Dashboard Car Clocks.
This posting traces the development of manual wind auto clocks from 1900. Dashboard Instruments then were rare. But as cars evolved the dashboard became a place of visual wonder with a clock often the main feature. Snaps sourced here derive from cars displayed at the 2019 Brisbane Motorfest or from our members.
Timepieces designed specifically for transport actually date back to 1812 when Breguet made a carriage clock for Napoleon. These clocks set in a leather carry case were sought after by high society and used in the horse and carriage era pre 1900.
By 1900 the availability of cheap fob watches coinciding with the arrival of the first cars (horseless carriages) meant owners could carry them in a leather pouch which was hung over the car’s vertical front dashboard.
Car Clocks up until 1912 were mainly key or crown wound and distinguishable by their 70mm barrel case tilted upwards for ease of viewing. Built like over-sized pocket watches they were an expensive accessory that kept jewellers busy. Shock proofing against rough roads and exposure to the weather were two major issues.
A Swiss stem wound on a 1910 EMF.
A stem wound on a 1910 Napier.
1913 Standard Model J - with a fixed winding key.
Far right, the bezels on these two clocks are unscrewed so that a key can wind the clock.
Below a Sessions clock tilted with fixed winding key underneath. Diameter 7cm and length at base also 7cm.
Stem Wind and Set Clocks -
From 1910 as car production rose and cars became cheaper (especially in USA with Henry Ford), the demand for dashboard clocks increased. Clock companies began to advertise and sell a variety of reliable ‘shock resistant’ car clocks that were now mounted flush with the dashboard.
Some required the clock to have various length stems that fitted behind the dash. Most though had crowns used for winding and setting, located on the rim or bezel of the clock.
A.T. Speedometer Co. crown wind & set fitted to a 1926 Rolls Royce showing how sophisticated high-priced car dashboards had come.
A 1923 Citroen with a Jaeger stem wind on very simplistic dashboard.
A 1926 Packard with a Waltham long stem clock. The stem is set behind the dashboard and is part of the speedometer dial.
Right - This Rolls Royce early Silver Ghost has had the lower part of the dashboard elegantly curved to fit the clocks stem.
Rim wind and rim set clocks
were also popular from WW1. To wind such a clock the notched rim (bezel) was rotated. To set the clock the rim was pulled out and turned to move the hands. Some had a locking lever on the side which when positioned down allowed winding and when pushed up allowed the rim to turn and set the hands.
1915 Buick fitted with a rim wind New Haven clock.
1937 Packard with a 8-day Swiss rim wound and set.
Other Rim wind and rim set examples -
Swiss Made for a Studebaker
Keyless Auto Clock Co.
'Swing Clocks'' were popular from the 1920’s especially in English cars. They sat in a metal case fixed into the dash. A hinge on the bezel enabled the clock’s movement to be swung out and be wound and set from the rear. Smiths monopolised the English car market and used them in Rolls, Morris, Bentley, Austin, and Wolseley. The example shown is a Rotherhams of Coventry 8day Swiss Movement.
A 1926 Vauxhall with a swing Smiths 8-day clock.
A 1923 Berliet with a Swiss made swing clock.
Not so common in cars was the rear vision mirror clock. They were developed in the 1920’s to free up space for the growing number of instruments on the dash and to allow back seat passengers to see the time more easily. These stem wound and set mirror clocks had a few issues – the position of the mirror could move while winding, glass glare and reading the clock at night. The remedy was the pull wind cord mirror clock developed in the 1930’s which used anti-glare glass, luminous hands and the option of a built-in night light.
Stem wind fitted to a 1930 Dodge Six.
Pull wind Phinney Walker Clock
Pull wind fitted to a Mansfield
Stem wind with British Patent Swiss made
The Simplex Watch Holder – Following on from the leather pocket watch holder slung over the open vertical dash on the ‘Horseless Carriage’ (described at the beginning of this post), an invention in 1910 by Mr. H. Lang a jeweller from Virginia allowed your watch to be held on the spokes of the steering wheel.
At a cost of $1 it was promoted on the box with an Ingersoll pocket watch aptly named “Traveler” and a Ford Model A. A good idea that lasted only to the 1920’s as the days of carrying pocket watches were numbered.
Steering Post Clocks. As cars turned to electric instruments from the 1930’s, New Haven came up with the idea of an electric clock which could be clamped to the steering post. The 1936 ad for this clock notes that the need for cutting or complicated fitting is avoided at a cost of $5.25. The main problem is that only the driver could see it clearly.
Magnetic Car clocks.
In the 1960’s Westclox of Canada made the ‘auto-watch’ which had a strong magnet on the back to place on a steel plate screwed anywhere on the car. There were two models – a stem set and wound with red hands, a 24hour dial and a 30hour movement (as in picture). The other with Super-Glo written on the black dial with dashes for the hour markers (only the six and twelve shown). Basic but practical.
Smiths of England were also selling similar clocks. They had smaller magnets but the watch was much the same size (48mm). The main difference was they had push in crowns for setting (Westclox were pull-out for setting).
Westclox also made manual wind auto clocks in 1930 - 32 with adjustable mounts.–
This clock attached to a bracket (similar to the mirror clock) could be installed either overhead or on the dash. It could be swung upwards to enable the winding and setting and also be set at the angle a driver wished. Cost - $2.50 for the black dial with luminous hands and $2.50 for the plain dial. There was also a square dial sold.
This unusual auto clock from the 1920’s/ 30’s was made in England with a Ford logo. The clock in a bakelite case was combined with an ashtray. The 14cm winding stem sat behind the dash at 45° for winding and setting. The whole unit measured 12x7x5cm deep with the ashtray opening out from below the clock. Later Ford produced a similar 6volt version with the long stem used for setting only.
The Drivers Watch – as wrist watches became popular from the 1920’s, an idea to allow one to easily read their watch while driving was the ‘Ristside’. It was marketed in 1937 by D. Gruen of the Cincinnati Gruen Watch Company. This watch with a curved dial was worn on the inside of the wrist so that the 12 and 6 (now where the 3 and 9 numerals normally would sit) ran parallel with your arm. Gruen’s driver watch did not sell well but other versions made by Patek Philippe, Movado, Cartier and LeCoultre were more successful. In the 1970s, Citizen, Seiko and Breitling were producing quartz or automatic driver's watch models, often with a stopwatch function.
A club member has this superb example of a 7 jewel unadjusted drivers watch made by the Imperial Watch Company of Switzerland. As mentioned, the 12 and 6 running parallel with your arm allowed the watch to be easily read with your hand still on the driving wheel.
Glove Box Clocks – from the 1930’s these were a good use for what normally was a blank compartment lid.
A 1934 Oldsmobile dash with clock, then an example from a 1959 Studebaker Lark and lastly an unknown.
Self-winding Steering Wheel Clocks
Popular in the 1950’s, these steering wheel clocks were aftermarket accessories fitted to the central hub of the steering wheel replacing the horn. Adapters were available to fit the different sizes of holes in the hub.
Used mainly in American cars with tail fins and shiny chrome-work (eg Oldsmobile, Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler, etc) they were not cheap at $50. Featuring automatic movements with an eight-day power reserve, the winding was achieved by a rotor that would spin with acceleration, braking and the turning of the wheel. The crystal could also be wound as in rim wind clocks. MAAR and Benrus were the two main Swiss companies producing these clocks.
New to car clocks - the Dashboard a "place of visual wonder"
These above snaps of dashboard clocks from the early 1900’s to 1960 makes one aware of the modifications, not only in the clocks themselves but in dashboard layout.
Early dashboards were fixed to the horse drawn carriage to protect the driver from mud thrown up by the horses’ hooves. Then the horseless carriages dashboard (with the engine mounted at the front) acted as a similar shield from engine heat & any splashed oil as shown by this 1905 Rambler & a 1913 Talbot.
As the car’s instrumentation evolved, the dash was used for a growing number of gauges & instruments. That said, Henry Ford’s 1923 Model T had only one instrument – the ammeter that measured battery current.
From the mid 20’s the dashboard had been raised above knee height & allowed clocks with long stems to be fitted behind & easily wound. From left is a 1923 Berliet, a 1926 Packard Tourer, a 1926 Rolls Royce with this set-up.
In the 30’s/40’s, the dashboard became even more crowded with instruments. Noteworthy are the padded dashes of the 40’s to dashboards with lots of chrome work in the 50’s. The dash had truly become a place of “visual wonder”.
The car dashboards used for the above history on car clocks came mainly from the annual RACQ Motorfest here in Brisbane. Some came from the McFeeters Car Museum in Forbes NSW. Take a look at this You Tube video showing their incredible collection. The detailing with life-size human models, makes one feel that time has indeed stopped. Thanks Paul for these snaps.
1923 Rolls Royce
A quirky 1938 Pontiac - It has a clock built into the car’s boot along with many personal adaptions to its dash.
1920’s Octo 8-day Swiss Car clock - with the dial name of F S Bennett Ltd 219-229 Shaftesury Ave. W.C.
Most probably mounted on a Cadillac dash the clock can be removed from the case with a simple twist. Bennett was the first importer of Cadillacs to Gt Britain in 1902. In 1903 he entered his 6hp single cylinder Cadillac in the 1000mile reliability trial in which he won taking 8 days. Round 1910 Bennett moved his business to London’s prestigious Shaftesbury Ave. known as ‘Cadillac Corner’.
Bennett also won the Dewar Trophy (awarded for outstanding technical achievement in the automotive world) twice. First in 1908 for the inter-changeability of parts by reassembling 3 Cadillacs & running this car for 500miles without fault. And again in 1913 his Cadillac won the trophy for being the first to have an electric starter & internal lighting. The Dewar Trophy still exists & was awarded this year (2022) to Mercedes for bringing F1 technology to the road in a hypercar.
In 1953, aged 79, he teamed with Stirling Moss to repeat the 1000mile Reliability Trial with the same car used back in 1903, his average speed was 21.25mph. This was much faster than the 1903 trial as speed limits then were only 12mph. in towns & 20mph elsewhere.