Cars That Disappeared

All this talk about the Tesla, electric cars and trucks, and driverless cars and trucks has caused me to think of all the changes in the automotive industry since I was a young man. Like a lot of the teenagers back then, I had cars on the brain. In my junior year at high school, I was able to get into a work program that allowed me to work afternoons and Saturdays. After graduation, I worked full time for two more years. All told, I was at Howard Motors from September 1952 until June of 1956. I mention this because a lot of bigtime changes took place during this time. Electrical systems were converted from 6 volts to 12 volts, overhead valve V8 engines became standard, transmissions were beefed up, and ancillary equipment like power steering and air conditioning were improved.

Howard Motors was a Chevrolet/Buick dealership. Our town, Augusta, Kansas, wasn’t large enough to support dealerships for all makes of cars, so the people with off brands took them to Howard’s for service. That’s how I got to drive and/or work on almost every car on the road at that time.

Again, thinking about those makes of cars that I worked on and drove from September 1952 to June 1956, many are no longer manufactured. They have disappeared. My eyes are so bad, I can’t do any research so I’ll give you what I can from memory.

General Motors gave up their big family sedans and station wagons. These were from the makers of Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac.

The Ford Motor Company gave up the Mercury. The Mercury was a little more car than a Ford. I had a 1951 Merc and being a brainless young man, I thought it was wonderful that the thing would do 90 mph in second gear and overdrive.

Chrysler had given up the Desoto, Dodge, and Plymouth. They were all dependable cars.

Kaiser, Frazier, and Henry J were an example of overconfidence. The Kaiser company set records for building ships during WWII and thought they could do the same with cars. They didn’t get the memo about the importance of styling. The Henry J was supposed to be an economy car, but was mostly junk.

Packard. An upper end car that I would score between a Buick and a Cadillac.

The Hudson was a nice car and a little bit more plush than most. The exterior had aerodynamic styling. The interior was different. I think it was the first car to have the floorboard down between the chassis rails so that you step down when entering it, just like the cars of today.

The Studebaker was certainly different. You couldn’t tell if the ugly little things were coming or going. The Studebaker Corporation started many years ago building horse-drawn wagons. They evolved into a maker of tough trucks and eventually started producing cars. The cars were ugly, but were of great quality and ran well and were very dependable. Pat’s first car was a 1947 Studebaker. It wasn’t cute, but it sure was dependable. One of the last models the company produced was the Golden Hawk or Golden Something (I don’t remember). It was painted gold and had a beautiful matching interior. A classy car. The company moved its production to Canada and continued there for a few years.

Nash and Nash Rambler- The Nash competed with Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth. Their attempt at an aerodynamic look actually caused the car to look like an upside-down bathtub. The Nash Rambler was probably America’s first compact car. Mechanically, they were a little bit on the cheap side, but they weren’t bad.

Dave Thomas

12/9/2021

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