Q & A with Kit Foster: January 7, 2016

Q.

I have an old license plate that was given to me.  I thought it might be a South Dakota motorcycle plate, but the S.D. DMV cannot tell me anything about it. Any information would be appreciated.
                 — Tim Stengel, Milbank S.D.

A.

That’s exactly what it is. South Dakota began issuing plates in 1913, and through 1915 they were undated. The years were distinguished by color: black-on-white in 1913, white-on-red for 1914 and orange-on-black in 1915. Your plate is thoroughly rusted so we can’t tell which of those years it is. The dies used for the 1915 plate also appear different, so yours must be 1913 or ’14. The size and italic-style characters correspond to a motorcycle registration. The plate was not familiar to me, but several colleagues in the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (www.alpca.org) weighed in to help, for which I thank them.

Q.

Aloha. I don’t recall ever seeing any information or articles in your magazine on the brand of truck that has served me well for over 30 years. It is a 1960 Fargo. It was sold in Honolulu in 1959. I’ve been told by some Hawaiian elders that it was manufactured in Canada, for export only, and was never sold in the USA. In 1959 Hawaii was a U.S. territory. I was also told they were sold by Plymouth dealers. It is very similar to a Dodge. I found it abandoned in a neighbor’s yard and paid $50 for it. It was my daily driver for about 15 years. To use it I needed to modify it rather than restore it, but it looks stock to many people. Any historical information on the orphan brand would be appreciated.
— Bill Lawrence, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

A.

Indeed, the short answer is that Fargo was Chrysler’s export truck brand, basically a commercial Dodge for the rest of the world, particularly Canada. But, like much of automotive history, it’s more complicated (and interesting) than that. The Fargo name goes back to the Fargo Motor Car Company of Chicago, which built trucks from 1913 to 1922. Chrysler Corporation appropriated it in 1928 to build some light trucks based on Plymouth, De Soto and Chrysler parts. However, the long-negotiated deal to buy Dodge Brothers came to a head at the same time, and Chrysler found itself awash in truck brands: Graham Brothers, Dodge Brothers and Fargo. After the death of the Dodge brothers in 1920, their company had acquired the Graham Brothers truck business, and used the name on medium- and heavy-duty models. The Dodge name was better known, so Chrysler dropped the Graham Brothers moniker.
     The Fargo light-duty line, however, did not sell well, so Chrysler discontinued it for domestic sales, but kept the name for export sales and non-U.S. production. Dodges in all but name, Fargos were built in the U.S. for many markets, but those sold in Canada were Canadian-built. Later, some Fargo production took place in Turkey and India. Production of Fargo (and De Soto) trucks continued in Turkey even after Chrysler sold the plants there in 1978. Askam Kamyon Imalat ve Ticaret A continues to build them today, but they bear no resemblance or relation to Dodge (or Ram, as they are now badged by FiatChrysler) trucks.
     More information can be found in the Krause Books-published “Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles” by Albert Mroz, and also on the extensive and interesting Allpar website (http://www.allpar.com/old/fargo.html). I suspect, as you’ve mentioned, that Hawaii was considered an export marked prior to statehood in August 1959. Mahalo.

Q.

I enjoyed the Nov. 19 issue, especially the Packard item and color pics. The owner stated “it’s not a 400-point car.” What are the criteria for judging classic cars, i.e. the point system?
                  — Clark Mefford, via e-mail

A.

Different clubs have different criteria and point systems. Many clubs have 100-point systems, while others, notably the Veteran Motor Car Club of America and many marque clubs, use a 1,000-point scale. However, I believe the “400 points” in this case refers to either the Antique Automobile Club of America, whose judging guidelines can be found here: http://www.aaca.org/images/judge/2015_AACA_Judging_Manual.pdf, or Packard Automobile Classics, whose judging criteria are also on their website: http://www.packardclub.org/

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