10 Types of Rare Vintage Hubcaps With Its Identification Guide

Vintage Hubcaps (Nave plates in Britain) offer more than protective value for car owners – they add to the aesthetic appeal of your wheels. Moreso, if you’re buying a famous high-end brand of a hubcap, you should be ready to pay top dollar.

Typically, hubcaps aren’t as appealing today as they were in the mid-20th century hence its low market value of $10 or less, but you can get a rare model for over $100 to $200 per unit or more for bundles. 

Because of their dual-purpose, car owners are often caught between buying or forgoing one.

If you fall into those categories, you’ve come to the right place for all the information you need. You’ll learn the value of Hubcaps, its identification, a brief history of its evolution, and get the answers to some of your burning questions.

1
(Source: eBay)

History of the Hubcap

Although they became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, hubcaps originated in the late 17th century when they first covered the Newton Reaction Carriage’s wheel. Their primary purpose was to cut grease and dust from the wheel, and by the 1930s, they’d become car ownership staples.

Due to their initial purpose, hubcaps earned their nicknames grease cap and dust cap, and in some cases, dirt cap.

In its early days, hubcaps used brass, wood, wire, and steel as the production material and a threaded-center hub as the style. It evolved into alternate patterns with more intricate details and complications with time.

Manufacturers started building center-threaded trims with hubcaps shifting in purpose towards aesthetic value. These caps featured branded logos on the center to elevate the wheel’s look, and its expanded sizes covered more wheel spaces.

This expansion was necessary to secure the automobile’s wheel’s lug nuts, bolts, and other inner mechanisms. Car owners began painting over the hubcaps to match the wheel’s color for an even tone and seamless finish with its wider design.

10 Rare Vintage Hubcaps with Pictures

 No.
Name
Year
Price
1
Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Biarritz Seville
1959
$7,000
2
Cadillac Eldorado
1959
$6,500
3
Corvette
1953 – 1955
$4,000
4
Cadillac Set of 4
1958 – 1959
$3,600
5
Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS MAG
1967 – 1972
$2,500
6
Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS3 Bar Spinner
1963 – 1965
$2,500
7
Vintage NOS GMC Truck 3/4-1 TON Dog Dish
1973 – 1977
$1,300
8
Vintage 16-inch Rat Rod Lyon Lyons MFG Co.
 
$1,287.50
9
Vintage Rolls Royce 2-Piece Vintage Silver Wraith
N.D.
$1,100
10
Chevy Corvette
1959
$1,100

 1. Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Biarritz Seville

Price: $7,000

Year: 1959 – 1960

 1. Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Biarritz Seville
(Source: eBay)

Even though two of these Cadillac hubcaps were repolished, they still command a high value because of their brand and design. It uses the spring-loaded retention famed for its extra protection capacity.

2. Cadillac Eldorado

Price: $6,500

Year: 1959

2. Cadillac Eldorado
(Source: eBay)

This stainless steel hubcap has the Cadillac crest at the center and a wide circumference qualifying it as more of a wheel cover than hubcap (although they mean the same thing technically.)

3. Corvette

Price: $4,000

Year: 1953 – 1955

3. Corvette
(Source: eBay)

The 1953 – 1955 Corvette wheel cover is the most modest design of the brand yet its sleek style made it a fan favorite. Its outer layer is a ribbed centerpiece and was popular with motorsport drivers.

4. Cadillac

Price: $3,600

Year: 1958 – 1959

4. Cadillac
(Source: eBay)

This Cadillac hubcap also has a stamped stainless steel Chrome finish and a wide circumference securing more than the lug nuts.

5. Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS MAG

Price: $2,500

Year: 1967 – 1972

5. Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS MAG
(Source: eBay)

The Impala SS MAG hubcap is similar to the SS3 Bar Spinner in that they’re both Stainless Steel items with Chrome finish.

6. Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS3 Bar Spinner

Price: $2,500

Year: 1963 – 1965

6. Vintage NOS Chevy Nova Impala SS3 Bar Spinner
(Source: eBay)

This 16-inch Chevrolet hubcap has a Chrome finish with SS inscribed on the center indicating that it’s Stainless Steel.

7. Vintage NOS GMC Truck 3/4-1 TON Dog Dish

Price: $1,300

Year: 1973 – 1977

7. Vintage NOS GMC Truck 3 4-1 TON Dog Dish
(Source: eBay)

The 1970s 12-inches wide GMC hubcap is made of aluminum and it has a two-toned chrome finish with the brand’s initials inscribed at the center in red. It also fits perfectly with 15-inches wheels or less.

8. Vintage 16-inch Rat Rod Lyon Lyons MFG Co

Price: $1,287.50

Year: N.D.

8. Vintage 16-inch Rat Rod Lyon Lyons MFG Co
(Source: eBay)

This Rat Rod hubcap doesn’t have an identification logo except for a small hole on the top and its material is stainless steel.

9. Vintage Rolls Royce 2-piece Silver Wraith

Price: $1,100

Year: N.D.

9. Vintage Rolls Royce 2-piece Silver Wraith
(Source: eBay)

Rolls Royce hubcaps are typically non-rotating models. Essentially, its movement is independent of the wheel it’s protecting.

10. Chevy Corvette

Price: $1,100

Year: 1959

10. Chevy Corvette
(Source: eBay)

The 1959 Chevy Corvette has a double flag logo and a wider circumference than the initial hubcap. It’s a 15 x 5 Stamped Steel wheel cover with six spokes on its body.

The Evolution of Vintage Hubcaps

Wooden-Spoke wheels weren’t durable hence their short-lived existence in the automobile industry. With the need for less noisy and more efficient wheels came the creation of the Steel Wire spoke wheels between 1920 – 1930.

Hubcaps fell short in protecting the steel-wired spoke wheels from early damage and pooling dirt/grease despite their more efficient function. Once again, the need for growth arose, and Cadillac cracked the market in 1934 with its first Stainless Steel hubcap.

This new invention became the pioneer for wider and more durable hubcaps experiencing more evolution processes before landing on the current ABS and Plastic Wheel Covers.

Immediately Cadillac’s wider hubcaps proved to be more effective than the previous designs, and Hudson and Ford followed suit in using them to cover the wheels on their new automobile inventions. The former also became the first to inscribe its brand name on the cover.

Name printing distinguished each hubcap from the other since everyone was now on the wave. Another sharp distinction came when the bigger brands made their hubcaps according to Cadillac’s new design, and the smaller ones followed the original small sizes.

The wide hubcaps became a luxury symbol while the smaller sizes became associated with economy and bargain models. It didn’t help that the shape resembled a dog dish earning the smaller hubcaps the derogatory names – Poverty Cap and Dog-Dish.

Currently, hubcaps have evolved to cover the entire wheel, and they use plastic materials for production.

Pressed Steel Wheels

As Cadillac switched to using Pressed Steel Wheels in the late 1930s, so did its hubcaps which covered the entire spokes and inner mechanisms. People began referring to the hubcap as wheel Covers hence the sometimes-interchangeable name.

Poverty Caps

So, everyone wanted a Cadillac hubcap, but everyone couldn’t afford it, and there laid a dilemma or, as entrepreneurs saw it, an opportunity. The 1940s saw the rise in low-budget alternatives known as Dog Dish or Poverty Caps.

None of the names is pleasant, but it does get the job done at an affordable price, so the owners didn’t mind much. Or nobody complained.  

Moon Hubcaps

Despite 1840’s fastest man alive, Bob Rufi, inventing the moon hubcap in the previous decade, it didn’t gain popularity until the 1950s. His original design consisted of spun aluminum, while the subsequent models became racing hubcaps.

Regular hubcaps couldn’t withstand the pressure of drag racing, and they typically flew off mid-race, causing vehicular damage or worse race track accidents. With the rise in the need for a more secure wheel cover, Moon hubcaps became designated for race cars.

Full Spoke Wheel-Covers

In the 1960s, automobiles gravitated toward full-spoke wheel covers to protect the entire circumference rather than only the lug nuts like before.

Plastic Wheel Covers

The 1970s ushered in the use of a new material originating from Detroit – Plastic – for the hubcap manufacturers, but they still finished the product to look like aluminum and chrome. So, they got the aesthetic design for a lesser manufacturing price.  

ABS Wheel Covers

ABS wheel covers came in the 1980s, shortly after Plastic wheel covers started gaining ground. Since then, it (together with Plastic wheel covers) has become the leading material for hubcaps worldwide and remains so today.

Identification of Vintage Hubcaps

Here we’ve curated ways the pros carry out identification of vintage hubcaps

Brands

The essence of branding is identification making it the easiest way to determine the origin of an item and, in this case, hubcap. Certain brands thrived in different eras, and unfortunately, some are no more.

Regardless, the art of inscribing logos and company names on hubcaps didn’t start until the mid-20th century, so sometimes, it may be difficult to identify a vintage hubcap that way. Luckily, you can apply a reverse search or try an alternative method.

Big names to look out for include,

House, Phelps, Houk, Hayes, Pasco, Dayton, Frayer, Whitworth, Stewart, Corvette

Watch this video to see the difference between the Center Caps and Wheel Covers.

Hudson

Hudson inscribed its name alongside other variations on its hubcaps – Hudson Eight and Terraplane.

Some brand models had unique hubcaps due to their designs, such as the Ford Pinto (a small car) and the Chevrolet Impala, but that’s the easy part. Here’s the hard part.

Cadillac

Between 1930 and 1950, Hot Rodders (race car drivers and pilots, technically, anyone who drives a high-speed vehicle) favored the Cadillac hubcaps because they provided the best protection for their wheel mechanisms.

First, they sought the old designs from 1934 till the late 1940s before Cadillac answered the growing demand by creating what later became the Sombrero hubcap because of its similar shape.

The Sombrero had a rich chrome finish, making it aesthetically and functionally pleasing. Like many things in a diverse society, the much-coveted Cadillac hubcaps became targets for thieves and bootleggers who boosted it from Cadillac owners’ wheels.

Cadillac also has the honor of being the first brand to use the term Wheel Cover as an alternative for hubcaps.

Retention Style

Center Cap

As hubcaps became a thing amongst car owners, the initial design was a center cap fastened in the middle over the lug nuts. Although many people think it’s the universal design, there are more than 30 variations of the Center cap wheel cover.

Typically, center caps are the first variation of hubcaps, but mechanical engineers rarely use them interchangeably due to the creative difference. So, the former refers to a center cover over the connective assembly while the latter covers more circumference.

Snap-On Retention

In 1927, the first snap-on hubcap entered the market, and they fastened on wire wheels. This retention style reigned supreme for about six years before giving way to the Spring-loaded retention hubcap.

Spring-Loaded Retention

The Spring-loaded retention clip is a modern invention that came about before plastic and ABS hubcap production, not becoming popular until the late Seventies and Eighties. They first came during the era of the steel wheel in 1930.

Its mechanism included a wide chrome base connected to a smaller-sized base with the company’s logo at its center.  

Alternatively, they use wire retentions, but that’s not as common. So far, these designs have proven to be the most effective and secure of all the hubcaps ever produced.

Dog-Dish (Poverty Caps)

Plain-patterned hubcaps made in standard sizes with no designs eventually proliferated the market since the demand increased despite the commoner’s incapacity to afford one. Their dull designs, affordability, and similarity to dog dishes led to the colloquial name Poverty Caps.

Examine the Materials

Every collector knows materials are dead giveaways of production years and other important information on manufacturing a vintage or antique product. Because hubcaps come in different materials, you can use that feature to determine the production year.

You can use the evolution of hubcaps to lay a timeline and pinpoint the exact or approximate time it was made.

Nickel-plated Brass (1864 – 1915)

Before 1915, hubcaps used nickel-plated brass trimmings as the primary production material. Brass was the staple material used for most productions, from clocks to furniture, and automobile hardware like hubcaps wasn’t exempted.

Wooden Hubcaps (1915 – 1920)

For about four years following the long-term use of nickel-plated brass trimmings, hubcaps came in matching wooden designs to match the wooden spoke wheels of the early 20th century.

Aluminum (the 1920s)

By the 1920s, manufacturers switched to using aluminum plates as the primary materials for the hubcaps. However, it didn’t last long because the steel wheel spokes came as an additional option before eventually overshadowing aluminum hubcaps.

Steel Wheel Hubcaps (1920s – 1930s)

Between 1920 to 1930, Wooden wheels gave way to steel Spoke wheels leading to another problem and a need for a bigger solution. Small center hubcaps couldn’t seal the grease, so manufacturers expanded the size.

Stainless Steel Disc (the 1930s)

Famous automobile brand Cadillac launched the era of stainless steel hubcaps in 1934 by securing them with a screw spanning over the wheel disc. That ushered in a new wave of wide-scale hubcaps covering the wire-spokes.

It was effective in keeping the grease and mechanism secure, but it also improved the wheel’s look giving it a modernized outlook. By this point, it was cool to own a Cadillac, and other vehicles imitated its unique hubcap design.

Pressed Steel Disc (the 1930s)

About four years after the success of the Stainless Steel Disc, Cadillac revolutionized the market again with its Pressed steel hubcaps. The disc’s circumference earned it the alternate name Wheel Cover since it reached the ends of the wheels.

Chrome-Plated Trim Ring (the 1940s – 1950s)

Chrome-plated and Cast-Iron hubcaps dominated the 1940s, especially when drag racers started removing their covers before competing. The easy identification that came afterward led to the alternate option of chrome-painted wheels.

Stamped-Steel (the 1950s – 1970s)

Stamped-Steel hubcaps starting from American automobile manufacturers slowly spread worldwide. Before the invention of plastic and the ABS wheel covers, Stamped-Steel hubcaps were the longest running design spanning two decades.

Plastic and ABS (1970s – 1980s)

First, there was a slow transition to plastic wheel covers in the 1970s before the eventual phasing out of steel and stainless steel designs in 1980.

Non-Rotating Hubcaps

Note that later development of non-rotating hubcaps entered the market through Rolls Royce and became a staple with golf carts and other industrial machinery.

Design

Production Year
Hubcap Design
1860 – 1915
Nickel-plated Brass
1920s
Stainless Steel
1927
 
1930s
Pressed Stainless Steel
1940s to 1950s
Chrome-Plated, Spring Steel Clip
1950s – 1970s
Stamped Steel Retention
1970s – Present
Plastic Clip and ABS wheel covers

 How Big Is the Hubcap?

What’s in size?

A lot. Because as you’ve learned so far, hubcaps became bigger through their evolution, starting from functionary small wheel covers to wide sizes. If your hubcap comes without a company logo or name on the center, don’t fret, there’s an alternative means of identification.

Apart from the obvious, small sizes are older models or recent Poverty caps; you should note that American automobiles had a standard 14-to-15-inch hubcap production during its prime peak-era – 1950 – 1960.

In the following decade, it reduced the size for a more streamlined outlook at 13-inches. Also, with the creation of compact vehicles, the necessity for correspondent hubcaps grew, causing the reduction of wheel cover circumferences.

In the same vein, bigger current automobiles require wider hubcaps at 16-to-18-inches.

Note that hubcaps only fit on compatible wheels, so you should measure yours before buying a wheel cover.

Colors

Spring-Loaded retention hubcaps had painted finishing to give them the illusion of a floating cover.

With the new rules of Drag Racing stipulating drivers to remove their hubcaps before competing, Americans soon started painting their wheels in chrome and adding more features in that shade between the late 1940s to the early 1970s.

Chrome became so ingrained in the automobile culture that when Plastic and ABS entered the market, manufacturers painted them chrome to resemble the old designs.  

Valuation of Hubcaps

With the growing design of the powder-coated steel-wheel and casted wheels, the desire for hubcaps dwindles. However, as a collector’s item, the wheel cover still holds a certain appeal that accounts for its average selling price of $10 on resale sites and almost $200 for rare models.

Collectors’ models command the highest market value, and you can determine that by the brand. A typical example is the Cadillac Sombrero you’ve read about at the beginning and other models mentioned in the Identification segment.

Here’s a recap of how to evaluate your vintage hubcap;

Brand Matters

Why should a brand matter if the product is good? You’d buy a product by name because its efficiency is proven. People often remember how good a product is and associate the best brand’s name with all other manufacturer’s items.

Cadillac and Chevrolet are the top names that command the highest value because of their track record with hubcaps. Following the evolution of hubcaps, you’ve learned the Cadillac car owners were victims of hubcapping (stolen hubcaps by bootleggers.)

How Secure is your Hubcap Retention?

While hubcaps now have a reputation for being beautiful accessories, their original purpose would always factor into the overall valuation. What good is a beautiful hubcap if it doesn’t seal the grease and keep the dust and dirt out?

360 degrees retention provides the most secure protection and subsequently commands the highest price value. On the contrary, Dog Dish hubcaps, a.k.a. Poverty Caps, often sell at significantly lower values except for rare models like the GMC truck one above.

Materials rarely influence the bottom line  

Unlike most vintage and antique items, hubcap materials don’t typically affect the bottom line because despite being phased out, older products made of brass and aluminum can still pull top dollar as a result of age.

The Plastic and ABS hubcaps rule the market today. Still, it doesn’t make them intrinsically more valuable than metal or steel wheel covers, especially if the latter has good brand names to their advantage.

Why are Hubcaps important?

As the saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” and that’s what hubcaps do for your automobile wheels. As the wheel turns, it risks contamination from dust, dirt, grime, leaking oil, tar, mortar, and other road chemicals. With the hubcap, you significantly reduce the risk by protecting the inner mechanisms from exposure and beautifying your wheels, so it’s a win-win situation. 

Why do my Hubcaps keep falling off?

Hubcaps will fall off when they lack a proper retention mechanism regardless of the design’s recency. Experts recommend all-around rings as the best hubcap retention because it secures the entire circumference with a firm grip.

Sometimes, the fall-off results from poor installment and not the inadequacy of the product, so always confirm the size and ensure you’ve secured the entire circumference before writing it off.

Where can I buy used Vintage hubcaps?

 Vintage hubcaps are typically available on online secondary retailers like Etsy and eBay because of their rarity. You can also buy it from independent stores like Hubcap Mike and garage sales.

Although most retailers selling new hubcaps provide a factory-accompanied screw, secondary resellers do not. However, you can find one with a complete screw, and if you don’t, there’s always the option to buy that separately.

Final Thoughts

Your biggest take home from this should be not to let aesthetics cheat you out of a fully-functional product. There’s always the option to repaint your hubcap if the finish isn’t pleasing to the eyes. 

The primary factor is that it should seal the grease and protect from dust. Here’s a quick checklist to use when buying a hubcap;

  • Ensure it fits the wheel
  • Check that it secures the lug nuts and bearing
  • Look for the brand’s logo on the center

One thing center caps have over full wheel-covers is their sturdiness because the latter are often too heavy.

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