Thanks to the Farm Collector readers
who responded to my query in the November issue about gasoline car
heaters, I am now the resident expert on this miraculous device.
When early-day cars first came onto the market, in the days before
antifreeze was invented, in-car heaters were scarce and a pain to
The Stewart-Warner Company originally created South Wind
gasoline heaters for American automobiles in the early 1930s.
Distribution continued until the 1950s. More than three million
units were sold, mainly because they were easy to install and
maintain. Two models were produced: A regularsize unit, and a South
Wind Jr. for coupes.
The design burned gasoline vapors in a vacuum, preventing
leakage of fumes. The units proved to be reliable, and provided
more heat than other heaters produced in that era. The South Wind’s
attractive Art Deco styling made a fine addition to a car of any
South Wind heaters were considered automotive accessories and
could be purchased from dealers, battery shops, filling stations
and garages. All specialty parts were included in the kit, with
common parts (copper tubing, for example) purchased separately. An
operator’s manual and template were included, showing where to
drill holes in the firewall for mounting.
Gas car heaters did the trick, for the front seat,
To use the South Wind the car’s engine had to be running, so
gasoline could be pulled from the carburetor float bowl into the
heater oven. A glow plug ignited the vapor, and a small 6- volt fan
pushed hot air into the car interior. A single knob controlled the
heat and the fan.
Interestingly, gasoline heaters are used in two-engine airplanes
and most military vehicles today, and can still be purchased for
use in collectible cars. At least one website advertises
reconditioned units that are guaranteed to work.
Now that we have the engineering features explained, let’s
examine how the South Wind heater worked in practical application.
“It was one of those ‘roast your face, freeze your back-side’ type
of heaters,” recalls e-mail correspondent Dal Wolf. Virden Smith,
Findley, Ohio, has memories of maintenance. “Most repairs to the
South Wind were to the igniter,” he says. “When car manufacturers
installed good hot water heaters in their cars, it was the end of
the gas heater.”
Elmer Comstock, 87, New Paris, Ind., installed a Stewart-Warner
South Wind in a 1928 Pontiac that cost him $65, “and it worked
great.” Martin Schmidt, Portland, Ore., remembers the South Wind
boosting his popularity. “The only trouble I had was that everyone
wanted to ride with me in my nice, warm car,” he says.
All who responded agreed that the South Wind worked best for the
passenger side of the front seat. Others recall South Wind-heated
school buses getting warm just as they pulled up to the school. My
favorite comment of all was this: “The gas heater would singe the
heat off your date’s legs in the front seat, but if you sat in the
back seat, you’d better have a big, fat dog in your lap or you
would freeze to death.”
–Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and
supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him
at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: