Bygone Treasures - Our Old LaSalle Ran Great!

By Michael Rice

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Remember the old TV show where Archie and Edith Bunker sang "Those Were The Days"? It's not likely you drove a LaSalle in your wild days of youth, but you may have owned a Studebaker Hawk, a Nash Metropolitan or something coloured turquoise and white with fins the size of surfboards.

With thoughts turning to the open road and summer driving, when was the last time you had a good look around the garage at some of the car-related items you've stored away?

Folks' love of the automobile goes back, well, as long as we've had automobiles, and along with the cars come bits and pieces of what collectors term automobilia. Still got a few outdated licence plates? We used to nail our old ones up on a beam, and I still have my Dad's plates going back to the 1950s.  These, as well as motorcycle plates, and even bicycle plates are very collectable (if you recall having to license your bicycle, you get an extra dessert tonight!).

Your old cars may be memories, but you could still have a wing mirror, a hood ornament or one of those knobs you stuck on your steering wheel because you were 17 and immortal and needed a hand free to hold a pop bottle. Somewhere in a tool drawer, you might also have a radiator nameplate, a showroom brochure, an owner's book or a maintenance manual. Collectors in the process of restoring old cars are enthusiastic buyers of all these items.

As kids, we found it fun to hang around in gas stations. You could sit in a rusted truck out back and pretend you could drive, or check out the rows of oilcans or peek at the tire company calendars hanging in the service bays. Out front, there were oil company enamelled signs and gas pumps with fancy globes on the top. A Texaco gas pump globe or a Shell Motor Oil porcelain-faced sign could each bring you $400 on the current market.

Then there was all the advertising stuff they gave away: pens, key fobs, medallions, cigarette lighters and even miniature cars were popular promotional items. We'd haunt local dealers' showrooms when the new models came in, and say loudly "My Dad's thinking about getting a new Lark," at which point, hopefully, a salesman would rush over and fill our schoolbags with freebies. Along with the giveaways came colourful showroom brochures for the "New Futuramic Oldsmobiles" and a favourite of mine that read, "The Edsel Look is here to stay." That one didn't work out too well. Dad was always thinking about new cars and finally bought a new 1965 Valiant, which he drove for 32 years. It's still around town and worth quite a bit more than he paid for it.

My own first car was a 1960 Ford Falcon, which could reach 60 mph [97 kph] going downhill with a tailwind, provided I stood up with both feet on the gas pedal. It's still around town in the form of diet soda cans. 

Related auto collectibles include metal drivers' licences and chauffeurs' badges. There was none of your micro-encoded photo ID nonsense back then. In the 1920s, the City of Victoria charged you a half dollar and you got a brass disc that said "driver's licence" and had a number stamped on it and a pin on the back. I was very happy to find one of these and several chauffeurs' badges (issued to taxi drivers) on a recent housecall.

Priced a hubcap lately? Many people call anything a hubcap that sticks over a tire, though most are really wheel covers. Early caps were like large metal mugs that screwed over the lug nuts. An old Packard screw-on cap is worth more than $20, while one off a Pierce-Arrow tops $75. 

Car buffs who can't afford the hardware, or whose spouses fail to appreciate the need to fill the garage with wrenches stamped "Ford" and mysterious chunks of rusting metal awaiting "restoration," console themselves with collecting magazine ads for old cars. All the big picture magazines - *Life*, *Look* and the *Saturday Evening Post* - featured wonderful full-page ads for every make and model imaginable. While I don't recommend breaking up a magazine, sometimes a handful of ads are worth more than an intact issue.

If you have old car-related items around gathering dust, you can find a list of car clubs in the "driving" section of your Friday newspaper. Some of their members might be happy to talk with you. Meantime, go hang that pair of fuzzy dice back on your rearview mirror - and drive safely.

Comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome and can be sent to Michael Rice, Box 86, Saanichton, B.C., or via e-mail to


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