Willys-Knight sleeve valve engine

Jim O’Clair on at 4:00 pm

We spotted an interesting item that was recently sold on an online auction site, a Willys-Knight Moving Piston Sleeve Cutaway Demonstrator model. The model has a knob on the back of the unit for rotating the cylinder, so that the operator can see the motion of the mobile cylinder sleeve “valves” as they travel up and down in the cylinder bore. Invented by Charles Knight in 1905, this design was said to reduce engine friction by moving an intake and exhaust sleeve during the power and compression strokes to open and close the intake and exhaust ports, instead of using a more traditional overhead or side-valve system.

Ray Bohacz wrote a story about this odd engine configuration in the December 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car entitled Silent Knight.

The sleeve valve design was not used exclusively by Willys-Knight, but was licensed to many other engine manufacturers including Mercedes, Panhard, Daimler and Minerva of Belgium. Willys produced both four and six-cylinder sleeve valve engines that were used in its vehicles as well as in Federal trucks during the twenties and thirties. Several engines of the era were labeled with the “-Knight” nomenclature, including Daimler-Knight and Moline-Knight because of the licensing agreements. This demonstrator is an interesting piece of automotive history, and it sold for $530.00.



Art and Automotive Restoration

Daniel Strohl for Hemmings Classic Car

San Francisco art school becomes the latest to offer degree in automotive restoration.

While an art school in downtown San Francisco might not seem the likeliest of places to conduct an automotive restoration program, officials at the Academy of Art University believe it’s a natural extension of the university’s existing offerings and have put together what they describe as a more up-to-date curriculum than other such programs.

“We want to do the same thing that we did with clay modeling,” said Tom Matano, the executive director of the university’s industrial design school, which houses the automotive restoration program. “Many people said that was an outdated process, and so there were no young clay modelers being instructed in clay modeling. We started teaching it, and now three or four of our students are hired on at GM every year. Much like clay modeling, auto restoration is an old-world skill that’s seen as dying, but we want to keep it going.”

To do so, Matano and other university officials, including former university president Richard Stephens, worked over the last three years to devise a two-year associate’s degree program that encompasses everything from machining and woodworking to body, paint, and upholstery. Beyond the hard skills, the program also includes classes on automotive design history, vintage car documentation, and even photography and automotive journalism. Nearly two dozen classes in all make up the program.

“Our program will not only focus on technology, but it will also provide instruction for building unique skillsets, historical knowledge, and research skills required for replicating historically authentic classic cars,” AAU President Elisa Stephens wrote. “Most programs lack the historical restoration and preservation elements necessary to restore vintage vehicles.”

Matano, whose resume includes design work for General Motors, BMW and Mazda as well as the design of the original Miata, said he has leaned on the expertise of a select few in the field of automotive restoration to select instructors and flesh out the program, noting that it hasn’t been too hard to find qualified professionals in the San Francisco Bay area. “Ed Gilbertson from the Pebble Beach Concours has come in as guest lecturer, and we’ve found that a lot of concours judges want to teach—they want a place to dump their knowledge,” Matano said.


Nor has the university had to build most of the program from scratch. It already has facilities for woodworking and metalworking, and Matano said that some classes just needed some tweaking to fit into the automotive restoration program. In addition, the university’s car collection—which includes a Tucker 48, a Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow and a number of coachbuilt European and American cars—will play a role in instruction, Matano said.

Fourteen students have already enrolled in the program, which started in September, and Matano said he hopes to eventually expand that number and set up optional apprenticeships for students in the second year of the program.

For more information on the program, visit AcademyArt.edu.


IMG_20130408_111425 IMG_20130408_111506“Irene” is another addition to the family this spring.   Purchased new in 1976 by a regular customer at the shop, this Chrysler Newport Custom Coupe has racked up only 39k miles since new and has had only the best of care, including being housed in a heated garage.  The owner was, let me say, a bit eccentric and quite fussy. She and her husband farmed, and never had any children, so everything they owned was gently used and cared for.  After her passing, all of her household goods and vehicles were put up for auction.  I had no intention of purchasing this, but Rich kept after me to go to the auction “just to see what it brings”.  Of course one thing leads to another, and I became the second owner.  Along with the car came the buyers order from the dealer in Sterling.  They ordered the car in January of 1976 and took delivery the following March.  An interesting sidebar to the story is that they traded in a 1960 Oldsmobile 98 hardtop with only 45k miles.  I remember that car well, as my grandmother lived across the street from them and I still have this picture in my memory of that car sitting in their driveway.  It was a copper color that was popular at that time.  Wish I would have been old and wise enough to not let that one get away!

I have serviced the Chrysler since it was new, and was always intrigued by the unusual color.  Officially, it’s called Saddle Tan, but I always referred to it as “pumpkin”.  Others thought it was “apricot”.  Whichever, it’s definitely unusual….   The padded vinyl roof is Chestnut in color, and the interior is Parchment.   It has all of the obligatory power options, tilt/telescope steering column and an 8 track tape player.  It is in showroom condition and rides and drives as it did when new.

1923 Model TT Ford

ford TT (6)This truck has been a guest at the shop this past winter, and got tended to as my regular work schedule permitted..   It’s a 1923 Model TT Ford closed cab truck.  Passenger vehicles were designated as a T, but trucks were identified as the TT’s.  Powertrains were the same in all of them-  L-head 4 cylinders that produced about 20 horsepower coupled to an innovative planetary 2 speed transmission.  A heavy duty worm drive differential in the TT models along with heavy duty rear springs, axles, larger rear wheels and tires made it capable of heavy loads.  I was told that it hadn’t run in 40 years or so.  The tires had dry rotted, and mice had been living in it.  The good news was that it had been inside all of those years.   Most of the fabric insulation on the wiring was gone due to mice and the ravages of time, so all of the wiring was replaced, and rebuilt ignition coils were installed.  With a new battery and fresh gas in the tank, the old TT came to life. It even ran on the magneto after starting!

The earliest Model T’s had no generator or electric starter.  They used a “hotshot” battery that had to be recharged periodically, and cranked by hand.  Later production added a generator to recharge the battery.  Eventually an electric starter was optional and became standard equipment by the end of production.   This truck has a generator, but no electric starter, so it has to be cranked by hand.  The ignition switch is turned to the left, which allows the battery to energize the coils so it will start at the low rpm cranking speeds.  After it starts the switch is turned to the right- past the off position- to connect the magneto (which is built into the flywheel) to power the coils.  Spark advance and throttle are controlled by levers on the steering column, and fuel mixture is controlled by a turning a rod on the passenger side of the dash that’s connected to the carburetor.  Driving an old Ford required lots of driver input and active participation!  Then there was the matter of getting it to move.  A lever coming up through the floor between your left leg and the door was the parking brake/neutral/high gear control.  Three foot pedals were L-R:   low gear, reverse, and brake.  It seems a little daunting at first, but with a little instruction and practice, it becomes second nature.

Other than vacuuming and cleaning the glass, I tried to leave as much “patina” on it as possible.  (funny how we used to call it dirt not too long ago).   The old truck wears it well, and with all of its’ warts and battle scars, it looks just right with it.

ford TT (7)ford TT (12) 23tt (2) ford TT (10) ford TT (9) ford TT (3)

1930 Model A Ford

model a (3)It’s been a busy late winter and spring here at the shop.  During that time I’ve added a couple of vehicles to the ever-growing fleet.   This one is a 1930 Ford Model A Deluxe Coupe.   I’d been looking for a Model A for some time, and heard about this one through a friend of a friend.  It had been restored sometime during the 1970s by the father of the seller.  She inherited it, but was unable to drive it, so it sat in her garage for the last 10 years.  After hauling it home I performed a complete service and tune on it.  Nothing sounds as wonderful as an old 4 banger Ford idling.  Thunka, Thunka, Thunka!

After the Model T’s were discontinued in 1927, the American public anxiously awaited the unveiling of the “New Ford” during the period that the factories were tooling up for Model A production.  Model A Fords were manufactured from 1928 through 1931.  Although all Model A’s were virtually identical mechanically, the styling was updated beginning with the 1930 model year.  It differed from the 1928-29 cars with the most recognizable features being the radiator, which became more upright and rectangular and the wheel size being changed from 21″ to 19″.  It was thought that the 1930-31 cars looked more modern.

I especially like this particular car because it has the stock trunk instead of a rumble seat.  Hopefully this summer we’ll manage to take a few weekend trips in this great old car!

model a (2)model a (1)



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“Pinky” found its’ way to us through an acquaintance that I made during my employment at  Denver Motor Vehicle.  Knowing that I was interested in vintage cars, Michelle came to me one day to ask if I knew of anyone … Continue reading

On exhibit: Gilmore explores Dust Bowl, Depression and Drives Explored

Living in an area of the Great Plains that was part of the Dust Bowl, stories about that era have always fascinated me.  Listening to my parents accounts of growing up on the farm/ranch  during those times still amazes me how tough and determined people were to survive against all odds.  I think that John Steinbeck portrayed their lives and desperation very accurately in his novel “The Grapes of Wrath”.  The Gilmore museum has been on my “must do” list, and now with this exhibit, a road trip there is even more of a priority.

Old Cars Weekly, December 17, 2012

HICKORY CORNERS, Mich. – The images from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s are haunting – long lines at soup kitchens, farms buried by dirt and gaunt faces peering out from dilapidated autos piled high with their only possessions.

But that is only part of the story.

While desperate families were migrating west in hopes of finding work and leaving the Depression and Dust Bowl behind, automotive designers were still creating luxury cars for the ultra-wealthy.

The Gilmore Car Museum, near Kalamazoo, Mich., takes you beyond filmmaker Ken Burns’ recent PBS documentary, The Dust Bowl, with a new and revealing exhibit of the autos from the era.

An extraordinary Duesenberg custom-built for Hollywood’s elite is displayed right next to an ancient Ford Model T covered with a family’s only belongings.

“Historically, it’s important that we show these automobiles in a setting that reflects the social and economic context of the time period,” says Michael Spezia, executive director of the museum.

“These cars are more than just a ‘pretty face,’” he added. “Our new exhibit juxtaposed the cars of the Dust Bowl with some of America’s most extraordinary automobiles built during the Depression.”

The Duesenberg, one of 11 luxury cars in the exhibit, was introduced at the New York Auto Salon in 1929 and set a new standard for design and power. Its price tag of nearly $20,000 was the equivalent of two typical middle-class homes and two-dozen Model A Fords.

In stunning contrast, the nearby 1927 Model T Ford cost $485 new. As an example of what numerous Americans experienced, it is well-worn and covered with sand. Bedding and furniture as well as pots and pans are tied to the fenders and running boards – all that the family could carry on their westward migration. It is displayed with a backdrop of the enormous dust cloud, which locals called the “Black Blizzard,” enveloping the entire community of Rollo, Kan., in November 1935.

Several over-sized, iconic images from the time period – many taken by the Farm Security Administration in an effort to draw attention to the devastation of America’s farms and those who worked the land – are hung throughout the display.

One photo shows a father and son, barefoot and carrying a bedroll, walking past a billboard that exclaims, “Next time, try the train.”

The decade’s apparent contradiction is also found in another image which is of a dapper looking fellow, complete with pinstriped suit and spats, posing next to his very expensive 1930 front-wheel drive L-29 Cord.

When the luxury models in this exhibit – from Rolls-Royce, Packard, Auburn, Lincoln, Cord, Cadillac and, of course Duesenberg – were introduced, unemployment was only at 3%. These cars, however, were still being built when unemployment reached a peak of over 25%.

The decade of the 1930s is remembered for the poverty of the Great Depression, the Dust storms that decimated the farms of the Midwest and the greatest American migration of the 20th Century that resulted.

Ironically, it was during this time that the auto industry built some of the most magnificent, sophisticated and expensive cars in history.

Much of the migration west was made possible by the automobiles of the 1920s and earlier, particularly the ubiquitous Model T Ford, which was rugged and reliable though inexpensive. These were the vehicles of choice for many “drought refugees” and became not only their means of travel but often their only place of shelter.

The hardships felt during this time didn’t discriminate. Many of the automakers, including Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg, were unable to weather the decade-long Depression. Some of the once affluent sold their luxury cars for pennies on the dollar. Many hard working families lost everything and searched for work wherever they could find it.  Throughout it all, the human spirit survived and the nation would go on to prosper in the decades to follow.

The Gilmore Car Museum is now open year-round and features many all-new exhibits including the 1953 General Motors Futurliner, American Muscle Cars and the return of the fabulous Hostetler Hudson Collection.  Visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org for a glimpse of the museum’s collection and to plan your visit.

1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88


This gallery contains 8 photos.

1950 was the second year of Oldsmobile’s famed overhead valve V8 engine displacing 303 cubic inches producing 135 horsepower – up from 115 hp from the previous year’s straight 8 engine.   All the other manufacturers were having to work overtime to come … Continue reading

Colonial Cars – http://www.historicvehicle.org An American Rolls

RollsRoyce2007 008

Here’s the back story on the Springfield Rolls —

When famed British luxury car maker Rolls-Royce was looking for the best American city in which to set up an assembly plant, one East Coast town seemed to offer everything. In 1921, Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of the oldest and most cutting-edge manufacturing cities on the North American continent. Springfield was also strategically located near New York and Boston, both popular shipping ports and two of America’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Initially, parts for every Rolls-Royce made in Springfield were assembled with parts imported from England. Cars were the same as those built at its British plant, down to the right-hand drive, until eventually the company began using American parts and designs, including a three-speed transmission.

Some 1,703 Silver Ghosts and 1,241 Phantoms were assembled by the 1,200 workers employed at the Springfield Rolls-Royce plant. The cars sold for roughly $12,000 in an era when a top-of-the-line Packard cost less than $4,000. The high cost spelled the end of the factory in 1931 when the Great Depression essentially eliminated the luxury limo market in America.