75 Years Ago (May 1938): ‘38 Model Year Near End?; Rear-Engine Small Car; “Milk” Paint Patent

Production of ’38 model cars may end earlier than normal, concludes a story in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ May 7, 1938, issue. “Indications are that some factories are thinking about shutdowns on 1938-model production within the coming month, to stay down until fall.”  The early closings are contrary to usual practice in which output begins to dial down in May and continues at “a mild rate of decline until August, when shutdowns for model changes usually group."

However, some plants are already operating so far below capacity, due to the on-going sales slump, “diminishment as in former years would be hopelessly impractical.” 

Instead OEMs are expected to hold close to current operational levels until such time as they have stockpiled enough vehicles to meet demand through the summer then close plants until ’39-model production begins. Concludes the story, “On this premise, Mr. Sloan’s statement that 1938 model production would be around 2,500,000 units will not be too pessimistic. Final figures may disclose the total under that mark, rather than above it.”

A new rear-engine small car may be sold in the U.S. within 18 months, according to “well-grounded reports circulated in New York this week,” says another May 7, story. “Confirmation was obtained from French auto manufacturer Emile Mathis that he was contemplating American manufacture of such a car.” The story says that car will be powered by a rear-mounted “airplane-type radial engine that automotive engineers have long advocated in theoretical discussions of the subject.”  Plant locations along the East Coast are being scouted. It is noted that to date, only one rear-engine car, the Stout Scarab, has appeared on the scene, although numerous prototype models have been built. “There is little likelihood of there being a general movement toward rear-powered vehicles in the near future… such a development may be expected over a long term ahead, however,” concludes the article.

Ward’s seldom discusses psychological factors which affect the business,” declares the opening sentence of Only the Industrious Get the Business. Describing the case of a man who visits several new- and used-car dealerships in Detroit before a salesman finally approaches and sells him a used car, the article says, “Slipshod indifference, stupid inattention, dowdy resignation – these are the things the sales manager must overcome. Salesmen have become demoralized and cowed. Maybe these paragraphs will help rouse them from their ineptitude… sales managers are welcome to use these remarks as they choose; the facts are entirely true.”

Patents have been issued to William S. Murray of Utica, NY, for the process of converting milk solids into plastic for use as an auto body finish. It is claimed the process will provide a hard, high finish and act similar to Bakelite. (An early form of thermosettingphenol formaldehyde resin, developed in New York in 1907 by Belgian-born Leo Baekeland. Renowned for its electrical non-conductivity and heat resistance, it was used in a wide range of industrial and home products as diverse as automotive distributor caps, rotors and insulators to radio cabinets and jewelry.)

60 Years Ago (May 1953): Record 1953 Output Possible; Ford Celebrates 50 Years; AC Boom Seen; More Instrumentation

Auto makers are setting their sights on producing a record 6,850,000 cars, along with 1,275,000 trucks in calendar 1953. The optimism comes in the face of a possible steel shortage (despite scaling back of military allotments as the Korean conflict winds down), supplier strikes, an overabundance of used cars, a labor shortage and the possibility of tighter credit. Still, the industry’s 1950 record of 6,674,945 car assemblies will be “seriously challenged this year, or even exceeded by as much as 100,000-200,000 units.” Current schedules call for January-June output of 3.4 million cars, besting the prior record of 3,109,134 set in 1951. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are set to build 6,018,000 cars in 1953, 60% more than the 3,023,000 built in 1952. The truck outlook, while 5% higher than 1952, will likely be fourth-best, trailing the record 1,412,256 units built in 1951, second-best 1948’s 1,369,472 and the 1,344,225 assembled in 1950. 

As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Ford opens its scientific labs, engineering offices and styling studios to the press the week of May 6. One impressive innovation on display is a “decidedly novel combination hardtop convertible that really, by a mere push of a button, may be converted from a steel-top model to a completely open phaeton.” The publication declares “this almost fantastic design is a production must.” 

    

The ’55 model year should see its widespread use by Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, the story says, labeling comments that it can’t be made rattleproof, an “unstudied viewpoint that is not well founded.” (Ford originally develops the retractable hardtop mechanism for its high-price ’55-’57 Lincoln Continental Mk II. But the ultimately unprofitable, low-volume car never offers a production convertible (reportedly just three prototype convertibles, all of them soft-tops, are “factory” built for exhibition) and is discontinued after less than 3,000 are built. With development costs estimated in excess of $20 million, the expensive and trouble-prone retractable-hardtop mechanism is first used on the ’57-’59 Ford Skyliner , then adapted for use in Lincoln and Thunderbird soft-top convertibles from ’58 through ’66.)

Unquestionably, the next big-dollar volume accessory will be refrigerated air conditioners for passenger cars, declaresa front-page story WAR’s May 25, 1953, issue. Oldsmobile, leading the industry in air conditioning sales so far in 1953, plans to install 18,000 this year and could handle as many as 25,000 if the system, manufactured by Frigidaire Div., were available in adequate supply. Cadillac will install 8,000-10,000 units this year, the story says, again limited by supply. It is pointed out that Buick, not as aggressively marketing the system as Olds and Cadillac, will likely build 6,000-8,000 A/C equipped cars this year, while Pontiac and Chevrolet have shown only passive interest. In 1954, Olds’ quota will be 30,000-35,000 with Cadillac getting 25,000 and Buick 15,000-20,000. At the same time Lincoln is expected to deliver 1,000 cars equipped with a Novi Machine Co., A/C system in 1953, while Chrysler will install a similar device on about 1,000 Chrysler, Desoto and Dodge cars. Interest will increase in ’55, the story says, when a more compact, hermetically sealed unit is set to debut that may be integrated into a car’s inbuilt duct system (early designs deliver cool air through vents in the headliner and cannot be installed in convertibles) and used to exhaust cigarette smoke and stale air from the car as well cool the interior. By then, the story concludes, the prevailing price of $595 will be cut possibly in half.

More Instruments Coming for Easier, Safer Driving? asks the headline on a story summarizing the results of a survey of motorists on what instruments they want on a ’54 car. No.1 is an oil-level gauge in place of the “long outmoded dipstick.” It could be packaged, the story notes, in combination with a similar gauge for automatic transmission oil level. Another worthwhile gage, inWAR’s opinion, might be one to indicate pressure in power steering and power brake systems, along with one to indicate outside temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. A real “automobile fanatic might want a tachometer, manifold vacuum indicator, a miles per gallon odometer and some sort of gage which could check tire pressures at the touch of a button. But these are well out of the realm of possibility for a production car. Furthermore, it is doubtful if many drivers pay attention to anything except the speedometer and gasoline gage,” the story concludes.

50 Years Ago (May 1963): Ward’s Mid-Year Equipment Survey; Chrysler Imports Simca; 100,000th Dart Built; Ford, Ferrari Talk; Ford Enters Indy Race

WAR publishes its mid-year factory-installed equipment survey for ’63 models. Covering 22 items, the survey shows Lincoln Continental leads in air conditioning use with a 79.8% take rate, followed by Cadillac at 66.8% and Chrysler Imperial at 64.7%. Ford Falcon, Mercury Comet and Studebaker Lark tie for lowest A/C use at 1.6%. Heater installations range from 100% on Cadillac, fullsize Pontiac, Pontiac Tempest, Thunderbird, Lincoln and Imperial, to 93.1% on Lark. Other items surveyed include, backup lights, ranging from 100% on luxury cars to 9.8% on the standard Dodge, and seatbelts, from 25.5% on Thunderbird to Dodge Dart’s 7.5%. The survey also shows that an automatic transmission was installed in more than half of all models except the Chevy Corvair at 43.2%. Only the Chevy II, 1.4%, and Tempest, 63.0%, offer a 4-cyl. engine.    

Chrysler begins selling the imported rear-engine Simca 1000 sedan priced at $1,595, excluding transportation and dealer prep fees, at East Coast and Gulf ports of entry. Riding on an 87.3-in. ( 0000-mm) wheelbase, it is powered by a 58-cid, 50-hp, water-cooled I-4 engine. 

Production of the new-for-’63 Dodge Dart compact reaches 100,971 through April. It is offered in 2- and 4-door sedan, station wagon and 2-door hardtop body styles. (It will go on to spawn a number of models including a convertible,  a high-performance GTS and the fastback Dart Demon before being replaced in the mid-1970s by the Aspen.  Prior to ‘63, the Dart was a full-size Dodge variant.)

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Ford and Ferrari are in talks aimed at Ford acquiring the Italian racing sports car legend. It is part of Ford’s on-going effort to re-establish itself in various motorsports fields. (The later collapse of these talks will prompt Ford to embark on its legendary European-style car-racing program that will include, among others, the famed GT-40, and will including a long collaborative effort with race driver and car builder Carroll Shelby.

Commenting on the results of the 1963 Memorial Day Indy 500 race,WAR says, “For the first time in years, the ‘Offenhauser’ engine, often called the jewel that roars, has been successfully challenged for speedway supremacy. The ‘Lotus’ Fords ran with such authority   that the rail birds were buzzing and harbingers of things to come are predicting a trend toward rear-engine racing machines.”  Two models powered by specially built aluminum-block Fairlane V-8s, finish second and seventh, although they ran first and second for a time, the story notes. The last time the Offenhauser engine was seriously challenged, according to the article, was in 1946 when Thorm Engineering developed and built the winning entry.  But now, “Indy traditionalists will have to take the new car designs, radical by Indianapolis standards, seriously.”

25 Years Ago (May 1988):  Saturn Set for ’91 Intro; Yamaha V-6 for Taurus; Nissan, Ford to Build Van

Construction of General Motors’ new Saturn facility in Spring Hill, TN, is “on schedule and under budget,” with production of ’91 models expected to begin in summer 1990. Annual capacity will be 250,000 to 300,000 units. Although GM is keeping details of the new car close to the vest, Saturn officials say it will be aimed at import buyers and will be “better than a Honda.”  In addition to car assembly, the Spring Hill complex will have facilities for body-panel production, body fabrication, a paint system and a casting plant. It also will assemble engines and transmissions.

Yamaha will build a new super-high-output 3.0L, DOHC, V-6 engine for the high-performance Taurus SHO that is scheduled to bow in model year ’89. Ford sources indicate the SHO is expected to account for 2%-3% of ’89 Taurus output compared with about 14% for the 2.5L I-4 and 62%  for the SOHC 3.0L V-6. The remaining 22% will have the 3.8L V-6.

Ford and Nissan reportedly are close to finalizing a deal to jointly manufacturer a small passenger van in the U.S. beginning in model year ’91. Although neither company confirms the report, a source close to the project says,

“A ‘go’ decision is almost a certainty.” Nissan will design the vehicle and supply the powertrain with Ford supplying an assembly site, likely its Lorain, OH, plant. (Ultimately, a deal is struck and an all-new small van bows in model year ’93 as the Mercury Villager and Nissan Quest. It is assembled in Ford’s Avon Lake, OH, plant formerly used to make bodies for the Econoline large van assembled at the Lorain truck plant.Villager/Quest production ends after the ’02 model year.