WardsAuto Flashback – March 2013

Industry builds 34 cars a minute; Willys and Kaiser come together; Ward's pushes for "Jalopie Jamboree"; Fiero finished - and more March news from the WardsAuto archives.

Al Binder, Senior Editor

March 15, 2013

10 Min Read
Staggered work system used to build vehicle bodies like this 1938 Chrysler Custom Imperial comes to an end and Briggs Manufacturing Co
Staggered work system used to build vehicle bodies like this 1938 Chrysler Custom Imperial comes to an end and Briggs Manufacturing Co.

 75 Years Ago (March 1938): Ward’s Calls for a “Jalopie Jamboree;” Used Car Program Successful; Briggs Drops Staggered Schedules

Needed: A Junking Week, declares a story in Ward’s Automotive Reports’ March 26, 1938, issue. Citing the success of a recent promotion to sell excess used-car inventory, the story notes, “trading did develop in perceptible quantity, and as the trading was upward the dealers came out at the end of the drive with a goodly number of near-junkers on their lots. This is particularly true in larger urban centers where low-end possessors moved up a notch in car ownership.”  To remedy the situation, WAR outlines its plan: “Let a ‘jalopie jamboree’ follow on the heels of Used Car Exchange Week, during which, for another one-week period, the manufacturers offer to their dealers a stated amount for junker cars on their lots…estimated at about 100,000” or 14.3% of the used cars in stock.

Elsewhere this month, reports indicate that the National Used Car Exchange Week, March 5-12, resulted in the sale of 180,000 used vehicles, against a target of 200,000 units, 80,000 of which had no trade-in and benefitted dealers to the tune of $20 million. The remainder netted dealers $8,000,000 due to the fact that retailers paid an estimated $80 per vehicle trade-in allowance. Total inventory is currently estimated at 700,000 units compared with 950,000 at the beginning of the year.

Briggs Manufacturing Co., body supplier to Ford, Lincoln and all Chrysler divisions, among others, is abandoning the system of staggered work schedules, under which only part of the workforce is on the job at any one time. The system, adopted in response to union demands, is ending after workers vote to change to a steady work schedule for a specified number of people. Ending the program means about one-third of Brigg’s workers are being laid off. According to WAR, it spells the end of the staggered work system as other plants are expected to quickly follow Briggs’ lead.

The Canadian government has issued patent letters to Willys of Canada Ltd. to manufacture and sell automobiles and other machinery. The company will be capitalized at U.S. $10,000, divided into 100 shares valued $100 each Virtually all of the stock is owned by Willys-Overland Motors Inc. of Toledo, OH. 

    60 Years Ago (March 1953): Steel Rationing Reduced; Kaiser, Willys Merge; Ultimate Vision, Ventilation; Plants Build 34 Cars per Minute

Auto makers received a “tremendous psychological shot in the arm” with the liberalization of U.S. government’s CMP (controlled materials plan), often referred to as steel rationing, although it also includes copper and aluminum. (The loosening of controls is a result of the winding down of the Korean conflict.) This doesn’t mean unfettered access to additional steel, declares WAR, at least through the first half of the year. Steel mills already are running nearly full speed, the story points out, and some types are still being sequestered for military use. But the industry’s plan to build as many as 3.2 million vehicles in January-June is now “more realistic.”

 “Undoubtedly, the announcement that Willys-Overland Motors will soon become the property of Kaiser-Frazer Corp. tossed a bombshell into the automotive scene that is likely to sizzle for some time before it explodes,” exclaims the lead story in the March 30, issue. Among the benefits, “On the one hand is the slick, ultra modern Willow Run (MI) factory of K-F. On the other hand, is Willys’ Pontiac (MI) foundry which is still earning its plaudits for meticulous and tender manufacture of the rugged Willys powerplants.” One casualty of the merger “could be the Kaiser Henry J that may give way to the more modern Wills Aero, both of which compete in the same low-price market segment”. (Ultimately Kaiser ends U.S. production of both Kaiser and Willys cars in 1955 and ships the dies to Argentina where, in a joint venture with the Argentine government, Industrias Kaiser Argentina builds cars through 1977. Kaiser Jeep Corp. continues production at Toledo until 1970 when it is acquired by American Motors Corp. and the name the name changes to Jeep Corp. It is acquired in 1987 by Chrysler as part of its takeover of AMC.)

Auto makers are expected to build more than 1.5 million cars in the first quarter, second only to the record 1,610,751 built in like-1951. That, means January-March “will have seen 34 polished, gleaming cars leave the assembly lines each minute of every 12-hour working day.” Dealers won’t be hard-press to keep up as they “retailed 30 cars per minute, based on a 5-day week, in February, up from 28-per-minute in January.

Modern Cars Ultimate in Vision, Ventilation, headlines a story on the advances in glass and climate control in the decades following the introduction of the safety glass windshield. With the appearance of wraparound windows, as well as 2- and 4-door pillarless hardtops “more and more glass has been the trend.” While the “day of the transparent roof panel has not yet arrived, some designers have worked it into their sketches of cars to come.”

The story also notes that with the advances in ventilation, “Anyone who cannot get thoroughly ventilated in a 1953 model either does not know how to work the heater and air conditioning controls or has serious congestion of the pores.”

In summation, the author adds, “Whatever the pros and cons, no one can deny that passenger cars have about reach the zenith of vision and ventilation. Unless maybe someone might come up with a clear plastic floor pan so passengers could observe the size and character of holes in the roads!”



50 Years Ago (March 1963): GM Acquitted; Hydrocarbon Control a Priority; XL, SS Models Grow; Ford ‘Driveometer’

A directed federal-court verdict in Los Angles acquits General Motors and a total of 350 defendants in anti-trust action brought by the U.S. federal government. The suit accused GM of conspiring to deprive Chevrolet vehicle buyers of a “free and unrestricted” competitive market by refusing to permit selling through discount houses and referral services. The verdict upholds GM’s right to restrict sales from discount merchandisers.

Ford’s work in eliminating hydrocarbon emissions from the engine crankcase is highlighted in a story covering the industry’s ongoing efforts to address “California’s smog problem.” The story concludes, “Possibly the final answer to hydrocarbon emissions has not been found, but rest assured that major steps have been taken to eliminate the noxious hydrocarbons from internal combustion engines.”

Demand is strong for the sporty Ford Galaxie 500 XL and Chevy Impala SS models and could total 200,000-plus units combined in the ’63 model year, according to a WAR story that notes, “Many auto makers would be gratified to sell 100,000 cars annually in their top-line series.” Chevy sold 99,000 Impala SS models in the ’62 model year and “is destined to crowd the 130,000-unit mark in ’63,” the story forecasts, while the Galaxie 500 XL that bowed in April 1962, “will see Ford mark the first anniversary next month with over 100,000 units built,” including 54,000 of the ’63s assembled through February compared with 42,000 in the entire ’62 run. Offered only on 2-door hardtops and convertibles in ’62, Ford has extended the XL to the 4-door hardtop in ’63. Introduction of these models is “merely another step in the upgrading of the auto buyer,” according to the story that also points out only about 30% of ’62 model year “regular-size and economy-size car buyers, excluding station wagons, purchased the least expensive variants.”

Ford has developed a new research and training device it calls a Driveometer that “furnishes a minute-by-minute visible measure of both driver performance and vehicle motion.”  A rectangular box 10 in. (254 mm) by 4 in. (102 mm) by 6 in. (152 mm), the Driveometer fits inside the glovebox where it records steering-wheel motions, brake applications, vehicle-speed changes, trip time and time in motion. The “new apparatus reportedly has great potential in the training of new drivers and the retraining of experienced operators,” the story notes.

Among this month’s industry briefs, a GM official says, “Diesel and gas turbine engines are two possibilities with potential use as future passenger car engines, if certain problems can be solved. But the use of atomic power for cars in the near future is not seen.” Meanwhile, a Ford engineer tells an SAE meeting, “The disadvantages which have made disc brakes unacceptable for regular passenger cars may soon be solved.” Although they are common on European cars and many racing cars, WAR notes, in ’63 disc brakes are standard only on the Studebaker Avanti.

25 Years Ago (March 1988): Pontiac Kills Fiero; Wrangler Line Expands; Chevy to Market Geo Brand

In what is termed a “sudden announcement,” Pontiac reveals on March 1, that it will end production of its sporty Fiero image car in September after only five years on the market. Pontiac cites declining sales, but some GM insiders, “worry that the decision could be interpreted to mean that the company is not interested in niche marketing and is only worried about the volume high-profit segments.” Others say they are dismayed that GM chose “…a quick financial solution to its problem, rather than learning to produce in small volumes.” (The Fiero program is “sold” to GM management in the early1980s on the basis that it will provide a low-cost commuter car in response to the fuel-supply disruptions of the 1970s. On that basis many of its original components are adapted from GM’s least expensive small cars, limiting its sports car appeal. By the time those deficiencies are overcome, many owners and potential buyers have become disenchanted with the vehicle.)

Chrysler’s Jeep Eagle Div. is introducing an entry level Wrangler S. Equipped with a 2.5L 4-cyl. engine, 5-speed manual transmission and soft top, it is targeted at first-time SUV buyers who are expected to be single, college graduates, 18-25 years of age and with an annual income of $30,000. It will be followed by an “Islander” variant in ’89 and a 50th Anniversary model in ’90.

The Director of Emissions Control for GM’s Environmental Activities Staff, says a bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate would set unrealistic emissions standards. GM says the bill, that would reduce hydrocarbon emissions to 0.25 grams per mile from .45 and those of oxides of nitrogen to 0.40 gpm from 1.0, requires technology auto makers do not yet possess and would mean a sharp reduction in the number of models offered. That means possible elimination of V-8 engines and all performance vehicles, as well increased drivability problems.

About the Author(s)

Al Binder

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

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