103 YEARS AGO

On Dec. 6, 1900, Thomas B. Jeffery finalizes a $65,000 deal to buy the Kenosha, WI, factory of the defunct Sterling Bicycle Co. with money from the sale of his interest in the Gormally & Jeffery Bicycle Mfg. Co. of Chicago. G&J is the country's second-largest bicycle maker, where Jeffery had gained fame for developing, among other things, the clincher rim that enabled pneumatic tires to be used. After a year of further experimentation, the new Thomas B. Jeffery Co., begins building cars in 1902 using the Rambler name previously used on a highly successful line of bicycles made by G&J.

Jeffery's interest in cars begins with a rear-engine prototype made in 1897. Two more advanced experimental models, developed the following year by his son Charles T. Jeffery, feature a front-mounted engine and a steering wheel, instead of a tiller, mounted on the left-hand side. Positive reviews at the 1899 Chicago International Exhibition & Tournament and the first National Automobile Show in New York prompt the Jefferys to enter the automobile business.

Two more prototypes, Models A and B, are made in 1901. But despite the advanced features of the prototypes, Thomas adopts a more “conventional” layout for the first production Ramblers in 1902. Both the $750 Model C open runabout and the $850 Model D (the same car with a folding top) are powered by an 8-hp, 1.6L, 1-cyl. engine mounted beneath the seat, and both are steered by a right-side tiller. First-year production totals 1,500 units making Jeffery the second-largest car maker behind Oldsmobile.

Thomas Jeffery dies March 21, 1910, while on vacation in Italy, and on June 10 Charles incorporates the firm as a $3 million public stock company. In 1914 the Rambler name is replaced with the Jeffery moniker in honor of the founder. But in 1916, Charles, following a close brush with death in the sinking of the Lusitania a year earlier, sells the company to former General Motors Corp. President Charles W. Nash, who renames it after himself in 1917.

In 1937, an aging Charles Nash buys refrigeration equipment maker Kelvinator Corp., largely to acquire the services of George W. Mason, its president. Mason becomes chairman of Nash-Kelvinator after Nash dies in June 1948 at age 84, and shortly before his own death in 1954 Mason merges Nash and Hudson into American Motors Corp.

24 YEARS AGO

The last of American Motors Corp.'s Pacer small cars rolls off its Kenosha, WI, assembly line on Dec. 3, 1979, ending a 5-year run. Praised and criticized for its unusual styling, the Pacer, introduced on Feb. 28, 1975, is designed to attract traditional midsize car buyers to a smaller and more fuel-efficient package in an era when gasoline prices are projected to rise dramatically in a few years.

Promoted as the “wide small car,” one popular TV ad depicts a compact Chevy Nova being driven into an empty Pacer body shell. Despite its unconventional styling, designed around the ultimately still-born GM rotary engine, the car sells reasonably well for several years but tails off in the late 1970s. Ironically, Pacer output is ended to make room for AMC's next “unconventional” car, the Eagle — an all-wheel-drive version of the aging compact Concord line — just as the sporty Javelin was killed off in 1974 to pave the way for Pacer production. In recent years Pacer gains stardom as a cult vehicle after appearing in the offbeat movie “Wayne's World.”

OTHER DATES IN HISTORY

Dec. 30, 1936 — The UAW's legendary sit-down strikes begin at GM plants in Flint, MI.

Dec. 27, 1951 — A right-hand-drive Crosley, the first car designed for U.S. rural mail delivery, is put into operation in Ohio.

Dec. 13, 1957 — The last 2-passenger Thunderbird is produced.