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Panel-Bar and Motiv Economy Tools

Vlchek had long offered tools of varying grades to meet the different price points desired by the market. By the 1940s the older distinction between "carbon steel" and "alloy steel" had become blurred, as the typical steel used for economy tools was a carbon-manganese tool steel with improved performance compared to the carbon steel of the 1920s and earlier.

"Panel Bar" Wrenches

By 1949 Vlchek had introduced a line of "Panel Bar" economy tools made of "Special Analysis Steel", with the name for the line derived from the depressed panels on the shanks. The 1949 catalog offered panel-bar wrenches in open-end, combination, and box-end styles.

The "Panel Bar" tools had forged-in markings, and although some were marked with the Vlchek name, more commonly the tools had no marking to identify the company. It's likely that the later production was kept generic to allow for sales through different channels.

The "Panel Bar" tools remained in production through the 1950s and were still listed in the 1959 catalog.

Motiv Brand Wrenches

By 1952 Vlchek had introduced a brand "Motiv" for an economy line of wrenches. These were made from a "Special Analysis Steel", instead of the chrome alloy used for the standard line, allowing them to sell at a somewhat lower price. For example, the 1953 list price for the Motiv X-24 combination wrench was $1.36, compared to $1.62 for the corresponding WBE24 wrench.

The Motiv line was relatively short-lived, as these tools were no longer listed in the 1957 catalog.

The "Vega" Line

In the late 1950s Vlchek made one more attempt at an economy tool line with the "Vega" wrench series, which included open-end, combination, and box wrenches. The open-end wrenches were similar to the venerable W-series, but with a "WO" prefix to the model numbers. Similarly, the combination wrenches followed the WBE-series with a "WC" prefix, and the box wrenches followed the WBH-series with a "WB" prefix.

The steel used for the "Vega" line was just given as "select steel", without a specific composition, but was probably similar to that used for the "Panel Bar" tools.

The "Vega" tools were marked with the "Vlchek" brand, so we're not sure of the origin of the "Vega" moniker. Currently our only reference to the "Vega" line is the 1959 Vlchek catalog.


Panel Bar Wrenches

The 1949 catalog listed several groups of tools made of "Special Analysis Steel", which were intended to provide a less expensive alternative to the alloy steel tools. Included among these economy tools are "Panel Bar" box-end wrenches, available in both long deep offset and short shallow offset configurations, as well as "Panel Bar" open-end and combination wrenches.

The Panel Bar box-end wrench designs are similar to the WBA and WBC series, respectively, but with a recessed panel in the shank. These tools were marked with raised letters in the depressed panels on both side of the shank, typically with "Made in U.S.A." (or equivalent) and "Forged Steel". The Vlchek name may or may not be marked.


[Model X540] 3/8x7/16 Panel Bar Offset Box Wrench

[Vlchek Panel Bar 3/8x7/16 Deep Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 173. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X540] 3/8x7/16 Deep Offset Box Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail, ca. Late 1940s to 1960s.

Fig. 173 at the left shows our first Panel Bar example, a 3/8x7/16 deep offset wrench marked "Vlchek U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse.

The overall length is 7.6 inches. This wrench has a rough cadmium finish, now worn through in places. The forged-in number is "2".

The Panel Bar tools were generally not marked with a model number, but the catalog identifies this wrench (in "Velco" finish) as a model X540.

[Model X541] 1/2x9/16 Panel Bar Offset Box Wrench

[Vlchek Panel Bar 1/2x9/16 Deep Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 174. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X541] 1/2x9/16 Deep Offset Box Wrench, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail, ca. Late 1940s to 1960s.

Fig. 174 shows the next Panel Bar example, a 1/2x9/16 deep offset box wrench, marked "Made in U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse. The forged-in number is "12".

The overall length is 8.6 inches, and the finish is cadmium plating.

No model number is marked, but the catalog identifies this as a model X541.

[Model X543] 3/4x25/32 Offset Box Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 3/4x25/32 Deep Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 175. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X543] 3/4x25/32 Deep Offset Box Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 175 at the left shows a Vlchek 3/4x25/32 deep offset wrench, marked "Vlchek Made in U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse.

The overall length is 11.2 inches. This wrench has no apparent finish remaining, but may have had a cadmium finish at some point.

No model number is marked, but the catalog identifies this as a model X543.

[Model X534] 13/16x7/8 Offset Box Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 13/16x7/8 Deep Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 176. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X534] 13/16x7/8 Deep Offset Box Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

In Fig. 176 we see a Vlchek 13/16x7/8 deep offset Panel Bar wrench, marked "Vlchek Made in U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse.

The overall length is 12.7 inches. The wrench has a hard plated finish with a yellowish tint. No model number is marked, but the catalog identifies this wrench (with nickel plate) as a model X534.

[Model X562] 1/2x9/16 Short Box Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 1/2x9/16 Short Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 177. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X562] 1/2x9/16 Short Offset Box Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 177 shows an example of a Vlchek 1/2x9/16 short offset Panel Bar wrench, marked "Forged Steel" with "Made in U.S.A." on the reverse, but without the company name. The overall length is 5.3 inches.

The finish is a thin bright plating, now mostly worn off. The 1/2x9/16 size with the bright plated finish is listed as catalog model X562.

The wrench is clearly a Vlchek piece based on the design and the forged-in number "5", and the lack of a company name marking may indicate that this was sold as contract production. (These were supposed to be economy-grade tools.)

[Model X573] 5/8x11/16 Short Box Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 5/8x11/16 Short Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 178. Vlchek Panel Bar [Model X573] 5/8x11/16 Short Offset Box Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

In Fig. 178 we see another example of the short Panel Bar series, a 5/8x11/16 box-end wrench marked "Vlchek U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse. The overall length is 6.1 inches.

The wrench has a what appears to be a painted finish, but worn through in places. The 5/8x11/16 size with a non-plated finish is listed as catalog model X573.

Note that "Vlchek U.S.A." appears where the previous example had the "Made in U.S.A." marking.

3/4x25/32 Short Box Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 3/4x25/32 Short Offset Box Wrench]
Fig. 179. Vlchek Panel Bar 3/4x24/25 Short Offset Box Wrench, with Insets for Side and Reverse Detail.

Fig. 179 shows a Vlchek 3/4x25/32 short Panel Bar wrench, marked "Made in U.S.A." with "Forged Steel" on the reverse.

The overall length is 7.1 inches. The finish is a bright chrome plating with polished ends, and a forged-in number "2" is visible on the front. The company name is not marked, but the wrench can be identified as Vlchek production by the design and the forged-in number.

The 3/4x25/32 Panel Bar wrench had apparently been discontinued by the time of the 1952 catalog, so the model number for this wrench is not available at this time.

The upper inset shows a side view of the wrench to illustrate the angled ends and very slight offset, giving it an almost flat profile.

19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench, Panel Bar Style

The Panel Bar series also included open-end wrenches, as the next several figures illustrate.

[Vlchek Panel Bar 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 180. Vlchek Panel Bar 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 180 shows a Vlchek 19/32x11/16 open-end wrench in the panel bar style, marked with "Drop Forged" and the fractional sizes forged into the shank, with a forged-in number "16" and "Made in U.S.A." on the reverse.

The overall length is 6.5 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 181. Vlchek Panel Bar 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail, ca. Late 1940s to 1960s.

Fig. 181 shows a Vlchek 5/8x3/4 open-end wrench in the panel bar style, marked with "Drop Forged" and the fractional sizes forged into the shank, with a forged-in number "5" and "Made in U.S.A." on the reverse.

The overall length is 7.5 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

In later years Vlchek offered a chrome finish option for the Panel Bar wrench, in addition to the plain and cadmium finishes. This next figure shows an example.

[Vlchek Panel Bar 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 181B. Vlchek Panel Bar 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail, ca. Late 1950s to 1960s.

Fig. 181B shows a later Vlchek 5/8x3/4 Panel Bar open-end wrench with a chrome finish, marked with "Drop Forged" and the fractional sizes forged into the shank, with a forged-in number "38" and "Made in U.S.A." on the reverse.

The overall length is 7.5 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

1-1/16x1-1/8 Open-End Wrench, Panel Bar Style

[Vlchek Panel Bar 1-1/16x1-1/8 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 182. Vlchek Panel Bar 1-1/16x1-1/8 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail, ca. Late 1940s to 1960s.

Fig. 182 shows a Vlchek 1-1/16x1-1/8 open-end wrench in the panel bar style, marked with "Drop Forged" and the fractional sizes forged into the shank, with a forged-in number "3" and "Made in U.S.A." on the reverse.

The overall length is 10.5 inches, and the finish is cadmium plating.


Motiv Brand Tools

By 1952 Vlchek had introduced a brand "Motiv" for an economy line of wrenches. These were made from a "Special Analysis Steel", instead of the chrome alloy used for the standard line, allowing them to sell at a somewhat lower price. For example, the 1953 list price for the Motiv X-24 was $1.36 compared to $1.62 for the WBE24 wrench.

Unlike the panel bar economy tools, the Motiv tools were made with the same design (and probably the same forging dies) as the regular alloy steel tools.

The Motiv brand was a short-lived experiment, and by the time of the 1957 catalog was no longer available.


Motiv N727 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench

[Motiv N727 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 184. Motiv N727 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail, ca. 1952 to Mid 1950s.

Fig. 184 shows a Motiv N727 9/16x5/8 open-end wrench, stamped with "Motiv" and the model number on the faces. The shank is marked with "Made in U.S.A." forged into the front, with "Drop Forged" forged into the reverse. The shank also has a forged-in number "5" visible at the right.

The overall length is 6.1 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.


Motiv X24 3/4 Combination Wrench

[Motiv X24 3/4 Combo Wrench]
Fig. 185. Motiv X24 3/4 Combination Wrench, ca. 1953 to Mid 1950s.

Fig. 185 shows a Motiv X24 3/4 combination wrench, stamped "Motiv" with the model number and fractional size. The forged-in number is "10".

The overall length is 9.75 inches.

This wrench is very similar to the WBE24 Wrench shown earlier, but presumably made of a lesser grade of steel.

The narrow shank indicates production from 1953 onward.

Motiv XB1618 1/2x9/16 Offset Box-End Wrench

[Motiv XB1618 1/2x9/16 Offset Box-End Wrench]
Fig. 185B. Motiv XB1618 1/2x9/16 Offset Box-End Wrench, ca. 1952 to Mid 1950s.

Fig. 185B shows a Motiv XB1618 1/2x9/16 offset box-end wrench, stamped "Motiv" with the model number and fractional sizes. The reverse shank is marked with a forged-in number "11" (not shown).

The overall length is 9.2 inches.


"Vega" Tools

In the late 1950s Vlchek introduced a "Vega" line of economy tools, possibly as the successor to the "Motiv" brand. These tools were marked with the Vchek company name but had alternate model numbers to distinguish them from the other tools. The moniker "Vega" is known only from the catalog listing, as it was not marked on the tools.

The "Vega" tools were available in the WO-series of open-end wrenches, WC-series of combination wrenches, and WB-series (similar to the WBH-series) of offset box-end wrenches. The tools were similar in design to Vlchek's regular alloy steel tools, but were less highly finished and typically had some traces of the trimming operation remaining on the edges.


WO1922 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek WO1922 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 186A. Vlchek WO1922 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench, ca. Late 1950s to Early 1960s.

Fig. 186A shows a Vlchek WO1922 19/32x11/16 open-end wrench, stamped "Vlchek" and "U.S.A." with the model number and fractional sizes on the shank. The shank is also marked with a forged-in number "1" visible at the left.

The overall length is 6.1 inches, and the finish is chrome plating with polished faces.


WO2024 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek WO2024 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 186B. Vlchek WO2024 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench, ca. Late 1950s to Early 1960s.

Fig. 186B shows a Vlchek WO2024 5/8x3/4 open-end wrench, stamped "Vlchek" and "U.S.A." with the model number and fractional sizes on the shank. The shank is also marked with a forged-in number "5" visible at the left.

The overall length is 7.0 inches, and the finish is chrome plating with polished faces.


WC32 1 Inch Combination Wrench

[Vlchek WC32 1 Inch Combination Wrench]
Fig. 186C. Vlchek WC32 1 Inch Combination Wrench, with Inset for Side View, ca. Late 1950s to Early 1960s.

Fig. 186C shows a Vlchek WC32 1 inch combination wrench, stamped "Vlchek" and "U.S.A." with the model number and fractional sizes on the shank. The shank is also marked with a forged-in number "2" visible at the left.

The overall length is 13.2 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

The top inset shows a side view of the wrench. Traces of the trimming operation can be seen on the open and box ends, illustrating the slightly less refined finishing operations applied to this line of economy tools.


Later Sockets and Drive Tools

In the mid to late 1950s Vlchek began offering sockets and drive tools regularly in their catalogs, and the 1957 Vlchek catalog offered tools in 1/4-drive up through 3/4-drive sizes. But in Vlchek's later period, most of the known examples of socket tools bear a close resemblance to 1950s-era socket tools from Fleet and Penens, two companies in the Proto Tools family. (See for example the 2805 Extension.) These considerations suggest that Vlchek's later socket tools were most likely produced under contract manufacture, rather than developed internally.

The examples in this section represent Vlchek's later period, beginning around the mid 1950s. During this time the Vlchek catalog offered socket tools in 1/4-drive up through 3/4-drive sizes, with various sets available as well as individual tools.


Vlchek 2805 3/8-Drive Extension

This next figure provides a comparison of a Vlchek extension with one marked for Challenger, another of the brands in the Proto family.

[Vlchek and Challenger 3/8-Drive 6 Inch Extensions]
Fig. 187A. Vlchek 2805 3/8-Drive 6 Inch Extension (Bottom) with Challenger 1266 Extension (Top).

Fig. 187A shows a Vlchek 2805 3/8-drive 6 inch extension on the bottom, stamped "Vlchek Alloy USA" on the drive end. The overall length is 6.5 inches.

For comparison, the top tool is a Challenger 1266 3/8-drive extension marked "MFD USA Alloy". Although the lengths are slightly different, notice the great similarity in the fluted shapes and the transitions to the drive end.

One other detail isn't in the photograph, but both tools have a dimple on the drive end in the middle of one of the flats; this is characteristic of all Proto drive tools. (Sometimes the drive end has a hole instead, but we could call this a deep dimple.)


3800 1/2-Drive Ratchet

[Vlchek 3800 1/2-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 187B. Vlchek 3800 1/2-Drive Ratchet, with Inset for Side View, ca. Mid 1950s to 1960s.

Fig. 187B shows a Vlchek model 3800 1/2-drive ratchet, marked "U.S.A." on the shifter. The overall length is 10.1 inches.

A careful comparison of this ratchet found it to be very similar to the Penens 1260 Ratchet. In particular, the ratchet heads for both models are machined symmetrically, so that the ratchet mechanism can be inserted from either side. The ratchet mechanisms were also of the same design.

One odd feature of this ratchet is that the head gear is cut with only 30 teeth, fewer even than some rotating-gear ratchets; typically a round-head ratchet will have 40-50 or more teeth.


32xx 1/2-Drive Sockets

[Vlchek 3800 1/2-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 188. Vlchek 32xx 1/2-Drive Sockets, with Inset for Broaching, ca. Mid 1950s to 1960s.

Fig. 188 shows two 1/2-drive Vlchek 32xx series sockets, both marked "Alloy U.S.A." and with a bright polished chrome finish. The models and sizes are 3216 (1/2) on the left and 3232 (1 inch) on the right.

The inset at the top shows the 12-point broaching, showing hot-broached construction with a ring of displaced material.

As with the model 3800 ratchet above, these sockets are nearly identical to those of Penens production. The clincher is the small symbol marked on the side of the socket, resembling an outlined "+" or perhaps a four-leaf clover. (The mark can be seen by careful examination of the top inset.) This mark is placed in the exact center one drive face by a crimping operation, in order to form a dimple on the inside surface for securing the socket to the drive stud.

Penens also used the outlined "+" mark in their socket production, as can be seen in the Penens 16xx Sockets. Although the Proto and P&C brands also made use of a dimple to secure sockets, at least for some socket production, they typically used a different mark on the outside.


1800 1/4-Drive Ratchet

[Vlchek 1800 1/4-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 189. Vlchek 1800 1/4-Drive Ratchet, with Inset for Detail, ca. Mid 1950s to 1960s.

Fig. 189 shows a Vlchek model 1800 1/4-drive ratchet, marked "U.S.A." on the shifter.

The overall length is 4.5 inches.


Ersatz Vlchek

In 1959 Vlchek Tool was acquired by Pendleton Tool Industries, the parent company of Proto Tools and other brands. By the early 1960s Challenger, one of Pendleton's divisions, had moved to Cleveland to use the Vlchek factory. Within a few years Pendleton itself had been acquired by the Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, an industrial conglomerate.

It's not known for how long Pendleton continued the production of the then-current Vlchek tools, but there are some indications that the acquisition may have been more for the Vlchek brand value. For example, it's fairly easy to find examples of relatively newer-looking tools marked "Vlchek", but otherwise closely resembling Proto or Fleet production.

These considerations suggest that at least part of the late production marked "Vlchek" may simply be Proto, Fleet, or Challenger tools stamped with the Vlchek name. This is a significant complication for anyone wanting to study the design and evolution of Vlchek-made tools, especially since it's not easy to estimate the manufacturing date of any particular tool. The best guideline here may be "If it looks like Proto/Fleet, it probably is."

The figures below give some examples of tools marked "Vlchek" that appear to be rebranded Proto or Fleet tools, and also an example of a Fleet-branded tool that resembles Vlchek design and manufacture.


"Vlchek" WBE12 3/8 Combination Wrench

This next figure is a perfect illustration of what we mean by "Ersatz Vlchek", as it shows a wrench with practically no Vlchek attributes except for the name.

[Vlchek WBE12 3/8 Combination Wrench]
Fig. 190A. "Vlchek" WBE12 3/8 Combination Wrench, with Inset for Side View, ca. Early to Late 1960s.

Fig. 190A shows a "Vlchek" WBE12 3/8 combination wrench, stamped "Alloy" and "MFD. U.S.A." with the model number and fractional sizes on the shank. The shank also has a forged-in raised triangle visible at the left, with a forged-in number "2" (not shown) on the reverse.

The overall length is 5.8 inches, and the finish is a chrome plating.

Let's go over some of the ways in which this wrench differs from "classic" Vlchek production. First of all, note that the box end has only slightly rounded edges, and the open end has nearly flat edges, in contrast to the sharply rounded edges used by Vlchek. This is not merely a cosmetic issue -- when flat surfaces meet at a sharp edge, it creates a weak point in the plated finish, making it easy for the finish to chip off or for rust to get under the plating. But it's cheaper and faster to grind surfaces flat than to provide a controlled radius at the edges.

Now consider the "MFD. U.S.A." marking on the wrench. This abbreviation had long been used by Plomb and the Proto family for their tools, but Vlchek always used "Made in U.S.A." or simply "U.S.A." markings on its tools.

Finally, you were probably wondering, what is a Grecian urn doing on a Vlchek wrench? Unless you've seen an old Challenger catalog, you may have been mystified by the odd symbol to the left of the Vlchek name. In the early 1950s Challenger used a Roman gladiator theme for its catalogs, and the urn is part of that marketing fluff.

The noted differences make it clear that this wrench is simply rebranded Challenger production, either made in a different facility, or possibly with the Vlchek factory retooled for Challenger production.


W3236 1x1-1/16 Open-End Wrench

The Vlchek W-series wrenches remained in production for some years after the acquisition by Pendleton. This next figure shows an example believed to represent the later production.

[Vlchek W3236 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 190B. Vlchek W3236 1x1-1/8 Open-End Wrench, ca. Early to Late 1960s.

Fig. 190B shows a much later Vlchek W3236 1x1-1/8 open-end wrench, stamped "Alloy U.S.A." on the shank.

The overall length is 12.1 inches, and the finish is a full chrome plating with polished ends.

This wrench has a flatter and thicker shank than the earlier Vlchek models, and in some ways resembles the Proto open-end wrenches.


Vlchek AV6 "Clik-Stop" 6 Inch Adjustable Wrench

[Vlchek AV6 6 Inch Adjustable Wrench]
Fig. 192. Vlchek AV6 6 Inch "Clik-Stop" Adjustable Wrench, with Inset for Reverse, 1960.

Fig. 192 shows a Vlchek AV6 6 inch adjustable wrench in the Crescent style, stamped "Cleveland, USA" with "Forged Alloy Steel" forged into the shank, and with "Clik-Stop" and "Patented" on the reverse. The reverse also has a forged-in code "U.3.0" near the hanging hole.

The overall length is 6.1 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

This wrench closely resembles Proto adjustable wrenches, but more importantly, the "Clik-Stop" trademark was registered in 1958 by Pendleton Tool Industries, the parent company for Proto in the 1950s. Similarly, the "Clik-Stop" mechanism is covered by patent #2,905,037, issued to C.W. Coslow in 1959 with assignment to Pendleton Tool Industries.

The Clik-Stop mark has been used on Proto and related brands for years, so it's clear that this wrench is a Proto product. More accurately, the wrench was made by the J.P. Danielson division of Pendleton Tool Industries, the factory responsible for adjustable wrench production. The forged-in marking on the reverse is a Danielson date code, which in this case indicates production in 1960.

A review of the Vlchek catalogs from the late 1950s shows that Vlchek was actually offering Crescent-style wrenches by 1957 or earlier. It's likely that these earlier wrenches were also produced by Danielson.


Fleet 6514 3/8x7/16 Box-End Wrench

[Fleet 6514 3/8x7/16 Offset Box-End Wrench]
Fig. 193. Fleet 6514 3/8x7/16 Offset Box-End Wrench, ca. 1960s.

Fig. 193 shows a Fleet 6514 3/8x7/16 offset box-end wrench, marked "U.S.A." and with 6-point (single-hex) openings. The shank also has a forged-in triangle marking visible at the right.

The overall length 4.5 inches.

The wrench closely resembles the Vlchek WBC models in design, and the box ends have a relatively sharp radius as is common to Vlchek tools. In addition, a forged-in number "1" is visible at one end.


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