SPOTLIGHTS ON CUSTOMS
Spotlights When where who? That has been a subject for many Custom Car Enthusiasts conversations. We know these mostly Appleton Spotlights were near mandatory in the 1940’s and early to mid 1950’s. But where did the use of them come from?
I do not really know the answer to the when, where and who, I wish I did, but at the time the first Spotlights appeared on Custom Cars, it was just something the customizer did. It was not seen as a special event, or something trend setting, nor did they guys back then realize that enthusiast many decades later would still talk about, or do research on. So it just happened, and was never really documented.
My good friend Ulf “Wolf” Christiansson is a die-hard traditional Custom Car guy. He loves the customs from the Golden Era from the 1940’s to the mid 1950’s. And to him no custom is complete without a set of Appleton Spotlights. He has been doing a lot of research about the use of Appleton spotlights, another friend Per Webb also has done a lot of work on researching the subject, and hopefully he will be doing a full magazine article on the history of the Appleton Spotlights in the near future. But for this article I would like to highlight just one small piece of the puzzle. An observation Ulf “Wolf” Christiansson pointed out to me. And perhaps this shows where the early Custom Car guys found their inspiration to start using the Spotlights on their Custom Cars.
An 1937 filed spotlight switch patent shows the already typical shape we are familiar with. But from the samples we show you here we know that the spotlights and handles shaped like these are dated back to at least 1930.
We all know the stories that the early Custom builders were inspired by the Coach-build high-end Packards, Cadillac’s, Duesenberg’s, and other exotic car brands. Styling ideas that were transferred to the low-end car brands like Fords and Chevy’s. Low windshield, tear drop shaped fenders and bodies, full hubcaps and a lower stance and smooth body’s with simple chrome elements. Many early custom ideas where most likely inspired by these one-off Classics. Wolf had noticed that these Classics from the early 1930’s sometimes also had accessory Spotlights mounted on the cowl, or windshield posts. Even the very popular roadsters had these spotlights mounted on the chrome windshield posts with special brackets. Most of these are mounted with the glass in either the forward or rear ward position, and not like we know from most customs, with the glass facing the hoods. But on a lot of early Custom Car photos from the very early 1940’s we can see this same forward or rear ward position of the Appleton Spotlights being used. It seams that towards the mid 1940’s to spotlights where repositioned with the glass facing down, adn the point of the bucket upwards.
An 1930 Duesenberg with a set of Spotlights mounted on the lower section of the windshield pillar. The glass is pointed to the front of the car.
It looks like the Spotlight trend was first set by the Classic cars of the 1930’s and that the Customizers copied this in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s. The aftermarket companies noticed the demand and made more models available for the Custom Car enthusiast as well as for every day use on regular cars.
Many Custom Cars from the early 1940’s used the spotlights. And the Spotlights were also a popular accessory part for the semi custom cars in those years that where perhaps a bit lowered but other than that only had dress up custom parts like Single bar filler hubcaps, different bumpers and a single or double spotlight.
One of the great promotors of the spotlights on custom cars was the Barris Kustom Shop. Most of their creations left the shop with a set of Appleton S-112’s or S-552’s mounted on the A-Pillars. When the early Hot Rod and Custom Car magazines showed these cars on the cover and inside in full features the demand for the Appleton Spotlights grew fast. Today a lot of people feel that an custom car styled after this period needs a set of Appleton spotlights to complete the look. Still the Spotlight is also a very controversial Custom Car accessory. Some people absolutely dislike them, and the question often asked is why spend a lot of time to clean up a body from all the handles and chrome trim and then add a huge teardrop shaped ornament on one of the most visual sections of a car, the A-Pillars. However if you look at photos taken in the 1940’s and 1950’s the majority of the Customs used them, and many would look naked without them. Fact is that the famous Appleton spotlights are a highly sought after and demanded part, that only increases in value.
This photo shows a typical semi Custom Car with basically only add ons for customizing. The photo taken in the early 1940’s from the collection of Bart Bartoli shows that the spotlight are mounted with the glass facing the rear.
So, here it is, another small piece of the Custom Car Spotlight puzzle. Hopefully one day we can add all the pieces together and get the full picture about the history of the Appleton, and other Spotlights used on Customs. When? Where? Who? and why?
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