Black Dial Gauges and Caring Too Much?

“I just repainted them cream and printed the art onto them” he said confidently as I cringed.  It was a frigid February day accentuated by the gloomy grayness of a mid-winter Binghamton, New York sky.  He was talking about a pair of black dial Bantam gauges as mist turned to slushy snow.

“Why did you do that?  You know how rare they are to find!” My frustration got the best of me.  I pulled off the road into a gas station.  Up to this point, I had only held one pair of black dialed gauges in my hands and had seen photos of only one speedometer and one triple gauge.  “Did you at least take photos of them like we talked about?”

“I forgot, I mean, they aren’t worth anything without the cream faces.  I’ll get some decent money for them redone,” he boasted.  “And I never really cared for the little cars anyway, so taking photos didn’t really matter to me.”

I was aghast.  Why was my young mind enraged?  That was simple, black dial Bantam gauges are few and far between.  I held one set in my hands in 2013, I have seen a photo of a triple gauge in a 1940 Riviera, I have seen a photo of a speedometer in a 1940 coupe, and I had heard of these gauges.  That makes a total of six gauges in nearly six years.  The set I held in my hand was in my first year of joining the Bantam hobby, so I couldn’t appreciate their significance and my memory of them had faded.  The photo I found illustrated black dialed gauges with white gauges inset into them.  Could that be right?

Painting over black gauges to recreate something more abundant for financial gain and irreverence for the Bantam hobby just seemed wrong.  Worse things have happened in this world, but this small annoyance was easily avoidable.

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Note that the font on this gauge is of a heavier style than cream and silver faced gauges.  Also note the boxed in nature of the scale on the oil pressure gauge versus the other two gauges.  The font on the oil pressure gauge is also different from the Amp gauge slightly, and there is an additional “MADE IN U.S.A.” in the center of the triple gauge.

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The only previous photo I have seen of a black dialed speedometer.

If you look at the most recent printing of the AABC Authenticity Manual it states:

“Bantam used BLACK instrument faces on a few EARLY production vehicles. On the face is the Bantam logo as well as “Made In USA”. Needles are white. Speedometer needles has a ball on the short end and is flat on the indicator end.  So far these instruments have only been noted on commercial vehicles” (AABC Authenticity Manual, at 103 Section 646 (2nd Printing 2016)).

While not the most useful description, this does establish that black dialed gauges did exist.  However, whether they had black gauges insert into them, whether the art was the same, or what color the needles were all remain mysteries.  In the modern library being compiled here, I am working on ironing out all of the details specific to each part you may come across including gauges.  It is a time consuming effort, but has resulted in a number of parts being rescued which may have otherwise hit the trash.

Yesterday, on eBay, a closed car dashboard panel with black dial gauges appeared for sale with a price of $2,000.

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Note the different font used on the Fuel gauge from the fuel gauge in the gauge in the photo published higher in this post and the similar AMP gauge.

The photos aren’t the best as it’s a bit difficult to see behind the fogged crystals, but they tell an interesting story.  The speedometer is remarkably similar to one of the 1935-1936 Hupmobile gauges, with only the scale and colors being different.

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The triple panel utilized similar lettering, with again the scale of the oil pressure gauge being different along with the colors.

Here are some enlarged views of the gauges on eBay:

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The rear of the gauges do not betray any major changes that would account for the non-matching AMP gauge, however a closer inspection may.  The combination of the flat glass lenses and 15 lb oil pressure gauge lend credence to them being early 1938 gauges.  However not too much else is known about these.

Will I pay $2,000 for these just to be able to analyze and replicate the art?  No.  The asking price is far more than what Bantam gauges usually bring and is nearly the cost that some rebuilders charge for restorations.  However, the price is the prerogative of the seller and a potential buyer.

Would I have loved to have seen any photos of that lost set of black dialed gauges?  You bet!  They could have provided valuable insight into exactly what these gauges were supposed to look like.

Perhaps my frustration with the gentleman who painted over history is misplaced, but I do care for the little cars.  I care for their spry ride, their sporty and elegant looks, their history, and their owners.  I want to make sure that every restorer has the ability to refinish their car as perfectly as they wish.  Is this good business sense?  Probably not, but after all that isn’t what this is about.  This business is about keeping the cars on the road, putting smiles on our faces, and making sure that the Bantam hobby continues to grow into the twenty-first century.

To see the gauges click here: American Bantam Black Dial Gauges

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