Restoration of a vintage 8mm film projector

A few months ago, my wife and I found this beautiful old 8mm film projector at an antique flea market on Florida’s Gulf Coast. And it was very reasonably priced too. We thought it would look great displayed in our living room, and we were right!

This vintage projector reminds me of my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, who came to America when he was 18 years old from Germany. Grandpa Leucht was very artistic and creative. As an adult, he got really into making home movies with his family and with his friends. So my family has quite a bit of old 8mm film from my grandpa.

This projector is a a Univex model PC-10. There is no manufacture date on the unit. Most online references say that these were manufactured in the 1930s, but I found one site that claims manufacture in 1947. My grandpa was 51 years old in 1947, so he could have actually owned a projector like this one.

The power cord was rubber and in very good shape, so I assume it had been replaced since the original cords were fabric covered. The motor worked fine and the lamp could not be tested since the bulb was burned out. I ordered a replacement bulb (BWY) online and it worked perfectly!

Surprisingly, this projector came with the original price tag from the manufacturer, Universal Camera Corporation! Universal Camera Corporation was founded in 1932 in New York. It manufactured still cameras, film, movie cameras, and binoculars until 1952, when the company declared bankruptcy. If we assume 37 bucks was the 1947 price, that would make the 2019 price close to $420.

This projector is actually pretty simple to understand. The sprocket at the top pulls the film off the reel and the sprocket at the bottom feeds the film into the temporary take-up reel. In between those 2 sprockets, the film is fed into a spring loaded gate which guides the film past the lens and the projector light. The film gets fed past the lens using a finger like gear that flips the film quickly to the next frame and then pauses while a rotating window opens up to let the projector light through.

It’s really cool that the lens is only held in place by spring friction. This allows you to twist the lens ever so slightly while pulling it away from the film or towards the film to change focus. This design also allows the lens to be removed easily for cleaning.

The internal gears were basically locked up due to aging and thickening of the original grease. But a single cover revealed the gear box and so I took apart each gear and cleaned and oiled them thoroughly.

Once the gears were all cleaned and oiled with a light machine oil, the projector worked perfectly! The two belts that run between the motor and the gearbox and take-up reel were made from flexible steel springs, so they were still in perfect shape. Had they been rubber or some other material, they wouldn’t have lasted 70+ years.

A complete instruction booklet came with this projector, although the pages were all separated from each other. My favorite old-timey phrase from this instruction booklet is “Read carefully the simple instructions which follow and you will add immeasurably to your pleasure.” Love it!

Another cool item that came with this projector was an old order form from 1946 that was used to order 8mm and 16mm films. That probably dates this projector to 1946. The film distributor was Castle Films, and the form just says to fill it out and mail the form to your local dealer. I’m assuming that local camera dealers probably kept the most popular reels in stock and ordered the rest as needed. Apparently Castle Films was pretty popular back in the day. My favorite old-timey phrase on this order form is “Remittance Enclosed Herewith”. Awesome!

These film reels were all black and white except for a small selection of color cartoons.

These Castle Films reels cost $1.75 for a 50 foot headline reel and $5.50 for a 180 foot complete reel. That’s more than 22 bucks and 71 bucks in 2019 money! Castle Films are still popular today and you can buy them on eBay for reasonable prices. Although depending on storage, the condition may be far from ideal. Film that was stored in a hot attic for 50 years will be brittle and will completely fall apart on you.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

2 thoughts on “Restoration of a vintage 8mm film projector”

  1. Hello Kurt! Your posting of your Univex 8 mm projector is a thrill for me for I have been disassembling/cleaning
    my Univex 8mm projector (P-8) just this week! My projector does not have belts.. . . .so while searching around the web for a source, up popped your beautifully illustrated and described posting of your PC-10.
    It looks just like my P-8! You made a nice purchase!

    One of my uncles was into cameras, still and moving, when I was a kid. Whenever my mom and I visited my uncle we were either photographed or shown his latest images. He loved photographing planes, flowers, the local Polish Catholic Church (a gorgeous structure, redesignated a Basilica.) And he took loads of photos of me! The heydays of his passion were the years 1957-1972, approximately). So I have loads of his 35 mm slides, 20 rolls of 8 mm family films as well as some Castle classic cartoons and news films. This winter I will be transfering his slides onto an SD card having purchased a device from Hammacher Schlemmer.

    I didn’t think the projector was working so I started to dismantle it. Carefully I started the job. After cleaning the bulb and taking the very thick (sticky thick) layer of dust off the fan and interior motor pieces
    it worked! I confess I hadn’t noticed if the motor spindle (?) was turning on first inspection, but it turns now! And the bulb is very bright. Also I never did open the gearbox, for what I’d done up till now tested my courage. It did seem as though the lens was just sitting tight in it’s clip. Now I know I can remove it for cleaning AND use it to focus (never would have thought of it myself, though now I think, OF COURSE!).

    Thank you so much for taking the time to organize and discuss your work on your Univex and especially for sharing it !! I am motivated to open and clean up the gear box. But right now I’ll be going back to the web to find some belts. Not sure if I need rubber or flexible steel springs. . . . .well, yesterday I was only thinking rubber, now I can open up my search by entering “flexible steel springs.” We’ll see what happens.
    I’ll let you know!

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