The end of Cord as a car builder, the startup of Chevy's 'Vette, the debut of Mercury's "Fastback" design and a V-10 engine for Ram trucks highlight Januarys in automotive history, as covered by Ward's.
75 Years Ago (Feb. 1938): Upturn Awaited; Chrysler Shuts Down; UAW President Gets Face Time with FDR: Cord Reorganizes
The lead story, Upturn Awaited in March, in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ Feb. 5, 1938, cites the shutdown of most Chrysler operations, along with a cutback at Ford, for the 13.3% decline in the latest weekly car production tally that also is 28.6% below the comparable week in 1937. The production actions are the result of a “paucity of orders” from dealers.
A logjam of used cars that has hampered new-car sales may finally be on the way to resolution, reports WAR, thanks to industry ad campaigns that have spurred an uptick in sales and firmed used-car prices. “Metropolitan newspapers are carrying large-scale advertising calling attention to these values. Part of the present trend (more sales, higher prices) must be credited to such effort.”
At the same time, the newsletter reports United Auto Workers President Homer Martin in a face-to-face meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt, outlines the union’s plan to bolster worker’s wages. According to Martin, of the 320,000 workers employed in auto plants, 196,000 earn between $12 and $18 weekly. The UAW official calls for “a governmental curb on profits, lower car prices, an immediate start to unlimited production, shorter working hours, general wage increases and a $2,000 annual salary.” WAR calls the plan “An ambitious program. It takes on the aspects of an idealistic dream,” adding, “It is not as simple as that. Practically, it is an unworkable plan. If employment is to be stabilized, sales must be stabilized. Who knows what sales will be next month?”
Cord Corp., having abandoned production of its last automobile, the Cord 810, in fall 1937 (shortly after founder Errett Lobban Cord sells his interest in the company) gets stockholder approval to reduce its capitalization to $3 million from $50 million and stock value to $1 from $5. Along with that the name is changed to Aviation and Transportation Corp. (It shortly will be absorbed by Aviation Corp. that later becomes Avco, while E.L. Cord goes on to amass a real estate and broadcasting fortune in California and Nevada and for a time serves as a senator from Nevada.)
60 Years Ago (Feb. 1953): Chevrolet Gears Up for Corvette; Hard Top Body Style Soars; GM Shows Pillarless 4-Door
Hardtop Explodes into New Record as Convertibles Decline, proclaims the headline in the Feb. 2, 1953 issue detailing the rising popularity of the pillarless 2-door coupe (thanks to more makes adding the body style) first introduced by General Motors in 1949. The story points out that the 15% increase in hardtop production to 553,866 units in 1952 from 480,597 in 1951 was all the more remarkable given the industry’s 19% decline in overall car output. At the same time convertible production declined 30% to 98,177 from 139,875 due in large part to a shortfall among the “low-priced field producers Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, Nash Rambler and Studebaker Champion.” The Ford brand led all others in both hardtop and convertible production in 1952, although output of each was below the corresponding 1951 level.
WAR calls the 4-door pillarless hardtop, introduced on several concept cars at GM’s recent Motorama show in New York, “Another forward step in the opening up of the body area between beltline and roof for practically full-circle visibility and clear-side ventilation if so desired.” The story says the new design, featuring rear doors hinged at the back and latching at the center of the car, overcome some critics’ objections they are unsafe by using an interlock that keeps them from opening unless the transmission is in neutral.
Work has slowed temporarily on Chevrolet’s ’54-model program in order to rush tooling for the all-new Corvette sports car, WAR reports in a special Bulletin, dated Feb. 9. “One job that has been almost completely set aside is the scaled down new sedan for Chevrolet.” As tooling for the Corvette program gets well under way, the story says, “Tooling for the single-seat (2-passenger) Cadillac LeMans (a 1953 Motorama show car) will be taken aggressively in hand.” (Despite the “aggressive” program, LeMans is never built, as Cadillac opts instead for the more practical limited-production 4-passenger Eldorado).
50 Years Ago (Feb. 1963): Chevy Builds 49-Millionth Car; Chrysler Turbine Car Runs On Tequila?; New Mercury Fastbacks
On Thursday, Feb., 14, Chevrolet’s 49 millionth car is assembled at the St. Louis, MO, plant. The milestone car, a Chevrolet Impala 2-door hardtop, rolls off the line 52 years after Chevrolet production was launched in 1911 and 43 years after the St. Louis plant opened in 1920. In addition to standard-size models, Corvettes and light trucks, the St. Louis complex, which the division claims is the world’s most versatile facility, has also built Corvair cargo vans and Greenbrier passenger vans.
Chrysler says it plans to have 50 to 75 turbine-powered passenger cars ready for sale late in the year. Although earlier reports indicated the cars would be leased, WAR notes, “Apparently the cars will be sold to selected buyers.” The cars will feature steel bodies built by Ghia in Turin, Italy. Chrysler says, “Beyond any doubt the materials problems for this type of engine have been overcome.” The story points out that in a January 1962 run from New York to Los Angles, a standard-size Dodge Dart with a Chrysler turbine engine averaged 17 mpg and accelerated from rest to 60 mph in “a bristling eight seconds.” (Chrysler claims to the contrary, materials problems continue to plague the turbine engine and most of the 50-plus units built are scrapped after being loaned out to various volunteer drivers for periods up to several months. The turbine’s reported ability to run “on any combustible liquid that flow through a tube” repeatedly is put to the test with Mexico’s President famously claiming the car runs just fine on Tequila).
Mercury dealers await the early March arrival of the new fastback styling for their standard-size cars in the guise of the Marauder and Marauder S-55. The new models, along with Ford Galaxie variants, (designed to enhance competitiveness in NASCAR racing events) are more aerodynamic than Mercury’s new for ’63 reverse-slant “breezeway” roof design. While the Marauder comes standard with a 250-hp 390-cid V-8 and 3-speed manual gearbox, the S-55 features a 300-hp “390” and 3-speed automatic transmission. A 4-speed manual is a no-charge option on the S-55. Optional on both models is a 425-hp 427-cid V-8.
25 Years Ago (Feb. 1988) Chrysler to Close Kenosha; GM Unveils Fairfax Plant; Chrysler V-10 Moves Ahead, but are "Bean Counters" in control?; Buick Keeps J-Car
Chrysler says it plans to end production of its aging rear-drive M-body cars (Chrysler Fifth Ave., Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury) at the end of the ’88 model year, at which time it will close the Kenosha, WI, assembly plant inherited in its mid-1987 buyout of American Motors. Production of the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon will be moved from Kenosha to the Jefferson Ave., Detroit, plant for the ’89 model year. The company is mum about the fate of the now 10-year-old Omni/Horizon or the 7-year-old Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant K-cars after ’89. (K-car output ends with the ’89 models, Omni/Horizon after the ’90 model year).
General Motors takes the wraps off of its new Fairfax, KS, assembly plant where the front-drive W-body Pontiac Grand Prix is being built at rate of 33 an hour. The plant is slated to reach 66 units hourly after the August changeover to ’89 models and Pontiac says it is pushing for a 75-unit hourly rate. A 4-door Grand Prix will be added during the course of the ’89 run. At the same time, GM acknowledges its Oshawa, ON, Canada, No.1 plant will end output of the Olds Ciera/Pontiac 6000 A-body models in July for a 3- to 5-month changeover to the new W-body Chevrolet Lumina sedan. Oshawa No.2, currently building the Buick Regal, will add the Lumina coupe.
Chrysler says it is moving ahead with plans to introduce a V-10 engine in certain Ram pickups for model year ’91. On the other hand, one supplier is particularly critical of Chrysler for an “unusual” number of product deferrals, saying, “That’s a disturbing trend at Chrysler. It shows the bean-counters are back in control.”
One week after GM announces Cadillac Cimarron and Oldsmobile Firenza output will cease at the end of the ’88 model year, Buick says it plans to keep the J-body Skyhawk in its lineup into the 1990s. A Buick official says the Skyhawk is a “fine entry-level car for the division, and its price, especially with value-option packages, is highly competitive.”