Fender Skirts & Supper

We received the following from a longtime Garagistry supporter who appreciates the value of historical automotive accuracy and documentation as well as the simple pleasure of nostalgia. 

As he wrote, “I came across this yesterday, and it started me thinking of what other terms and references have quietly disappeared from our language with hardly a notice. Since I've been thinking of cars, my mind naturally went that direction first. I suppose many kids today will need to find someone over 50 to explain some items and confirm for them they are all real. Enjoy the memory trip, and think about where this finishes... " 

Best regards,
Mike S.

Fender skirts, known in Australia and the United Kingdom as "spats" are pieces of body work on the fender that cover the upper portions of the rear tires of an automobile.  First described as "pants", they were used for a streamlining effect by Frank Lockhart on a 1928 Stutz for a land speed record attempt

Fender skirts are primarily used for both esthetic and aerodynamic reasons.  Rather than have air flow into the rear wheel wheel and build up creating "drag", the skirts enables the air flow to pass smoothly over the bodywork.

Factory versions began in 1932 with Graham-Paige, and were often paired with whitewall tires. The extent of the fender skirt varied; prior to the 1950's it was common for all but the bottom of the rear tires to be covered.  By the '60's, skirts only covered some of the top of the tires, and were largely absent on all but the top of the line models.  By 1977, only the Pontiac Bonneville retained the use of fender skirts as GM downsized their vehicles and by 185, fender skirts would disappear from all standard GM cars. Cadillac did reintroduce fender skirts for the 1993 re-styled Fleetwood, but it would only last for three years.


Curb Feelers (aka: Curb Finders) are springs or wires installed on a vehicle which act as "whiskers" to warn drivers their tires are in close proximity to a curb or other obstruction. The devices are fitted low on the body, close to the wheel well. When the vehicle approaches a curb, the protruding "feelers" scrap against the curbing, making a noise and alerting the driver in time to avoid damaging the wheels, tires or hubcaps. In most instances, the feelers are installed on the passenger side of the vehicle, since that is most commonly nearest the curb when parking. Curb Feelers, so popular in the 1950's, are still used on Hot Rods when a genuine '50's look is wanted.

A Brodie Knob (aka: Steering Knob, Necker Knob, Granny Knob or Suicide Knob) is attached to the steering wheel of an automobile. The knob swivels, and is intended to make steering with one hand less difficult.  Sometimes called "Necker Knobs", we'll leave a detailed explanation to your imagination. 

The name is a reference to Steve Brodie, who claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 and survived. Hence the association with the term "suicide knob" to Steve Brodie. One disadvantage of the knob's use is that after letting go of the steering wheel after going around a curve/corner, the steering wheel spins rapidly as the wheel realigns itself, with the knob possibly striking the driver's forearm or elbow.

Known as a "Continental Kit",  was an option for many model of autos in the 1950's and '60's.  The kits had a dual purpose - one cosmetic, giving the vehicle a longer, larger appearance, the other was to provide a questionably easier access to the vehicle's spare tire. 
Essentially, it was to make any car appear as cool as a Lincoln Continental. The term has also been used to describe a non-functional bulge stamped into the trunk lid or a purely cosmetic accessory giving the appearance of a spare tire mount. The name comes from the recognition gained by the Lincoln Continental for their elegant inclusion of the spare tire into the vehicle's rear bodywork. While Lincoln was not the first to mount the spare tire above the rear bumper, it became a distinctive design for Lincoln.
There is a legend that Henry Ford II complained the trunk of his personal Thunderbird did not have room for a set of golf clubs without removing the spare tire. The external spare tire mount became a customizing aftermarket appearance accessory during the 1950's. Today, it has become an accessory that typifies "the spirit" of the 1950's.  
Properly referred today as the "parking brake" or "hand brake", was at one time called the "emergency brake" bringing with it a real sense of danger and drama to driving. However using it in an emergency, especially when the footbrake was still operational, was likely to totally upset the brake balance of the vehicle and vastly increased the likelihood of the loss of control by initiating a rear-wheel skid. Additionally, the stopping force provided by this brake was small and would not significantly assist in stopping the vehicle. The brake was originally intended for use in the event of mechanical failure, when the footbrake is inoperable or compromised.

Referring to the accelerator as the "Foot Feed" ties directly back to the time when the vehicle's fuel was controlled manually with a lever mounted on the steering column - and referred to as the "Hand Feed".

The vehicle's choke was typically mounted on the dashboard (where it remained long after the fuel supply control - aka: gas pedal - was moved to the floor). Adjusting the choke would give the engine the proper fuel and air mixture to run smoothly, but had no impact on the vehicle's relative speed.

Sometime in the late 1930's, when manufacturers moved the fuel control to the vehicle floor, it was originally called the "Foot Feed". Considered an awkward reference, it quickly became referred to as the Gas Pedal.

Joining the Gas Pedal on the floor of the vehicle were several other controls - the clutch, the brake, and eventually, the parking brake.  The arrangement and location for each was standard for all manufacturers.

But one control that moved from the floor to the steering column was the high-beam control.  At one time, floor mounted on the left hand side of the driver's floor, it was a mechanical control the was stepped (sometimes stomped) on when moving the headlights from low-beam to high-beam and back.

Also, for those old enough to remember, the original "keyless ignition" system was a floor mounted started switch, similar to the dimmer switch.

A Running Board is a narrow step fitted beneath the side doors of a vehicle, but where the name actually comes from is not certain. However, as such accessoires were also included on carriages as early as the 17th Century, giving credit to an inventor or a specific reference for use is best left undefined. But in all honesty, we have seen more photos of vehicles with running boards being used as "sittin' boards". Perhaps we should refer to the boards more appropriately as "sittin' or standin" boards...

Georgia Tech's "Ramblin' Wreck" & Riders
Used by ladies entering a vehicle with a respectable amount of modesty or decorum, the running boards took on a functional role over time as well.  As early cars had high ground clearance, so the running board aides all getting in and out of the car. It was also used as a fashion statement, more of a finishing touch on models that did not necessarily have a specific need. Certainly not the safest use, running boards also enable those who wish to stand on the vehicle while it is moving. It is very common to see "passengers" hanging on to the vehicle in a parade or similar activity providing them full visibility to by-standers.

As Mike asked, "Ever remember waiting on the street for your Dad to come home so you could ride on the "running board" to the house?"  "Yes", Mike, "I do.... and if I recall it was a late 1940 Black Packard Coupe" 

"I thought some of you “old guys” of a "certain age" would remember most of these. Let’s try to keep words that meant things alive as well as the history and experiences we all share with cars of our youth.  Someday, let’s talk about the times we played with model cars and trucks. Could that have been the start of our love affair with today’s great classics? I think so." As Mike continued, "Some words aren't gone, but are definitely on the endangered list. The one that grieves me most is "supper". Now everybody says "dinner". Let’s save a great word; invite someone to supper and discuss fender skirts."


So, do you know of additional terms and references we should include? If so, drop us an email and let us know.
Happy memories ~