Sunday, February 17, 2013

1933 Car Gauges, The Shift To Modernarity

The 1930's were the height of the art deco influence on automotive gauges. The stunning sweep of the 1934 Pierce Arrow dash, the elegance of the 1933 Chrysler Lebaron six instrument engine-turned finish display, and the swooping shape of the 1933 Willys array were all standard-bearers for the parade of sophisticated design.

1934 Pierce Arrow
1933 Willys

1933 Chrysler Lebaron

But it was also a time of transition, out of the post-1920's grandeur in all things, into the more practical, yet still stylish designs of the mid-to-late Thirties. This is when the condensation of gauges visually became more and more common, either by proximity to each other or by consolidation into a single cluster.
And the leaders were the same companies who led the way into auto instrument sophistication - Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth. They combined the utilitarianism of the lowly truck dash, and put a beautiful veneer on it.
A prime example in contrast is the 1933 Diamond T Truck cluster by Stewart Warner. Again, as per usual for SW, the design of the Diamond T is bold, simple, yet striking. 

1933 Diamond T truck gauges

Chrysler took that practical thought a step or two further and applied it to the commercial possibility. What works for a truck will certainly work for the family sedan, but the mass consumer wants a little more flair for their dollar, and the 1934 Chrysler delivered.

1934 Chrysler

Note the soft hue of gold and the stylized graphics. They have the same function as the truck gauges, but with much more elegance.

Stewart Warner would also become famous for their "All In One" cluster, which included three or four ancillary gauges and either a tachometer or speedometer in the middle, like this Segrave cluster...

It was a style that was emulated just a handful of times in commercial cars. One was the 1936 Plymouth, a really gorgeous set that came in different color combos, including this regal black and grey...

1936 Plymouth

Also the 1939 Zephyr used this approach, and today is one of the hardest to get and most valuable sets from this era...

1939 Zephyr

And famously, the 1948 Tucker!
The Tucker set was a head-scratcher when I came across it. It's a Stewart Warner set, stamped as such, but I couldn't find a cross-reference to the numbers in all of my books (I have most from that era). It took a lot of posting in forums, asking guys who asked other guys, but eventually I just stumbled across the same dash in a picture of the interior of a Tucker automobile. 
Since they had only made fifty complete cars, I determined that this was part of their back-inventory, either as a replacement set for a broken one down the line, or perhaps it was sitting in the warehouse, waiting for the call to come, and when it didn't, it got parceled out at a liquidation auction and floated through the nebula of flea markets and swap meets until I pulled it from the morass. 
I did eventually sell it, knowing full-well that I'd probably never own another. But for awhile, I owned a piece of one of the most legendary and storied cars in our automotive history. And that was enough for me.

1948 Tucker


  1. Great story and photos Tony. The Seagrave and Tucker look like identical mechanicals and faceplate. Am I wrong here?

    Geoff Hacker
    Forgotten Fiberglass

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  3. Thanks Tony....The photos are fantastic here. Thanks for sharing....Geoff