49 Years Ago
On June 12, 1952, Chevrolet Chief Engineer Maurice Olley and his team completed the first chassis for a special project — code-name “Opel sports car” — that would eventually become the '53 Corvette, the first production unit of which rolled off a temporary assembly line in Flint, MI, just over a year later on June 20, 1953. The concept for the car originated with chief designer Harley Earl as an idea for a low-cost sports car aimed at young buyers. At the same time Olley was developing the chassis, a select group of engineers and body makers withinCorp.'s Metal Fab group was busy experimenting with a new medium called fiberglass that had heretofore been used only in some low-volume specialty applications. The body team at first experimented with laying up fiberglass reproductions of some body panels using plaster molds so that in case of a problem, they could simply break the mold if necessary to release the part. After success with several panels, they were directed to replace the entire body of a '52 Chevy convertible in fiberglass and deliver it for testing. Although the timetable was tight, the group delivered the finished car on time but did not have time to paint it. The entire body, including the windshield frame and floorpan, was fiberglass. While undergoing grueling tests at GM's Milford, MI, proving grounds, an inattentive driver lost control on a gravel surface and rolled the car sideways down an embankment and suffered only minor injuries. This mishap helped prove the strength and practicality of the material as well as its repairability.
33 Years Ago
On June 30, 1969, the last of over 4.2 million cars to carry the Rambler name rolled off the line at American Motors Corp.'s Kenosha, WI, assembly line. Although the name dated back to the predecessor of the Nash Motor Co., it only came into use on volume production in the early 1950s when Nash President George W. Mason OKd production of a small car under that name to capture first-time car buyers following the post WWII car sales boom. The small Rambler was replaced by a larger “compact” model a few years after Nash merged with the Hudson Motor Car Co. in 1954 to form American Motors. It was revived again in the late 1950s as the Rambler American and continued in production through model year '69. Although designed as a no-nonsense economy car, the American spawned some sporty models, perhaps the most audacious of which was the '69 SC/Rambler. Developed in collaboration with Hurst Performance Products, it sported a large upward canted hood scoop feeding air to the 6.4L V-8 that was mated to a 4-speed transmission controlled by, naturally, a Hurst shifter.
Other Dates in History
June 24, 1900 — The first motorist arrived in Yosemite National park driving a steam-powered Locomobile.
June 5, 1951 — Gordon Buehrig is awarded a U.S. patent for his “vehicle top with removable panels,” later introduced on the '68 Corvette coupe and popularized in the mid-1970s as the T-top.
June 25, 1956 — The last car engineered by the Packard Motor Car Co. rolled off the line at Studebaker-Packard's Connor Ave. plant in Detroit.
15th Annual Eyes on Design 2002, DC Technology Center, Auburn Hills, MI.
SAE Global Automotive Logistics, Dearborn, MI
IBEC 2002, Palais des Congres, Paris