45 YEARS AGO

On Nov. 7, 1957, the Sachenring Automotive Works in the East German city of Zwickau rolled out the first of its new series of plastic-bodied minicars, the Trabant Sputnik.

It was the second in a series of all-new plastic-body cars made at the plant, which had been home to August Horsch's Audi, Horsch and DKW (Das Klein Wunder) brands before WWII. In the immediate post-war period the plant made agricultural vehicles and in 1948 resumed production of cars based on pre-war DKW designs powered by 2- and 3-cyl. 2-stroke engines.

Known popularly as the Trabi, the 1957 car featured a pressed plastic body made from material known as Duraplast, which had many of the characteristics of Formica and bakelite. The material had been developed several years earlier as a substitute for steel that was in short supply in East Germany and costly to import. It was first used as a substitute for steel in a few DKW-based F8 models made by Sachenring in 1955, followed by the introduction of the all-new P70 series the same year that pioneered a 0.7L transverse-mounted water-cooled 2-cyl. 2-stroke engine and front-wheel drive.

The Trabant was designed as a less costly addition to the line and substituted a 0.5L, air-cooled twin engine driving the front wheels. The Trabi underwent its first and only restyling in 1964, although mechanical improvements continued. Many different body types followed, including a hatchback and an SUV before production was halted in 1991. The engine was enlarged to 0.6L in 1962 and in 1988 a 4-cyl. engine from the VW Polo was fitted.

42 YEARS AGO

On. Nov. 30, 1960, the first International Scout SUV rolled off the assembly line at International Harvester Co.'s newly acquired assembly plant in Fort Wayne, IN — just 23 months from the time the first sketch was drawn. With the vehicle's January 1961 retail debut, IHC, which had been in the light-truck market since 1905, became the first American producer to challenge the legendary Jeep in the small SUV market.

The idea was to offer buyers a small highly functional vehicle that was larger than the Jeep CJ, with better passenger accommodations, but not as large as IH's own large pickup and pickup-based Travelall wagon (the first post-WWII challenger to General Motors Corp.'s Chevy/GMC Suburban twins). The relatively short development cycle included outfitting a new assembly operation in a plant purchased from U.S. Rubber Co. (Uniroyal). The initial out rate was 50 per day, but that was doubled to 100 daily in February 1961 and increased again in March to 133 a day.

More than 25,000 Scouts were built the first year. It was offered in 2- and 4-wheel drive configurations in two body styles, powered by a 96-hp. 4-cyl. engine. In one version the top extended to a point just behind the front seats, creating a small pickup with a 5-ft. (1.5 m) bed. The other, with a full-length top and rear seat, was a small wagon. Either model was available with a soft top or removable steel hardtop.

IH, accustomed to selling mainly to commercial and agricultural customers, expected the 4×2 pickup version to be the top seller. However, 80% of first-year sales were 4×4s, a majority of them wagons. By the mid-1960s the Ford Bronco and Jeep Commando were gunning for sales in the same segment.

OTHER DATES IN HISTORY

Nov. 25, 1920 — Gaston Chevrolet, younger brother of Chevrolet Div. Founder Louis Chevrolet, is killed in an automobile race in Beverly Hills, CA.

Nov. 12, 1946 — The Exchange National Bank in Chicago became the first bank in the country to offer drive-in banking service.

Nov. 4, 1965 — Lee Ann Roberts Breedlove became the first woman to break 300-mph (482 km/h) when she hit 308 mph (495 km/h) in a jet-powered car on the Bonneville, UT, salt flats.