Driving and the Deep Freeze

winter cars SWScan00976

Shivering from coast to coast, the Arctic deep freezer door seems to have swung open wide and sure doesn’t seem to be closing anytime soon.

Lately it seems as if the world is one mass of howling icy cold with subzero temperatures and round after round of snow.  Braving blizzards  in your car, winter weather does its best to stop you.

The mercury may be plunging outside but sealed in the climate controlled comfort of your car -as toasty as your own living room – keeps old man winter at bay.

We take a heated car for granted, rarely giving any thought to the blowing hot air at all… except of course when it’s on the fritz.

But a heated car wasn’t always a given.

winter weather,  vintage ads lap robe, snow suits

(L) Vintage ad Weather Winky Snowsuits 1950 (R) Vintage ad 1950 Troy Robe

Once upon a time bundling up children in bulky snowsuits was done not only for playing in the snow, but to take a leisurely ride in the family car

Before the 1950’s staying warm in an automobile entailed multiple layers of clothing, bundling up in blankets or a lap-robe.  If you were lucky enough to have a car heater, you’d have to wait 15 or more minutes for the car to warm up. And chances were it was woefully inefficient.

That is unless you installed a supplemental car heater.

The Big Chill

home heat 47 SWScan01175

In the bone chilling winter of 1947 one frost-bitten family had finally had enough of cold weather driving.

The year began with the lowest temperature ever recorded in North America and the mercury would only continue to drop. 1947 would turn out to be a very chilly year, to start the cold war.

By February poor Willy Lawson’s home life was becoming as chilly as the frosty relationship between Stalin and Truman.

The cold war had already been raging for years in the Lawson household…the “cold car wars” that is, the annual grumblings that erupted when winters icy grip struck.

winter texaco ad 1940

Vintage ad Texaco 1940

1940’s cars tended to be uncomfortably drafty and cold. Most had poor interior heating systems. Heaters had been around since GM introduced them in 1930, but not only did they take over 20 minutes to warm up the passenger compartment they were quite ineffective.

Driving in cold cars was the perfect incubator for catching cold.

For Willy’s wife Sylvia slugging through a snow storm with frost-bitten fingers was no fun. Caring for a brood of kids with colds, even less so.

winter weather snowsuits

Motoring entailed bundling up the  5 Lawson kids not only in snowsuits but an assortment of mittens, hats, scarves  and galoshes. A road trip  filled with endless whining often ended in sniffles, coughs  with one of the children coming down with a cold. Sylvia knew from years of experience it was  all too easy for a cold once it starts to spread from one member of the family to the next…with troublesome results.

In freezing weather, cold cars caused hot arguments.

A gasoline car heater could provide supplemental heat …but cost more money.

Not only was Willy budget conscience he was plain stubborn.Heavy lap-robes and woolen blankets had always worked just fine, he argued. Sniffles and colds were just part of winter. Besides which like many folks he didn’t trust gas heaters in cars, convinced they’d blow up.


vintage ads gas Mobile Texaco 1940

Winterize Your Car
(L) Vintage Ad Mobile Oil (R) vintage Ad Texaco 1940

The thing of it was when it came time to winterizing his car Willy spared no expense. Vigilantly he made sure to put in plenty of   antifreeze, changed his oil, attached  snow chains  and used only uses Texaco Sky Chief gasoline for quick winter starting.

On cold mornings his split second startings in his pre-war Chevy were the envy of the neighborhood. Even in the iciest weather, he’d boast to Sylvia that his stone cold engine would respond immediately…”the Sky Chief gasoline warmed the engine  up so rapidly…makes it forget to stutter and buck!”

His engine would be warm and tasty…. his shivering passengers, not so much.

Eye Opener

vintage illustration girl in car

Vintage ad South Wind Car Heater 1948

It was while Willy was home sick with the sniffles, that Sylvia had an eye-opening ride in her neighbor Tom’s car.

To her astonishment, though Toms automobile was thoroughly chilled when she got into it, within seconds plenty of heat was pouring in! Their heater worked like a dream. The secret was  a South Wind gas  heater!

“It’s fast…its efficient… it’s the finest!”  boasted  Tom.

The South Wind heater worked on a new scientifically proved gasoline burning principle, the manufacturer claimed  “that made it possible for you to get hot heat in just 90 seconds flat! “No other kind of car heater can give you hot heat so speedily! South Wind creates it’s own heat…there’s no wait for the engine. Always ready for use.”

Sylvia didn’t need persuading. One ride in the toasty warm car  a week later was all it took to convince chilly Willy too.

Vintage Ad South Wind Car Heater 1940 grandmother and boy in car

Vintage Ad South Wind Car Heater 1940
“It’s grand for old people. Our South Wind heats the car quick as cat. Can go in healthful comfort eve on the coldest days!”

“The South Wind heater cost a little more to buy and operate but even on the chilliest mornings you could warm up in 90 seconds,” Tom explained to Willy. “No wait for engine warm up. Burns fuel from the carburetor in a patented sealed metal chamber. Fumes go right out the exhaust.”

“Before I’m out of the driveway on my way to work, my southwind is pouring hot heat into my car! In fact if you didn’t turn down the flame you’d roast.”

Southwind Heater

Vintage ad car heater illustration couple in car

More Heat Faster
Vintage South Wind Car Heater 1940

The South Wind heater was the brainchild of a Canadian born, Chicago resident  named Harry McCollum who was fed up with being cold during his commute to work.

In 1930 unhappy with the inefficient GM car heater, the cold Chicagoan  came up with  a solution – a supplemental form of heat for cars that burned gasoline.The South Wind heater was the first gasoline car heater designed for car and truck interiors. Amazingly this new heater could warm the interior of his old car in a jiff!

The heaters first appeared in 1935 but were recalled and improved versions appeared in 1936. According to the company over 3 million had been built and sold by 1948.

No More Chilly Willy

vintage Cars heaters South Wind man woman drivers

Vintage advertisements 1948 South Wind Car Heaters
According to the company over 3 million heaters been built and sold by 1948. The heaters could be found in US military vehicle and aircraft during WWII through the Korean war. In Korea they warmed everything from tanks to jeeps and light planes. By the 1950s car heating technology improved and South Wind faded away

Willy was finally ready to throw winter right out of his car with a purchase f the South Wind heater ! Easy to install, the heater fit beneath the dashboard where he  could kick the on an off with his feet.”

The chilly relations between the Lawson’s finally thawed. It was if they gained 3 months of extra driving fun. Even with the big blizzard in December that knocked the east coast for a loop they were toasty warm in their car. Old man winter wouldn’t stop them now!

Now the Lawson could leave their overcoat at home- their gloves, hats, even  their lap-robe. They  wouldn’t need them. When you step into a South Wind heated car you step into complete living room comfort.

Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



  1. The things we take for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After driving German cars the first 10 years I owned cars, I switched to American-made ones, mostly because I could get them serviced in town. The biggest initial shock when I first turned the heat on in my first American car was how hot the maximum heat setting was! Maximum heat in the German cars (1970s VWs and Audis) barely handled the frost on the windows in winter. I had to run the heat in that American car to half way or suffer heat prostration. Nice! That car was a lemon, but I never faulted the heater, which kept me toasty in the worst of midcontinental winters, among them one where temperatures dropped as low as -30° F and lower.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the older car ads and vintage pictures. Thanks for that lesson and definitely in the arctic blast, it’s always nice to be thankful for the (at times) overbearing heat when you’ve already have your coat on in the car. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. Made me thankful for the seat warmers in my car. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is amazing what we take for granted like something as innocuous as car heater


  6. It’s winter. It’s sposed to be cold. Especially if you live in the North.


  7. Pingback: Let it Snow | Envisioning The American Dream

  8. Ray Griffin

    Great article, really enjoyed it. I’m old enough to remember that it took forever in the 1950s for our car to warm up and I lived in east Texas. Much better now.


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