The image of cars in a showroom
George Romney, father of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt, spent part of his career in the automotive industry.
He was general manager of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, a position he got in 1939 through his friendship with the AMA’s vice-president.
In 1948, he was offered the job of executive vice-president of Packard, but ultimately decided he wasn’t ready for such a high-powered position.
Instead, he ended up as assistant to George Mason, the president of Nash, where he learned the business. Two years later, he was a vice-president.
In 1954, Nash merged with Hudson to form American Motors Corporation, and Romney was named executive vice-president. When Mason died later that year, Romney was put in charge of everything.
AMC struggled at first, until sales of its compact Rambler helped the company turn its first profits in 1958. Romney left in 1962 when he successfully ran for governor of Michigan, holding the office for three terms.
He failed in his bid for the U.S. presidency, losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon, but he remained in politics. He died in 1995 at the age of 88.
Chrysler bought American Motors in 1987, primarily for its Jeep brand — AMC had purchased it in 1970 — and subsequently changed the car division’s name to Eagle.
Diesel took time to catch on
The first passenger car with a diesel engine was the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 260D — more than 40 years after Rudolf Diesel built his first engine in 1893.
The engine needed the work of two more men before it was small and efficient enough to be used in a car: the fuel injection pump, invented by Robert Bosch, and a pintle-type injection nozzle and “pre-chamber” for swirling the fuel and air together, created by Prosper L’Orange.
The earliest diesels were huge, stationary machines used to run factory equipment and power boats, replacing steam engines. The first land vehicle to use one was a 1922 farm tractor, made by Benz in conjunction with Sendling, a Munich-based farm equipment manufacturer. It was followed by the first diesel truck, also made by Benz, in 1923.
The diesel truck’s main advantage over gasoline was its low operating cost — 86 per cent lower — since it would run on cheap coal-derived tar oil, as well as gas-based oil, kerosene, crude oil or paraffin, and had a longer range on a tank of fuel.
When the 260D was introduced, it quickly became popular as a cab, since German taxi drivers got a further price break on its already-inexpensive fuel.
World’s first gas station
The world’s first filling station was the Stadt-Apotheke, or Town Pharmacy, in Wiesloch, Germany.
After Karl Benz built what is considered to be the first gas-powered automobile, his wife Bertha took it on a long-distance trip in 1888 to visit her mother. The Wiesloch shop was the first place she stopped to buy gasoline, which sold it as a cleaning fluid.
The pharmacy, built in 1858, is still in business, with a sculpture in front to commemorate that first sale. The store also calls Willy Ockel, the pharmacist who sold the gasoline, the “first filling station attendant.”
An annual antique car tour commemorates Benz’s trip, but don’t expect drive-through service: the area around the pharmacy is now strictly for pedestrians.
Seat belts and buzzers
Although airbags best protect occupants who are wearing seat belts, which keep them in the optimum position during airbag deployment, they were originally considered a substitute for the belts that many drivers didn’t want to wear.
U.S. auto makers weren’t keen on installing airbags, so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggested Interlock, which disabled the ignition until the seat belts were buckled.
In hearings in 1971, Ford and AMC supported the Interlock system, while Chrysler and GM registered their disapproval. NHTSA mandated the system for all new 1974 vehicles in the U.S., but things didn’t go quite as well as expected.
Rushed into development, the Interlock system didn’t always work properly. It was triggered by weight sensors, and a bag of groceries on the seat could often set it off.
Drivers also quickly found ways around it, such as connecting the belt before sitting on it, or, if no one was in the passenger seat, pulling that belt over and clipping it into the driver’s buckle.
There was enough protest that Congress legislated to repeal the mandate. Thirteen months after Interlock was introduced, it was replaced with a warning buzzer, lasting no more than eight seconds, to remind people to buckle up.