Hubcaps and Moonies

Posted By admin on November 24, 2009

I was taking a walk last month and noticed in a ditch alongside the road several hubcaps looking lonely and forlorn. It reminded me of a car experience I had many years ago with a Pontiac I owned. As fate and a big bump in the road had their way with my car I lost a hubcap and thus began the process of finding a replacement. This was prior to web buying. My pocketbook could not handle a brand new one from a dealership so I began the quest of finding one by classic networking. I was told there was a place in Pontiac, which is a really rather famous underground place, for those in need of a used hubcap. So I found the Hub Cap Place in Pontiac, MI. It was not called that at the time. The name probably just came naturally created by word of mouth. At the time the place was a grass lot filled with piles of every hubcap imaginable. There was some kind of building too which looked like it had been condemned. This was not shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue. I pulled in and two men looked at my car (even before I got out) and went to an area where many hubcaps that matched my others were piled up. They brought me several to choose ranging from almost perfect to dented and worn. I didn’t even have to get out of the car. They affixed my new one, I paid them about $7 (remember this was years ago) and away I went. They knew their business.

This started me thinking about how hubcaps came to be part of the DNA of a car, and also what were the most famous hubcaps.

1967 AMC Marlin wire wheel cover with spinner

1967 AMC Marlin wire wheel cover with spinner

Early hubcaps at the beginning of the auto industry were small merely covering the greased wheel bearing. Not fancy just practical. I figure the main focus was on making a car which would run, the artistic compliment would come later. Most hubcaps were once made of chrome plated steel or stainless steel. When pressed steel wheels became common by 1940 they were often painted the same color as the car body creating a monochromatic effect. Many of these early hubcaps in chrome plate had decorative non functional spokes. Hubcaps were immortalized in the art deco styling of the spire of the Chrysler Building in NYC. The spires were designed to recreate the look of spokes of a wheel. The power of the auto industry was showing.

1950 Cadillac featured “The Sombrero” wheel covers a coveted and famous hubcap

1950 Cadillac featured “The Sombrero” wheel covers a coveted and famous hubcap

During the age of custom cars, 1950 – beginning 1960’s, enhancing a car with wheel covers from another brand was common. Two very desirable wheel covers were those of the 1950 Cadillac (called “The Sombrero”) because the hubcap looked just like a Mexican hat, and the 1953-55 Oldsmobile which resembled a huge three tined spinner. You could drive a Chevrolet and put on Cadillac wheel covers to upgrade the look of the car. This was a major car accessory trend of that time.

1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta 98, from 1953-55 the faux three tined spinner hubcap was state of the art

1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta 98, from 1953-55 the faux three tined spinner hubcap was state of the art

Plastic largely replaced steel as the primary material in hubcaps appearing in 1970 and mainstreaming to all models in the 1980’s. Good-by chrome. Alloy wheels then became the benchmark for upscale and performance cars. Often bearing the Trademark or symbol of the maker hubcaps now helped define the brand by their style of elegance, heft or sportive design.

After market accessories, in the field of hubcaps, was accelerated by Dean Moon who created “moonies” and the “mooneyes” logo. These are hot rod designed fantasy caps and decals to give personality and creativity to a vehicle. Dean was the consummate “Hot Rodder” and innovator of speed parts. He is also one of the original founding members who created SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association) in 1963. This show which takes place in Las Vegas every year is the destination for thousands of auto fans who want to see the latest in hot rod add ons. I have attended this show and you will see everything from triple spinning hubcaps presented by a bikini clad beauty to elite car washes. Moon brought a level of showmanship to drag racing and part of his gift to this industry was enhancing cars with “mooneyes” decals, special paint, performance parts to create speed, and fancy hubcaps.

Margery Krevsky is the author of Sirens of Chrome: The enduring allure of auto show models
www.sirensofchrome.com
Published by Momentum Publishing

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