75 Years Ago (July 1938): Rear Engine Ford; New Automatic Transmission; Market Leaders Gain Share

“Issuance of a patent for a method of suspension of an engine over the rear axle to Henry Ford has loosed a flood of rumors, most of them quite wrong, that Ford will produce a rear-engine car in the fall,” states a story in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ July 16, 1938, issue. “The patent was merely protection for what may develop in the future. Ford is experimenting with rear engine jobs, as all manufacturers are, (but) it is safe to assume that all producers will stave off introduction of such models as long as possible, is as much as a very considerable gambling risk presents itself in announcing such a radical departure from the orthodox.” Larger manufacturers risk losing customers and smaller auto makers may not have the capital to finance a rear-engine model, the story points out. These and other difficulties will delay introduction rear-engine cars by “at least several years, unless some current ‘dark horse’ steps into the picture and forces the competition to take the step it pioneers.”

The development of a new hydraulic torque converter by General Motors’ Yellow Coach and Manufacturing Co. carries a “highly important number of implications,” according to a WAR. The new unit is being installed in “a number of diesel-powered buses after extensive experiments, and gives promise of invading the general truck and even passenger car fields.” The device eliminates the clutch and conventional sliding transmission gears. It consists of an impeller pump transmitting power and required speed through the “medium of a non-compressible fluid,” which in turn actuates a hydraulic motor connected to the propeller shaft. While other such devices have been developed experimentally, WAR says, none of them have been able to solve the problem of heat buildup. But, “Should this device prove itself in actual use, it may spell a final solution for the long-baffling problem of satisfactory automatic transmissions.”

The top five car makes increased their collective share of the auto market in the first five months of 1938. Gains by Buick, Chevrolet and Plymouth were enough to more than offset losses by Dodge and Ford, netting the top five a 74.3% market share in January-May, up from 70.3% in like-1937. In addition to Buick, Chevy and Plymouth, gains also were registered by Cadillac-LaSalle, Chrysler and Lincoln. All other marques were down.

70 Years Ago (July 1943): Charcoal Auto Fuel Eyed; Future $400 Car Questioned; HP Tax Feared

Facing “drastic” restrictions in gasoline usage, drivers in the eastern part of the country, where pleasure driving has been banned in many areas and workers within two miles of their jobs are required to walk, motorists are looking to “charcoal burners” (producer gas generators) to fuel their vehicles. In this device, the engine’s air supply is “drawn through carbonized wood to extract volatile gases” that can be burned as fuel in place of gasoline. Such units have “long been used in gas-scarce sections of Europe, Asia, China and South America.” High prices are being charged for the available units.

Recent publicity surrounding the intentions of a famed West Coast ship-builder to produce a post-war car in the $400 price class to be retailed by fuel-dispensing outlets, has aroused considerable interest and speculation in automotive industrial circles. “Not only is wonderment indicated in the minds of competent automotive executives as to how a modern car can be built and merchandized for such money, but the noted specifications (a 16-cyl. engine among them) also prompt questions as to the soundness of the purported design.” The launch of a new automobile by an experienced manufacturer requires a “huge outlay of money and the untiring efforts of highly trained talent. If this war-born baby is to grow into successful maturity, then history adequately illuminates a torturous path.” (Although un-named, the West Coast ship builder is in all likelihood Henry J. Kaiser who amassed a fortune developing and building relatively low-coast Liberty transport ships for the U.S. Navy as well as successful steel and concrete operations. However, his post-war automotive effort, Kaiser-Frazer Corp., never comes close to the early buildup, producing instead as line of medium-price Kaiser models from 1946 through 1955 along the more upscale Frazer variant in 1946-1951 and the 1950-1954 Henry J.  entry-level compact. None of them are priced even remotely close to $400.)

There is growing fear in the petroleum industry that U.S. basic oil reserves are dwindling and that the post-war era will see sizeable imports of crude oil to meet rising demand. Under these circumstances, conservation may be necessary, WAR advises, cautioning, “Who knows, but that horsepower taxation may be invoked as an economy measure! Possible fuel-economy edicts may preclude the possibility of employing automobile engines of high horsepower in in a post-war period.” Under such conditions, “an automatic transmission, should offer almost a practical equivalent and, possibly, all-around superior vehicle performance.”

 60 Years Ago (July 1953): Record July Truck Output; NiCad Battery Expensive; ’53-Model Prices Detailed; Power Steering, Brakes Rise

U.S. truck production is headed for record territory in July following a subpar second-quarter performance undercut by a number of suppler strikes. July output is scheduled to reach a 16-year high of 116,000 units as part of an effort to recoup strike losses.

Divco, Ford, International Harvester, Studebaker, White and Willys, all hammered by an April 30-June 27 strike at Borg-Warner, are boosting July output plans, while those such as Chevrolet, Dodge and GMC, who were not affected by strike losses, are maintaining conservative July production plans.

Costly cadmium-nickel alkaline batteries being developed by a French manufacturer for U.S. Navy aircraft are too expensive for use in the auto industry, according to WAR. Using a potassium hydroxide electrolyte and metallic plates hermetically sealed in a stainless steel container, the NiCad battery has double the life of a lead-acid battery and requires no periodic service. But it costs close to $250 compared with $80 for a conventional aircraft battery and the $15-$18 auto makers currently pay for batteries. An additional deterrent is an extreme shortage of nickel in the U.S.

A WAR compilation of ’53-model car prices by make and body style ranges from a low of $1,399, including federal excise tax, delivery and handling charges, for Kaiser-Frazer’s Henry J. Corsair to a high of $7,750 for the Cadillac Eldorado convertible.

The Eldo’s price tag handily beats even a Packard Limousine, the second-most expensive model at $,7095, and the $7,043.75 charge for a Chrysler Crown Imperial limo. The sticker price for the least costly pillarless hardtop is $1,620 on Chevrolet’s 210-Series 2-door model.  Once far more common, the business coupe, an entry-level 2-door sedan with a cargo platform in place of the rear seat, is fielded only by Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth, ranging from the Chevy 150’s $1,524 sticker to $1,617.50 for the Plymouth Cambridge.

Optional factory-installed power steering and power brakes are increasing popular among consumers. With only four makes – Dodge, Hudson, Plymouth and Willys – yet to offer the feature, power steering was installed in a record 12.4% of cars built in the first-half of 1953. Cadillac led the industry with a 95% installation rate, followed by Lincoln’s 73%, Oldsmobile’s 50% and Chrysler’s 43%. Demand is being restrained only by lack of supply. Also supply constrained are power brakes, installed on some 311,500 cars in January-June, despite being offered on just seven makes. Power brakes were installed on 98% of Lincolns built in first-half 1953 with Packard second at 70%. Oldsmobile, at 53%, was third followed closely by Chrysler at 50%. Cadillac, Pontiac and Hudson plan to introduce a power brake option on ’54 models.

50 Years Ago (July 1963): Record Car Output; A/C Use Soars; Diesel Car, Seatbelts, Hurst Shifter Make News


Based on planned output, U.S. car production in model year ’63 will beat the record 7,130,000 units assembled in the ’55 model run, according to a story in WAR’s July 22, 1963, issue. By the time the last ‘63s are built in early August, model-year output is expected to top 7,340,000 units, up from 6,686,883 in ’62 and 5,408,425 in ’61. Although production of compact cars is seen increasing to a record 2,417,000 units from 2,351,000 in ’62, their share of total output will to fall to 32.9% from a record 35.2%., WAR says. Production of fullsize Chevrolets (Impala, Bel Air and Biscayne) is forecast at 1,590,000 for the model run, up from 1,438,542 in ’62 and well ahead of the fullsize Ford’s (Galaxie 500, Galaxie and Ford 300) 845,000 units. Big-Ford output in ’62 totaled 704,775 units.

The number of cars built with factory-installed air conditioning is expected to reach 1,050,000 in in the record ’63 model run compared with only 129,000 units in ’55, the industry’s prior record-output year.

A Mercedes 190D, the only diesel-powered car sold in the U.S., has completed a coast-to-coast, Mexico-to-Canada run covering about 4,000 miles (6,427 km) at an average speed of 50.5 mph (81 km/h) and average fuel economy of 32.7 mpg (7.2 L/100 km).Total cost of fuel was $34.64.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the Detroit area increased to $.027.2 in May from $0.24.2 in April, but declined to $0.29.6 cents from $.031.9 in Portland, OR, and in St. Louis to $0.24.2 from $0.25.4.

All new cars sold in 15 states now are required to be equipped with front seatbelts and 17 states have similar legislation pending. Two bills have been introduced in Congress seeking a federal mandate for the safety devices. 

A new shift mechanism for automatic transmissions has been developed by Hurst-Campbell Inc., aimed at drivers of sporty performance cars. The floor-mounted control features two parallel channels, one with conventional automatic transmission control, the other offering manual control of gear changes. It is undergoing testing by two unidentified auto makers as a possible OEM option. (Unnamed at this point, it eventually comes to market as the Hurst Dual Gate shifter, also known as the “His and Hers” shifter, available as an option on certain high-performance Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Starfire models beginning in model year ’64. It is later offered as a factory option on several high-performance GM models as well as sold in the aftermarket. Some variants come with a keyed lock to prevent the shift lever from being moved into the manual slot.) 

25 Years Ago (July 1988): GM Launches 4-Door W-Cars; Chrysler Ends K-Car Output

Following up on its successful ’88 model year launch of Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Supreme W-body front-drive, midsize coupes, GM plans to introduce a line of 4-door variants beginning with the ’90-model Chevy Lumina in April 1989. That will be followed by a Lumina coupe as well as 4-door sedans for Buick, Olds and Pontiac in the fall. It marks the first time a 4-door has been part of the Grand Prix lineup.

Having ended output of its front-drive E-body Dodge 600/Plymouth Caravelle in June, Chrysler says it plans to halt assembly of its venerable Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant K-cars in December. Chrysler says Dodge Omni/Shadow and Plymouth Horizon/Sundance will fill the void left by the K-car’s demise. At the same time, the auto maker forecasts sales of its new Cummins turbodiesel-powered Ram pickup at 12,000 for the ’89 model year. A Class 4 variant is being eyed to compete with Ford’s F-SuperDuty model.

Also new for ’89 will be a convertible Dodge Dakota pickup. Built by ASC Corp., it will be offered in 2- and 4-wheel-drive variants with an optional sporty trim package. Output of 2,000 units is forecast for the ’89 model year.