It's February 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, and all Michigan banks are temporarily closed by order of the governor. Soon it becomes apparent that the two largest institutions, First National Bank and Guardian National Bank of Commerce, do not have the wherewithal to reopen, posing a serious problem for General Motors Corp., which relies heavily on both to fund future vehicle development. GM's solution? Enter the banking business. Capitalized equally by the federal government's Reconstruction Finance Corp. and GM, a new institution, National Bank of Detroit, emerges on March 24, 1933 - and the automaker is able to keep its new product programs rolling.

This - and more - from an automaker brought to its knees in 1920 for a second time in little more than a decade by the profligate spending habits of its charismatic and eternally optimistic founder Billy Durant.

General Motors in the Twentieth Century, by Ward's Communications, explores these and other fascinating episodes in the life of the world's largest automaker. The 400-page hardcover book traces 90-plus years of history, following GM's far-flung enterprises from their earliest beginnings right up to the present, including developments just now taking shape as the company prepares to enter its second century.

GM's foundation is laid in 1904 when Flint Wagon Works owner James H. Whiting begins casting about for someone to take control of his newly acquired enterprise, Buick Motor Co. The capable and wealthy young head of rival Durant- Dort Carriage Co. attracts his attention. The only problem is William Crapo Durant has retired from Flint, MI, to New York City to pursue his fascination with the stock market and has no interest in returning - especially for something as unproven as the automobile. But Mr. Whiting persists, and Billy Durant is soon on board.

Once convinced of the Buick's success, Mr. Durant puts his marketing genius to work recruiting other automotive pioneers to join him in forming an automaking empire. He soon convinces Ransom Eli Olds and Henry Martyn Leland to bring Olds Motor Works and Cadillac Motor Car Co. into the fledgling General Motors Co., founded in New Jersey in 1908. One entrepreneur he fails to lure into the fold is Henry Ford, whose Ford Motor Co. will grow to become GM's arch rival.

In addition to the automaker's earliest days, General Motors in the Twentieth Century also takes a close look at the lineage of the company's Design Center from its origins as the Art and Colour section. And it details the trials and tribulations of Harley J. Earl, a former high-fashion California designer of custom cars for movie star clients, as he struggles to make GM the industry's styling trend-setter for more than 30 years.

Also explored are GM's top 10 technological advancements for the auto industry. Among the most important: Duco lacquer paint that cuts drying time from weeks to hours, giving GM a marketing edge by permitting the use of colors other than black (previously the fastest drying enamel) for cars built on the quick moving assembly lines.

General Motors in the Twentieth Century also tracks the origins of GM's overseas empire, from its beginnings as a haphazard U.S. export operation to present day tie-ins with Isuzu Motors Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corp., Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Saab Automobile and Fiat Auto SpA - right up to its current pursuit of Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd. Included, for example, is a look at the history of GM's German powerhouse, founded in 1862 by Adam Opel as a manufacturer of sewing machines. Acquired by GM in the early 1930s and seized by the Nazis in 1939, GM already has written off its $35 million investment when it reacquires Opel in 1948 - but only after a tough internal battle in which Chairman Alfred P. Sloan Jr. overrules the objections of the financial policy committee.

Also featured is a detailed history of the construction of the famed GM Technical Center, with buildings considered to be among the architectural gems of the 20th century. Conceived by Messrs. Sloan, Earl and Charles F. Kettering in the 1940s, more than a decade passes before the dream becomes reality with the May 1956 dedication.

Sales, production and earnings tables trace GM's ups and downs over the last 40 years. More than 500 photographs illustrate the company's most significant achievements and its most important vehicles, from a 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile to the '01 Pontiac Aztec and '02 Buick Rendezvous.

To order a copy of General Motors in the Twentieth Century, complete the form on the adjacent page. Or for more information call Ward's Communications at (248) 357-0800.