59 Years Ago Hoping to find a way to avoid the effects of a steel shortage, Ford Motor Co. unveils a version of its standard production car with experimental composite body panels reportedly made from compressed soybean material. (Other reports indicate that the "soybean" car's body panels were made from synthetic resin reinforced with material derived from hemp and spruce pulp). Company founder Henry Ford demonstrates the strength of the material by taking an axe to the "plastic" trunk lid without damage. But before Ford can perfect the process, auto output is brought to a halt six months later for conversion to war material production.

29 Years Ago In a stunning reversal of economic policy, U.S. President Richard Nixon on Aug. 15 announces a wide-ranging economic stabilization plan. The program's centerpiece is a 90-day wage/price freeze on most industries to cool an over-heating wage/price spiral. But it also implements a 10% surtax on all imports, including motor vehicles and vehicle components, and the uncoupling of the dollar's value from that of gold. Mr. Nixon hopes to correct an increasing trade imbalance by driving up the value of major foreign currencies and to make imported products more expensive. The plan calls on Congress to repeal the 7% federal excise tax on cars, approved later in the year. As a result, new car sales catapult from the 9.7 million to 10 million units predicted by Ford Motor Co. on Aug. 5, to more than 10.2 million for the year, mostly benefiting the domestic producers, while importers were left with $200-plus price increases.

22 Years Ago An Aug. 28 announcement by AB Volvo President Pehr Gyllenhammer offici-ally ends negotiations between Volvo and Saab-Scania AB over merging the two companies, a deal that had been in the works since May. The automakers, both of which had lost money in their car operations in 1977, hoped to reduce development and production costs by merging. However, in subsequent talks, Saab-Scania management be-came concerned that it would lose the uniqueness of its cars in a new com-pany dominated by the larger Volvo. Saab offi-cials also concluded that the required rationalization would mean the end of Saab cars. Earlier in August, Saab Chairman Marcus Wallenberg pro-poses that the two auto-makers form cooperative efforts in the car sector short of a merger, a pro-posal rejected days later by Volvo directors.