The Year the American Auto Industry First Hit One Million in Inventory

The American auto industry hit the million mark in inventory for the first time in 1960. This story about the new record appeared in March of that year:

Although this article tries to paint a rosy picture, the country was on the precipice of a recession caused in part by industrial overexpansion to meet post-war demand. Another reason for the high inventories in the auto industry was the record output of compact cars which were surging in popularity. During the first week of March, it was reported that the six compact cars accounted for 25.1 percent of the total output for the week. In addition to the AMC Rambler and the Studebaker Lark, the Big Three were offering the Ford Falcon, the Mercury Comet, the Plymouth Valiant, and the Chevrolet Corvair. Chevrolet was outpacing everyone in terms of both production and sales.

Automobile inventories have been in the news regularly for the past few years, due mainly to the lack thereof. It was downright spooky to drive by the empty dealership lots, barren wastelands caused, at least in part, by production cuts during the pandemic and global microchip shortages. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently published this visual depiction of the fluctuation in domestic auto inventories since 1994.

Domestic Auto Inventories (AUINSA) | FRED | St. Louis Fed ( U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Domestic Auto Inventories [AUINSA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, June 17, 2024.

As you can see from the chart, inventories have started to rebound from the depths plummeted to in February of 2022. Even so, those unpleasant sky-high prices do not appear to be coming down anytime soon.

For comparison purposes, you could buy a new Chevy Biscayne in 1960 for around $2,300. For a couple hundred dollars more, you could get yourself a new Bel Air two-door hardtop Sport Coupe.

That is roughly equivalent in purchasing power to $26,000 today. There are still some new car options under $30,000 in 2024, but none will give you the same thrill you would get from cruising around in that ’60 Sport Coupe. Let’s hope improving production numbers and rising inventories translate into lower prices and better access for today’s buyers, but even if inventories return to that million mark, buyers will never again have access to the fine and diverse automobiles available the first time it happened:

The Year Automobile Designers Became Dress Designers

I happened across a story in a 1940 newspaper about automobile designers making a foray into women’s fashions. The feminine styles were supposed to match the 1941 automotive offerings and were designed by the same men who created those body styles. This was all done to promote the New York auto show. There were pictures to go with the story, but no names, so I had to keep digging. I discovered that the first one was designed by none other than Harley Earl, and this streamlined creation in silver rayon featured wings to mimic the hood emblem on a ’41 Caddy.

Photo credit: Rex Gray, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The stories I found do not give credit for this stylish jacket with a yolk based on the shape of the Packard grille. Perhaps the designer was Howard “Dutch” Darrin?

Photo credit: David Berry from Rohnert Park CA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This swimming suit is based on the 1941 Chevrolet. You can see the shape of the grille on the model’s midsection, and her shoes were even made out of Lucite!

This ensemble was designed, I believe, by E. T. Gregorie and was meant to complement the Mercury. Notice the belt, which was based on the Merc’s bumper guards, and a purse modeled on the hubcaps.

Photo credit: JOHN LLOYD from Concrete, Washington, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One article said this coat was made with upholstery plaid, so it must be based on Chrysler’s Highlander. Oliver Clark was likely the one who designed this modish outerwear.

This promotion was done in cooperation with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and the clothing was actually available to be purchased on Fifth Avenue. I have no idea how well it sold, but I would absolutely purchase all of it today if still available (and I might run someone over to get to that hubcap purse).

A Race Filled with Legends

This marvelous graphic from the November 23, 1924, Pomona Bulletin shows the favorites going into that year’s Thanksgiving Day race at Ascot:

On the left is legendary Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, the inspiration for the Cannonball Run. Baker set many records for cross-country rides in the early years of the 1900s including a 1914 sprint from San Diego to New York, made on Indian motorcycle in just eleven days. For the Ascot race, Baker was driving a stock Jewett. The man in the center, Cliff Bergere, had a side gig as a Hollywood stuntman and participated in 16 Indy 500 races including the 1941 race in which he went the distance without a single pit stop. He also served during World War II and was a major in the US Army upon discharge. Bergere was driving for Deusenberg, and so was the man on the right, Frank Lockhart. Dubbed “The Boy Wonder,” Lockhart was a talented and innovative racer and Indy winner who met a tragic end at Daytona Beach in 1928 while making a run at the land speed record in a Stutz Black Hawk Special. Incredibly, video of the crash, blamed on tire failure, can be found here on YouTube.

There was another familiar name there for that Thanksgiving Day race, and just look at this colorful write-up about him:

There were 43 starters in all that day, driving approximately 250 miles before a crowd of 50,000 that included celebrities like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The victory went to Lockhart who slid into first place on the 31st lap and drove a masterful race, finishing in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds. He made only one stop with 25 miles to go, and that was to lighten his load by ditching his mechanic. This photo of the action appeared in the LA Times:

The caption above the photo reads, “Photo shows Frank Lockhart, driving his No. 27 Duesenberg, coming down one of the sharp turns with C. A. Chamberlain, at the wheel of the No. 25 Chrysler, close behind. Lockhart, whose speed on the turns won him the race, almost got ruined in this particular instance as Chamberlain was hot on his trail. Inset shows “The Boy Wonder” as he finished the race.”

Cannon Ball Baker had tire problems but managed to cross the finish line on a rim exactly four minutes after Lockhart to take second place. Bergere finished ninth. Unfortunately, there was no mention of what happened to Nebraska’s Noel Bullock, but you can read more about him here: Bullock, Garrett, and the Franklin Mile Speedway: The “Real Stuff” of Nebraska Racing History

The Other Highlander and David A. Wallace

We picked up this seldom-seen Highlander emblem the other day, and despite the name, it has nothing to do with Toyota. The lower part of the emblem reads “New Yorker, ” and that gives away its origins as a Chrysler product. Introduced in 1940, Chrysler also referred to the Highlander as the “Scottie,” and described it as “another notable contribution to advanced, original and swanky automobile styling.”

The Highlander featured Scotch tartan plaid upholstery on the pleated seat cushions and seat backs and matching moleskin leather on door panels, armrests and other trim. This 1940 advertisement gives you an idea what that combination looks like:

The Highlander was the creation of Chrysler president David A. Wallace who, like Walter P. Chrysler himself, was born in rural Kansas. While Chrysler hailed from Ellis, Wallace was born in Castleton in 1887. A 1940 story about Wallace in the Detroit Free Press included an interview with Wallace’s first employer, the owner of the hardware store in Castleton. Wallace worked seven hours a day at the store and also lived with the owner’s family. The owner remembered Wallace as a hard worker who pitched in to help with all the farm chores without being asked.

The similarities with Walter P. Chrysler continued as Wallace’s next step was going to work for the railroad. After that, he gathered more experience in automobile manufacturing and mining before manufacturing tractors for Hart-Parr. When the war started, Wallace served in the motor transport service of the Army where he was ultimately promoted to captain. As a matter of fact, Wallace was promoted everywhere he went, a testament to his skills and work ethic. After the war he went to work for John Deere where he started as a mechanic and was promoted to superintendent. This is when he came to the attention of the Chrysler Corporation. Wallace went to work for Chrysler in 1929 as a staff master mechanic and was quickly promoted to vice-president of Chrysler’s manufacturing division. He was made president of that division in 1937 and held that position until his retirement in 1953.

Wallace’s extensive experience in manufacturing served him well, and he developed a method of superfinishing bearing surfaces so that defects were no more than two-millionth of an inch. The talented Mr. Wallace held around 70 patents in all. He must have also harbored an affection for his Scottish ancestry, and so it only seems right to end this post with a quote from another Wallace, specifically Malcolm Wallace from the movie Braveheart.

“I know you can fight. But it’s our wits that make us men.”

David Wallace clearly had plenty of those.

The Highlander was brought back post-war; this picture is taken from the 1953 Chrysler brochure.

More about Walter P. Chrysler: Revisiting Walter P. Chrysler’s Boyhood in Ellis, Kansas

The “Big Three” and “Little Three” Car Companies of 1954

I found this blurb in a 1954 newspaper:

If you’ve been watching the automobile news, you know that there are now only six passenger car manufacturers in the U.S. – the “big three” and the “little three.”

So, can you name the six surviving car companies of 1954?

The Big Three are easy to identify:


General Motors

1954 Chevy Corvette

1954 Chevy Bel Air


Recalling the Little Three is more problematic as there was a lot going on in the way of mergers and acquisitions. In no particular order, they are:

Studebaker-Packard – Detroit’s Packard Motor Car Company bought Indiana-based Studebaker in 1954 and became Studebaker-Packard.

1954 Studebaker Station Wagon

1954 Packard Clipper Super Touring Sedan

Kaiser-Willys – Kaiser-Frazer had started up after WWII, riding high on the post-war boom. The company struggled in the early 1950s after a series of missteps, and the Frazer name was dropped. In 1953, Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland and, in 1954, the companies merged into Willys Motors, Inc.

1954 Kaiser Darrin

1954 Kaiser

1954 Willys M38A1

American Motors – AMC was formed in 1954 when the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation merged with Hudson.

1954 Hudson Hornet with Twin H-Power

Mopar’s Iconic “Forward Look” Logo

1958 Plymouth emblem, part number 1682578

This nice-looking emblem is one of Mopar’s iconic double-boomerang “Forward Look” emblems that first appeared in late 1954 (in reference to the new 1955 models) and was used through 1961.  The concept of the “Forward Look” encompassed the entirety of the motoring experience, all the style, performance and features not found elsewhere.  It was all about new and daring styling and engineering for traveling on America’s modern super-highways.  Chrysler described it this way in one 1955 advertisement:

“Cars that bring things to you other cars do not yet have.  Cars that do things for you other cars are not yet able to do.”

Some of these “things” included the push-button PowerFlight transmission; power steering and brakes; powerful engines like the hemis and the ’56 Plymouth Hy-Fire V8 with PowerPak (special intake manifolds, 4-barrel carb and dual exhaust); swept back windshields; safety features like LifeGuard door latches and optional Safety Seat Belts that met official airline specifications; and the Flight-Sweep design of the bodies which wrapped “up the whole idea of motion with one, clean, aerodynamic sweep from headlight to upswept rear fender,” or, as the goofy “Forward Look” song commissioned by the Chrysler Corporation put it:

“Its beautiful lines are so low, low, low, even standing still, it looks like go.”

1956 Plymouth
1957 Desoto
1955 Dodge

Old Dealership Building in Wilsonville

I obviously inherited my love for old dealership buildings from my parents, because they snapped this photo the other day while passing through the village of Wilsonville, Nebraska:

Above that amazing arched doorway it reads, J.B. Andre ’07”

I did a little research, and it looks like J. B. Andre moved to Wilsonville from Marshalltown, Iowa in 1903 and opened a blacksmith shop.  This 1907 building would have been ideal for that, and you can almost see the carriages rolling in under that beautiful arch.

It wasn’t long before Andre became interested in automobiles.  One 1908 story noted that Andre was driving a new Mitchell, which, by the way, made a grand total of five automobiles in town.  By 1912, Andre was selling Mitchells.  He then moved on to selling Oaklands, Briscoes and Maxwells.  By 1930, Andre was a Mopar man, advertising Dodge Brothers trucks in the 1930s and new Plymouths and Chryslers into the 1950s:

Finally, Andre signed off on this interesting bit of history that was published November 1, 1929, just days after the great stock market crash:

1952 Chrysler Imperial



The Inception of One-Third of the Big Three

This headline from 1910 caught my eye the other day:

The author of this story was expecting the two companies to start one of the greatest manufacturing wars ever seen, a war that would set the automobile world on end and “create sensations never before anticipated”.  Maxwell did eventually become stiff competition for GM, but certainly not in the way the author of this headline was predicting it would happen.  It all makes for an interesting story about the birth of one of the American auto industry’s “Big  Three”.

The Maxwell-Briscoe automobile came into being when Jonathan D. Maxwell, who had worked for Oldsmobile as an engineer, combined forces with Benjamin Briscoe, owner of a Detroit sheet metal manufacturing plant.  JP Morgan was an investor and the Maxwell-Briscoe became the third largest seller behind Ford and Buick.  This success was due in part to an imaginative sales manager with the decidedly east-coast name of Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey who dreamed up an unending parade of publicity stunts.

The 1910 combine that was mentioned in the headline above became the United States Motor Company (USMC) and involved both Maxwell and a company called Columbia.  Columbia was owned by the Electric Vehicle company.  This was significant, and the reason some were forecasting war, because Electric Vehicle owned the Selden patent.

In the 1870s, attorney George Selden had begun the process of obtaining a patent covering the use of an engine to propel a vehicle, but Selden kept the patent pending so long that it was not granted until 1895.  By this time, many others were creating automobiles and everything Selden claimed was already being used by others.  Regardless, Columbia paid Selden for the rights to this patent for a lump sum plus a royalty for every car produced and claimed the patent covered every gasoline-powered automobile in the country.

Many major manufacturers formed a group called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), an organization that granted licenses to manufacture automobiles to those paying the royalty fee. The ALAM made it clear that they would not be granting licenses to all applicants, thereby keeping all the business for themselves.  The decision-makers at the ALAM made the strategic error of denying a license to the always-combative Henry Ford, and that’s when the real war began.

Ford taunted the ALAM into suing him.  Ever the master of publicity, Ford successfully portrayed himself as the underdog and made people sympathetic to his position.  Both sides took out pages of advertising to argue their case in the court of public opinion, and the actual court case drug on for years, beginning in 1903 and not ending until 1911.

The dueling advertisements often appeared side by side:

The ALAM won in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York with a judge that admittedly knew nothing about engines.  Ford appealed and the US  Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit saw things differently.  The panel of judges ruled that the Selden patent was limited to the use of a Brayton engine to propel a vehicle whereas the defendants were utilizing the Otto engine, that Selden had simply made the wrong choice and that the defendants neither legally nor morally owed him anything.  They sent the case back to the trial court to be dismissed and even ordered the court costs charged to the ALAM.

1919 Maxwell at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.

1919 Maxwell brochure drawing

The United States Motor Company collapsed a year after the suit in 1912, and Briscoe left to make a new car (the Briscoe). Jonathan Maxwell reorganized and moved to Detroit where he manufactured Maxwell Fours as well as trucks and buses.  Things went well for a time, but the company was hit hard by the post-war recession.  Enter Walter Percy Chrysler.

Chrysler had started his career in the railroad industry before catching the eye of GM executives.  He went to work for GM in Detroit and was put in charge of the Buick division.  He was an indefatigable worker who operated efficiently, making judicious use of his time.  Before long, Chrysler made Buick into GM’s strongest unit.  When he arrived, Buick was making 40 cars per day, and, when he left 8 years later, 560 Buicks per day was the output.

Chrysler made the move to Maxwell in 1920, and there were many problems for him to solve.  A merger with Chalmers did not work out well, and the Chalmers automobile was phased out.  The Maxwell’s reputation had suffered due to mechanical issues, so it was revamped and rebranded  the “Good Maxwell”.

By 1924, Chrysler was ready to introduce a new car, one named after himself. The new Chrysler had a high-compression six-cylinder engine that cruised comfortably at 70 mph, hydraulic four-wheel brakes, and a reasonable price tag of $1395.   It was an immediate hit with the public that shattered records with 10,000 new Chryslers being produced and sold within the first six months. People lining up to buy Chrysler’s creation included racecar drivers like Joe Boyer and Jimmy Murphy.

It is a household name now, but advertisements at the time had to instruct people how to pronounce the name of the new automobile:


1926 was the last year for the Maxwell as it was re-made into a 4-cylinder Chrysler.


In 1928, Chrysler continued his streak by purchasing Dodge Brothers and also introducing the Plymouth.  So, the author of that 1910 story was sort of correct about Maxwell going to war with GM. It just took a number of years, a name change and the genius of Walter P. Chrysler to get there.


“Men who get very far ahead have some other qualities in addition to ordinary ability, capacity, energy and opportunity.  Some are idea-resourceful.  They possess imagination.  They dare to take a chance and be different.  They are willing to tackle anything.  They refuse to acknowledge defeat until actually licked, and even then they are thinking about their next chance.”

-Walter P. Chrysler


American Motor Car Manufacturers’ Association advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers advertisement. The San Francisco Call, 24 February 1907, p.46.

“Big Auto War Expected Between Maxwell-Columbia Combine and General Motors Co. of Detroit.” The Los Angeles Record, 26 February 1910, p. 9.

Chrysler advertisement.  The Detroit Free Press, 14 September 1924, p. 47.

Chrysler advertisement.  Richmond Times-Dispatch, 28 June 1925, p. E5.

“Chrysler Six Breaks Record.” The Rutland News, 5 July 1924, p. 1.

“From Engine-Wiper to Motor Car Wizard.” The Spokesman Revie, 6 January 1924, p. 3.

Independent Automobile Manufacturers of America advertisement. The San Francisco Examiner, 29 May 1910, p. 42.

Licensed Motor Car Association of Los Angeles advertisement. Los Angeles Herald, 26 December 1909, part II p. 4.

Maxwell advertisement.  The Tennessean Sun, 20 August 1922, p. 2.

“The New Chrysler Car.”  The Tampa Tribune, 27 January 1924, p. E1.

“Selden Patent Decision Causes Furor in Auto Trade.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 January 1911, p. 3.

“Selden Patents Decision Not Particularly Important.”  Williamsport Sun Gazette,  11 January 1911, p. 5.

“Talks of Plight of Independents.”  Los Angeles Herald, 31 January 1910, p. 8.

“To Test Patent in Supreme Tribunal.” Moline Daily Dispatch, 10 January 1911, p. 5.










Old, aftermarket hub caps keep finding me lately, and some of them are just hilarious. Inexpensive replacement caps were sold by companies like Western Auto and J.C. Whitney, but the logos had to be altered enough to avoid pesky trademark infringement laws. Some of them are pretty good facsimiles thereof, like this Cadillac replacement cap. It is heavy duty and looks like the Caddy emblem, but has lines instead of ducks:

This one has stars instead of ducks.

Frankly, they both look better than the modern Cadillac version that has been sanitized of its history and personality. For Chevy replacements, a dash was commonly used in place of the bowtie:

This one is for a 1954 Chevy, and it is a pretty good copy, too. You have to look hard to see that it is a dash and all one piece (the real ones have a separate center insert).

The really entertaining versions are the ones with altered spelling. I have seen dog dishes that say “Dodoe” instead of Dodge, for instance. The Chrysler replacement cap pictured below says something like “Clrrfrlir, although the “i” is mysteriously undotted.

This is one of the famous “Bool” caps made for a Model A Ford:

I have heard that they also made a “Fool” version. I’m not sure who would want to drive around with those on their car (but I know of a few people who should).

Plymouth Suburban

Here is another interesting steering wheel that was part of our recent haul. The ship logo gives away its Plymouth brand, and this 1950 Suburban is one of the models that it would have been found on:

1950 Plymouth Brochure

Unlike the pre-war woodies, the Suburban featured an all-steel body with a box-type steel frame. Not exactly a speed machine, it was powered by a 217.8 cubic inch six cylinder L-head engine that generated 97 hp @3600 RPMs.

According to ads, the seats were upholstered with “luxurious, long-wearing plastic” and were completely washable. Behind the rear seat was 42″ of cargo space. The rear seat was able to be folded down, however, with the metal back forming part of the floor. In that position, the cargo space was 68″ long, 55″ wide and 36″ high.

1951 Plymouth Brochure

This is an interesting 1950 ad for the Suburban. The dealership is uncertain when it will have access to more Suburbans due to “work stoppages in coal and in automobile plants”.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a table of “Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers from 1947-2018”. According to that table, work stoppages in 1949 resulted in 43,420,000 days of idleness or .38 percent of total working time. That percent was only exceeded in 1959. Workers in diverse industries throughout the country were demanding better wages, insurance and pension plans, and the automobile industry was no exception. In 1950, the “Big Three” automakers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, all reached agreements with the UAW. Chrysler’s agreement only came after a particularly painful stoppage that began just as the production of 1950 models approached top volume and which lasted more than 100 days.

In 1950, LA TImes editors drove this new Suburban down the coast to Ensenada for the “Travelogue of the Week”.


“All Purpose Plymouth Suburban.” Detroit Free Press, 18 June 1950, p. E-8.

“Chrysler Strike Idles 112,000 Auto Workers.” Mount Pleasant News, 25 January 1950, p. 1.

“Continued Picketing May Delay Reopening of Chrysler Plants.” The Kokomo Tribune, 5 May 1950, p. 1.

Lawrence, David. “Chrysler Strike Shown to Have Been a Blunder”. Alton Evening Telegraph, 25 May 1950, p. 6.

Plymouth. Advertisement. The Daily Missoulian, 19 February, 1950, p. 12.

Rogers, Lynn. “Contracts Depicted in Baja California.” The Los Angeles Times, 10 September 1950, p. V-8.