75 Years Ago (December 1938): Imperial’s New Trans; Plymouth First; NADA Urges Action

From a story in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ Dec. 10, 1938: “Chrysler introduced this week as standard equipment on its Custom Imperial line a fluid oil coupling between the engine and the propeller shaft.”

The coupling functions from centrifugal action of oil thrown from a driving member into the vanes of a running member, it is reported, “thus interrupting a solid mechanical connection between motor and driveshaft.”

This device differs greatly from the GM hydraulic transmission development announced earlier as it is not intended to replace the gear-shift mechanism, the GM unit does.

Meanwhile, Plymouth, for the first time, was in first place in October new-car registrations with 29,897 units against 24,395 a year earlier.

Early introduction of ’39 models is credited with pushing Plymouth to the top, while Buick moved into third place ahead of Ford due to the late October intro of the Dearborn auto maker’s newest models.

At the same time Dodge dropped to eighth place, Pontiac moved into fifth position and Studebaker ranked sixth.

Manufacturers were asked to initiate policies to increase sales and stabilize dealer operations in resolutions of the executive committee of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

Auto makers were asked “to consider adopting a permanent advertising-merchandising program for used cars.”

Invasion of multiple cities by outside dealers was deplored and excessive and discriminatory taxation was condemned. Preferential discounts for large fleet buyers also were vigorously opposed.

70 Years Ago (December 1943): Civilian Truck Output Allocated; Packard Merlin Production to Double; Electric Window Motors Seen

The federal government’s War Production Board has given Chevrolet the largest share of its planned 123,492-unit 1944 civilian truck production allocation. Chevy will be allowed to build 33,122 trucks in the coming year as against Ford’s 28,149 units International Harvester’s 19,633, Dodge’s 10,387 trucks and GMC’s 9,851-unit allotment.

Manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for the remainder of the allocation, ranging from 4,505 for Mack to a single unit for Doane. Truck makers caution that heavy schedules of military-vehicle output means civilian truck production likely won’t reach significant numbers until second-quarter 1994, and then only if enough components can be procured from material- and labor-short components suppliers.

Packard is expected to build twice as many Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines in 1944 as it did in record-year 1943. Packard manufacturing plants are currently working between 54 and 55 hours weekly (as opposed to 60 hours and more at some manufacturers) with the shorter week representing the maximum time allowed in a 7-day period for female workers that account for 30% of Packard’s workforce.

Power windows are among the latest topics of discussion in WAR’s The Cars of the Future series. Citing a litany of problems with the vacuum and hydraulically actuated systems introduced in a handful of ’42 models, the publication opines, “If automatic operation is desired, the cure for this evil (problems) would seem to the be in placing a small individual motor in each door to adjust the glass rather than sustain the operating liabilities obvious in the ’42 model installations.”

60 Years Ago (December 1953): Pontiac’s ’54 Firsts; New Yorker Adds HP

Pontiac’s revamped ’54 lineup, introduced Friday, Dec. 20, 1953, includes a new model and several “firsts.” At the top is a new Star Chief series on a longer 124-in. (3,150-mm) wheelbase compared with 122 ins. (3,099 mm) for other models with an overall length of 213.7 ins. (5,428 mm) vs. 202.7 ins. (5,148 mm) for Chieftains and wagons.

The Star Chief’s I-8 engine delivers 127 hp, 5-hp more than lesser Pontiacs, thanks to a higher 7.7:1 compression ratio. One Pontiac “first” is an optional air conditioning system fully integrated into and under the instrument panel. It delivers cold air through adjustable nozzles at each end on the dash as well as a center-mounted outlet.

Having shed the previous trunk-mounted apparatus, “air conditioning now can be installed in station wagons as well and sedans and hardtops.” (Convertible buyers were not yet viewed needing air conditioning.)

The system uses Freon 12 “a non-toxic, non-flammable gas that is practically odorless and has a low boiling point,” as a refrigerant. Another “first” is an optional Comfort Control front (bench) seat that can be adjusted to any of 360 positions. Adjustment is mechanical, by means of two levers mounted on the driver’s side of the seat.

The New Yorker Deluxe variant is dominating Chrysler-brand sales, accounting for upward of 70% of New Yorker output compared with 35% at the car’s September ’54 model launch. The car’s more powerful 235 hp Hemi V-8 is credited for the increased volume as it fits neatly into rising public demand for more powerful engines.

“Additional proof that the public is power conscious is the fact that the standard New Yorker, selling for $227 less, but with only 195 hp and lower performance, is comparatively unwanted.”

50 Years Ago (December 1963): Record 1963 Sales; Studebaker U.S. Output; New Chrysler Plants

The year 1963 will go down in the record books as the industry best ever car-sales year, according to WAR. With 7,503,000 domestic-make and import units delivered through Dec. 11, the year has surged ahead of the industry’s prior full-year high of 7,460,000 cars sold in 1955. With sales of 7,130,000 through mid-December vs 7,408,000 units in entire 1955, domestic makes appear unlikely to reach a new record.

However, all-time high import deliveries are driving 1963’s industry sales record, a record already forecast to fall again in 1964.

Studebaker’s mid-December decision to permanently close its U.S. assembly plants by the end of the year means the end of the road for the sporty Avanti (tied up for several weeks by a strike at the car’s fiberglass body plant in Ashtabula, OH) and the venerable Hawk (a car that traces its origin in the racy ’53 Starlight/Starliner coupes designed by Raymond Lowey).

Only the compact Lark will remain in production at the company’s plant in Hamilton, ON, Canada, where the workforce will be increased to 1,200 from 700.

Chrysler has selected a site in Flora Twp. in Boone County, IL, outside Belvedere, for its new assembly plant slated to build up to 960 Dodge and Plymouth cars daily. Land the company already owns in Sterling Twp., MI, has been chosen as the location for a new stamping facility.

The twin-plant announcement, WAR notes, is similar to one six years earlier, when Chrysler said it would build an assembly plant in Newark, DE, and a stamping facility in Twinsburg, OH.

25 Years Ago (December 1988): AWD Car Sales Off; Beretta Ragtop Confirmed; Chrysler TC Arrives

U.S. sales of all-wheel-drive cars are forecast to decline 10% this year, to 119,000 from a record 131,024 units in 1987. However, sales are expected to rebound to at least 130,000 in 1989 as new entries, including version of Chrysler’s imported Colt Wagon and Eagle Talon coupe as well as a Pontiac 6000 STE variant.

Added volume is forecast for BMW’s 325iX, that will include a 4-door sedan as well as the existing coupe, and the debut of Mercedes’ 4Matic system on several midsize models as well as the S-Class.

Despite a decline to 36,549 units through October from 56,468 in like-1987, Subaru’s aging Wagon (Subaru had yet to use specific model names for all of its car lines) is this year’s top-selling AWD car, followed by the Ford Tempo AWD sedan, at 10,995 vs. 10,217 a year earlier. Total AWD car sales reached 99,239 in the first 10 months of the year, down from prior-year’s 131,924 units.

Chevrolet confirms plans to build a convertible variant of the Beretta coupe beginning in the ’90 model year. Unlike traditional ragtops, the Beretta model will maintain the B-pillars connected by bar across the vehicle, similar to the arrangement used on VW’s Rabbit and Golf cabriolets.

Beside maintaining body rigidity, the connected B-pillars have to be maintained because they incorporate the Beretta’s door handles and re-engineering the doors would be cost-prohibitive. (Despite showing a concept model at numerous car shows and in automotive magazine features, the car ultimately is cancelled due to GM’s weakening finances and declining Beretta sales.)

The first units of the long-awaited Chrysler TC by Maserati 2-passenger sports car arrive in San Francisco on Dec. 7. Designed by Chrysler and built in Italy by Maserati, the TC is powered by a more powerful variant of Chrysler’s 2.2L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine (later replaced by a Mitsubishi 3.0L V-6) and features a removable hardtop as well as a folding convertible top. (Mechanical difficulties and styling deemed too close in appearance to the less-costly 4-passenger LeBaron are cited among the reasons for the car’s demise after just three years.)