car made in the United States...."

Pure speculation, but I wonder if he confused marques with the Springfield Rolls Royce.  Besides American Austin, they would have been the only two foreign cars that were assembled in USA in the 1930's, though a few of the more expensive continental European cars may have been shipped 'chassis only' for an American coachbuilder to make a body for. 

 

Craig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the parts that I have experience with 1899-1910ish, I've never seen any brass plated steel parts. I've seen nickel plated steel parts that are copper plated first, then nickel over brass is very common.

 

Showing a steam car, I overhear conspiracy experts at shows comment that these cars run on water and the oil companies banded together and put them out of business etc. Oil companies would love the steam car with their 5-10 mpg. I just act busy with something else.

 

-Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

An "ex" is someone that used to be someone. A "spurt" is a small amount of water or other liquid, like a drop or "drip", under pressure. Therefore, an "expert" is a drip who used to be someone now under pressure.

 

A couple details. 1909 into early 1911 model T fords had the brake handle and the hand crank brass plated. The first almost a thousand model Ts also had the reverse lever brass plated. These in addition to many bolts , brackets, and miscellaneous hardware. The early 1915 year model Ts had brass plated spark and throttle levers as well as the new design pressed steel quadrant were brass plated.

 

Consider also. Somewhat before Ford's model T, there was another American automobile manufacturer that achieved status as the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. Before Ford's model T, another manufacturer began a form of assembly line production producing just a bit short of thirty thousand automobiles (if I recall the numbers correctly?) in approximately five years time! That manufacturer was Oldsmobile, with their Curved Dash and French Front models! And they used a considerable amount of nickel plating on most of those cars.

I suspect that prior to about 1903, more cars had nickel plating than cars that did not. Stanley, Locomobile steam as well as numerous copycat cars that "infringed" or paid royalties to Locomobile, as well as quite a few electrics I know used nickel plating in the early years. I have over the years read of several early gasoline cars that offered nickel plating as an option, but I am not certain enough of the specifics to name any.

 

I almost never watch any of the made-for-cable collector car tv shows. Bad enough they keep trying to cram muscle cars, hot rods, cruisers, and fantasy racing monsters down my throat. Fifteen minutes is about all I can stand to hear those guys talk in a month!

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Supposedly, one of the causes of the demise of the steam car was the outbreak of Glanders and Hoof and Mouth Diseases in the late teens. Steam cars could get water in the rural areas by drafting water from a stream. In cities the cars would get their water from horse troughs.  Due to the spread of these diseases, most of the cities removed the troughs, thus removing the source of water for steam cars.  Sounds logical.     John 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you look at any TOC (turn of century, 1900) bicycle, you'll notice plenty of nickel plating. Even the little lights they used, while made of brass, were plated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Regarding brass plated steel on early cars, the Model T Ford used some brass plated items on their early cars - some fasteners as well as the ends of the throttle and spark control levers.  l believe there were also early cars that used brass  plated steel control levers.  A local friend restored a 1908 Maxwell several years ago and the outside shift lever was brass plated steel. 

I have a few early accessory catalogs including two from Solar Lamp company, and lamps could be purchased in polished brass, nickle plate or black enamel.  They were all brass underneath. 

Terry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Packard headlights were chrome plated brass at least thru 1934.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now