56 Years Ago

Henry Ford II is elected president of the financially troubled Ford Motor Co. on Sept. 21, 1945, assuming the position that had been held by his elderly grandfather and namesake following the death of his father, Edsel B. Ford, in May 1943. Although Henry II had returned from the Navy to the company as vice president soon after his father's death, his grandfather continued to run the company until the elder Ford's wife, Clara, and Edsel's wife, Eleanor, reportedly threatened to sell their stock in the family-held company unless Henry II was put in charge.

Henry II soon reformed the company's backward business practices, hiring a group of former U.S. Air Force intelligence officers known as the “Whiz Kids” to reorganize operations and get the company back on solid financial ground. He continued to head the company until he resigned as chief executive officer in 1979 and as chairman a year later. On his watch Ford introduced three of its most popular post-war cars: Thunderbird (1954), Falcon (1959) and Mustang, popularly known as the “Pony Car” (1964).

Born Sept. 4, 1917, Henry Ford II announced Sept. 9, 1982, that he would step down as board member at the end of the month, severing his final tie to the company. He died five years later on Sept. 29, 1987.

42 Years Ago

Chrysler Corp.'s first compact car, the Valiant, rolls off the assembly line at its Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant on Sept. 21, 1959. Becoming the Plymouth Valiant in model year '61, the '60 models are sold by both Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge dealers. The name Valiant is a last-minute substitution. The company had originally intended to use the name Falcon, taken from the 1955 Chrysler Falcon show car, and during the development process the car carried the Falcon name. Only months before production launch, and after logos and marketing plans had been finalized, did the company discover that Ford Motor Co. had registered the Falcon name for its upcoming small car. The Valiant name was chosen in an internal contest to come up with a new name for the car, which was never as popular as Ford's compact, despite sleeker styling and innovations such as the slant-6 engine. Valiant, which spawned a Dodge clone know as the Lancer in model years '61 and '62, and the first Barracuda sporty car in '64, continued as a Plymouth mainstay through model year '76.

35 Years Ago

Meanwhile, on Sept. 21, 1966, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, leading to the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. and federal automotive safety standards. The law was passed in response to a book by a relatively obscure lawyer named Ralph Nader that indicted the auto industry on safety and reliability issues. Mr. Nader, who attended the signing ceremony, gained prominence only after it was revealed that General Motors Corp. had hired a private investigator in an attempt to discredit him — an act for which GM was later forced to apologize.

TRAVEL PLANNER

September 13-23

• International Motor Show, Frankfurt, Germany.

September 25-27

• Detroit 2001 Advanced Productivity Exposition, Cobo Center, Detroit.