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Varnished Wooden Wheels


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Gee- I hope not.  Many early cars with artillery wood spoke wheels had spokes that were varnished when they left the factory.  I suppose if you had the situation where the cars all had painted spokes and you trotted out a car with varnished spokes that would merit a de-merit?

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It really depends on the car and the year.  For example, Model T Ford wheels were painted, however beginning in 1925, 21" varnished spoke wheels were offered as a choice.  If a judge had questions about varnished spoke wheels, they should ask the owner for documentation.

Terry

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Terry  B is right on the model T Fords. And me personally, I love the look of black painted wheels! Or blue, green or red IF the car is early enough to have had that originally.

Oh so many people love their "natural" varnished wheels on their model Ts. Whatever. However, as a person that is really passionate about the history of our cars, I have been studying it since I was in middle school (quite a few years ago!).

About fifty years ago, this was a popular discussion at model T club meetings. This discussion went off and on for a couple years. A couple of club members that were into local history as well as model Ts had been going through stacks of newspapers from the T era. They found a few local advertisements from the local Ford dealers offering varnished wheels on new or your own model T Ford for just a few dollars! They made comments about "dressing up your Ford", or being more "up to date" or "sporty". Those years ago also often had short articles and letters in the national club magazines giving the reminiscences of people that had been there back in the days. (I really miss reading those things, and meeting those people that were still around then!) One of those reminiscences spoke of making good money as a kid, working for the local Ford dealer, and using broken bottle glass to scrape off the black paint from wheel spokes. They would then use emery cloth to sand the remaining paint, and smooth the wood a bit before the older kids would brush the stain and varnish onto the spokes.

I would imagine that other dealerships besides Ford did likewise. So even if varnished spokes were not offered by the factory? There is historic precedent for them being "era correct". Whether I like it or not.

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I know that there were some companies that did offer natural finished wood spoke wheels throughout the early decades of the automobile. I don't offhand recall any specifics, but have over the years run into a few mentions in original sales literature. I also know and have seen advertisements for after-market demountable wheels  (Firestone for certain!) as early as 1915 for Ford's model T.

Often, in original era photographs, the wheels can be so dirty from the mud roads that what finish they had can be really tough to figure. I have seen a few, not many era photos from the early 1900s up until about 1925 that appear to show natural finished wood spoke wheels. That said, there are a lot of cars in that era that look very good with the wheels in natural finish. After about 1927, natural finished wheels became a bit more popular as an option. Ironically as the wooden wheels themselves were being replaced more and more by disc and wire options.

 

5 hours ago, nickelroadster said:

Early Oldsmobiles all had varnished spokes as the company wanted to show that they only used the best second growth hickory.

 

I don't recall ever seeing an original era photo of a Curved Dash Oldsmobile with natural finished wooden wheels? I have seen a couple of them "restored" that way.

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11 hours ago, nickelroadster said:

Early Oldsmobiles all had varnished spokes as the company wanted to show that they only used the best second growth hickory.

Im more of a woodworker than a car guy having been in or exposed to it my entire life, I think the only thing a 'clear' coat of varnish would show is that the wood is free of knots and has a straight grain (although the grain will show through paint as well, and perhaps a knot if not properly prepared) I dont see how it would let the average guy know if it was first, second or third growth!  This sounds like revisionist history to me.

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1 hour ago, TAKerry said:

Im more of a woodworker than a car guy having been in or exposed to it my entire life, I think the only thing a 'clear' coat of varnish would show is that the wood is free of knots and has a straight grain (although the grain will show through paint as well, and perhaps a knot if not properly prepared) I dont see how it would let the average guy know if it was first, second or third growth!  This sounds like revisionist history to me.

It was not uncommon to see "second growth" specified for automotive wood use. Sometimes even the specifying of  "quarter sawn" for certain structural wood to reduce chances of warping. 

 

Example;

The Franklin factory drawing for their 19 inch wooden demountable wheels used from '29 to '32 and made by "Motor Wheel Corp. Lansing Mich" specified second growth hickory. 

 

And the same drawings specify to use  "Murphy Heavy Transparent Primer" for natural finish spokes.  

 

Motor Wheel Corp. wooden spoke wheels were used by other high-end auto manufacturers, also 

 

Paul

Edited by PFitz (see edit history)
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All the illustrations that I have seen for Series 6-29A and Series 6-30B  (early and late 1930) Pontiacs' show the "Custom Sedan" with varnished wheels.  All the other models with artillery wheels were painted.

The first and last time my car was judged (1963) points were taken off because of the varnished wheels.  At that time I did not have documentation to prove otherwise.  Same year and same event a car won for having the best "laquer" job when in fact  it was plain old fashioned enamel that I knew for a fact because the painting was done in our body shop.  I have never put my car in for judging again although I have won more than a few "Peoples Choice awards" when it was displayed.

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2 hours ago, TAKerry said:

Pfitz, understand completely, and yes the cut of the wood makes a difference. But, it is impossible to look at a piece and be able to tell when or where it was grown. The application of a clear would make no difference.

Tight, straight grain, with no knots is usually a good indication of slow-grown second growth, verses wider growth rings and wavier grain for first growth of the same species of wood. 

 

I doubt a company like Motor Wheel Corp. was passing off first growth hickory on Franklin, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and other industry top auto engineers that specified second growth woods. They tended to be very good at testing the products that they were supplied would meet specification.

 

Paul     

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Looks too damn attractive to want to drive on the road. I would be stopping every 4th mile to get out with a cloth and some Pledge and clean the spokes. Are the whitewalls aftermarket "covers" that attach to the tire and cover the face of the tire or are they part of the tire? Those whitewalls look so darn good that I would think they were "photo shopped". 

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4 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

Looks like a Lester wide white walls! Fantastic looking wheel!

Good eye, it is a Lester. 32’ Olds also had a WW option and most of their 32’ advertisements show the cars with them. There is 14 coats of Pettit spar varnish on the wheels also. A ton of work but definitely worth it as the wheels are a focal point of the car.

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On 9/24/2020 at 2:07 PM, Billy Kingsley said:

It sounds like basically it was a marketing ploy. Most people who are not woodwork enthusiasts would never know the difference. 

Marketing wise, I think they had to say something positive about the choice of base model equipment.  A lot of people chose wooden wheels as they were familiar with them over time (aka wagon wheels and carriage wheesl).   I am usually NOT a fan of wooden wheels, but can live with the demountable type (which was often a few dollars more an option over the undemountable type hubs) and tend to be more 1929 to 1932-ish.  I spent a lot of time on the 1929 Auburn 8-90 getting its wheels right and if I would have to do it over again, I would be hunting for a parts chassis and it would have wire.  That said though - whether varnished or painted, wood wheel can look very attractive when well done.

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By the early 1930s the varnished wheel was falling out of favor, the styling of the cars started to have a lower stance appearance wise as fenders saw a wider look to the edge in profile, windshields started to be raked back ( shells up front of the hood were v shaped) , headlamps got a elongated design/look etc. The painted wheel did not draw ones eye to the sphere shape of the wheel/tire - that could look like a roulette wheel and distract from the more flowing the lines of the car. 1929 and earlier still saw a more vertical design to the bodies, the thinner fender line still copied what was on carriages only a little over a decade earlier.

Personally , the shorter spoke wood wheel that was painted and pin striped can be absolutely beautiful. They do not conflict with the styling of the fenders and coachwork. A perfect example of this is the 1931 series 153 maroon sedan that my friend John has placed here for us to view.

People in that era were very conservative in taste ( especially Franklin owners)  , did not put bright colors on cars 90% of the time, even contrasting shades - most of that was seen on cars that the factory or custom body builders wanted to have to display at automobile shows or the annual custom body salons.

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I think the move away from wood and varnish was just as much driven by the depression and economy. They cost more to produce all around as simply applying paint over an entire assembly is just much more cost effective. Then by 35-36, the move completely away from wood pretty much sealed the deal. The depression cost us most the chrome too and many cars became more utilitarian.

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8 hours ago, chistech said:

Good eye, it is a Lester. 32’ Olds also had a WW option and most of their 32’ advertisements show the cars with them. There is 14 coats of Pettit spar varnish on the wheels also. A ton of work but definitely worth it as the wheels are a focal point of the car.

82A037A7-E4BA-4B45-BB81-08CB6C48CFC4.jpeg

0FAF12A9-E622-4F19-8645-ABCA057EBCEA.jpeg

 

 

Also a fantastic looking car! I think the choice of the wide whites on this car was the right choice. I tend to prefer black tires on many cars of that era.

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14 hours ago, BucketofBolts said:

I wonder what percent of these vehicles were driven with wood spoke wheels as opposed to the alternatives? The image of the vehicle makes it look like a 100 point car. 

In 32’, there were 249 wood wheeled DCRs like mine made. There was 333 made with wire wheels. So while the wire was more popular, the wood wheeled cars were still bought and driven in significant numbers comparably.

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