75 Years Ago (January 1939): Production Off 47%; New Willys Chief; Buehrig Seeks Capital; New Accessories Unveiled

Despite a strong fourth-quarter performance, a lengthy recession trimmed 1938 car and truck output to 2,655,777 units, 47% below the 5,016,437 built in 1937, according to Ward’s Automotive Reports. Chevrolet was No.1 at 696,530 units, down from 1,183,180 cars and trucks in 1937. Combined output of Ford-brand vehicles and the new-for-’39 Mercury ran second at 632,364 compared with prior-year’s 1,156,456 units. Plymouth finished a distant 3rd with 326,700 cars built in 1938 vs. 537,850 in 1937. At 51,593 units, International Harvester was first among independent producers in 1938, up from third-place in 1937, with 100,700 completions. Hudson’s 51,407 completions placed it second among independents in 1938, down from first place with 113,095 in 1937. Packard slipped to third, having built 50,260 cars in 1938 compared with 110,779 in 1937, when it ranked second.

Former Cord designer Gordon H. Buehrig is seeking capital to finance a new automotive venture he proposes to build in Corpus Christie, TX. Dubbed the Texas Ranger, plans call for the new model to be assembled from body parts made by Budd Mfg. and powered by a Lycoming engine.

Congress is considering legislation to limit transportation charges on automobiles to the actual amount instead of a flat price based on shipment from Detroit.

K.D. Lamp Co. of Cincinnati, OH, is offering its new “Sho-Turn” signaling device that indicates a driver’s intent to turn by operating lights on the front and rear of the vehicle. The device automatically switches off when the run is completed.

Former Chrysler V.P. Sales Joseph W. Frazer becomes president of Willys-Overland. Its “a definite forward step for that company,” opines WAR, adding “His sales and organizational talents should importantly improve Willys prospects.” The presence of a former Chrysler executive in the Willys organization, “gives rise to interesting speculation as to possible future relationships between the companies.” (Frazer remains head of Willys until 1944, when he assumes control of Graham-Paige. Following WWII, Frazer joins industrialist Henry J. Kaiser in launching a new automotive venture, Kaiser-Frazer from which Frazer retires in the early 1950s).

Hoof Products unveils a new hydraulic brake system featuring an instrument-panel light that illuminates when the system is working normally. In the event of a leak, the system seals off the affected line, allowing the rest of the brake system to function normally.

60 Years Ago (January 1954): 'Plastic' Kaiser; GM Turbine Car; Enhanced Packard; 50 Million Cars in U.S.

Kaiser-Willys’ all-new Kaiser-Darrin 2-passenger sports car is the first “plastic” body model offered by any of the independent auto makers. Using a fiberglass-reinforced plastic body, styled by famed auto designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin, the car features doors that slide into the front fenders and a top that can be partially folded (so-called Landau style) or lowered completely. It is powered by a modified F-head 6-cyl. engine sedan that develops 90 hp with a 7.6:1 compression ratio. The car rides on a 100-in. (2,540-mm) wheelbase with an overall length of 184.1 ins. (4,701 mm). Included in the $3,668 base price are a 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive, tinted windshield, electric windshield wipers and washers, turn signals and whitewall tires. Wire wheels are optional.

General Motors unveils its first gas-turbine powered car at its annual Motorama show in New York City. The XP-21 Firebird is a single-seater with fighter-plane-like styling and plastic canopy roof. The engine develops a maximum of 370 hp with its gasifier turbine spinning at 26,000 rpms and the power turbine at 13,000 rpms. A major drawback of the turbine engine, WAR notes, is high fuel consumption, which “is several times greater than a conventional Otto cycle engine” in normal passenger-car use.

Packard offers a range of enhancements to its just-unveiled ’54 models. Among them are new 2- and 4-door base sedans in the Clipper series (marketed as its own series distinct from upscale Packard models although styling was little different.), as well as a Panama hardtop in the Clipper Super line. The upscale Packard lineup now includes the Pacific 2-door hardtop; a more powerful 212-hp 369 CID (6.1L) I-8 engine featuring an 8.7:1 compression ratio that is “the highest in the industry,” according to WAR. In addition, “for the first time on any American passenger car,” Packard and Clipper offer optional tubeless tires for $71.

A story in WAR’s Jan. 11 issue notes there were 50,894,923 cars and trucks registered to operate on U.S. roads, as of July 1, 1953, based on data gathered by R.L. Polk. Car registrations rose 6.1% over like-1952 while the number of trucks increased 3.2%. California had the most vehicles on the road – 4.3 million-plus cars and 723,000 trucks.

50 Years Ago (January 1964): Seatbelts Standard; Dodge Compact Trucks; 'Chicken War' Hits VW; Record U.S. Sales

Ford and General Motors are increasing ’64-model retail sticker prices by $10 effective Jan. 1, 1964, to cover the cost of making front seatbelts standard. Chrysler’s increase varies between $12 and $13. The standardization of belts comes after 22 states make them mandatory for cars sold in their jurisdictions. Elsewhere, buyers will be offered a delete-option credit.

Dodge announces it is entering the forward-control compact truck segment with an all-new 90-in. (2,286-mm) light-duty lineup that includes a pickup, cargo van and passenger van. The passenger van can be equipped to carry up to nine people and features an assist step that retracts when the swing-out side doors are closed. Powered by a 101-hp Slant-6 engine mated to a 3-speed column-shifted manual transmission, the so-called A-Series models are designed to compete in a niche launched by VW in the 1950s. Ford entered the segment in 1960 with its Falcon-based Econoline cargo van and pickup as well as the Club Wagon passenger van. Chevrolet joined the fray in 1961 with the rear-engine Corvair Greenbrier passenger van, Corvan cargo van and Pickup.

Volkswagen’s compact trucks are being hit with higher U.S. tariffs as part of an increase to 25% from 8.5% in duties applied to imported brandy, potato starch and trucks. The increase is in retaliation for the European Common Market’s boost in levies on U.S. poultry products. (Although WAR says the U.S. tariff hike may be temporary, it remains in effect.)

Based on WAR data, U.S. new-vehicle sales reached a record 8,994,000 units in 1963, a 10.2% gain over 1962’s 8,159,000 and 6.8% more than 1955’s prior record of 8,423,000 units. Although domestic-make new-car sales of 7,334,260 failed to beat 1955’s high of 7,408,000 units, record deliveries of 1,229,900 domestic-make trucks (including mediums and heavies) handily topped the 957,000 sold eight years earlier. The record 380,000 new imported vehicles sold in 1963 were nearly seven times the 58,000 units retailed in 1955.

25 Years Ago (January 1989): Ford Leads Truck Record; First NAIAS Draws Crowd; Japan Extends Quotas; Dodge Ragtop Pickup

Ford again led the industry to a second consecutive trucks sales record in 1988. According to data compiled by WAR, sales of trucks in all weight classes reached 5,148,198, 4.8% ahead of the 4,911,536 sold in former record year 1987. At 584,168, Ford F-Series was again the top-selling vehicle in 1988, up 6.2% from 550,125 the previous year. Chevrolet’s C/K line ranked second at 514,907 vs. 417,670 in 1987. Total new-vehicle sales rose 4% to 15,786,999 units in 1988 from prior-year’s 15,188,095.

Detroit’s first North American International Auto Show drew a record 636,722 visitors during its 9-day run Jan. 16-25, beating the prior peak of 471,977 at the former Detroit Auto Show in 1986. Held at the city’s newly expanded Cobo Hall exposition center, the vastly expanded show also set six daily attendance records.

According to WAR, the Japanese government’s Mid-January decision to extend its 2.3 million-unit quota on car shipment to the U.S. for a ninth year is welcomed by Detroit automakers. However, the Treasury Dept.’s temporary suspension of higher tariffs on imported SUVs “had the Chrysler Chairman roaring mad.” (Chrysler head Lee A. Iacocca is an outspoken supporter of limiting Japanese imports.) The action came in response to a Customs Service ruling reclassifying SUVs as light trucks subject to a 25% tariff rather than the 2.5% rate applied to cars. (Several weeks later, Treasury issues a final ruling reclassifying only 2-door models, about 62% of the SUV market, as light trucks with 4-door variants still taxed as cars.

Dodge announces plans to build 3,000 Dakota convertible pickups in model year ’89 to test public acceptance of the concept. Convertible conversions of small pickups already have spawned a West Coast cottage industry. Both 2- and 4-wheel-drive Dakota variants will be manufactured with retail prices “around $14,500.”