Pomona Swap Meet Find: Flame Out’s Vacuum Ashtray From 1957

It may not look like much but it is one of the oddest and rarest GM dealer options from the late 1950s. This jar is part of the Flame Out Inc. vacuum ash tray system.

The world famous Pomona Auto Swap meet opened with their first event of the 2017 year this past Sunday on January 15. As expected, there was a line of cars at gate 17 waiting for the show to open at 5:00 a.m. We waited patiently, along with the hundreds of others, in eager anticipation of the great finds inside.

We found ourselves waiting in line to enter the Pomona Fairplex, along with hundreds of others, at 5:00 in the morning.

Once the gates opened and we were able to walk the isles, we were not disappointed. There are a few items that we are always on the look for. Those really rare accessories from the factory that no one ever ordered. Something on par with the under-dash 45 rpm record player, the Hi-Way Hi-Fi for lover’s lane.

Flame Out Inc., vacuum ashtray system. Photo from www.auto-cars.site.

We managed to discover one such rare option within the first quarter of the show. Our plan was simple: get through the gate, walk to the far end and work our way back. We figured that by the time we had walked the entire show, we’d be so exhausted it would payoff being closer to the exit. As it turns out, there is no way to see everything in one day. If you go fast through the isles you miss too much.

Our speed was just right, and about one-quarter of the way through the massive show grounds, we found the Vacuum Ashtray, one of those rare factory accessories that was offered by GM from 1957 through 1960. Attempting to offer higher caliber accessories, GM offered high-end dealer installed accessories to compete with the high end car brands.

The vacuum ashtray was offered by most GM dealers for $12.75 in 1957. In today’s dollars that would be about $109 when adjusted for inflation. Asking smokers to pay the equivalent of a hundred bucks for a device when you could just throw the cigarette butts out the window for free was a downfall for this accessory. Environmental concerns were not as trendy then as they are today.

We were lucky enough to have the vendor show us how the system worked.

The system basically worked with a jar that was installed under the dash that was hooked up to the engine’s vacuum system. A push of a button and the ash or cigarette butt was sucked into the jar by the engine’s vacuum pull. Three versions of the Flame Out vacuum ashtray existed over the four years they were offered. The first consisted of a glass jar that held the ash and butts. The next two iterations were manufactured with metal containers. The glass jars were easily broken and few exist today, which is why this find was so exciting.

A few of these vacuum ashtrays have popped up on eBay and other sites over the years with a price range of $800 to $1,000 depending on the condition. The booth where we found this one had a couple of others in NOS condition. Complete and in the box. Needless to say, our trip was worth the effort. We didn’t buy one, but we did get to see one in person, and that was going to be good enough because there were other items on our shopping list.

We didn’t buy the vacuum ashtray because there was a few other items on our shopping list, but if you decide to be one of the early birds to the swap meet, we highly encourage you to bring a flashlight.

The company that made the vacuum ashtray for GM was Flame Out Inc., was located on 1550 20th street in Santa Monica, California. This beautiful location is just blocks from the ocean and the Santa Monica pier. The company is long gone now, and a full service architectural firm resides there now.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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