|A publication of the|
Central Oklahoma Classic Chevy Club.
A not-for-profit corporation.
A chapter of Bow Tie Chevys
and Classic Chevy International.
Blue dots and fuzzy dice;|
This article was taken from Fifties Flashback. Thanks to Keith Marang for supplying it.
By Albert Drake
A few months ago my column focused on three things that rodders today attribute to 'Fifties trends but which I can't remember being associated with cars of that time period: blue-dot taillights, fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror and exhaust pipes that would shoot flames at the driver's command. That column generated a lot of mail. While no one accused me of being senile, I am aware that my memory is imperfect. I'm less concerned with being right, more concerned with confirming or denying a trend. I think it's important to set the record straight while people from the 'Fifties are still around to bear witness to what really happened.
I was curious how wide spread these trends were, if they could be considered trends. I suggested that they could've existed in certain areas of the country and were perhaps peculiar to certain kinds of cars. The letters that came in confirmed some of my suspicions.
I said that I could not find any cars in magazines that used blue-dot taillights. Jon Rivers sent in a Xeroxed page of a car featured in Hot Rod Magazine, October, 1958, which had blue dots. This may well be the only magazine car with blue dots, and I should've remembered it because my old roadster was featured in the same issue. It's a strange car: a fenderless 1936 Ford roadster, channeled, dipped doors, etc. But it's true, that the '49 Chev taillights did have blue dots. That car was from Baltimore, Maryland, and ace metalman Donn Lowe, who grew up in Connecticut, said blue dots "were found on cars throughout the northeast. Illegal-but everybody had them. They were on every mild custom, mostly shoeboxes, 1949-51 Fords, Mercs and Chevs. This was in the late 'Fifties."
Chuck Klein recalled "we saw a lot of them (blue dots) in the Cincinnati area but serious rodders shunned them. Usually they were found on cars bearing Kentucky license plates that also sported mud flaps, reflectors and necker knobs." A faxed letter from Keeper of the Faith shows the writer still remembers vividly the pair of blue dots he saw one night in Beaumont, Texas in 1962. (Which suggests they were not common.) Stan Ochs and Wally Graham grew up in small Idaho towns in the late 'Fifties, and each remembered one car in their respective towns with blue dots; they were 1937 and 1938 Fords. Stan later bought the '37 and realized that a daub of black paint had been put on the backside of the blue dots; this didn't save him from getting a ticket when he got stopped for having them.
Nertz recalled that blue dots were used in Canada. He put them in a custom 1948 Ford tudor that he built in 1954. He wrote, "A number of mild customs in this area had blue dots but not all that many. About '59 or '60 John Law (began) handing out citations to anyone having blue dots so they pretty much disappeared until recent times."
James Brooks and Bob Gregor both grew up in So-Cal in the early 'Fifties and both remember a few cars with blue dots; they said the police cracked down on cars with them. Bob Gregor added an interesting note: "At that time the police motorcycles had a blue dot taillight so they didn't want civilians to copy them for safety reasons (so they said). "
Bill Aitchison lived in Saginaw, Michigan, between 1942 and 1955, and remembers a number of cars with blue dots. "They played a memorable part in the only chargeable accident I ever had. it was a warm evening in July, 1953 and I came across the Genesee Bridge with the sun at my back. I was about the third car in the stream of traffic... (when) the leftfront brake hose on my 1941 Ford decided to let go and I whacked the car in front of me, a '50 Ford with blue dots... Even back then there was a public question about the legality and safety of those lenses and I tried to make that part of my defense... The judge listened, thought for a minute or two and said, 'No, this one's yours.' "
Fuzzy dice = "ticket bait"
Many people remembered fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. Bill Aitchison thought the custom came about because dice were often painted on circletrack race cars. Nertz suggested they were primarily found on "gook wagons" but others felt the dice were found in a broad range of cars. Donn Lowe said that they were "absolutely used, the standard thing for anyone into cars in the northeast in the late-'Fifties -duals, skirts and fuzzy dice. There were two kinds, regular and the real fuzzy kind."
James Brooks and Bob Gregor gave this trend a fascinating twist. They said in So-Cal in the 'Fifties the dice were made by the guy's girlfriend. Bob said, "The stores sold the Styrofoam cubes and the girls knitted the covers in colors to match or contrast the color of the car. One had to be pretty serious with a girl before she would make you a pair of dice." James added, "The dice were usually handknitted, with dots from angora wool. They were knitted by girlfriends, wives or someone would sell them to an individual. The really nice pairs were never made commercially. The dice went along with a pair of hand-knitted angora-wool diamond-pattern argyle socks. If the lucky guy was really cool the dice and socks would be made by different girls." James remembers that the dice were in all kinds of cars, and that they were "ticket bait" because the cops claimed the dice obstructed the driver's view.
People were vague on flamers; it took on the qualities of an "urban myth," with the writer remembering that someone else had seen a car shooting flames. I think only one person mentioned a specific car. Steve McNicholas was waiting for a bus on East Broadway in Portland, Oregon, in the early 'Fifties when flames shot from the dual exhausts on the 140 Ford sedan that was waiting for the stop light. Bill Aitkinson recalled "sitting in Raymond's Drive-In in Saginaw on at least two occasions when cars that I didn't recognize ... cut loose with a blast of flame." Nertz remembers "a number of cars that had them installed" in his area of Canada. Chuck Klein remembers "guys talking about it but I never saw one ... Guys that used the stuff were called shot rodders. "
Well, I'm glad we got all that cleared up. I enjoyed reading the letters, and I learned some interesting things. But to show we haven't solved all the world's problems, Nertz raised the lid on a couple scary subjects: "And threecap lake pipes! I don't ever remember seeing a pair of 'em on a custom car (back then). And sun visors!! "