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:

A Dictator on Ice

So many fun, and occasionally dangerous, advertising gimmicks were utilized in the early years of the automobile industry. This innovative approach from Blue Sunoco Fuel and Studebaker appeared in December of 1933 and featured an ice-covered Studebaker Dictator:

Here in Nebraska, it is not unusual for an automobile to look like an iceberg on wheels when left outside during wintry conditions, but this Studebaker was a brand-new car, driven right off the production line and into the plant’s refrigeration room. There, with Blue Sunoco fuel in the tank and Sunoco motor oil in the crankcase, the car was loaded down with huge cakes of ice. Then the temperature of the room was brought down to 20 degrees below zero and a wind machine, blowing at a rate of 50 mph, sprayed water on the ice-covered car. In this frigid state, the car was left to sit for almost 48 hours.

During the above process, one window of the car was left open. This enabled one Miss Eloise Metz of South Bend, wearing layers of warm clothing, to be placed through the open window along with heating pads and hot coffee. Once she was ensconced in the ice-laden car, that window was sealed tightly with ice. Then the car was towed to the business center of South Bend where a large crowd and several timekeepers had gathered. Miss Metz was told to start that frozen car, and start it did, taking only three-fifths of a second to do so.

That seems like a fairly effective marketing technique. One has to question the approach of christening the car with the distinctly un-American name of “Dictator” in the first place, however. I have heard it said that the term “Dictator” was chosen because it meant that the car was dictating the standard for the industry, but then why were the other cars in the Studebaker stable called the President and the Commander? Also, check out the caption under this 1934 photo:

That relaxed attitude toward authoritarianism did not last long with Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler operating nefariously on the international stage, and people soon realized the Studebaker wasn’t the only dictator that should be put on ice. The Dictator name did not age well, and the Studebaker company quietly retired it a couple of years later.

Another Mystery Car Part (Hint: It Is Not Made by Mercedes)

Do you recognize this emblem?

This three-point star measures three and one-half inches in width and, although it bears a strong resemblance, it is not a Mercedes emblem. A helpful seller recently listed this full set of six, complete with original packaging and part number, on eBay.

These stars were an accessory “star ornamentation” sold by Ford in the 1950s. The back side of the packaging contains the following installation instructions:

Studebaker made a similar tri-star emblem in 1953, although the Studebaker version is considerably larger at around 9″ in width.

I don’t how many Ford owners would be comfortable drilling a total of twelve holes in the fenders of their car just to add these stars, but that may be why I have never seen any actually mounted on an automobile. If you have one, send me a photo at

Nebraska State Patrol’s 1950 Ford

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

The Liberty Lens, Manufactured by the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company

It never ceases to amaze me how many glass headlight lenses have managed to survive the rough-and-tumble of the last one hundred years or so. We purchased a large box of such lenses the other day, and two of them were marked “Liberty Lens” with patent dates of 1914 and 1920.

They were manufactured by Macbeth-Evans, a glass company that formed in 1899 when three separate companies combined. That move gave the new entity control of the five largest “lamp chimney” factories in the United States. Like all manufacturers, Macbeth-Evans had to adjust with the changing times, and that included the manufacturing of lenses for automobiles.

States were enacting laws in the teens and twenties regarding headlight glare and acceptable lenses, and Macbeth-Evans wasn’t afraid to use fear of law enforcement as a marketing tool. The advertisement below declares, “State Highway patrols will accost all motorists whose lights do not comply with the new law. Everybody violating the new law will be subject to arrest, a $25 fine, or 5 days’ imprisonment.”

The Liberty lenses were flat with “seven horizontal and six vertical prisms” that controlled and distributed the light, free from glare.

These lenses were available for any motorist to purchase, but, according to these advertisements, they also came as standard equipment on some makes. This ad from 1923 specifically mentions Studebaker:

This advertisement from 1920 enumerates the many different makes that utilized Liberty lenses as standard equipment, including Packard and Nash, so you might keep an eye out for a pair if you own one of the automobiles on this list:

1918 Case Six with a Liberty Lens on the passenger side. This car is located at Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska.

Central Auto Electric Building in Kearney, Nebraska

I was driving past the Central Auto Electric building in Kearney the other day and just had to stop and snap a photo of this ’62 Chevy sitting out front and completing a striking tableau:

This building is just about my favorite in all of Kearney and, thankfully, it remains unmolested with ugly “updates”. It was built in 1946 by Bierman’s Auto Electric, and they moved into this building, their new location, the following year. The business handled GM parts, and this incredible double-sided United Motors Service sign still hangs out front.

Bierman’s didn’t just service GM products per this 1945 advertisement with an emphasis on Studebaker:

Bierman’s advertised their shop as the place to take your car if you wanted “action in your battery, pep in your plugs and power in your engine.” Who doesn’t want those things?

1941 Buick

WW2 Studebaker Ads

During World War II, Studebaker hired a well-known illustrator and advertising artist by the name of Robert Oliver Skemp to illustrate some advertisements featuring Studebaker employees and their children who were serving in the American armed forces. You may have seen these before as they were very well done and there are still many copies floating around.

This one spotlighted what the ad referred to as “lieutenant, corporal and craftsman,” with the craftsman being Studebaker employee Tom Hinkle who built Cyclone engines for the Boeing Flying Fortress . His son, George, was an air force lieutenant stationed in India and another son, Bill, was a Coast Artillery Corporal stationed in the Fijis.

This advertisement starred Studebaker employee Joe Balaban, who was also wrenching on the Cyclone engines, and his son, Seabee Mike Balaban.

This ad campaign was based on actual people and not just the imagination of some copywriter. In 1944, the Tipton Daily Tribune published a story letting the people of Tipton know that this ad featuring local heroes, the Hinkles, was scheduled to appear in the inside front cover of the June issue of Life Magazine. It noted that Tom had been with Studebaker for 23 years and that both sons had also worked for the company before joining the service. In 1945, the South Bend Tribune likewise included an article on the Balabans. Joe was a 26-year veteran of Studebaker and also had two other children in the service. A daughter, Mary, was a WAVE parachute rigger first class and another son, Eli, was a chief shipfitter in the navy. Because of this ad, a publication of the 99th battalion called Mike Balaban one of the most publicized seabees in the world.

This was a great advertising campaign featuring real people, beautiful artwork and Studbaker’s contribution to the war effort. In addition to the Cyclone engines, Studebaker also built military trucks and and the M-29/M29C Weasel, a tracked personnel and supply carrier like this one at the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles in Lexington, Nebraska:

Old Studebaker Dealership

We spotted this old brick dealership building in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a town known for being the home of author Willa Cather as well as the inspiration for some of her novels.

The sign is amazing. It is sun bleached and difficult to read, but the vertical letters spell “Studebaker” while the horizontal letters spell “Killough Motor Co.”

I searched old newspapers in order to date this sign. The only reference I was able to find to this particular dealership, Killough Motors, was at the bottom of this 1940 advertisement:

And yes, that’s a Chevy, not a Studebaker, sitting in the front window, but what a great place to park and display your vintage cars!

Another Studebaker Truck

It seems we have been finding Studebaker trucks everywhere we look lately, and here is yet another, albeit not in very prime condition. This is one of the 2R Series trucks, produced from 1949-1953, and they were a wonderful post-war success for Studebaker. They are great-looking trucks when they are complete and are always popular at car shows.

We do have a nice grille for one of these Studebakers in our inventory, so feel free to contact us if you are in the market.

Studebaker Trucks on the Auction Block

My husband and I took a drive to hit an estate sale the other day. We were hoping to find some cool old stuff, but we were not expecting to find cool old car and truck stuff. Imagine our joy when we pulled into the yard and found it full of Studebaker trucks. The bunch included a couple of 1949-53 2R-series trucks which could look like this one if restored. There were also a couple of the older M-series trucks and what looks to me like a 1954. They were not part of the estate sale that day and will instead be part of an auction in April. I know where we’ll be on April 11th!