MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ed from Elk River came by The Garage the other day with three questions: “When did automobile companies move the starter off the floor? When was the starter moved from the dash to the key start on the steering column? When was the dimmer switch moved from the floor to the steering column?”

To get Ed some general answers, I called my old buddy Jim, who has forgotten more about vintage cars than most of us will ever know. His garage currently contains a new SUV and a pair of 1940 Ford 4-door sedans. In the last 50 years, he has driven just about everything in between.


(credit: CBS)

I like this picture from one of the Back to the Fifties car shows of recent years at the State Fair grounds. The car on the left is from the 40s, the one in the middle from the 50s and the one on the right is from the 60s. These are the decades that saw the starting changes that are of interest to Ed.

The latest cars Jim can remember with the starter switch (usually a round metal thing about the size of a wine bottle cork) still on the floor are a 1953 Nash and a 1953 Buick. There could be others. But from the mid-50sto the late-60s, starting was accomplished with the same switch that took the key and turned on the ignition. That switch was located on the dash, usually to the right of the steering column.

After straining our collective memories, Jim and I seem to remember the ignition/start switch moving to the side of the steering column in most cars in the late sixties. This “new technology” was an effort to curb car theft, because the key locked both the ignition and the steering wheel. I remember a slogan from back in the day that said “You can’t steal what you can’t steer.”


(credit: CBS)

My 1947 Ford still has the dimmer switch on the floor, and I like turning on the high beams because it reminds me of when I first started driving — in my mom’s 1963 Chevy.

Jim and I believe the end of floor-mounted dimmer switches happened around the mid-70s, but that is just for American cars. I’m sure you folks who like older imported cars (what we used to call “foreign” cars) have different memories of starter switches and dimmer switches.

Thanks for the question, Ed, it makes me want to get the old cars out of storage!

Comments (2)
  1. Andy says:

    My Father had a mid 80’s Dodge Ram Charger with the headlight dimmer switch on the floor. Not sure on the exact year but that was the last one I drove with it.

  2. Kevin Kopischke says:

    Hey, Gord . . .
    Always interesting stuff ! ! !
    Have a great weekend!
    Kevin Kopischke