January 4th-10th | This Week in Automotive History

January 4th, 1958

At an admission price of 90 cents, visitors on the opening day of the 50th Chicago Auto Show were able to view more than 470 vehicles at the International Amphitheater. In celebration of the event’s Golden Jubilee, a “Motor Memories” display was arranged, and featured a number of legendary antique and classic cars. Quite possibly the most controversial new car introduction that year was the Ford Edsel, which appeared during the “Motorevue of 1958” stage show.


January 5th, 1914

A minimum wage of $5.00 per day was introduced by the Ford Motor Co., which was twice the amount they had paid the year before, and was substantially higher than Ford’s competitors were paying. This dramatic increase was made possible by Henry Ford’s moving assembly line that allowed him to build cars faster and cheaper than anyone else could. As the profits increased Ford’s workers shared in the wealth. Given that Ford would become a notorious enemy of trade unions in the 1930s and 1940s, this is somewhat ironic.


January 6th, 1930

1935 First Diesel Powered Passenger Car Clessie Inside

The first US diesel-engine road trip was completed. To promote the diesel engine, Cummins Engine Company owner Clessie Cummins mounted a diesel engine in a used Packard Touring Car and set out for the National Automobile Show in America’s first diesel-powered automobile in January of 1930. The 800-mile trip from Indianapolis to New York City used 30 gallons of fuel, which cost $1.38, and showed that diesel was a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine. 


January 7th, 1918

1918 Chevrolet Four-Ninety Half-Ton Light Delivery “Cowl Chassis”

The first Chevrolet trucks went on sale. Chevy introduced two four-cylinder trucks for the 1918 model year, both cowl chassis designs that were only outfitted with sheet metal on the front. The half ton Light Delivery cowl chassis was actually a Chevy Four Ninety car without its body, but with beefed-up rear springs. The truck was priced at $595. A one ton truck, called the Model T, for ‘truck,’ was priced at $1,125, again without a body. Although it was based on the FA-series car, the pickup was built on a truck frame and was both longer and stronger than the half ton truck. A 37 hp engine boosted the truck’s power and load capacity, but a governor kept its top speed at 25 miles per hour.


January 9th, 1926

The first Pontiac car, the “Chief of the Sixes,” a 6-cylinder car, was launched at the New York Auto Show. The Chief sold 39,000 units within six months of its appearance at the show, hitting 76,742 at twelve months. The next year, it became the top-selling six in the U.S., ranking seventh in overall sales. By 1933, it had moved up to producing the least expensive cars available with straight eight engines. This was done by using many components from the 6-cylinder Chevrolet Master, such as the body, but installing a large chrome strip on the top and center of the front hood Pontiac called the “Silver Streak”. In the late 1930s, Pontiac used a Buick “torpedo” body for one of its models, just prior to its being used by Chevrolet, earning some media attention for the marque. 


January 9th, 1958

Los Angeles Imported Car Show – 1958

Toyota and Datsun make their first appearances in the United States at the Imported Motor Car Show in Los Angeles, California. The first Nissan products were sold in the U.S. under the trade name“Datsun” and the first Toyotas were “Toyopets”. Unofficially, a few Datsuns and Toyopets had arrived in the United States with the return of servicemen stationed in Japan in the mid 1950s. Officially, the first two Toyopets arrived in September of 1957 for testing in the American market. It turned out that the cars were totally unsuitable for North American terrain and roads. While the Toyopets were perfect Taxis in Tokyo, they couldn’t handle the hilly Los Angeles roads. Not only that, but the head of the Toyota USA division didn’t like the name “Toyopet”. He complained that the name “Toy” sounded like a toy, and “toys break”. pet, meantime, brought to mind dogs. Datsun’s premarketing test went considerably better. A Datsun 210 was brought to Los Angeles and tinkered with. The test included an uphill drag race with a Volkswagen Beetle. The Datsun won. Later, the Datsun was damaged in a traffic accident. All told, the Nissan engineers told their Japanese bosses that Datsuns could be sold in the U.S. if they were modified with stronger engines and drivetrains. The vehicles selected for the L.A. Import Show included A Datsun-1000 (PL210) four door sedan. The Toyopet sedan was a slightly larger vehicle. 


January 10th, 1942

The Ford Motor Company signed an agreement to make Jeeps (GPWs) to meet the huge wartime demand by the US military. By the end of the war Ford had produced 280,000 jeeps. A further 13,000 (roughly) amphibian jeeps were also built by Ford under the model name GPA (nicknamed ‘Seep’ for Sea Jeep).

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar