About that hot-running Dodge

May 1, 2016 | By Staff


You always write good stuff and I agree with most of what you say. I’ve learned a lot from your column as well. But you oversimplified the story of antifreeze in cars of the ’50s in the February issue (“Solutions for a hot-running Dodge”). It was more complicated than water plus water pump lube in summer and glycol in the winter.

I recall the Dodge six quite well. My family’s ’38 sedan took us through World War II, gas rationing, tire rationing, and no antifreeze! Glycol went to war. In about 1948 or ’49, I was working in a full-service Texaco station while getting through college.

Cars of the era vented the radiator to the road. So at each gas stop, most cars needed a topping off of coolant with just water. When winter came in El Paso, it was time to either go to antifreeze or rely on draining most nights.

At first, no glycol was available, so my boss got a bunch of gallon tins of alcohol. We serviced a lot of cars with a flush and refill using the alcohol. Then, Zerex and Prestone became available. They were more of the same, but better than alcohol, as alcohol boiled off rather easily.

Our family’s old Dodge was a coldrunning car. Overheating was never an issue. That old flathead six was tough as nails. I took my first driving test at 16 in that car because the trooper refused to test me in my ’23 Ford T!

It also needs to be noted that you can’t rod a honeycomb core. They can be boiled out, and that might work. I have a couple in my side yard. One is a MOPAR. And yes, the engines have a tin distribution tube in the block. They rot easily and as a result distribution suffers and the engine runs hot when that happens.


Thanks for your input, Carl. It stirs a lot of memories. The water distribution tubes on inline flathead engines that I am familiar with were made of brass, but they still deteriorated and needed to be replaced when the engine was down for an overhaul. Glycol first became available in 1927, though it was discovered in France in the mid-nineteenth century. However, it was expensive, so alcohol was much more commonly used in the Depression days.

In the horseless carriage era, salt was added to the coolant water to keep it from freezing, as was calcium chloride, which is a mixture of salt and chlorine, but both of these were highly corrosive and ate up engine blocks. Kerosene was also used as an anti-freeze during the Depression because it was cheap, but it had its disadvantages. While it caused less trouble than water if you had a leaking head gasket, it was flammable, and could even explode if it leaked into a hot engine compartment and vaporized.

Kerosene worked well as an anti-freeze if you ran the vehicle frequently, which kept it emulsified with the water in the system, but if not it would separate out and float to the top, allowing the water in the system to freeze anyway. Another problem with kerosene was that it attacked rubber hoses, causing them to deteriorate. They would have to be changed every year or two according to Depression-era accounts. At any rate, I would never recommend using kerosene as an anti-freeze under any circumstances short of an expedition to the South Pole on which you had no Glycol.

One product that I do recommend for cars running straight water and water pump lube is Water Wetter. It improves heat transfer, reduces head temperatures, provides some corrosion protection, and helps lubricate the water pump. And it prevents foaming. A bottle of the stuff is around $11, and one bottle will do all but the biggest systems. I know of no downside to using it, and I can attest that it helped my 1936 Packard to stay below boiling on hot Southern California days in traffic jams. You can get it at auto supply stores or contact:

Red Line Synthetic Oil Corp. 6100 Egret Court Benicia, CA 94510 or redlineoil.com