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From the First American Electric on page 18 of our December 1898 issue to the present day - read an exciting review of the last 111 years

December 1898. Page 18

First American Electric

One of the few passenger cars with a history that pre-dated -The Horseless Age, this 1892 custom-built carriage was the first electric vehicle built in the U.S. The vehicle was featured in a December, 1898 article, due primarily to the rapidly growing popularity of electric vehicles. By 1900, steam-powered vehicles proved dangerous, and though they still had 40% of the market, their share was rapidly declining. Electrics, on the other hand, doubled their share between 1898 and 1900, grabbing 38% of the market.

Gasoline engines at the time were so unreliable their share was stagnant at 22%.

Although primitive, this early EV had some very advanced features. note that it used a steering wheel with reduction gear for better stability. The wheel also locked into position with a dead-man style foot pedal to keep the car going straight with minimum effort. It had variable speeds of four, eight and 16 mph, achieved by linking its 40 chloride accumulator batteries in groups. Range for the five horsepower, 3,000 lb. vehicle was 40 miles.

January 24, 1906. Page 159

Body Construction

In the early days bodies were commonly made from a variety of materials. In our January coverage of the 1906 New York Auto Show, for example, we compiled the following figures: Wood Bodies = 64%; Aluminum Bodies = 28%; Steel Bodies = 5%; Wood & Metal Bodies = 3%.

Most bodies were built out of wood because it was easier and cheaper to work with. But once car builders wanted to add more stylish curves, and a body that could stand up to the weather, they needed something better. Steel sheet was not very popular because it dented too easily. Thats why aluminum enjoyed greater usage. In 1905, the Marmon and Pierce companies took this to an unprecedented level and began using cast aluminum bodies. No wonder this material was considered more dent-resistant. Parts of the body were 5/32 in. thick! Besides, it was felt that castings allowed the use of more graceful lines. It cost more than wood, but both companies felt the benefits outweighed the expense.

Though the Dodge Brothers are credited with developing the first all-steel body, the industry was building all-metal bodies well before them. In November, 1912, we covered the introduction of a 2- and 4-passenger automobile from the Birmingham Small Arms Co., Ltd. (BSA) which used an all-metal body, and predicted this approach would soon spread throughout the industry. however, we also wondered how upholstery would be attached to the body, since it could no longer be nailed into the wood. We also warned that the stamping dies needed to make metal body panels would cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000.

May 2, 1918

New Car Delivery

As early as 1918, we stated – there was no reason why cars should arrive at their destination with their finish in poor condition. We carried an article about a Cadillac distributor in Baltimore who put – overalls – over his cars to ship them to dealers. The outfit consisted of padded hardwood sticks framing the car over which a protective cloth cover was placed. We also noted how Paige-Detroit cars were sprayed with a coating of paraffin before leaving the factory. These methods insured that owners were delivered shiny new cars. We also described methods of loading new automobiles onto rail cars, noting that this greatly facilitated moving new vehicles to their points of destination.

May 2, 1931. Page 701

The Hill Automobile

In May 1931, Automotive Industries told of James Hill, a Pennsylvania inventor that drove a four-wheeled, gasoline-engined vehicle through the streets of Fleetwood, Pa. in 1885! Hill actually began work on the car in 1868 at age 13, whittling models of his horseless vehicle from wood.

Prior to 1880, Hill built a vehicle with an oscillating steam engine, but replaced it with a single cylinder, two-cycle type in 1885. Hill said he did it out of fear that the boiler on the steam engine would blow up. His engine was made from scraps of iron purchased from a local blacksmith. he crafted it himself and modeled it after an imported motor used to operate a scissors-grinder, of which he had only seen the exterior.

When Hill took his car into city streets in 1885, the townswomen screamed, children hid and horses broke halters. So great was the uproar, that a meeting of the city government ordered him not to operate the vehicle in the city. Hill went into seclusion and kept the vehicle in an attic until it was sold to Jack Thamm – still in running condition – in 1922. Thamm then permitted AI to the only photo ever taken of the vehicle.

1935-1945 THE ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY GOES TO WAR As the industry struggles to overcome the Great Depression, war clouds loom on the horizon. When war breaks out, car production ceases. AI becomes the how-to manual for the Arsenal of Democracy as the industry gears up for all-out war.

January 11, 1936: Workers at the GM plant in Flint staged the first grand-scale sit-down strike in the country. At issue was managements failure to recognize the UAWs right to negotiate on behalf of workers.

February 3, 1936: The National Guard stands ready to clear GMs Flint facility of strikers. At the last moment, management agreed to negotiate with UAW.

February 11, 1937: A 44 day strike at a Detroit Chevrolet plant came to an end, as the company agrees to negotiate with the UAW, affiliated with the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO). A contract was signed for a five cent per hour increase.

May 27, 1937:Responding to traffic demands, the longest suspension bridge in the world was opened across the Golden Gate between San Francisco and Marin County, Calif. The cost was $35 million.

May 30, 1937: The labor movement raged on as police open fire on strikers at the Chicago plant of Republic Steel. Ten people are killed in what would become known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

July 2, 1937: Amelia Earhart disappears during her around-the-world flight attempt.

September 11, 1937: United Parcel Service builds a truck of its own design for urban delivery service. The body is of hardwood, eliminating the need for dies. Engines are designed so they can be removed in five minutes to improve servicing.

January 22, 1938: Sixteen oil companies and 30 oil executives are convicted of criminal conspiracy to fix gasoline prices.

May 11, 1938: Automakers and other industrial giants convince Congress to pass a revenue act that will reduce taxes paid by large corporations. The act became law when President Roosevelt refused to veto or sign it.

June 4, 1938: First drive-in movie opens in Los Angeles.

September 28, 1938: Auto pioneer Charles Duryea dies at age 76, at his home in Philadelphia. Duryea built his first gasoline-engine vehicle in 1892, and started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1895.

February 25, 1939: AI releases results of a study that shows life expectancy for passenger cars has increased from 7.04 years in 1924 to 8.58 years in 1938.

February 27, 1939: After countless related deaths and injuries, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that sit-down strikes were illegal. Unions claimed the ruling would ultimately hurt the working man.

April 1, 1939: Carservice Inc. begins a service that is the precursor to modern leasing, whereby a vehicle and all necessary maintenance are provided for a monthly fee.

May 15, 1940: Igor Sikorsky demonstrates the first direct-lift aircraft ever flown in the U.S. He called it the Vought-Sikorsky helicopter.

October 24, 1940: The 40-hour week, a union milestone and provision of the Wages and Hours act of 1938, goes into effect as scheduled.

December 20, 1940: The Office of Production Management (OPM) is established to regulate defense production and facilitate shipment of war materials.

April 4, 1941: The OPM reports that the U.S. was now producing airplanes in record numbers. Many idle auto plants have been revived to build components for these aircraft. March production alone reached 1,216.

April 11, 1941: President Roosevelt said the wartime economy was driving up inflation. He sets up an agency ­ the Office of Price Administration (OPA) ­ to plan price controls. The OPA promptly freezes steel prices.

April 17, 1941: Automakers agreed to reduce output by 1 million units annually, starting August 1. The diverted capacity and raw materials will be used for manufacture of armaments.

August 3, 1941: Gasoline rationing goes into effect in Eastern States.


September 15, 1939 p. 26
Antarctic Snow Crusier

In 1939, we ran a host of articles on the design and construction of this monster- sized-vehicle, the Antartic Snow Cruiser. Inland steel and Cummins diesel, which sponsored the project, also ran full page advertisements about it. The Snow Cruiser was designed by the Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago for the second Antartic expedition by Admiral Richard Byrd. It was powered by two 150 hp Cummins diesels, carried a crew of four, as well as a 5-passenger airplane, and housed a galley, sleeping quarters and machine shop. It could cross 15-foot crevasses by retracting the front wheels, sliding forward until the front wheels crossed the crevasse, lowering the front wheels and driving forward until the rear wheels reached the crevasse, then repeating the process for the rear wheels.

This 1939 Morris Ten-Four employed what was then called – mono-construction,- more commonly called monocoque today. The vehicle began with the bare underframe to which all structural bracing is welded.

Right- and left-hand side panels and wheel arch assemblies are located by jig and welded to channel side-members of underframe. Roof, dash pan and valence assemblies, complete with component and suspension mounting bracketry interconnect with underframe and side members

Labor Unrest *

The UAW was just as prone to violence as the automakers. A photo from this period, perhaps the counterpart to the one of the Battle of the Overpass, shows a Ford worker getting beaten by union organizers. We published a photo, – Speeding Up the Organization of Ford Workers. We accused the union of resorting to violent means simply to intimidate workers into joining the union, increasing membership and collecting more dues.

April 15, 1941 p. 442 July 1995

Materials *

In 1941, Ford displayed this plastic-bodied vehicle, claiming to have a curb weight of just 2,000 lb. The company said it was 1,000 lb. lighter than a conventional vehicle of comparable size. Construction consisted of 14 plastic panels mounted to a tubular welded-frame with plastic cement.

The body panels were made from synthetic resins, reinforced with fiber from wheat, flax, raimi, hemp and spruce pulp. Panels were preformed by suction, then molded under 1,500 psi pressure. Ford claimed it had a light engine program under development to compliment the car.


In 1942, we reported on a very advanced concept for the time: using clear plastic models for designing components. The transparent working models were produced by the Runcolite Co. of London. It originally conceived of the idea as an instruction and demonstration aid for engineering students, but soon discovered interest from researchers, designers and even production engineers. We showed examples of a steering gear, roller bearing crankshaft, and centrifugal blower of transparent plastic.

Rear Engines

During the mid to late 1930s, rear wheel drive captured the imagination of all automakers. Almost every car company had a rwd concept car in the works. Without exception, they were intrigued by the packaging and aerodynamic benefits which could be obtained with the engine in the rear. For one thing, this offered wind-cheating front end designs. For another, it eliminated the driveshaft hump in the floor and allowed the entire passenger compartment to be moved forward on the frame. Though virtually none of the large automakers ever produced a rear-engined car, they continued to dream of the possibilities it offered. Ford even obtained a patent for a rear-engined, front wheel drive car with four wheel steering in 1936. Obviously it never went anywhere.


Our March 27, 1937 feature on Germanies – Peoples Car – questioned Hitlers plans to build and sell 1 million for $400 each. Automakers doubted the 24-hp, 1,400-lb car could reach these targets as well. Opels production manager told AI: – Hitlers advisers appear to have overlooked the fact that 60% to 70% of production costs are beyond the control of the manufacturer. Brave words.

We covered the cars official unveiling in 1938, detailing the deferred payment plan (workers would pay the government $2 week over four years), technical details, new assembly plant and were still skeptical. – Instead of a demonstration, the German worker gets Hitlers personal assurance he is buying the best car Germany never built,- we said, adding, – We understand its equipped with an automatic control, which slows it down when passing any stand where Hitler is making a speech. Our first in-depth look came in April of 1944, thanks to the engineers at Englands Humber company. They examined one of the military versions captured in the Middle East, and shared their findings.


Even before the U.S. declared war, AI advertisers began to tout their ability to produce ordinance and military equipment. As an ad, titled – Bundles For Hitler – for Lake Erie hydraulic presses showed during this period, the company knew exactly where these shells would be targeted.

*October 1, 1941 p. 215 July 1995


April 15, 1943 As the war dragged on and hatred for the enemy grew, advertisements became more graphic in extolling their messages. There is an example of a Koppers ad, poking fun at Mussolini, which was selling the companys piston rings.

Preparing For War

Well before the U.S. entered the war, AI was publishing articles warning the auto industry on the need for defense preparedness. Our first article on conversion appeared in February, 1939 — before hostilities even broke out in Europe — covering a presentation by the U.S. Army and Navy at the annual SAE meeting in Detroit on what the armed forced needed from the auto industry in motor vehicles, ordinance, and aircraft. After war broke out in Europe, the number of articles on national defense not only increased, they became ever more specific about what was needed.

Yet, even in July, 1940, after France had been overrun and England was desperately preparing to stave- off invasion, we noted that the U.S. was far from unified on how fast or far to proceed in getting ready for a national emergency. Once the U.S. was into the war however, conversion was rapid and complete.

We ran articles in every issue about companies converting to wartime production. And we showed the major components needed for military production, such as this cut-away of a Martin B-26, so automotive companies could study how to make them.

In 1941, for example, we covered AC Spark Plug making machine guns, Chrysler making tanks, Fisher Body making B-25 airframes, Packard making engines for PT boats, and Ford making B-24s. AI was becoming the how-to manual for the Arsenal of Democracy.

August 15, 1941 p. 19
*Transmissions *

The manual transmission was, by now, a fairly mature and reliable technology. But the opportunity to improve on its operation took automakers into different directions. This unusual clutch spring was used in the Buick Series 40 for 1939.

The cone-shaped spring was claimed to exert a high-pressure on the clutch plates to prevent slipping, while at the same time give a light clutch pedal feel for extended stop-and-go driving. It was an effective, but short-lived solution, doomed by durability problems.

An even more radical approach was taken by Chrysler, with the adoption of its – fluid drive.- Although the vehicle had a clutch pedal, it operated two vaned plates that transmitted power through shearing action in low-viscosity mineral oil.

The design allowed drivers to stop without using the clutch, even leaving the gear selector in high, providing quick acceleration was not needed.

Chrysler touted the design as being easier to drive, quieter, smoother, less prone to stalling and safer. Fluid drive was also a flop.

December 10, 1938 Production Illustration

Production Illustration was a system developed to explain manufacturing procedures with pictures instead of words to quickly train workers and help companies move to mass production. It began in WWI, but a small group of enthusiasts, led by a George Tharratt, refined and improved the practice. During WWII, American aviation companies embraced the practice wholeheartedly, especially for small, precision parts. We noted that Production Illustration was limited only by – the scarcity of personnel capable of making not only the illustrations, but also conducting the investigations into factory operations necessary to provide the basic information upon which the illustrations are formulated. Its a practice that would be well worth reviving today.

Aviation Part 1

With the auto industry heavily involved in aircraft design and production we devoted considerable coverage to this field. Cutaways and technical descriptions of Allied aircraft filled our pages. But we also carried a surprising amount of articles about fighter planes and bombers from the Axis powers. Information was often gathered from downed planes, some of which were repaired and tested.

A Messerschmitt Me109-F1-S2 forced to land over southeastern England in 1941 provided much information. It had a top speed of 380 mph, and a ceiling of more than 36,000 ft. It held 106 gallons of fuel in a rubber bag located in a plywood box behind and under the pilot. Its Mauser cannon could fire 900 rounds/ minute, or 10 times more rounds than earlier cannons. And the Me109 F also had two 7.92 mm. machine guns, and two 20 mm. Oerliken wing cannons.

This analysis was followed with looks at Britains Bristol Beaufighter, the Bell Airacobra I, Mitsubishi Zero, and P-51 Mustang. Of these the P-51, Zero and Me109 were closely matched, with the Mustang having the highest top speed and ceiling.

July 1, 1943*
Sept. 15, 1941

War-Time Car Design

Even with the war raging on two fronts, American designers could not keep their minds off future automotive designs. In 1942 we ran a two-part series looking at cars of the future. Raymond Loewys design already anticipated the styling trends of the 1950s. George Walker penned this well-proportioned, clean-looking glass-dome car. Brooks Stevens created a civilian version of the Jeep and a passenger car that used simple lines and no ornamentation to facilitate a quick conversion from military to commercial production.

September 1, 1942 PATTON MUSEUM OF CAVALRY & ARMOR War Vehicles 1

Enemy airplanes were not the only war vehicles to find their way under our microscope. Germanys medium tank, the backbone of the blitskrieg, was first analyzed in our February 1, 1942 issue.

The German tank was quite similar to the American M3 in many respects. Both used driven front sprockets so slack would occur at the bottom of the track, which reduced the chance of throwing one at speed. M3s used a rubber track with quickly detached cleats, while the Germans used an all-metal design. Each tank had a cast steel hull, though the Germans provided openings that were, – well worked out so as to exclude flame and flame throwers of Molotov Cocktails. A good idea.

We also analyzed Morriss frameless armored car and the Matilda tank. The welded armor-plate superstructure of the Morris carried the 4-cyl. engine, suspension (including a dual A-arm front design), and other main components. We reported it could climb 40% gradients and reach 50 mph, despite its 7,250 lb. weight.

The British-built Matilda, on the other hand, weighed 25 tons, and could run no faster than 20 mph. It carried a Vickers 2-pounder gun and Besa machine gun in its turret, and was powered by a 95 hp 6-cyl.

*Design For Production *

As the war wore on and vast increases in material became imperative, we ran articles demonstrating how it was necessary to design for production. We advised engineers to reduce the number of parts needed in their designs, pointing out it would greatly reduce tooling costs as well as the time needed to assemble it. We also said they should come up with designs made from self-contained sub-assemblies that would flow into a final line. The lower diagram shows a conventional design approach using many individual parts, with workers crowded around the final assembly. A modular design which provides more access to the job at hand, and less crowding at each station. Articles like these greatly helped Detroit become the Arsenal of Democracy.

Jet Fighters *

AI covered many firsts in the aviation industry. While most people are under the impression Germany invented the first jet powered aircraft late in the war, we reported that the Camproni-Campini made the first sustained jet-powered flight; a 10-minute, 168 mile trip between Milan and Rome in August of 1940. We also cited literature covering jet-propulsion design dating back to 1908. In September, 1942, we ran a five page feature outlining developments in jet propulsion aircraft, but noted that jets still did not provide the efficiency of a conventional system. Our coverage included details of the Caproni-Campini design, as well as developments from Sweden and Germany. In October, 1945 we ran a photo feature on Germanys experimental jet war planes, including the Me 163B, Me 262A, Heinkel Hirth He S 001 jet engine, a Junkers bomber with four Jumo 004 jet engines, and a BMW 003 jet engine.

Other firsts we covered include Northrops Flying Wing, with its wing-shaped fuselage and rear-mounted pusher-prop engines. In April of 1942, we were there when Igor Sikorsky flew his VS-300 helicopter, the first to use a single vertical rear rotor. By March of 1943, Sikorskys design had shown enough promise for us to report that the government had ordered an enclosed production version for large-scale field testing.

American V-1 Bomb

An amazing part of forgotten history. In early 1945, AI broke the story on the U.S. making V-1 bombs. These rocket bombs were exact copies of captured German V-1s — which we described in detail in November, 1944 — that had been reverse engineered. Ford built the ram jet engines in Detroit; Willys-Overland built the fuselages and wings in Toledo. Ford engineers quickly adopted mass production techniques to assembling these – flying chimneys, – making them stronger, lighter and cheaper to manufacture than the German versions. Though production information was restricted at the time, photos in the magazine indicate we were making hundreds of them. We reported – the Detroit area soon will become the robot bomb center for the country, noting that other automotive companies would also get involved if the program was to be greatly expanded. Military experts told AI these missiles were never fired in anger, only for development and experimentation. In some cases they were mounted on submarines, which would surface and fire them at target ships. This effort evolved into the Loon missile program, which ultimately led to the U.S. cruise missile program that played such a crucial role in the 1991 Gulf War.

April 1, 1945

One of our first encounters with the Jeep came in our July 1941 story on Fords – Blitz-Buggy – The 4wd Command Reconnaissance Car, as it was officially called, could reach 55 mph with a 42 hp engine, weighed 2,100 lb, and used a 3-speed Model A transmission.

We also spent a considerable amount of ink on the Willys Jeep, including a look into potential peace-time uses. Designed initially for – Army scout work and messenger service,- the Jeep found itself being used for much, much more. So successful was this vehicle, in fact, that the Italian High Command offered soldiers 2,000 lire and a possible leave for the capture of a Jeep. This, compared to 2,000 lire for a plane, and 1,000 lire for a tank.

Long before the wars end, we stated the Jeep, – seems to have assured a place for itself after the war.- As that time approached, we watched as Willys prepared it for civilian duty, marveling that the company was making the frame stronger for peacetime use.

War vehicles 3

Two of the more interesting vehicles seen during the war were the Army Weasel and the German Kettenkrad. The Weasel had been in secret production at Studebaker for two years before our story broke in 1944. We reported that Studebaker was given the green light to build the Weasel, officially known as the M29 Cargo Carrier, in May 1942, and delivered the first development prototype 34 days later. It was powered by a Studebaker Champion 6-cyl. engine located to the right of the driver.

Almost as bizarre was the German Kettenkrad, a half-tank, half-motorcycle built for the German Ordinance Corps by NSU. It was powered by a 36 hp Opel Olympia 4-cyl., and transmitted power to the tracks located on either side of the body through a 6-speed gearbox. It could climb 90% grades, hit 50 mph, return 25 mpg, and was steered by the single front wheel. The inside track was applied in tight turns. The Kettenkrad, we said, was intended for towing guns, ammunition trailers, and supplies.

July 15, 1944

January 1, 1945

German V-2 Rocket

AI always carried the latest developments in military technology. In January, 1945 we published this complete schematic of the German V-2 rocket, explaining how it worked. We noted that it weighed 13.5 tons and could hit targets 200 miles away within five minutes.

We also said that the Germans were beginning to use a new rocket on the Western front called the V-3 or V-4, which was smaller than the V-2 and had a speed greater than the speed of sound.

* Spruce Goose

Our August 1945 report of the Hughes H4 flying boat, best known as the – Spruce Goose -, said the reason for its all-wood construction was, – the critical shortage of dural and aluminum at the time the preliminary negotiations on the contract were made in 1942.

The H4 needed to have its wood, mainly birch from Wisconsin and Michigan, preconditioned before use, then glued in buildings held at constant humidity and temperature between 72°F and 80°F. Exterior plywood was bonded using phenol formaldehyde resin that cured at 300°F.

Skins were nailed in place before curing, then removed once the glue set. Approximately eight tons of these small nails were used, we said. In addition, the lower hull was made of 18 watertight compartments. If 12 sections flooded, Hughes claimed, the plane would still float.

The H4 was designed to carry one 60-ton tank, or three 16-ton models. Or it could be converted to hold 350 hospital patients in stretchers with doctors, nurses and surgical areas. The 320-ft wingspan was joined to a 220-ft main hull that was 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Eight 3,000 hp engines were used, fed by 14 1,000-gallon tanks located in the hull. Gross weight was more than 400,000 lb.

July 1, 1945

January 15, 1945

One could almost follow the developments of the war simply by reading the advertisements. This ad from the General Machinery Corporation graphically shows the war in Europe is over, and encourages readers to – keep that guard up – and finish the war in the Pacific. AI advertisers loved to show how they were able to redesign military equipment and make it far better and cheaper. An ad for Lindberg Furnaces tells how a trigger guard was improved, saving 720,000 machine hours, 635 tons of steel and cutting the cost from $6.50 to $1.05.


By early 1944, the first articles on reconversion were beginning to appear. America was already sure it was going to win. During 1945, the number of articles and advertisements on reconversion increased so quickly that by May, articles about the war were the exception, not the rule. Automakers were concerned that a long layover would cripple the industry. They did not want a resumption of the WPA standard of living of the 1930s. – Let us make sure we win the peace, they said.

GM called for a prompt resumption of commercial activities in big volume, which would put the economy on a high level and create full employment.

January 1, 1942:

The OPM orders a ban on the sale of new cars and trucks. All capacity is diverted to wartime production. The Wartime Production Board takes over the task of maximizing production of war materials.

July 22, 1942: Gasoline rationing coupons were established across the U.S.

February 9, 1943: President Roosevelt declared that all American plants producing goods for the war effort must work a minimum 48 hour week.

June 13, 1944: Allied forces are confronted with a new weapon, as Germany launches its first V-1 rocket (buzz bomb) against London. The device carries one ton of explosives and travels at 350 mph.

September 8, 1944: The first German V-2 rocket was fired at London. The rocket travels at supersonic speeds and is impossible to shoot down.

October 24, 1944: Louis Renault, founder of Frances Renault Auto, dies.

February 1, 1945: German counter-attack in Western Europe pushes the WPB to expand manufacture of wartime goods back to highest production levels.

April 1, 1945: AI predicts production levels in the U.S. will not fall, even after the war in Europe ends. We reasoned that civilian goods have worn out to the point that it will take several years of high production to meet demand.

April 15, 1945: AI predicts that orders for wartime goods will stop outright within the next 30 to 60 days. Unemployment runs high in Detroit. Automakers began plans for reconversion.

July 1, 1945: Further cutbacks in war production signaled cancellations of several contracts for tanks and trucks. Some automakers already off-line for wartime production were grooming plants for resumed car production.

July 3, 1945: Two days after resumed production was authorized by the WPB, Ford drove its first 1946 model off the line at its Rouge Assembly Plant.

The vehicle astounded WPB forecasters who predicted no vehicles would be seen until 60 days after – go day.

August 15, 1945: AI reports the sudden end to the war with Japan may cause massive unemployment.

We quoted the Mead War Investigating Committee which criticized the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion for acting too late in providing amply for reconversion.

September 15, 1939. Page 26

Antarctic Snow Cruiser

In 1939, we ran a host of articles on the design and construction of this monster-sized vehicle, the Antarctic Snow Cruiser. Inland steel and Cummins diesel, which sponsored the project also ran full page advertisements about it. The Snow Cruiser was designed by the Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago for the second Antarctic expedition by Admiral Richard Byrd. It was powered by two 150 hp Cummins diesels, carried a crew of four, as well as a 5-passenger airplane, and housed a galley, sleeping quarters and machine shop. It could cross 15-foot crevasses by retracting the front wheels, sliding forward until the front wheels crossed the crevasse, lowering the front wheels and driving forward until the rear wheels reached the crevasse, then repeating the process for the rear wheels.

January 15, 1946. Page 27

Lightweight Cars

The aluminum frame of this 1946 vintage, experimental Gregoire car was made up of five aluminum castings, and weighed a mere 100 lbs. The castings dovetailed and bolted together, a feature covered by a 1938 Gregoire patent. The vehicle, as described in our January 15, 1946 issue, was a 2-cyl., four-passenger design weighing just 948 lb., and capable of 59 mpg. The latter figure, we noted, would be the driving force for many years to come in a fuel-starved Europe.

In March of 1951, fascination still ran high for lightweight designs. Hotchkiss built a cast-aluminum-frame, Gregoire-licensed, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan with a curb weight of just 2,376 lb. Using a four-cylinder, 134 in., 70 hp engine, the car sprinted to 60 mph in 18 seconds and had a top speed of 90 mph.

By 1953, we reported on the new Panhard Dyna 54, a light-alloy, six-passenger design using no castings, weighing just 1,430 lb. A unique construction feature was the three-piece frame design, consisting of a central platform, and fully built-up front and rear sub-assemblies.

April 15, 1962. Page 69

Atomic Age Car Concept

Jet planes, nuclear power, and space exploration sparked the imagination of automotive designers in the late 50s and early 60s like never before. Experimental cars carried names such as – Alpharay X-10 – and came equipped with engines such as the – Strato-Streak V8.- Some of the conceptual ideas seem downright silly now, but others are almost prescient. In 1962, for example, we ran an article titled the – Atomic Age Car Concept – which forecast the use of electronically controlled traffic lanes, cars powered by – fumeless – fuel cells, and television screens on the instrument panel that would map out your trip and provide safety warnings. We encouraged automotive designers to look beyond the immediate programs they were working on and put their positive thoughts into – improving the future of motor transportation on a long range basis.


April 1, 1965
AMF Safety Car

Although second nature to automakers today, the idea of stricter safety laws caused a stir in the mid 60s. Henry Ford II and then Michigan governor George Romney lashed out at auto safety critics, warning that passage of strict federal auto safety standards would upset the nations economy. Romney said – A great tragedy would result if the federal government gained too much authority over vehicle safety.

Although the nation did not crumble, cars did get safer, thanks to widespread use of crash sleds, independent safety studies, government mandates, and some unique concept vehicles.

This AMF-built concept was one of four vehicles competing for DOT funding in 1970.

The vehicles bumper had to withstand 10 mph impacts without damage, protect in a 50 mph barrier crash, and suffer intrusion of no more than four inches at door center in a 40 mph side impact crash.

January 15, 1965. Page 74

Computer-Aided Design

As early as 1965, AI was covering the emerging technology of Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Then the biggest challenge was describing part surfaces mathematically. And once described, there was not a great deal of latitude to manipulate them. One article bragged about the ability to predict optical distortion in a windshield based on the curve of the glass, or even predict the wiper pattern based on projected movement of the wipers.

The state-of-the-art system at the time was GMs DAC-1, built by IBM to GM specifications. GMs Fisher Body Division bragged of DAC-1 three unique capabilities. First, to read key lines from engineering drawings and store the data.

Second, the rapid graphic communication link it created between man and machine. And finallly, the machines ability to generate drawings on 35mm film, as well as produce tapes that control drafting machines.

The industry moves from muscle cars to safety cars. Emission legislation threatens to shut down the industry, airbags make an appearance, and the Japanese begin to make their presence felt.

* Fords Racing Prototypes

Our May 1, 1966 cover story on Fords racing prototype program focused on the companys efforts to develop a lightweight successor to the GT40 and Mark II. The cars monocoque was made of adhesively bonded honeycomb aluminum, and carried bodywork designed to meet Appendix J of the FIAs rule book. It was designed for speeds of 250 mph.

Working with Kar Kraft, Ford designed a number of structural members and inner panels in clay, from which molds were made. The parts were then cast in fiberglass or fabricated in metal. We showed how this cut months from the process by eliminating layout drawings and mahogany die models, and could be used on production programs.

The J-Car debuted at the LeMans test days, but did not make the race. A Ford GT Mark II won the 24-hour classic, driven by Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren. However, one year later the Ford GT Mark IV, which was derived from the J-Car, took Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt to victory.

Computer-Aided Design

As early as 1965, AI was covering the emerging technology of Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Then the biggest challenge was describing part surfaces mathematically. And once described, there was not a great deal of latitude to manipulate them. One article bragged about the ability to predict optical distortion in a windshield based on the curve of the glass, or even predict the wiper pattern based on projected movement of the wipers.

The state-of-the-art system at the time was GMs DAC-1, built by IBM to GM specifications. GMs Fisher Body Division bragged of DAC-1s three unique capabilities. First, to read key lines from engineering drawings and store the data. Second, the rapid graphic communication link it created between man and machine. And finally, the machines ability to generate drawings on 35mm film, as well as produce tapes that control drafting machines.

June 1, 1965: GM builds mobile laboratory for simulating moon exploration. It weighs 16,000 lb., can climb a 45% grade and travels 25 mph. Two people can live on-board for up to two weeks.

March 1, 1967: Toyota, already the third largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles, boosts production 24% in one year to 700,000 units annually. About 600,000 of those vehicles will be sold in Japan.

April 15, 1969: Henry Ford II says Japanese automakers are much more of a danger to American manufacturers than VW.

September 15, 1969: GM and Ford say they can not meet NHTSAs airbag target date of January 1, 1972. GM warns airbags might kill little children. Ford says passengers might slide under the bag and break their backs unless they are wearing seatbelts. Nonetheless, both praise airbags, saying they could save lives.

May 15, 1970: Catalytic converters are expected to cost $300/car. Automakers ask oil companies to removed lead from gasoline starting in 1975, the year the catalysts are scheduled for production.

January 15, 1965 to May 1, 1966

* Electric Vehicles

The subject of electric vehicles gained a momentary burst of interest late in 1966, when AI wrote three different features on EVs and/or EV technologies. In November, we covered Fords introduction of the sodium-sulfur battery cell, a technology that Ford predicted would deliver up to a 134 mile cruising range in a Falcon-sized car. The following month we touted GMs Electrovair, with its exotic silver-zinc batteries and claimed 150 mile range. The same month also featured a hydrogen fuel cell, tested by the army in a 3/4 ton truck!

But our May 15, 1967 issue took a much less optimistic approach to EVs. It contained a scathing opinion piece by Detroit editor Joseph Geschelin. He lashed out at past press coverage of electric vehicles, saying there was no advantage other than their contribution to clean air, and he even questioned their benefit in that regard. He cited high-cost, poor range, limited performance and infrastructure problems.

Geschelins sentiments were pretty much reflected by the entire industry until the oil crisis of 1973 brought renewed interest. An April 15, 1974, feature titled – Another Chance For Electrics? brought up all the old arguments, and some of the latest thinking in packaging for EVs. But a host of new fuel-efficient cars — particularly from Japan — would change the focus of our editorial to a more pressing topic.


The difference in focus between the early and late halves of this decade can not get more disparate than shown in engine design. In a January, 1966 article, we lauded the introduction of Chryslers 426 hemi, the newest in a list of hemi-head engines that dated back to 1951. Offered as a factory option in Chryslers mid-size cars, the hemi was the companys flagship engine during the muscle-car era.

By the early 70s, big blocks gave way to economical and clean 4-cyl. engines. And GM was at the forefront of development on both counts. A 1970 article covered the all-aluminum Chevrolet Vega engine that supposedly eliminated the need for iron cylinder liners, though experience would prove otherwise. That same year, GM also announced its plans for high-volume application of fuel injection and a catalyst system that reduced emissions.

Other low-emissions, high-mileage solutions discussed in AI included Fords PROCO (programmed combustion) engine, and both diesel and gasoline versions of the Wankel rotary. Fords effort proved too complex and costly, while the rotary efforts by Rolls-Royce and NSU never delivered on promised levels of efficiency.

*December 1, 1966
May 1, 1965

* Fords Wrist-Twist Steering

After three years of research, Lincoln-Mercury finally showed its design for a – wrist-twist – steering system. Developed under the direction of former missile engineer Robert Rumpf, the unit replaced the conventional steering wheel with two five-inch plastic rings mounted to an immobile cross-bar. We decided to explore the problem just as though we were from a different planet Rumpf told AI.

Each ring drove a sprocket that was attached by a chain to another sprocket on the steering shaft. The rings turned simultaneously, allowing the driver the choice of using one, or both, to steer the car. Because the small rings did not have the leverage of the larger standard wheel, a back-up hydraulic unit was fitted in case the regular unit expired.

Company officials told AI the system would cost new car buyers less than $100 in production, and had but three turns lock-to-lock. Also under test was a variable ratio system with less than two turns of lock.

Chevy XP-898 *

The Vega-based XP-898 prototype was begun, we said, ‘to determine the practicality of a chassis comprised merely of two pieces of 2.54 mm fiberglass with up to 14.7 cm of urethane foam between the two skins.’ The four major sections (floor pan, front upper, rear upper, and the front cowl) were adhesively bonded together then filled with urethane foam. We reported the body had to sit in the mold for 15 minutes, though the foam needed to set for 24 hours.

Chevrolet R&D chief engineer Ed Mertz told us the open-top vehicle was 10% stiffer in both torsion and bending than a Corvette coupe. Bayer provided the fiberglass used in the stressed skin, though Mertz said SMC would be investigated because of its shorter process time. The Jerry Brochstein-penned car weighed 2,261 lb, put 53.2% of its weight on the rear wheels, and pulled 1.07 g on a 100-ft. skidpad. It used a standard Vega engine, drivetrain and suspension, but was fitted with racing tires.

December 1, 1972

* Racing

Multiples of eight were all the rage in racing engines, as shown by our coverage of the Coventry Climax Flat-16, BRM H-16, and Ford V8 Indy motor. The 1.5 L Coventry Climax unit developed 220 hp at 12,000 rpm using fuel injection and transistorized ignition. It was 22.6 in. wide, 21.4 in. long, but never raced. The FIA increased Formula 1 engine capacities to 3.0 L for 1966.

BRMs H-16 basically placed one flat-8 atop another, geared together through an idler. The two single-plane cranks were set 90° apart, and output came from the lower shaft. Two cylinders on each – layer – of the engine fired simultaneously. It won only one race, the 1966 USGP at Watkins Glen.

Also, Fords Indy V8 was the subject of a two-part series in May and June of 1966. The articles documented the changes made to the engine from its 1963 debut to its winning 1965 form. During that time it moved from 375 hp to 440 hp.

December 1, 1970: GM joins the ranks of 17 other automakers and acquires a license for the Wankel engine. Total cost: $49.1 million. The company refuses to say if it will use these engines in automobiles, raising industry eyebrows.

April 1, 1971: Bendix predicts that radar braking will be available within three years. The system works in conjunction with speed control to form adaptive cruise control — it automatically maintains a safe distance behind other cars. Though the system is not economically feasible, its projected to cost about $120 when it debuts.

May 1, 1971: If given the chance, the Center for Auto Safety says it would make three changes to the auto industry: 1. Move away from cars and into mass transit; 2. Develop alternatives to urban choke caused by cars; 3. Call for greater honesty in automotive advertising.

September 1, 1971: The UAW looks into reports that Japanese automakers are dumping cars in the American market. At the same time, Chrysler sets out to buy 35% of Mitsubishi, GM wants 34% of Isuzu, and Ford is negotiating with Toyo Kogyo (Mazda).

June 15, 1972: UAW president Leonard Woodcock urges Japanese automakers to build cars in the US. Woodcock believes the plants – would lessen the pressure for protectionism among the rank and file.

February 1, 1972: Treasury Secretary John Connally irks Japanese automakers, saying a Ford Pinto that sells for $2,200 in the U.S. costs $5,500 in Japan because of tariffs and taxes. Japanese automakers say its because Ford refuses to spend money on a distribution and service organization to enable its Japanese dealers to achieve high volume.

July 1, 1973: Honda modifies a Chevy Impala fitted with a 350 V8 to prove its CVCC concept works on large cars. The company reportedly wants GM to drop the Wankel engine and buy its CVCC technology. Rumors abound that Ford is interested in buying Hondas technology, and some sources say Ford is interested in buying Honda.
December, 1980

Plastic Engine

Our December 1980 cover lines said it all: What…A Plastic Engine? Matty Holtzberg, founder of Polimotor Research Inc., showed us his 168 lb., 2.3 L sohc motor, which he based on Fords production 2.3 L 4-cyl.

The engine used graphite-reinforced composites. Ceramic coatings covered the pistons and intake valves. The only non-composite pieces were the cylinder liners, crankshaft, camshaft, valve springs, exhaust valve and combustion chamber. Though the engine worked, at $28,000 per unit it was much too expensive.

Holtzberg moved to a dohc design with the block, head, oil pan, cam cover, oil and water pumps, and intake manifolds made from a phenolic resin-based moldable composite.

This 2.3 L design weighed 175 ob, made 178 hp, and needed 50% less machining than a steel design. Holtzbergs engine never reached volume production, though a 320 hp version had minor racing success.

January, 1990

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles had been out of the limelight for years, until the GM Chairman Roger Smith held a press conference in January of 1990. He announced a – research electric car – called Impact that offered breakthrough mileage and performance, using conventional lead-acid batteries and a unique dual-drive motor approach. As it turned out, many lf the claims for the car were exaggerated, but follow-up interviews with engineers on the program led AI to make an April, 1990 prediction that Impact was production-bound.

Two months later, our prediction was fulfilled, as GM announced the car had become an active program within the company. For the next several years, AI closely followed the development of the car, which alternated through an on-again off-again status. After drastic revisions to the powertrain, and improvements to the vehicle layout, the program was – pulled-back – in early 1993.

In December, 1993, a few prototype vehicles were made available to AI for evaluation, even though the status of the car at that time was – no-volume-build. We concluded the Impact to be a hotbed of advanced technology and manufacturing, that if applied to more conventionally-powered vehicles, could provide many of the answers for the then just-announced, 80 mpg Supercar initiative.

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