75 Years Ago (April 1938): Engineering Trends; Sales Slip; Union Tactics Blasted

A meeting of the passenger-car section of the Society of Automotive Engineers focuses on discussions of two developments of “major significance, according to the story New Trends in Engineering, in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ Apr. 2, 1938, issue. 

Subjects of discussion “centered on ‘truss’ type assemblies in which body and frame are integral, as on the Lincoln Zephyr, and on automatic and semi-automatic transmissions.” Use of the truss or “bridge” assembly, engineers noted, provides for a “more satisfactory operating and better engineered product.” On the other hand, “General opinion was that fully automatic transmissions might not be worth their cost, insofar as customer interest and desire were concerned.” Semi-automatics, “those in which the driver still has fairly direct control over his automobile” were seen in a more favorable light.

The effects of the U.S. economic recession are seen in WAR’s tabulation of retail passenger sales for February 1938 vs. 1937. Sales in 45 states total 98,740 this year, down 41.9% from prior-year’s 169,931. Of the nine manufacturers delineated, General Motors fairs best with a decline of just 0.5% thanks to gains of 46.5% at Buick and 1.7% at Chevrolet. In contrast Chrysler is down 61.2%, while Ford trails by 51.2%. Declines among the six independents delineated range from Studebaker 46.9% to 67.4% at Willys-Overland.

Citing a number of labor disturbances, WAR editors, in a story titled, Strikes and Causes, take issue with certain aspects of the unionization of auto plants. 

“Now comes extortion to stand alongside of coercion in the effort to keep in motion the auto union,” the story declares. “What more logical than to go to the manufacturers…and point out how much simpler everything would be…if a (union dues) checkoff were instituted.”  But, it is noted, the auto makers “definitely will not stand for a checkoff, tantamount to a closed shop.” After further excoriating unionizing efforts, the story concludes, “A crisis is being warmed to white heat that may burn the UAW out of existence and may leave fused in its place some form of worker organization which will function for the benefit of the workers, not racketeer-like leadership.”

“Now comes the extortion.... A crisis is being warmed  to white heat that may burn the UAW out of existence." ( read original story from April 22, 1938 Ward's Automotive Reports)

60 Years Ago (April 1953): Chevy Hampered by Powerglide Shortage; New Power Steering System Tested; Chevy Developing Light-Truck V-6

Chevrolet is having trouble filling a rising tide of orders for its new top-of-the-line Bel Air series, according to an Apr. 6, 1953, story, due largely to a shortage of Powerglide automatic transmissions. “Of course its relatively early in the year…but let it be said that the (Bel Air) models would probably take some 50% of Chevrolet production if the markedly improved Powerglide transmission and (more powerful) engine were available in sufficient quantities.” The demand is part of an industry trend toward selling more deluxe models.  Separately,the story points out, “Fact is management can’t commence to meet in pouring requisitions for the amazing Bel Airs. The division is short of the new and outstanding Powerglide transmission and Tonawanda (NY) Engine Works can’t turn out enough 235-cid (3.9L) engines. Last week it was said that Flint and Cleveland Chevrolet factories (assembly plants) were 20,000 Powerglides behind schedule.”

Monroe Auto Equipment Co. has developed a new power steering system that can be installed as original equipment or retrofitted to existing models by replacing the drag link. It is said to add just 13 lbs. (6 kg) of weight vs. 40 lbs. (18 kg) for existing units. The system may operate as full-time power steering, like that used by Packard and Chrysler, or a part-time booster as used by GM. “Understood to have already approved the device are Nash (Statesman), Kaiser-Frazer (Manhattan) and Willys.” Plymouth, Dodge and Hudson are reportedly testing the unit as are International Harvester and Massey Harris for use on agricultural tractors.

According a WAR Special Bulletin, Chevrolet engineering is laying plans for a V-6 engine for its ’55 light trucks. “This interesting engine is seen as a must for small trucks,” as its lower weight would give “cargo conveyances” more payload capacity. The story also notes that GMC currently is producing “a delightfully smooth” 3-cyl. diesel for commercial truck applications.

After an 11-year absence, International Harvester is re-entering the station-wagon market with its “smartly styled” truck-based Travelall. Its return is due in part to a boom in demand for station wagons that account for 5.2% of January-March car production. The wagon’s share of production has risen from just over 2.0% in 1949 to 2.4% in 1950 and 3.6% in 1951. It was a record 4.4% in 1952. “The station wagon, once cumbersome, weighty, expensive to maintain and merely a showroom decoration for many producers, is today a sleek, handsomely styled, all-steel prize that has captured the imagination of the car-buying public in no uncertain terms.”

50 Years Ago (March 1963): Checker Builds Limos; Ford’s Aluminum V-8; Model Year Car Sales Record; Renault Gets Clutchless Transmission

Checker Motors Corp. of Kalamazoo, MI, is introducing a Town Custom Limousine. With a base price of $4,637, the 129-in. (3,277-mm) wheelbase car features standard glass partition window, twin folding “occasional” seats as well a bench seat in the rear compartment, broadcloth upholstery, “all power equipment, automatic transmission and front and rear radio speakers.”  It is aimed at the chauffeur-driven market in competition with Cadillac and Imperial limos. The same car without the partition and rear jump seats is being marketed as a “funeral coach or service transport, (the latter) particularly to airports.”

Ford has developed an aluminum V-8 to power two entries in the upcoming Indianapolis 500 Memorial Day race. The all-aluminum 256 cid (4.2L) engine has a bore and stroke of 3.76 x 2.87-in. (95.5 x 72.9-mm) and “procures a maximum horsepower rating in excess of 350 at 6,000 to 8,000 rpm.” Fuel is delivered to the cylinders through four twin-choke 58-mm downdraft carburetors. A Ford spokesman says the engine’s advanced design permits one horsepower per pound of weight using commercial gasoline. “Ford engineers apparently are not passing any possible bets in the aluminum engine field, despite their allegiance to the cast iron block,” the story notes.

Domestic-make new-car sales in the ’63 model year since Oct. 1, 1962, have reached a new first-half record of 3,404,000 units through March 20 and are forecast to top 3,676,000 by the end o f the month. The prior record of 3,187,000 deliveries was set in the first half of the ’56 model year ending March 31, 1956.  At the same time, a Ward’s tabulation shows U.S. output of 4,505,034 of the ’63 models were built in the U.S. through March 31, 1963, a 412,000-unit, or 10%, increase over prior-year output of 4,093,026 of the ’62 cars. Chrysler output is up 31.9%; GM is up 10.6%, American Motors is up 6.8% and Ford is ahead 2.9%. Studebaker, on the other hand, is down 15%.  Also, GM holds a commanding 52.5% share of U.S. ’63-model car output vs. 52.3% a year earlier. Second-place Ford accounts for 26.5% of production vs. 28.4% a year earlier.

Ford Div.’s general manager (Lee Iacocca) tells reporters the auto industry is engaged in a performance race, not a speed race and that a 500-mile (805-km) race is “far more than a test of speed. It is a test of how a car handles and how its stands up to punishment.” 

The performance push comes in response to a demand for functional improvement, according to the Ford official. “Although the motorist wants more luxury, more power and more tasteful design, he also wants, and is getting, improved quality, durability and reliability, greater economy of operation and, perhaps above all, greater responsiveness.”

In an effort to pep up lagging sales of its compact Lark, Studebaker begins offering “Super Larks.” These are top-of-the-line Daytona models equipped with the 289-cid (4.7L) V-8 from the sporty Avanti in R1 (naturally aspirated) or R2 (supercharged) guise along with the Super Performance Package that includes heavy-duty suspension, Bendy/Lockheed front disc brakes, a limited-slip differential and special gauge cluster with tachometer. Similarly equipped variants of the larger Hawk coupe are available as “Super Hawks.”

Citing the trend toward increased use of automatic transmissions in smaller cars, Renault introduces an automatic transmission (already offered in France) for its U.S.-market Dauphine models. The transmission is essentially the car’s standard 3-speed manual gearbox with electromagnetically operated Ferule clutch and no separate clutch pedal. Gear selection is via instrument panel-mounted push buttons.

25 Years Ago (April 1988): Voyage for Cadillac; World’s Lowest Gas Prices; GM Quad IV

The Cadillac Voyage show car may become a production reality, according to an April 4, 1988 story. Unveiled at GM’s Teamwork and Technology exhibit in New York in January and displayed at February’s Chicago Auto Show, Cadillac may be readying a production version, according to a BOC (Buick Oldsmobile Cadillac) Group official.  Among its features are “more than 20 pneumatic and mechanical adjustments with three memory positions, seat cushion and backrest heaters, cushion massage and infrared remote-control door actuators that eliminate interior and exterior door handles as well as exterior door locks. At the same time, GM says Cadillac may replace the recently departed Cimarron with another model developed jointly with Lotus Plc.

Although word from Washington (D.C.) has gasoline prices increasing by three cents per gallon by the end of this month and up to five cents by June 30, U.S. gasoline prices are among lowest in the world.  According to the Lundberg Survey, U.S. motorists paid $1.11 per gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in January 1988 compared with a world high of $4.24 in Japan. Italy, at $4.14, was the highest in Europe. Ten countries posted prices under $1 per gallon, the lowest being Ecuador at $0.44.

According to a Ward’s survey, GM has built 77,300 of its ’88-model N-body cars with the 2.3L, 16-valve DOHC Quad IV engine introduced as a $660 option on the Buick Skylark, Olds Calais and Pontiac Grand AM in fall 1987. Olds, which developed the 4-cyl. powerplant, built 30,500 Calais models with the engine through March 31 compared with 41,300 Grand AMs and 5,500 Skylarks. Olds cited a slow production launch for initially limiting installations in the Calais, but says the take rate now is 70% vs. 26% in the Grand AM. Buick’s greater emphasis on V-6 has limited the Quad IV to a 17% rate in the Skylark.

Auto makers in several Eastern Bloc countries are planning to bring models to the U.S. market, according to a story in WAR’s April 25 edition. Soviet car maker Volzhsky Avtomobilny Zavod (VAZ), builder of Lada vehicles, says it tentatively plans to launch its front-drive Samara here 1990. 

Avtobilny Zavod Imeni Lenninskogo Komsola plans to annually export some 250,000 Moskvitch cars from the U.S.S.R. to Europe and the U.S.  starting no later than 1991. Automobilove Zavodi Narodni Podnik is aiming for a 1990 launch of a new Czechoslovakia-built front-drive Skoda and Romanian auto maker Auto Dacia says it will launch a Renault-designed small car in the U.S. in 1989, to be followed by a version of the Citroen-design Olcit. A version of the Romania-built ARO SUV also is reported to be in the works, but,WAR notes, similar plans to import the ARO in the mid-1970s stalled due to problems meeting U.S. safety and emissions standards. (None of these ambitious plans come to fruition.)