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Origin of White Firewalls

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Tommy R, May 15, 2012.

  1. Tommy R
    Joined: May 18, 2004
    Posts: 717

    Tommy R
    Member

    I know it's very common for hot rods to have their firewalls painted white (or off white), regardless of the color of the car itself. It appears to span several generations of hot rods over many years....not just a short lived fad. I've always wondered the origins of this styling feature as I've seen it on early post-war cars through late '60s show cars. My best guess is that it was done by hot rodders to give a nice contrasting backdrop to show off their fancy motors, but that's purely a guess.

    Can anyone with more knowledge of hot rodding history chime in and show me the light? How did white firewalls get started?
     
  2. edcodesign
    Joined: Mar 30, 2007
    Posts: 4,166

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    My understanding is some guys with big $$$$ had firewalls chrome plated, next best thing was white paint for contrast, little $.
     
  3. belair
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 8,717

    belair
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    Shows oil leaks in hurry.
     
  4. It really brightens up a closed engine compartment to make the motor easier to see too.
     

  5. Engine man
    Joined: Jan 30, 2011
    Posts: 3,476

    Engine man
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    from Wisconsin

    We painted them white in our stock cars to keep some heat out of the interior.
     
  6. 49ratfink
    Joined: Feb 8, 2004
    Posts: 18,082

    49ratfink
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    from California

    3 colors for firewalls, black, car color or white. don't ask questions, just follow the rules.:)
     
  7. amphicar
    Joined: Apr 4, 2006
    Posts: 153

    amphicar
    BANNED

    In early days the rubber was natural rubber which is white. Natural rubber was somewhat slippery so carbon black was added to the tread area for added traction making it black and the sidewalls white. This is why you will see all white tires on very early cars.
     
  8. hepcat_raphael
    Joined: Mar 4, 2009
    Posts: 108

    hepcat_raphael
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    also shows how anal someone is about cleanliness. Like white upholsted panels in the wheel wells.
     
  9. MATACONCEPTS
    Joined: Aug 7, 2009
    Posts: 2,069

    MATACONCEPTS
    BANNED

    OK, it was me, but fuck, now everyones copying me!
     
  10. hepcat_raphael
    Joined: Mar 4, 2009
    Posts: 108

    hepcat_raphael
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    Amphicar-"Fire" walls, not "side" walls.
     
  11. Tommy R
    Joined: May 18, 2004
    Posts: 717

    Tommy R
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    Thanks, y'all! So far it appears my initial guess was pretty close to the truth. I also like that it would show leaks early, too! I was on the fence about painting the firewall of my AV8, but before I gave it serious consideration, I wanted to know what kind of history might be behind it.
     
  12. Like most trends, for no particular reason!
    I think this had to with being "sanitary", a big deal then. It showed good workmanship
    and implied good mechanicals as well. A "clean" build was the ultimate in the 60's, I don't know about the 50's.
    2 cents
     
  13. weez
    Joined: Dec 5, 2002
    Posts: 860

    weez
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    It's just another white accent, like whitewall tires, white running boards, upholstery, etc.
     
  14. Zombie Hot Rod
    Joined: Oct 22, 2006
    Posts: 2,453

    Zombie Hot Rod
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    from New York

    I'd say probably because it looks good. It might not have a deep, underlying meaning.
     
  15. kombi66
    Joined: Apr 11, 2010
    Posts: 24

    kombi66
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    from stockto ca

    I had once heard it was started by old rally racers to be able to see in the engine area better...
     
  16. Tommy R
    Joined: May 18, 2004
    Posts: 717

    Tommy R
    Member

    That's what I would've thought, too, but I've seen it on older hot rods before whitewalls became all the rage. So it made me wonder!

    That's quite possible, for sure! But so far the potential reasons I've heard here all seem to be pretty reasonable and I could imagine those same thoughts running through the head of a hot rodder back in the day. :)
     
  17. Zombie Hot Rod
    Joined: Oct 22, 2006
    Posts: 2,453

    Zombie Hot Rod
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    from New York

  18. Dreddybear
    Joined: Mar 31, 2007
    Posts: 6,026

    Dreddybear
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    I'm pretty sure it's in the bible somewhere...

    ..."...and thy firewall shouldith be of white, and all will rejoice" -Enginebays 2:11

    and of course:

    ..."Blessed is he who covereth his firewall with the vinyl of tucketh and rolleth. It is not for all men, but for he who embraceth the word of the bird..." - Showcars 5:17
     
  19. While this is true, being an old rally racer myself - but it was done long before then. An 80+ year old guy I know says it was done for the same reason though on early race cars, to make it easier to see inside the engine compartment and work on problems and find oil leaks. I can tell you for a fact that it really helps reflect light when working with a flashlight under the hood in the dark at a race.
    I think the Hot Rodders picked up on it then because it looked cool.
     
  20. Tommy R
    Joined: May 18, 2004
    Posts: 717

    Tommy R
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    LOL! Thanks, Dreddy! ;)
     
  21. el Roach
    Joined: Mar 6, 2003
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    Shit that's funny!
     
  22. bobscogin
    Joined: Feb 8, 2007
    Posts: 1,761

    bobscogin
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    Somebody ran out of body color paint, and had some white.

    Bob
     
  23. Smokey2
    Joined: Jan 11, 2011
    Posts: 919

    Smokey2
    Member

    Excuse ME ! ............But I've NEVER Seen ant Whitewalls............Chrome Plate....Huh ?
    They're NOT talkin' about "Whitewalls " ???
    Ohhh,
    "Never Mind !!! "




    Smoked Up, In thja DREAT Smokey Mts. of Beautiful Tennessee . Say Goodnite, Gracie ....
     
  24. Atwater Mike
    Joined: May 31, 2002
    Posts: 10,635

    Atwater Mike
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    Don...Weird you related that. My Great Uncle Bill came by when I was 15, (he was in his mid-80s then, it was 1957) and proceeded to point out kinds of 'tricks' I had on my channeled '30 'A' roadster...
    The origin on the lakes of the term "hot rod" (he related it to Babbitt bearings) as well as the use of lamp black for a non-scratching polish of headlamp reflectors. (!)

    But the one thing he told me that I made sure I did was the exact thing your senior friend told you. It made sense...and it worked!
    My buds Ramsay and Wimpy then painted their fenderless coupes' firewalls white also...
     
  25. butcherted
    Joined: Oct 17, 2006
    Posts: 762

    butcherted
    Member
    from hagerstown

    I think we did it because it looked COOL.
     

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  26. The37Kid
    Joined: Apr 30, 2004
    Posts: 28,173

    The37Kid
    Member

    Yes, I think it all started with race cars with aluminum firewalls, steel painted white was the nearest thing for the Hot Rodders. My '30 Roadster will have a white firewall. Bob:)
     
  27. Chipman
    Joined: Apr 26, 2012
    Posts: 74

    Chipman
    Member
    from Oregon

    OK don't shoot me but I was thinking of painting my firewall ( and the entire engine compartment) grey or silver since my car will be maroon/grey(or silver) just to be different.

    Am I going to be shunned for this?
     
  28. Cruiser
    Joined: May 29, 2006
    Posts: 2,240

    Cruiser
    Member

    It all started in the late 40's, early '50's on the streets of Southern California. We had white firewalls, white & black checkbroard firewalls and everything white behind the tires to make things standout. We also put white in the grille area of some cars to make the grille pop out.

    CRUISER :cool:
     
  29. The37Kid
    Joined: Apr 30, 2004
    Posts: 28,173

    The37Kid
    Member

    Gray would look fine, check out all the production Sports Racers from 1950-1965, just about all them were gray inside the engine compartment. Bob:)
     
  30. krooser
    Joined: Jul 25, 2004
    Posts: 4,583

    krooser
    Member

    We used to paint the firewalls AND the frames white...with a brush no less!!!
     

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